By Emily Oldfield

The fifth in the series of ‘Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2’ interview articles on the HAUNT Manchester Blog – seeking to interview each of the members of the festival’s panel discussion, which has been organised by Julian Holloway (Lecturer in Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University) on behalf of HAUNT Manchester, and he will also be Panel Chair.  

Manchester Folk Horror Festival 2 follows on from its 2018 debut, still continuing at the same venue of The Peer Hat, falling on the Saturday 2nd February 2019 (panel taking place 3pm - 4.30pm). Whilst the wider festival will explore Folk Horror culture and creativity of all kinds including performances, music and film, the panel discussion will be in front of an audience, with academics and experts discussing topical themes in the genre. 

The panellists will be Julian Holloway himself (Manchester Metropolitan University) who is also Chair, Andrew Michael Hurley (novelist and author), Chloé Germaine Buckley (Manchester Metropolitan University), James Thurgill (University of Tokyo), Darren Charles (Folk Horror Revival) and Morag Rose (The Loiterer's Resistance Movement and University of Liverpool). This article focuses on Morag Rose.

Morag Rose Picture

Morag Rose is a loiterer with intent. Founder of Manchester-based The LRM (Loiterers Resistance Movement), this has seen Morag lead open-to-all walks across the city, seeking to engage with psychogeography, the meaning of public space and to uncover new stories.

The LRM is after all not just a walking group but also a community, enthused by reclaiming and exploring our relationship with urban space. From ambling through alleyways to exploring underpasses and bustling over bridges, The LRM has been active in the city since Morag founded it in 2006 – still gathering on a monthly basis for a walk.

And in terms of ‘walk’ – that means any way of wandering. Morag is a key advocate of increasing the accessibility of urban space; with every LRM gathering free and collectively run, with wheelchair-users and those using mobility aids all welcome.  Her PhD thesis "Women Walking Manchester: Desire Lines Through The Original Modern City" considers pedestrian methodologies, as well as themes of gender, gentrification and public space.

Have you ever been told not to walk a certain route at night? Warned you can’t travel to an urban location alone because of your gender? Wondered why certain areas of the city can be accessed and others are out of bounds? These are the kinds of questions Morag and The LRM bring to the surface through their psychogeographic approach – considering how people feel, think about and interact with place.  Actively seeking to answer questions rather than just raising them, The LRM also considers and continues to meet in its drive to make city space more accessible and enjoyable for all; often encountering eccentric local traditions and unusual histories too.

Morag Image

In turn, over the last thirteen years, The LRM and Morag’s work has become a bold example of psychogeographic theory made physical and interactive – and not shying away from considering secretive spaces, unanswered aspects and darker depths of the ground beneath us.  The significance of this was celebrated in a ‘Loitering With Intent: The Art and Politics of Walking’ exhibition at The People’s History Museum between July 23rd-October 14th 2016.  As a walking artist Morag has also shared her work on a wide variety of local, national and international stages, most recently contributing to STEP (Saunter, Trek, Escort, Parade) at Queens Museum, New York City.

With active expertise in public space, urban landscapes and human relationships with it, Morag Rose is now a Lecturer in Geography and Planning at The University of Liverpool. Considering that secretive side-streets, areas of abandon, unusual avenues and encountering terrors as well as traditions of the ‘big city’ often emerge in her work, her upcoming contribution to Manchester Folk Horror Festival is anticipated to be especially interesting.  Aspects such as the urban weird and everyday uncanny factors often emerge in Folk Horror too, and here at HAUNT we spoke to Morag Rose to find out more…

Hello Morag. What does it mean to you to be involved in the upcoming Folk Horror Festival and why do you think an event like this is important?

“I’m delighted, I always welcome a chance for shenanigans and I’m looking forward to listening, learning and hopefully collecting some more testimonies about monstrous Manchester. Including psychogeographic reflections and international speakers demonstrates a generosity of definition that bodes well for some interesting debates and looking at the programme I anticipate some delicious surprises and synergies.

“I think it’s wonderful we are gathering in the city because there is often a tendency to think of folk horror as intrinsically rural. I don’t believe it thrives in just a pastoral setting... although I suspect there may be some debate about this on Saturday! For me, the uncanny can lurk just as easily under a motorway bridge or down a dark ginnel. The city is a palimpsest, but the layers are uneven, stretched and bleeding.  The constant flux and diverse mass of bodies co-habiting means there will always be tensions; the metropolis is both alluring and disturbing.

“Most of us now live in urban settings and in so many ways home is where the true horror lies. Manchester was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and who knows what was stoked in the fire of the mills, and of course Urbis would make an excellent scrying stone should Dr Dee return. The landscape of the North has a rich and beautiful range of peculiarities and it therefore feels a very fitting place for this convergence.”

Morag Leading Walk

Is there a straightforward definition of ‘Folk Horror’ – or is part of its appeal the exploration of the term itself?

“No, I don’t think there is (a straightforward definition), it’s evolving and that’s definitely part of the appeal for me. I have never liked hard borders or strict genre conventions. For me folk horror is much more of an assemblage of ideas, sensations, an atmosphere... I think Folk Horror is an ongoing conversation with a few touch stones at its heart and I can see parallels to psychogeography here. Since Debord came up with his foundational, quasi-scientific definition the practice has mutated in so many fascinating ways.

“However, for me what makes a psychogeographical wander more than a stroll is a critical engagement with space, a radical, subversive intent and a sense of creative mischief. Perhaps it is easier to define what folk horror, and psychogeography for that matter, isn’t. I think a rejection of essentialist notions of place is central, an openness to multiple narratives, diverse perspectives and a curiosity about what lies beneath the surface.  My own work is firmly rooted in Manchester but embraces amorphousness and acknowledges global connections and flows.  The folk resonates as importantly as the horror for me as vernacular and DIY creativity is of huge value in destabilising and reclaiming power.”

What sparked your own interest in Folk Horror?

“Like many people I grew up surrounded by Forteana and I’ve always loved a good yarn.  Sometimes when the world is bleak it’s cathartic to escape further into the dark. Folk Horror overlaps many of the enduring themes in my work; hidden power structures, fragmented chronologies, everyday enchantments, shifting identities, connection to the landscape, persistence of collective memories and the subversive potential of creativity.  I should add I’m not an uncritical devotee though and I was initially a bit bewildered by the invitation to contribute.”

Morris Dancing

Can you tell us a little more about how your own work connects with or is inspired by themes in Folk Horror?

“Folk horror is one strand that contributes to contemporary psychogeography, and it’s lovely to have an opportunity to foreground that aspect as very often I tend to privilege the more obviously political. Reconciling the magickal and mundane has always been a tension in my work, it’s hard to make space for enchantment when there are so many struggles over material inequalities and access.

“Of course, folk horror can be viewed as a deeply subversive force, and central to everything The LRM does is a quest to expand our collective vision of what Manchester is and can be. As we walk we are channelling energy and creating new pathways; each footstep is a liminal space, betwixt and between and we are often drawn to the neglected, overlooked and wild places where the shiny veneer of the neoliberal city is tattered and frayed.

“I reject an essentialist view of the city and I’m bored by so many Manchester stereotypes. Our city is more wonderful, messy and chaotic than a glib advertising slogan implies and we want to uncover new stories and new possibilities. We also have to acknowledge the many ways in which our streets are haunted, there are ghosts under the pavement and the red brick was built with the blood of slaves. We are not, and have never, been alone but I don’t think that has to be a supernatural statement.

“At the core I think is the realisation that Capitalism is the greatest illusion ever, and it is crumbling around us; uncovering its empty heart opens up a space beyond imagining and that is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. Recently I have been researching the monsters in Manchester’s waterways. What can these apparitions tell us about Manchester past present and future? In particular our ambivalent relationship to the canal network is a conduit to uncovering something significant about ourselves and our place in the landscape.”

Guided Walk Morag Rose

How would you encourage people to explore Folk Horror – and how about locally here in Manchester?

“I know other panellists have already recommended a treasure trove of resources, and produce many of them themselves. As has been said The Unholy Trinity and Folk Horror Revival are great places to start. On a bit of a tangent I would recommend the Manchester Area Psychogeographic Archive, Phil Smiths Mythogeography or Steve Pile’s work on the dream work of cities. None are exactly folk horror but all provide useful insights on the periphery I think.

“Karl Bell’s excellent research provides plenty of evidence - if any were needed - that enchantment did not die when the mills and factories conquered Manchester, and the music of Lonelady captures something of our psychogeographic spirit. There’s also the art of Jane Samuels.

“It can feel impossible to find anything authentic within the urban spectacle and there is an occult strand of psychogeography that too often seeks to impose a singular secret meaning to place. These stories, like these streets, should belong to everyone, and ultimately I would say the best thing to do is to go for a wander with a curious heart, an open mind and a comfy pair of shoes to see what transpires.”

Piccadilly Gardens Walk

Featured/title photograph: taken during the ‘We Shall Overcome on The Streets’ event for We Shall Overcome with Quiet Loner and Steve Durrant. Credit: Helen Darby