With the release of the only known recorded material by James Acre’s psychedelic rock improvisers The Unseen Temple, interest in all aspects of the cult has grown. As a scholar of New Religious Movements I have developed a particular interest in Acre’s group and was approached to write a short biographical study of the cult’s leader for inclusion in The Unseen Temple: A James Acre Anthology.
It was as a direct result of my piece in the Anthology set that I entered into a lengthy and often strange correspondence with Karen Thomas. She is now the sole guardian of Acre’s legacy at the House of the Magicks, as Alfred Harleston has apparently left the property he still owns to live with family in Boston. Karen, alongside all members and ex-members, is notoriously secretive. However, her interest in a project that focused attention on the works of the group (in this case musical) rather than indulging in sensationalist speculation or academic posturing was clear.
Karen seemed to enjoy the opportunity to write freely about the group over which she now presides during our email conversations. It must be stressed, however, that she offered little new information other than the hymnal extracts and recordings. She was reluctant to discuss the Winter Ritual (the Holy Grail for Acre scholars) or the apparent cruelties inflicted upon some cult members during Acre’s reign, although she did refer to her leader’s practice of cursing those who had left the fold.
Karen first mentioned the existence of the hymnal when I enquired about The Temple Band’s function at the House. I asked if any similar musical activities had taken place since Acre’s disappearance and she replied that there was no band as such, merely songs from the hymnal accompanied by guitar. This piqued my interest. We knew of the existence of hymns within the movement as two are evidenced in Acre’s journals as presented by Martin Faraday. However, Karen spoke of the hymns as if they were of great importance to the group and its rituals. To my surprise she offered to send me paper copies of some of the songs. It seemed that she thought they may gain a favourable response in some quarters, as had the music of The Temple Band. When I asked if there were any recordings of the hymns from the House she replied in the negative. I found this hard to believe, especially from the period when the Temple archivist Solomon Charge was involved in the movement. Perhaps, I thought, any recordings were destroyed by Acre in the ‘burnings’ of 2003 along with much other documentation.
In the absence of recorded works, I suggested to Karen that these songs (which were provided on typed pages with hand-drawn guitar chords) could be interpreted by other performers - but she was unsure. Several weeks passed until one Saturday I received an email stating that she had arranged for several songs to be recorded at the House. This was incredibly strange as I understood Karen shared Acre’s latter day belief that any documentation of performance or ritual could lessen its impact; therefore recording devices and cameras were banned from Temple premises. Nonetheless, an English convert known as Brother Daniel had apparently recorded some material at Karen’s request (she has stated that he was the most accomplished of the group musically – although most of the songs require little more than rudimentary knowledge of the guitar). Brother Daniel even added overdubs to the recordings. Some have claimed that such flourishes distance the hymns from their original performance intention but others, myself included, were taken aback by the intensity of these recordings by an active member of the group; something that we never thought we would hear.
I was able to maintain correspondence for several more weeks after receiving audio files from Karen before my subject stopped replying to emails without reason. Perhaps she felt that she had shared too much or maybe she feared the reaction of the one for whom she patiently waits to return. Either way, I was able to ask about several of the songs, and although her answers were largely elliptical, they have framed my interpretations of the hymns which follow this introduction.
It will perhaps come as a surprise to listeners familiar with the Temple Band recordings that several songs have a distinctly upbeat feel. Such positivity may be due to the fact that many hymns were written during the Temple’s early ‘monastic’ phase, where Acre took a more democratic approach, regularly holding ‘table talks’ and even open sessions. It was a period of expansion and optimism. It may be a coincidence, but the two darkest hymns musically, ‘Hymn of the Doubled Cross’ and ‘Hymn of the Fallen Third’, are also the most recent pieces.
The brevity of the songs is also noticeable when contrasted with the lengthy trance-inducing workouts that were the speciality of The Temple Band. Regarding this, Karen Thomas notes that, “The structures of the songs have never really been formalised and can vary if choruses are repeated or instrumental breaks are taken.” It appears that Brother Daniel preferred streamlined takes of these songs.
I believe that these recordings will prove interesting to students of Acre’s philosophy, those interested in the wider world of New Religious Movements and, indeed, fans of the music contained in the previous release credited to The Unseen Temple. I must again thank Karen Thomas without whom this project would not have come to fruition. It is now up to the listener to make up their own mind about these curious songs and the group that spawned them.
released September 15, 2014
All songs performed and recorded by Brother Daniel.