I was a huge fan of David Orphan‘s bizarre Songs For Hannah Henley LP on Pre-Cert Home Entertainment (and highly recommend picking up a copy if you haven’t already) so it’s no surprise that “The Devil & The Schoolmaster” is tickling that part of my brain that bathes in occult mystique quite right. Originally available on Orphan’s Folklore Tapes Mix 1 via News Letter Issue 1 December 2012, the track is a mix of scratchy horror tropes and dusty found sounds. Acoustic guitar and flutes mislead, the countryside feeling warm and delightful until the wheels begin to come off in the form of obscured, ghostly voices, stilted percussion, and blackened drones. Everything flows gently, expertly, until it teases falling apart before settling back in to bury the corpse, leaving no trace of the evil that’s occurred save for a few menacing bird squawks. I absolutely love this stuff and hope he’s got another record in the works.
It is said that the arch spirit of evil once took up his abode in cockerham, and so scared and disturbed the inhabitants of that quiet place, that at length in public meeting, to consider how to free themselves from this fiendish persecution, they appointed the schoolmaster, as the wisest and cleverest man in the place, to do his best to drive the devil away.
Using the precribed incantation at midnight, the pedagogue succeeded in raising satan ; but when he saw his large horns and tail, saucer eyes and long claws, he became almost speechless. According to the recognized procedure in such cases, the devil granted him the privilege of setting three tasks, which if he (Satan) accomplished, the schoolmaster became his prey ; if he failed, it would compel the flight of the demon from Cockerham.
The first task, to count the number of dewdrops on certain hedges, was soon accomplished ; and so was the second, to count the number of stalks in a field of grain. The third task was then proposed in the following words, according to a doggerel version of the tradition ;-Now make me, dear sir, a rope of yon sand, which will bear washing in Cocker, and not lose a strand.’
Speedily the rope was twisted of fine sand, but it would not stand washing’ so the devil was foiled, and at one stride he stepped over the bridge over Broadfleet, at Pilling Moss.