Recording the new LIVE music video for Robert Macfarlane's book Underland

September 10, 2020

We are premiering a new LIVE music video, recorded at the bottom of a big cave in the Mendips today at 10.30am on YouTube. Tune in here to see it: https://youtu.be/yMy9kAHd880. Here's a little of the story behind the film....

 

When we were reading Underland for the first time we were taken completely by surprise that my cousin, Sean Borodale, was one of Robert's first guides into the underland. I had had no idea that he was a caver and was embarrassed that I was finding out new things about my cousin through a book. 


We wrote a song for the book's hardback launch at Daunt Books in 2019, performed in front of Robert, the artist Stanley Donwood and assembled friends and colleagues. Being a book of special places we felt a strong desire to try and record the song in one of those places, deep underground. And I knew the person who would be able to advise us.  I met Sean a month or so after the book's launch whilst in Somerset at a family gathering and while he was short of time and unable to take us there in person he told us of a wonderful cave a short drive away called Goatschurch Cavern, hidden in the forests above Burrington Combe, and bored into the Mendip limestone. This place he said possessed the most beautiful ambience and echo he had found caving, and said if we made it down to the bottom of the main cavern, right in the furthest accessible point we would get the recording we hoped for. The cave, he said, had been earmarked as a "show-cave" in the 70s. Although this had never been realised, the very first semblance of steps had been begun, which would help us with the descent to the place we should record. 

 

Beth and I set off, with my younger sister Elfie, who we had convinced to accompany us on this expedition, in return for a lift to Bristol airport. We parked the car at the bottom of Burrington Combe, just off a spectacular road that winds up through the hills, limestone jutting out of the gorge on either side with tantalising holes high up and inaccessible except to the most skilled of climbers. We had three hours to do everything before Elfie's flight and set off up the gorge, each laden with rucksacks and heavy bags of film and recording equipment, a guitar, amp and cello, and a small picnic.

 

After half a mile we turned off the road up into the forest along a little worn track, following Seans directions. Left at the first bank, continue straight, over the old stream, then up to the right, keep going, keep going. The track took us precariously up onto the side of the gorge, deep in the trees. At the point when we questioned my memory of the directions we came upon a small dark opening at the base of a large bolder, no bigger than would allow a single person to lower themselves through, a cello afterwards, with a plaque above it that bore the legend "Goatschurch Cavern" and advertising the services of the local cave rescue team. We were here. 

 

I was taken aback slightly by the smallness of the entrance, the steepness of the narrow descent that followed, and the lack of any end to the shaft that dropped deep into the earth or any real evidence of the steps Sean had described to assist us in. I shined my torch and saw what looked like the slightly polished marks on the wet rock, at intervals, as if they were subtle foot holds on the side of the rock. I held myself in the entrance, looking down, then looking up to Beth and Elfie, and then to all the gear we had. 

 

"There's absolutely no fucking way I'm going down there" said Elfie. There was no way in my right mind that I was going down there, but it definitely was the right cave, and it kind of matched Sean's description and we had found it using his directions, so this had to be it. Maybe it levelled out nicely at the bottom, maybe it was a fun slide down. The end would be worth it. Still I hung onto the sides, my fingers not letting go as my mind weighed up what I considered dangerous compared to what someone like Sean might, who explored them all the time. Childhood competitiveness, we couldn't turn back, be brave. It'll be fine. For twenty minutes I hung, debating with myself and the others. Time ticking. It'll be fine. I loosened my grip. 

 

At the very last moment, as my body started to let go down the shaft I suddenly clenched my fingers around the last of my grip. "Wait! I remember what Sean said!" Sean said. 'You'll come to a first tiny entrance. Walk on past there - that one's really dangerous and deep and you need rope and full caving gear. Don't go in there. Keep going and the big nice walk-in entrance is literally 5 meters up round the corner."

 

"......"

 

After a few reverent moments silence thanking a timely recollection of important information, we walked perhaps 8 steps further up the track, just round the boulder and saw the big entrance, beautiful, contoured, angular concrete steps leading gently down into the darkness of Goatchurch Cavern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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