Artist of the Week - Ben Nicholls
Modern fairies? What are they? A question I put to myself after initially getting involved in this project...
At our first meet up for the project there was much debate about fairies, their history, who’d actually met one, their meaning and significance in people’s lives and one of the things I became interested in was the origin of these stories. Many seem to drift back in time and can’t be pinned to a specific source, some are related to a specific location, activity or natural phenomenon, but their exact origins are lost.
Obviously, for some, they are a very real and present force in their lives and perhaps this question of where the stories come from adds a significance to the fairy realm with which they’re in tune, but for those who haven’t experienced them first hand, are they modern?
There’s a huge and very healthy range of experiences and thoughts on fairies among the artists involved in Modern Fairies and this made our initial discussions all the more thought provoking.
When I got home, I thought the best place to start, as a musician, might be to do an internet search on “fairy music” and see what appeared. This is one of the links that came up……
It showed some fairly destructive little fairy-like creatures in an aircraft in WW2, clearly a war propaganda film, but it made me wonder about the origins of the film. These were representations of fairies in a very specific time and place within living memory.
That led to this poem from an RAF Journal of April 1942….
When you're seven miles up in the heavens,
(That's a hell of a lonely spot)
And it's fifty degrees below zero
Which isn't exactly hot.
When you're frozen blue like your Spitfire
And you're scared a Mosquito pink,
When you're thousands of miles from nowhere
And there's nothing below but the drink
It's then you will see the Gremlins,
Green and gamboge and gold,
Male and female and neuter
Gremlins both young and old.
It's no good trying to dodge them,
The lessons you learned on the Link
Won't help you evade a Gremlin,
Though you boost and you dive and you fink.
White ones will wiggle your wingtips,
Male ones will muddle your maps,
Green ones will guzzle your Glycol,
Females will flutter your flaps.
Pink ones will perch on your perspex,
And dance pirouettes on your prop;
There's a spherical, middle-aged Gremlin
who'll spin on your stick like a top.
They'll freeze up your camera shutters,
They'll bite through your aileron wires,
They'll bend and they'll break and they'll batter,
They'll insert toasting forks in your tyres.
That is the tale of the Gremlins,
Told by the P.R.U.,
(P)retty (R)uddy (U)nlikely to many
But fact, none the less, to the few."
(The P.R.U. Is the RAF’s Photographic Reconnaissance Unit)
On further research it turns out that there were many reports of fairies, or gremlins as they were known, aboard aircraft in WW2. The creatures were often considered to have sympathy for the enemy, but the Luftwaffe too would sometimes face similar puzzling mechanical problems through the interventions of small folk. These were apparently beings acting on their own behalf and in their own interests.
In the summer of 1940 the Battle of Britain was raging in the skies of Southern England as the Luftwaffe tried to crush RAF Fighter Command, led by Hugh Dowding (Air Chief Marshal Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, 1st Baron Dowding, GCB, GCVO, CMG to give him his full title).
Dowding was a man with long-held suspicions about the influence of fairies on the human world and was in fact a member of the Fairy Investigation Society. This was an organisation set up in the 1920’s to compile evidence for the existence of fairies and a condition of membership was a genuine belief in their existence.
From these few details the complicated character of Dowding emerges, both military leader and fairy enthusiast, and has fuelled my explorations of the story of some (relatively) Modern Fairies.
All blog posts:
Modern Fairies Gatherings at The Sage, Gateshead, 12 May 2020
Of Land & Story The Process of Forgetting and Remembering, 30 April 2020
Time Squint, 24 January 2020
Fairy Sources, 24 January 2020
Sleepers and Glitches, 24 January 2020
Alyson Loathly, 24 January 2020
The Green Children, 15 January 2020
Fairies of the Trees, 15 January 2020
Hares, 15 January 2020
The Light Cutters, 14 January 2020
We Dance to an Other Tempo, 14 January 2020
Selkies, 13 January 2020
Artist of the Week - Elly Lucas, 10 June 2019
Artist of the Week - Fay Hield, 15 May 2019
Artist of the Week - Natalie Reid, 1 April 2019
Signed posters for everyone, 24 March 2019
Artist of the Week - Steven Hadley, 18 March 2019
Podcast Series 1, Now Live, 14 February 2019
Artist of the Week - Patience Agbabi, 5 February 2019
Artist of the Week - Ben Nicholls, 8 January 2019
Artist of the Week - Marry Waterson, 11 December 2018
Artist of the Week - Barney Morse-Brown (Duotone), 6 December 2018
Artist of the Week - Terri Windling, 19 November 2018
Artist of the Week - Inge Thomson, 12 November 2018
Modern Fairies at Festival of the Mind - Sheffield, September 2018, 4 November 2018
Artist of the Week - Sarah Hesketh, 2 November 2018
Artist of the Week - Fay Hield, 4 September 2018
Artist of the Week - Lucy Farrell, 31 July 2018
Artist of the Week - Ewan Macpherson, 22 July 2018
Modern Fairies and Loathly Ladies - the First Workshop, 11 July 2018