The Mysteries of Enclave Eight
One of an Occasional Series of Unsolved Mysteries: 'Absence of Fatima'
As told to Chris Browning by The Archivist.
The few houses, hall, post office and church that make up Whitwall aren’t quite enough to make it a hamlet, village or even a suburb. It’s an in-between place, plopped unceremoniously between the town of Audsley Hill and the village of Evelet and never really anything other than a stopping off place on longer journeys. But those who live there are proud of their home, tucked as it is in the depths of a Yorkshire valley with one hill mostly covered in farmland and sheep and the other mostly covered in Audsley Wood. It’s also a place known for its strangeness and otherness. Things may happen in Audsley Hill or in Evelet or even just down the road in Lancashire in Burnley, but nothing quite happens in the same way as it happens in Whitwall.
We shall return to Whitwall very soon. Let’s quickly detour to Wakefield. Absence of Fatima are mostly forgotten these days: they turn up on the more obscure bootleg compilations of sixties and seventies music and only really get discussed by music nerds desperately trying to out obscure their friends. The reason for this is, for the most part, they really weren’t very good. They definitely looked the part – although their attempt to look brooding and mysterious in their sole publicity photo failed somewhat and they look simply awkward and gangling. Apparently there was a definite intensity in their live performances but it never quite seemed enough. The problem, simply, is the vocalist (Charlie Vaughan) has a slight lisp when he sings; the guitarist (Danno Hatlin) knows the riffs but his guitar is horribly amplified and makes a rattling, tinny sound; the bass player (Big Gary Poulton) is good but playing in the wrong band; the keyboard player (Wagbo Kelly) is obviously in search of some idealised sound in his head but seems to be in no danger of
actually achieving that; but the drummer (Keith Askrigg) was great and by all accounts their roadie – Saggy Frank, as he was delightfully known – could do some extraordinary dancing to try and muster enthusiasm. But they’re just one of those not quite there bands, especially on their one album Songs of Minister John.
Like the band themselves, it’s an album unsure whether it wants to be pop rock, hard rock, acid rock or even prog rock and never really convinces as either. Any early momentum for the band struggled to get very much further than mild interest and two years after their formation in 1971, they were still plodding around small pubs and clubs trying to maintain an audience – any audience. This is where The Absence of Fatima were on Tuesday 17th April 1973: they had just finished an enthusiastic but sparsely crowded gig at the Maundy Shepherd pub in Audsley Hill where the opening band, Mudflap, got a much more enthusiastic welcome because they were local lads. Slightly disheartened, Saggy Frank loaded up the van at around 11:15pm and the band drove onwards to Lancashire where they had booked a cheap hotel in Burnley before continuing their tour the next day.
This is almost certainly the last anyone saw of the Absence of Fatima, or at least almost all. There was one more sighting, and this is when we return to Whitwall. For a small and somewhat neglected area, Whitwall has a far deeper sense of community than most places. People know each other here and have done for generations, and the presence of a large church hall at the side of St Mark’s has led to a somewhat bewildering array of local clubs and societies. It’s as if the area decided that the rest of the world may well
ignore it, but they’re going to make every second of every day count for those who live there. The only day the church hall was not used was a Monday, which was the cleaning day. Tuesdays were the day when the WAA (1) met.
The WAA were – and still are – the Whitwall Anomalous Association, a society that met weekly to sift through years of stories of peculiar happenings in the area: cryptozoology, legends, old customs, historical discoveries in the surrounding hills and, naturally, a little bit of UFO watching. The area around Whitwall and Audsley Hilll had been a hotbed of UFO rumours for many years, although somewhat stronger on the unidentified objects rather than the flying side of things.
To quote from one record from 1952: “witnessed by Mrs E Shorter at 11:03 PM on 11/4/52 when putting cat out, lights glowing in the skies of the Whitwall woods; lights did not move but ‘flashed’ or ‘pulsed’ several times every three or four seconds for a whole minute before dying out; final flash after two minutes, eventually fading to nothing.” Again, from 1967: “Mr E Munt, walking dog at 10:49 PM 15/4/67, sees strange ‘glow’ near woods; ‘not a fire, but not dissimilar to the way a flame dances’; fades after a minute or so.”
There’s even a folk song from the 17th Century Lord Daniel and the Bright King which, although much bowdlerised over the years and mutated considerably, mentions an Whytwalle in one variation and involves a mysterious nobleman who visits a farmer who is said to “shine as brightly as the sun”; similarly one of the many unusual poems and songs about the entity known as Johnny Sunshine mention a Whitwall. If you are so inclined, it doesn’t take long to connect this to the more modern stories.
There’s another, stranger, element to these stories too – both the Shorter and Munt reports mention in passing “the absence of movement element occurred again.” This is a curious phrase but apparently relates to an almost side effect of the lights within the wood, where people have noted that even on the windiest of days, all trees and vegetation stay absolutely still. It seems to occur just before and after sightings of the light but is such a peculiar thing to witness, it’s been much harder to describe.
If you noticed that the two earlier events occurred in April and the Absence of Fatima gig was also on an April night, you might be slightly ahead of the rest of us in what connects the WAA and the unsuspecting band. By all accounts – Saggy Frank was no help in this, as you will see, the van travelled through Whitwall at around 11:40 on the evening in question or at least began to. At around 11:43, Dr Hugh Dumphries of the WAA, a retired academic from Manchester, noticed the tree outside his bedroom window stopped swaying in the evening breeze. He immediately phoned fellow member Jason Tattershall to notify as many members to mobilise as quickly as possible and record as much as they could of what was inevitably coming.
The actual reports are a little disappointing: the photos do show a glow, but everything else is so dark and murky they’re practically useless. The sound recordings by young WAA member Libby Tibbut don’t reveal anything noticeable even on the closest study. They gathered at the
church hall, which stood away from the main road and was quite high up, affording all a good view of the events below. But the six members of the group who did mobilise in time (Tattershall, Dumphries, Tibbut, Gary Spang, Eleanor Gort and Frank Hibbs) all agree on what they did see: no movement of any vegetation and the almost pulsing light at the centre of the woods. And the… other thing.
It was young Spang who saw the van. It pulled over at around 11:45 and five figures got out, who we must assume were Absence of Fatima. Spang said: “the five men, all fairly young and dressed casually, got out of the van which they’d parked on the edge of the sheep field that runs below the wood, staring at the lights. I couldn’t see or hear what they were saying, but I heard laughter and there was definitely pointing. Then one of them cleared the hedge into the field and the others followed – well a larger one (2) found the gate, but they all entered the field and looked towards the light. The others with me all were watching them at this point.”
“At about 11:48, I noticed – and Mrs Gort saw it too – that the long shadows caused by the lights from the wood suddenly ‘cut out’… by which I mean they no longer had any shadows at all. It was a full moon as well so it was really jarring but was so sudden we didn’t really process what we were seeing until it was too late. Because just after the shadows disappeared each figure… how do I explain… sort of pulsed out. They sort of blurred for a moment, became really clear for a second or two, blurred again and then…. went. Everyone saw that. We all saw them suddenly not be there but only me and Eleanor saw the shadows and the pulsing thing.”
“It was the strangest thing I had ever seen.”
The group then ran down from their vantage point at the church hall to the main road and to the van itself, now empty. Or almost empty. Sleeping soundly in the back, propped up against an amp, was a sleeping Saggy Frank, who got his nickname for his expert ability to sleep under any circumstances. It appears he had literally fallen asleep as soon as the van left Audsley Hill and he was unaware that the van had stopped let alone aware that the band had left him alone at some point upon entering Whitwall.
The story sort of peters out after this. The police were informed, obviously, but they were very aware of the WAA’s reputation and after politely indulging six slightly over excited people’s babbled report ended up recording the event as simply unsolved. The official version is that the band wandered off for some reason, leaving the van and the roadie, and were never seen again.
A final, curious coda to this. Saggy Frank, or Frankie Moondust as he started to call himself, decided to reinvent himself as a UFO raconteur and throughout the eighties and nineties would travel the length and breadth of the country to meet local groups and tell his story, one which seemed to develop new wrinkles on every retelling. He even ventured to America in the mid-nineties to a large convention in Missouri. During this convention he met some people from the American town of Whitwall, a place of similar size and status of the British one and with a similar reputation for weirdness. They had brought with them one of the prized possessions of the archive of the Whitwall UFO Society: found some six feet underground in a field running below a local wood, notorious for its strange lights.
Two coats. A leather jacket, in such a state of decay it must have been buried for several decades, and a velvet coat. The jacket had the name Danno Hatlin written inside it, the velvet jacket – in a similar state of disrepair - had no name, but Frank
recognised it immediately as the one worn by keyboard player Wagbo Kelly. If there was any doubt it was his old bandmate’s the badge on his lapel – rusted heavily but still readable – read simply Absence of Fatima.
Frankie Moondust retired from the UFO circuit after that and has not been heard of or seen in public ever since. The Missouri Whitwall people just described him as very, very upset. And that is the end of the story as we currently know it. As ever, until further documentation is forthcoming, the file will remain open and any suggestions or leads should be forwarded to the Custodian of Enclave Eight.
Until next time, adieu.
1. Known in Whitwall as Doubles – Double U, Double A
2. Almost certainly Askrigg who was a larger man.