“I’m under the influence of wood nymphs”: Meet Barry The Blackwood Baptist

We head into deepest, darkest Cumbria to meet a man who exists at one with nature, and channels its power into some of the heaviest, most immersive live events in the country. It’s quite a trip…

“I’m under the influence of wood nymphs”: Meet Barry The Blackwood Baptist
Words and photos:
Jak Hutchcraft

Kerrang! is traipsing around a verdant woodland in the Lake District with a new friend. His name is Barry ‘The Blackwood Baptist’ Houghton and we’re in his inner sanctum of Fell Foot Wood. After greeting this writer with a bespoke and unprompted poetry recital – “Tell me Jak, what does it mean? Tell me Jak, Jak in the green. Tell me Jak, about that fox. Tell me Jak, Jak in the box…” – the 72-year-old, dressed in a thick waterproof jacket and well-worn workman boots, is now proudly showing us around his hillside land.

On this quiet, frosty January afternoon, it’s just Barry and K!, his employee James chopping wood in the distance, and the enchanted wildlife here. It’s usually even quieter than this, however. Barry’s home – a converted metal shipping container that he calls The Grotto – sits right in the heart of the bucolic, majestic woodland. He lives a peaceful life at his own pace, on his own terms, encircled by Cumbria’s vivid greens, monolithic mountains and vast lakes that attract over 15 million tourists every year.

Occasionally, though, Barry (who inexplicably calls himself the “procreator of pancosmic pyromanticism”) lets people into his magical world. In the serenity of today, it’s hard to believe that this is the setting for the heaviest underground festivals in the UK. Psychedelic neo-folk, extreme metal and hard electronica can all be heard booming from the hand-built stage, known as the Pancosmodrome, throughout various weekends of the year. The campsite is comprised of grassy cul-de-sacs at different points up the hill, overlooking Lake Windermere – the largest lake in England. Metalheads, goths and hippies gather here in their hundreds to connect with nature, take part in pagan rituals and mosh like maniacs.

“I’m really into forestry,” Barry explains in his strong Cumbrian accent as we walk amongst the pines, oaks and aspens. “The rest of the things I do here are just distractions.”

In 1986, while living in his nearby hometown of Ulverston, Barry bought this 60-acre woodland at an auction. “I remember the planning board, they thought I didn’t know what I was doing. They thought I just had money to burn,” he remembers. “They said, ‘What can he do with all that woodland?!’”

After this purchase, he left his job of 10 years as an advice officer for trading standards to pursue a more nature-based life. Through the late ’80s and ’90s he worked in much the same way he does now: managing the woodland, selling logs, coal and kindling. On May 26, 2005, however, a cosmic shift occurred. It was his daughter’s 16th birthday and he let her throw a party on the site; her friends brought some instruments along to jam with and Barry had an epiphany. Having guests on his land, playing music and celebrating brought so much joy to both he and them that he knew what he had to do. “She went away to university at 18,” Barry remembers. “Then for somebody like me, I wasn’t a hippy or I wasn’t going to any music events at the time, I started from scratch making contacts and going to events. I don’t really listen to mainstream music, so I just tended to go to underground events.”

Barry – who lists Suicide, And Also The Trees and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band as some of his favourite groups – started putting on events here, namely gigs and festivals in the late 2000s with names like The Purging Of The Nymphs and Lost In The Woods. Before long he’d invited a select few promoters to put on shows, too. One of the chosen few is Paul Gibson, who Barry first met in 2011 at gig for Cumbrian death-doom outfit Volition, who Paul was playing with at the time. He now runs black metal label and promotions company Wulfhere Productions.

“After attending and playing various gigs and festivals at Fell Foot Wood, I offered to help Barry put together gigs under the name Darkness Over Cumbria: The Blackwood Odyssey,” explains Paul, speaking from his home in Barrow-in-Furness. “This was so I could help Barry bring more people to his events, and for me I was gaining experience from planning and organising.”

After a couple of years, Paul was given free rein to organise Darkness Over Cumbria himself as two weekenders in July and October. “A small venue on the banks of Lake Windermere, it’s perfect,” smiles Paul. “Black metal being played within a woodland just goes hand-in-hand. Cumbria is the best setting for this in the UK.”

Some of the more established artists to perform here include Godflesh, Giant Swan and Damo Suzuki from Can, but Barry says that he’s all about the people and the experience, rather than striving to get big name acts. “I’m not really looking to have big commercial events, I’m not looking for fame and publicity. To some extent it’s about getting the right people here that are into it, rather than selling loads of tickets to people that possibly aren’t into it and don’t really get it.”

The people that are lucky enough to get tickets for the events here do seem to 'get it'. Some, Barry says, even come back to get married here.

“I’m getting more into the event side of things,” Barry continues, as he climbs higher up the hillside. “I’m involved a lot with developing the events, getting more and more out of [Fell Foot Wood]. It’s easier than the all-day forestry work, which I’m now getting past.”

“To look at Barry, you’d probably think he’s a regular guy running a wood business, wearing his usual work overalls and hat,” Paul explains. “But he takes you by surprise with his wicked sense of humour, music taste, knowledge and ritual madness. He’s like Cumbria’s own Aleister Crowley!”

While Barry might not have the notoriety of the famed occultist, there are comparisons to be drawn. The first time Kerrang! met Barry was in June last year at Rapacious Corvidity – a three-day metal fest he’d organised here featuring the likes of south coast sci-fi metallers Wallowing, West Yorkshire psychedelic doom band Gandalf The Green and Cumbrian black metal brood Nefarious Dusk. Due to COVID restrictions, the usual 250-capacity was reduced to just 100. For this writer, being half-cut from the local Cumbrian ale, watching the heaviest bands in Britain perform in a pitch black forest was, in a word, transcendental.

“It was completely unique,” Andy Flint, singer and guitarist from Gandalf The Green, said following the show. “It was one of the funnest weekends I’ve had in a long time, full stop.”

Having never visited Fell Foot Wood nor met Barry before, the band received an email from him out-the-blue in early 2021 asking if they wanted to play his festival. They couldn’t say yes fast enough, and when June rolled around, they filled their car with gear and journeyed into the depths of the Lake District.

“It was really hard to find because it’s tucked away,” drummer Jack Walker explained. “When we got there we got out the car, we turned around and saw Barry doing some kind of spoken-word thing. He were standing onstage screaming something about dog shit! He were screaming ‘Dog! Shit! Dog! Shit!’ and there was some guy next to him dressed as a bird, flapping. I was like, ‘Where the fuck are we?!’”

Barry made these bizarre performances throughout the weekend. Some were intense, some were inspired by pagan ceremonies, and some were just absurdly hilarious. “I’m developing something about wildflowers and birds," he explains excitedly, looking to the future. "Like a parody of prancing among the wild pansies. It’s got a certain poetic edge.”

After the headliners finished at Rapacious Corvidity, Barry, accompanied by hooded torchbearers, led a procession of attendees deep into the woods. When the crowd arrived at The Moon Pool – a manmade pond located off the beaten track – Barry, wearing overalls and a hat with flaming devil horns on either side, performed baptisms by firelight. Anyone that was moved by the spirit could get blessed, absolved and dunked by the Blackwood Baptist himself.

As we pass The Moon Pool on our wander today, we ask about the strange rituals. “The events here are a vehicle for my own creative expression. I wouldn’t play an instrument, or write poetry or anything like that normally, but being in the woods… I’m influenced by the wood nymphs.”

Our conversation takes a strange turn.

“Well, the main reason all of this is going on is because although I live in a home on me own in the woods, I’m under the influence of wood nymphs,” Barry says, smiling and staring into The Moon Pool. “They’re sprites and they knock on me window and on me door at night. They get me to do all these things. I’m under their possession.” He has a glint in his eye that is of either mischief or madness, or a mixture of both.

His focus shifts to me and asks if I’ve been baptised. When I tell him I’ve not, he marches off with purpose, reappearing minutes later with a bucket of water and a cheeky grin. I stand in anticipation by The Moon Pool, I close my eyes and he begins…

“I am the procreator of pancosmic pyromanticism and I bring unto you all things dark and sublime. To attune your psyche and forge links with he who is time. For I am, and I see, the root of your androgyny. We are gathered here in this wood to learn. Yet some of us are gonna burn…”

…I zone out briefly. Do the wood nymphs approve me being there?


I zone back in.

“The name of thee, is hereby affirmed within the wood, within the tree, within the you, within that which is me.”

I feel a bucketful of cold water get tipped over my head and it’s all over. I am cleansed.

We wander back down to the hillside.

“I’m happy, you see. I like forestry, and since I got a divorce I’ve ended up living on my own, it’s a bit of a dream,” Barry says of living in such seclusion, adding that neighbours in nearby holiday homes don’t approve of the loud music.

In the Lake District there is some contention between the locals and wealthy outsiders that buy up houses to use as holiday homes and Airbnbs. People from elsewhere in the country are driving up house prices for the Cumbrian locals. “I think there always will be [contention], whether it’s Cornwall, or wherever,” Barry muses. “Locals can’t buy houses in the locality. But, to be honest, as a hermit in the woods under the influence of wood nymphs, I’m a bit away from the mainstream,” he adds with a laugh.

The Cumbrian sun starts to set and we say our goodbyes. As K! departs, Barry’s employee James is also finishing up for the day. He’s hired all year round to work in the woodyard, do the sound, stage manage and help organise the gigs. We ask what it’s like to work with the Blackwood Baptist every day.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had; it’s a beautiful place to work. The effect that this place has on people… they really fall in love with it,” he says while bagging up the last logs of the day. “A beautiful woodland like this, there’s got to be something wrong with you if it doesn’t affect you in some way. Well, something has definitely gotten to Barry, anyway.”

As we walk towards the bus stop and James locks the big entrance gate behind us, Barry returns to the woods alone. As he disappears out of sight we can’t help but wonder what it is that’s “gotten” to him, and what really takes place in Fell Foot Wood after dark…

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