I knew about this book because it was (is?) high up the wish-list of a few friends. It has been out of print for ages and has long been up for a reprint. I was reminded about it because it is advertised in the back of “Industrial Evolution“. That book is about Cabaret Voltaire, but it also describes the foundation of SAF Publishing who published the first version of “England’s Hidden Reverse” in 2003. That print is now exchanging hands for preposterous prices. By the time I was reminded of the title, I had no problem of getting the Strange Attractor Press reprint for a descent price.
The book is subtitled “A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground” which suggests (to me at least) that the focus may not be entirely on music. That is not really the case though. You will learn something about the (developing) interests of the people described, but the focus is by far mostly the music.
Amazon lists a first-print hardcover with has “Coil-Current 93-Nurse with Wound” in the title. There -indeed- you have the main players of the book. The book is mostly built on inderviews with David Tibet (mostly known for Current 93), (ex-)members of Coil (John Balance, Drew McDowall, Ossian Brown, Peter Christopherson, Stephen Thrower) and people involved in Nurse With Wound (Steven Stapleton, Andrew Liles, Heman Pathak, John Fothergill). Also people like Genesis P-Orridge, William Bennett, Douglas Pearce and Rose McDowell have been interviewed along with (ex-)partners of the ‘main characters’.
The book has a bit of an odd style. It is divided into chapters, but within these chapters the different alinea can suddenly be about another person, so you are reading about the youth of David Tibet and the next thing you know you are reading about John Balance. The content is often very personal. The interviewees talk about their lives, dreams, drug experiments, addictions, relations and sex-lives. Of course you will also learn a lot about the musical development of the people involved. What and who influenced them? How did they get to know all the people they collaborated with?
The result shows a rather diffuse net (or “family”) of people who grow towards eachother and apart again, who live together and split up again and of course: who sometimes make music together. This “family” also consists of other kinds of artists such as writer William S. Burroughs or director Derek Jarman.
“England’s Hidden Reverse” makes a nice read with people with broad interests in all kinds of fields, whose personalities develop (like Tibet from a shadowy occultist to a Buddhist to a Chritian and who started making electronic (noisy) music and would shift towards a more folky sound). Especially numerous names of vague bands and projects are mentioned, forgotten releases and many, many albums of the mentioned projects that I never heard.
It would have been nice had the book lived up a bit more to my expectation based on the subtitle. Here and there you get a glimpse of the philosophy of some person, the weird rituals that they performed, the authors that they are interested in and the way they meet musicians because of a shared interest in (for example) Crowley. Speaking of Crowley, there are some odd family ties to him for more than one person in the book. These occult, esoteric, philosophical and religious sides of the people involved are usually just mentioned in passing and nowhere goes into any depth.
My conclusion would be that this book is mostly of interest of people curious about the musical (and to a certain extend personal) development of the members of “family” around Current 93, Coil and Nurse With Wound. For a peek into the ‘occult underground’ you may need to find another title.
2003 SAF Publishing, 2014 Strange Attractor Press, isbn 0946719403