The Satanic Panic Of The 1980s – A Memoir And A Mystery Story
'Heartbreaking and breathtaking. The terrors of the real world are incomprehensible. Take a moment to consider preordering a copy of his book'. Comment on The Sussex Devils by Horror legend Clive Barker, author of Hellraiser
Thirteen years after I quit music, I stumbled across a yellowed fragment of The Guardian from early 1986 in the bottom of a trunk full of old studio tapes.
The cutting concerned the court case of a man named Derry Mainwaring Knight. He claimed that he was a senior member of a secret Satanic group operating at the highest levels of British society. Helped by a local priest, John Baker, vicar of the Sussex village of Newick, Knight had raised large sums from wealthy local gentry on the pretext of destroying powerful items of Satanic regalia and subvert the cabal from within.
I threw away the piece of newspaper. It made me deeply uneasy, and I did not remember why I would have saved it. But the story nagged at me. I started asking myself about the Knight affair. I recalled almost nothing about his trial – even though I had grown up at the epicentre of the story. My family had known the Reverend Baker well and I had been a close friend of his eldest son, David. I had witnessed the panic over Satanism and the contemporary hysteria generated in Sussex religious meetings: speaking in tongues, prophesy, and healing. Why did I know so much about the people in the story and yet I recalled so little about it?
Finally, I faced up to the reason for the blank: the trial had taken place in the weeks immediately after the defining trauma of my life.
In December 1985 an elder from my parents’ evangelical Christian church attempted to exorcise me from what he suspected was my possession by demons. I could hardly blame him. I was drunk, crazed and mumbling about a terrible city made of iron on a vast, featureless plain.
My parents were “born again” in 1981. I found their conversion to “Charismatic” Christianity alarming but to begin with it had little impact on my day-to-day life. But I was about to experience a very real psychological trauma. At a religious rally that I unwillingly attended in 1984 at the Loftus Road football stadium, I experienced the first of the panic attacks that were later to dominate my life. Anxiety is a relatively modern condition, now much discussed, but in 1984 I had never heard the term. In my dreams and eventually by day, my mind was invaded with monsters that assimilated all humanity, of tortures and wounds upon vast plains of human remains, the insane violence of the iron city, all garbled and choked in a never-ending loop. I became so disturbed that I fulfilled a symptomatic checklist of “possession”, and needless to say, that was the Evangelical diagnosis.
In THE SUSSEX DEVILS I first set out to write the story of Derry Knight and his allegations of a Satanic cabal at the heart of the British establishment. Yet, when I began the process, I found myself wondering what exactly had happened back then to me.
In the book I will tell these two stories in parallel. It is difficult to understand now but the Satanic moral panics of the 1980s were as powerful as the current panics about child abuse. Why, for a brief moment in history, did these fears dominate, and what did it mean – for me, my friends and the wider world?
As best I could, I pieced together the story – of Derry Knight, of my own coming-of-age, of the broader Satanic panic – and asked myself: who were the real Sussex Devils?
Pledge at the £40 level to receive your ticket to a party at Fortress Studios, London N1 in late March / Early April 2015 (plenty of notice will be given). Featuring 4 DJs, drinks, a signed copy of The Compound Eye EP, a 1st edition hardback of The Sussex Devils and more!
Jared Louche (Prude / Chemlab)
Raymond Watts (PIG)
Marc Heal (Cubanate / MC Lord Of The Flies)
Phil Barry (Be My Enemy / Cubanate)
Free Drinks until 11pm
Signed Copy of The Compound Eye EP (plus a digital copy)
Hardback of The Sussex Devils (plus a digital copy)
Compound Eye T-Shirt
Other stuff TBD
Chapter One – Beneath The Gray’s Inn Road
Adam unlocked the basement door. Warily, I peered in. He looked at me, awaiting my reaction.
“Well? What do you think?”
“It’s absolutely perfect,” I laughed and flared my nostrils, savouring the musty air of the studio. “I didn’t think places like this existed in London any more. Not in the middle of town.”
It was a thin, rectangular space, about twenty-five feet long. The ceiling was low and the lighting was dim. Two or three hundred vinyl albums lay stacked along a battered sideboard, propped against a pair of turntables. One of the walls was bare brick, which is reflective, and therefore not ideal for listening to audio. But it enhanced the urban, industrial atmosphere, and that was what I wanted. Truth be told, I had fallen in love with the place before we even opened the door.
It was a dark, sodden October evening in 2012. I had met Adam outside a set of massive security gates on the Greys Inn Road. He was a small fellow, with a cheerful, ferrety face. Tonight he wore a flat cap, with his coat collar pulled up.
“So, where do we go?” I shrugged.
Adam grinned and pointed downwards. There was a tiny door set flush into the gates. But for the keyhole you would never have known it was there. He unlocked it with an old-fashioned Chubb key and we crawled through, disappearing off the street, Alice in Wonderland style. On the other side we found ourselves in a short alley. It was suddenly quiet. My boots clicked on the wet cobblestones. Broken guttering dripped in the corners. It would have been a good spot to score Laudanum or murder a prostitute.
At the end of the alley was full sized, solid steel door. More unlocking. We entered a double-storey Victorian warehouse containing some light commercial units – a gentleman’s tailor, a bathroom outfitter and a motorcycle workshop. Later I would learn that during the day the security gates were open to the road and then there was a steady traffic through the alley; deliverymen chewing pencils, arguing over clipboards, dispatch riders leaning against the walls, smoking cigarettes and bragging about bikes and girls. But at night the gates were closed. Then, as now, the warehouse was deserted, heavy with a sense of the uncanny and filled with goods from all the businesses that shared the premises; clothing dummies, scooters, mirrors and shower units.
Adam led me down a creaky iron staircase to the basement. The corridor was cluttered with old videotapes and broken amplifiers. He fumbled for the lock, but I knew I was going to take the room even before the door swung open.
I touched the old London bricks of the studio walls. I supposed the basement had been dug out when the warehouse was built, sometime in the nineteenth century. It must have been a storeroom once, but now Adam had installed a low table, some lamps and a pair of powerful studio monitors for playback. Through some primeval sense, a change in air pressure perhaps, you knew you were below street level. It is rare to be in heart of the city and to feel such a dead weight of silence. Down here you would hear nothing, and no one would hear you.
Over And Out
Friday, 18 September 2015
Well, that’s it. The Sussex Devils is finished. Now it’s gone to the printers and I guess you’ll receive your copy in a few weeks or so. So this is my final “Shed” message.
At the end of any definitive process (books, movies, careers, sex, dinner, relationships, maybe life itself) there’s an ambivalent feeling. On the one hand, some relief at reaching the period. Phew, I made it. That was exhausting…
Wednesday, 20 May 2015
Book publishers take an enviably relaxed view of schedules. They groove along, swinging their hips in shades and flared pants. Not for them the urgency of the modern world, with its “electronic” mail, and so-called “instant” messaging.
Still, the Sussex Devils edit process is nearly complete now. There have been no major changes, apart from the afterword. But there have been a multitude of copy…
Friday, 13 March 2015
I submitted the draft manuscript of The Sussex Devils and I’m now waiting for a response from the Unbound editors. I added an “Epilogue” piece a few weeks ago, an endpiece which draws together a few strands from the main story. That aside, I’ve not looked at the main work as a whole in several months. Every time I dip into a chapter it feels OK – truthful at least. But perhaps I’m numb by now.…
Friday, 30 January 2015
The Sussex Devils is now fully funded. Thank you for your help at whatever level you contributed: I am monstrously grateful. It's not easy to ask for money for an unpublished book - and a bloody sight harder to hand it over, I would think.
I will keep you posted on progress towards publication, which I am told will likely be in the autumn, although as a supporter you will receive an advance copy…
On Writing Recent History (What Was It Like In 1981, Daddy?)
Monday, 19 January 2015
The Sussex Devils is the story of Derry Mainwaring Knight and the Reverend John Baker. It’s also an analysis of the (now scarcely believeable) atmosphere surrounding the moral panic around Satanism in the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s. And of course, it’s also my story – at least insofar as it intersects with these events. My literary agent, Robert Dinsdale at AM Heath, prodded me to amplify this…
A Love That Could Hurt No One (Last Part)
Tuesday, 25 November 2014
A small and curious crowd of Ossett locals collected around the ambulance, as Michael Taylor was taken away, still screaming. It didn’t take long for PC Walker to find out his address. Under the circumstances, he thought it would be best to visit the Taylors’ home right away. He jumped back into his car and followed the directions. On an impulse he put on his siren, though strictly speaking it wasn…
A Love that Could Hurt No One (Part Three)
Wednesday, 19 November 2014
By now senior members of St Thomas’s clergy had heard about the confrontation at the fellowship group. The priest-in-charge of St Thomas was a pinch-faced 52 year-old Evangelical called Peter Vincent. Before becoming his tenure at St Thomas, between 1963 and 1971 he had been the vicar at the Church of Saint John the Divine in nearby Rastrick. Whilst there he had developed quite a reputation. Vincent…
A Love that Could Hurt No One (Part Two)
Thursday, 13 November 2014
It would be hard to think of a bleaker year in recent English history than 1974. It was an angry, frightened time: revolution was in the air. Strikes were rife. Prices were soaring daily. The top rate of income tax had been increased to 83% in an Emergency Budget. A low to mid-level civil war was spilling across from Northern Ireland to the mainland. Even America seemed to be falling apart, with defeat…
A Love That Could Hurt No One (Part One)
Wednesday, 12 November 2014
The Sunday morning shift was generally an easy one in Wakefield police station and for PC Ian Walker, the 6th October 1974 promised to be no different. One of the things he liked about police work was the variety. You got to see a fair bit of life, and the occasional death. But early on a Sunday there were no schools, no commuters, no over-the-limit boozers chancing their luck coming back from the…
How Not To Start A Book
Friday, 7 November 2014
“Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.” (James Joyce)
That’s bullshit. I like writing. But I think it is true that to attempt to write a book you must be either slightly mad, or monstrously self confident, or laughably un-self-aware. (Is there even a difference?)
Several times during the process of The Sussex Devils I did experience…
Saturday, 25 October 2014
As we entered the small town of Pulborough my wife muttered from behind the steering wheel, “There’s something weird about Sussex”.
I had to confess that the same thought had troubled me before. But on this occasion I was enjoying the journey down to the south coast and felt inclined to defend my home county. Anyway, she’s a Yorkshire lass. Compared to the majesty of the Dales, one could hardly…
Satan Goes To Hollywood
Tuesday, 21 October 2014
Sometimes, in the dark of my shed, I wonder why i'm attempting this: certainly not financial reward. The book industry, like every other content creation industry, is on its knees. So let's look back on happier times, when a man could dust himself down from failing as a wine merchant and become a multi-millionaire just by hammering away at the typewriter.
Dennis Wheatley was the Dan Brown, the…
The Return Of The Supernatural (1960 - 1974)
Friday, 17 October 2014
I would like to say this: The Sussex Devils is not a tract pushing any particular belief. If you’re an atheist I hope you'll you’ll dig it because it demonstrates the crazy things religious people do. If you have faith I hope you’ll love it even more because you will be able to see God’s purpose being worked out. But really the book is about people, not gods.
Having said that, I think it's time…
Welcome To The Sussex Devils
Saturday, 11 October 2014
Welcome to my Unbound “Shed”. (And if that sentence doesn’t alarm you, stay safe, OK?).
Thank you for your pledge. I am of course keen that The Sussex Devils should be published. It has taken up a huge amount of time and emotional output and I’m pleased with the result. I am going to have to spend the next few weeks abasing myself for pledges - not only to my friends, but from strangers, bare…
These people are helping to fund The Sussex Devils.