A fresh Peake at a 400-year-old tale


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The Independent Culture

Instantly recognisable thanks to performances in dramas such as Hancock and Joan and The Street, the actress Maxine Peake has taken a more unfamiliar role: as narrator on a concept album that brings to life the infamous Pendle witch trials that occurred in her home county of Lancashire 400 years ago this month.

It is another unexpected turn in the career of the Bolton-raised thesp, who broke through as a comic actor in Shameless and dinnerladies, before playing Myra Hindley. Her most high-profile appearance so far has been a starring role in the courtroom drama Silk, though appearing on a synth record about 17th-century legal shenanigans shows she can still find new challenges. On 1612 Underture, shadowy collective The Eccentronic Research Council give voice (via a sinister Ouija board sequence) to the 12 women tried for witchcraft in July and August 1612.

Led by Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer (previously involved with Sheffield's All Seeing I), the self-proclaimed group of "artists, sound designers, experimental pop performers, writers, poets and one actress" hint at contemporary resonances by telling the story of a modern-day pilgrimage to Pendle Hill by a Roman Catholic priest and nun – the latter's thoughts spoken by Peake. As the Council explain in a statement, its members "identify an uncanny relevance to our current political and social climate… People are poor again and have to do bad things to eat. There are hypothetical witch hunts all around."

'1612 Underture' is out 20 August on Bird Records.