What’s New for the 7th of May: Adam Stemple’s first solo novel, a look at John Denver, The Mythology of Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, music by Clannad and other matters

At any rate, the tune is not a story, but stories might lie behind the tune. For, as mnemonics, the names summon up a tangled web of circumstances; they not only help to summon the tune into being, but recall other times and other places where the tune was played, and the company there might have been. — Ciaran Carson in Last Night’s Fun: In and Out with Irish Music


It’s a cold, damp afternoon, so many of us are in the Pub catching  up on our reading. See Gus, our Estate Gardener at the end of the Bar enjoying our Queen’s Lament IPA? He’s reading Cheese Holidays, a magazine solely devoted to cheeses and cheese regions worth visiting, which cheeses to try, best hotels in terms of the cheeses they offer and even local history as related to the cheeses created there. It even has a centrefold of sorts with a spread of the cheeses from a featured cheesery.

I’ve been reading the recently published journals of a British diplomatic attaché who spent quite some years in Islandia nearly three centuries ago. Fascinating look at a country few even visit now, but I’ve had a decades long mail-based friendship with the Librarian for the National Archives there.

And Catherine’s been happily immersed in a history of medieval music instruments and the contemporary renaissance of their usage, and making notes on which Max, our resident luthier, might make for her. She’s enjoying an Irish coffee made with Kona beans we roasted here, a generous measure of Redbreast 12-year-old Single Pot Still Irish whisky and a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Now lets see what we’ve got for you in this edition…


Elizabeth has a cautionary note for those who think inside boxes too much: ‘Too many people these days seem to confuse “feminism” with “radical feminism.” The idea of a science fiction and fantasy novel mixed with a heavy dose of feminism may have people thinking about army-boot-wearing, goddess-worshipping, man-hating, unshaven-leg-baring lesbians. They wouldn’t be completely wrong — many of the interesting female characters in this book wear army boots, worship goddesses, snipe at men, and prefer the touch of the female gender. Just not all at once. Both thoughtful and thought-provoking, Anne Harris’ novel Inventing Memory explores the entire spectrum of female empowerment (or lack thereof), from the passive battered wife to the determined female scientist to the crusading — and yes, lesbian — pro-choice activist.’

Adam Stemple’s first solo novel pleased Faith, sort of: ‘Singer of Souls is like a funhouse mirror, or a kaleidoscope. Every time I thought I knew what it was about, something shifted somewhere, and I didn’t know what was going on any more. So what sort of book is it? There’s a bit of redemption, a touch of sex (not very graphic), rather more violence (also rather more graphic, but not sickeningly so), some music theory, a travelogue of Edinburgh, politics, religion, heroes and villains who are both larger and smaller than life (and are frequently the same person), folklore…’

If you’ve ever wondered about John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and how it came to be perhaps the best known English-language opera, Jack has the book for you, Charles Pearce’s Polly Peachum and The Beggar’s Opera: ‘Given such a rich and rather racy plot, it’s no surprise that Polly Peachum and The Beggar’s Opera, which details how The Beggar’s Opera has fared from its inception ’til the late Victorian period, is a lively read.’

Alas a certain work of Shakespeare scholarship isn’t to  Robert’s liking: ‘Forest, trees: there is a certain brand of scholarship that tends to focus on minute examinations of trees in the attempt to discover a forest. I am the last to decry the idea of analyzing parts in the hope of understanding the whole, but there are limits, particularly if the need for clear relationships between the parts falls by the wayside. In the case of Laura Shamas’ We Three: The Mythology of Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters, I have to confess that by the end, I felt as though I had been buried in a pile of kindling.’


I was looking at a back issue of Sleeping Hedgehog and noticed it had a look at the libations some visitors indicated they really liked. One such person was Cheryl who  notes that, ‘I am currently spending much of my time in the UK — I think the top pick should be a bottle of dry (or possibly sparkling) white wine to be consumed along with a picnic while spending a lazy day watching flanneled fools whacking a red leather ball around the green fields. For evenings I am very happy to join Mr. Buckell in a glass of Chimay, which is my favorite beer. However, if I happen to be in California a large margarita might be in order, especially if I happen to be in a Mexican restaurant.’

And Christopher has a delightful look at some things of a breakfast nature: ‘One of the very few things I liked about living in Los Angeles were the breakfasts, vast profligate platefuls in Carmen Miranda colours, sometimes also sporting bits of fruit. Before I went there I had never heard of a three egg omelette, let alone an egg-white one (hey, if you’ve that big a cholesterol problem, don’t have the eggs!). The alien bacon, thin, sweet and streaky, was magnificently matched with syrup-covered waffles, reducing the need for marmalade.’


The Grateful Dead’s So Many Roads (1965-1995) catches the ear of Brendan: ‘So often dismissed as a anachronistic hippie band that would somehow never die, the Grateful Dead actually formed a keystone of sorts between the traditional forms of American roots music and the rock music of the ’60s. Looking past the psychedelic trappings and bizarre skeleton images, one can easily see that foundations of the Dead’s music consist mainly of the American Musical Triumvirate: jazz, blues, and country, with of course a healthy dose of rock and roll to keep things interesting.’

Denise has a look at three remastered albums by John Denver. She says, ‘John Denver was often overlooked as a singer-songwriter of merit; with James Taylor, Carole King and Joni Mitchell, it’s easy to see where he’d get lost in the early-seventies shuffle. But he managed to carve out his own niche and establish himself, and though he died in a tragic accident in 1997, his legacy lives on through his songs. Named Colorado’s Poet Laureate in 1974, John Denver has often been painted by music snobs as a songwriter first, and a singer a pale second. Hopefully these remasters will change that.’ I admit, I’m one of those ‘snobs’ but although Denver was never one of my own favourites I have to say he had a great voice!’

Lars looks at West of Eden’s No Time Like the Past — A Collection: ‘Wherever you find locals playing Irish traditional music. Sweden is no exception. Sometimes I suspect there are more Swedes playing Irish music than Swedish traditionals. But some groups around it takes it further, creating their own music using the Irish tradition as the foundation and inspiration. West of Eden from Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden is such a group.’

Robert takes a look at what many have called Capercaillie’s ‘crossover’ album: ‘To the Moon was my first exposure to Capercaillie, so of course, it was what’s generally considered their “crossover” album. This is by no means a negative, or even something that’s very obvious: it’s more apparent in the rhythm patterns, the instrumentation (sorry, but no one is going to persuade me that the bouzouki is a traditional Scottish instrument), and the general treatment.’

And, to round off our look at the genesis and history of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, Robert brings us a look at the work itself: ‘John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera is a particularly English variant of a form that was widespread in Europe and later in America: known as a “ballad opera,” it is a close cousin to the German singspiel (a stellar example of which is Mozart’s The Magic Flute), the operetta, and the American musical. Gay’s work is also the direct ancestor of the Kurt Weill/Bertold Brecht collaboration Die Dreigroschen Oper, later rendered into English as The Threepenny Opera, which contains the song “Mack the Knife,” recorded and rerecorded by any number of popular singers.’


Our What Not considers a matter that makes it fortunate duelling isn’t legal these days as Harold Bloom will tell any who cared to listen that Shakespeare practically invented the English language by all himself, a claim that at bet is an execration and at worse is simply not true. And would make for a fascinating duel.

So the Telegraph comes along with an article that shows at least one Shakespearean lover doesn’t agree: ‘An Australian expert on Shakespeare claims the bard did not invent many of the words and phrases attributed to him, saying the mistake is due to the Oxford English Dictionary’s “bias” towards citing literary examples of early usages.’ You can read the full article here.

imageLet’s finish this edition off with a tune by Clannad, a band often derided by Irish trad music lovers as just a New Age band because of their later recordings  but give a listen to ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’ and I think you’ll agree that they do Irish trad rather well.

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I’m the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library.

I’m a violinist too, so you’ll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.

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