“Well,’ the Goddess said, ‘your heart didn’t heal straight the last time it broke. So we’ll break it again and reset it so it heals straight this time.” — Jane Yolen’s The Books of Great Alta
I see you found me without too much trouble. ‘What am I listening to,’ you ask. Look towards Oberon’s Wood and you’ll see Finch with her Border smallpipes, the same ones played by Janey Little in Charles de Lint’s The Little Country novel. She’s playing something by Kathryn Tickell, an outstanding Northumbrian pipes and fiddle muso whose well-regarded here. There, hear it now? Splendid, isn’t it?
So you’ll find that our music reviews this outing are all Northumbrian in nature, so you’ll see reviews of music by Tickell, of course, piper Billy Pigg, obviously, and whatever else caught my fancy.
Charles de Lint’s Newford Stories: Crow Girls was greeted enthusiastically by Cat: ‘Now this is a really cool offering from one of my favorite authors! The Crow Girls, Maida and Zia, are apparently immortal beings who can shapeshift from being slightly built black haired girls dressed all in black to being crows. And woe unto those who think they are just what they look like in human form as they can kill as effortlessly as they eat sugar as they do the latter in one of the stories here.’
Gereg looks at a novel by Larry Kirwan, founder of the Black 47 band: ‘Pour yourself a cold one; put on a few old Horslips albums — not the mythic ones, the edgy ones about Irishmen sailing to Americay; steel yourself to endure some self-pity time with an emigrant version of Holden Caulfield who ‘s had a few too many himself . . . and you’re ready to settle down to Rockin’ the Bronx. The soundtrack helps the book go down the smoother, and for sure the good beer won’t hurt.’
Lory looks at what sounds like a very interesting book given its subject matter, Mark I. West’s A Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain, but really wasn’t ‘tall interesting. Read her review to see why this was so.
Marian looks at a trilogy by Jane Yolen that deserves to be a classic. First up is ‘The Books of Great Alta which is the compilation of Yolen’s two books in the series, Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. It is the story of the women of Dale, who worship Great Alta, the mother goddess and what happens to them for better or worse.’ If you’ve read these already, then do read Marian’s review of the final volume, The One-Armed Queen, but otherwise do not as it has major spoilers about what happens in the first two novels.
Well, says Robert, as long as we’re being so English today (and we are — scroll down to the music reviews if you don’t believe me), I’ve got a couple of graphic novels that fit. In fact, they’re about as English as you can get, starting with Gareth Hinds’ Beowulf: ‘If you don’t know the story of Beowulf by now, I have no sympathy — as a freshman at university, I had to read it in Old English. This version, adapted by Gareth Hinds, uses the 1904 translation by A. J. Church — a vernacular rendering, concise and eminently readable. Hinds has also done the graphic work in what is one of the most beautiful graphic novels I’ve seen in a long time.’
Another offering from Hinds, King Lear, which Robert, sadly, found lacking: ‘Adapting the classics to graphic novel form is an undertaking that is, as they say, “fraught with peril.” I’ve seen excellent examples, such as Gareth Hinds’ Beowulf, and those that have turned out sort of — well, mediocre. (There’s an adaptation of The Ring of the Nibelung out there that could have been terrific, but. . . . well, it’s not). And then there are examples such as Hinds’ King Lear, for which I had high hopes.’
Ah, says Robert, one more English archetype: Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood, from writer Tony Lee and artists Sam Hart and Artur Fujita: ‘Anyone telling a story as well-known as this one is facing some built-in constraints, not the least of which is that we know there’s a happy ending, and it’s to Lee’s credit that he makes the telling as absorbing as he does.’
Our food and drink reviews this time are all about whisky, something that many of us here at the Kinrowan Estate are quite fond of. Did you know we do whisky tastings here? The tastings are one of the two times a year, midsummer, and the annual Robert Burns supper being the other one, when Iain dons his clan kilt with full regalia. It’s quite a sight. And the Neverending Session plays nothing but traditional Scottish tunes for them. There’s also a concert at each tasting featuring performers such as Dougie MacLean, the Old Blind Dogs or Shooglenifty.
Judith looks at The Water of Life; ‘You would think that one album about booze would be enough for even a Scotsman, but not for singer-traditional songwriter Robin Laing. The Water of Life is Laing’s second, after The Angel’s Share, with songs on both CDs from his one-man show on whiskey. Laing, originally from Edinborough but now living in rural Lanarkshire, seems to have settled into a distillery groove. Great idea!’
Speaking of great ideas, the late Iain Banks, best known for his sf Culture novels such as The Hydrogen Sonata and Surface Detail, decided to ask his publisher for money to sample the smaller whiskey distilleries in Scotland. The resulting book, Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram was given a rave review by our Cornish-based Michael, who aptly notes that ‘This review was written over Hogmanay, 2003, under the influence of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie Port-Wood Finish, both of which, I’m delighted to report, meet with the approval of Mr Banks.’
Coming full circle, Vonnie looks at yet another album about whisky by Robin Laing: ‘Whisky for Breakfast is an amiable album, not to be taken too seriously, about the pleasures of life as seen through the lens of whisky. Robin Laing’s songs all have something to do with whisky, but the thread is interpreted broadly, with celebrations of drinking but also history and a grand sense of place.’
The Guardian said of Kathryn Tickell, the great Northumbrian piper and fiddler, that her live show features ‘… tunes played at times hauntingly with fingers blurring as they flick up and down the chanter or over the fiddle neck. Each set of tunes is separated by stories about friends and places all told quietly, ramblingly and with a gentle wryness. Her act is gripping, funny and moving.’ Ed certainly agrees, as his review of her Debateable Lands is quite glowing.
Jack looks at two albums, Northumberland Rant: Music from the Edge of England and Spirit of the Border: Northumberland Traditional Music — Read his review to see why he couldn’t pick between these two albums even though they were quite different!
We get the nicest things in the post, which is how Lahri ended up reviewing Celtic singer-songwriter Jez Lowe’s Live at the Davy Lamp. He comments, “Jez Lowe is one of the consummate performers in Celtic music today. Hailing from the Northumbrian lands of Northeast England, near the Scottish Borders, he brings a distinctively northern edge to his music. Lowe grew up among the coal miners and working class people of the region. The fact that he is Irish on both sides of his family gives him a bit of an outsider’s perspective, and a perfect viewpoint for his novelette style songs. Over his long career he has made many fine albums, each a little gem, and has been backed by some of Britain’s most understated and finest musicians.”
Kathryn Tickell’s Strange but True recording gets a loving look from Paul: ‘Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell has long been one of my favourite musicians. I can’t exactly put my finger on why; whether it’s the sublime playing, the always eclectic choice of songs and tunes, or even something as frivolous as knowing she was the inspiration for the lead character in one of my most-loved books, The Little Country by Charles de Lint. A lot of it has a great deal to do with the wonderful instrument she plays, the Northumbrian smallpipes, which are neither as harsh as the Scottish bagpipes nor as low and mournful as the Uilleann pipes. Like their Irish cousins, they’re bellows blown, and unlike their Scottish kin more regarded as an indoor parlour instrument. They have a wonderfully mellow, staccato bee-buzz tone unlike many other pipes. Tickell is also a very nice fiddler, and as most people here at the Green Man will tell you, I have a soft spot for the devil’s own instrument.’
Stephen says in his review of The Border Minstrel: ‘I braved the uncharted waters of my local folk clubs and soon found myself among a few dozen other souls gathered in a cellar bar to hear a very young woman (barely out of school) by the name of Kathryn Tickell. That encounter, my friends, can be viewed as a personal epiphany; the moment of realisation that traditional, instrumental music is capable of expressing joy, sorrow, passion and longing in a way that transcends the limitations of mere language. Like most shy teenagers, Tickell didn’t talk much during her performance, but was happy to chat during the interval about her instrument, her music and her influences. She talked about people called Forster Charlton and Tom Clough (two surnames associated more with soccer than music to ignorant blokes like me), Colin Ross, and, more than anyone else, Billy Pigg — a piper who died before she was even born. That name stuck in my memory because I thought if this girl who plays THAT music speaks so highly of him, then what in heaven’s name must Pigg sound like?’
Radio as an ephemeral theatre of the mind is in my thinking a form of What Not, so it’s interesting to me that Jasmine chanced upon a radio programme in the guise of Neil Gaiman’s The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch: ‘I tuned into BBC online today and heard a play by Neil Gaiman. Puppet shows, monsters in the dark, childhood memories, drab seaside towns and family history are stuff that it is made of. A brooding, intelligent yet intelligible narrator tells the story of his encounter with a Punch and Judy show a long time ago, even before there were hippies.’
So let’s finish off with a fine bit of piping by Tickell of one of her compositions. It’s called ‘Pipes Lament’ and it’s damn fine if I must say so myself. It’s from her concert at the Shoreditch Church in London on the 15th of June 2010.