If I told you the whole story, your head would burst. There is no one story, there are branches, rooms… corridors, dead ends. — The Storyteller as played by a John Hurt in Jim Henson’s The Storyteller
It’s definitely not Summer here on this Scottish Estate as the Autumnal Equinox passed a few days ago, and we dropped to just about fifteen for a low last night which made for a crispness in the air this morning though it warmed nicely by early afternoon. Bjorn, the Estate Brewer, claims it puts a nice edge in the apples and pears that’ll be made into cider by him.
The music playing here in the Pub’s is Fairport Convention’s ‘Fiddlestix’, apparently recorded at a concert in Amsterdam, supposedly in 1975 though even that’s just a guess. As I get older, I find myself more drawn to the folk tinged music of bands like them, and I find myself increasingly surprised when I remember these bands are all over fifty years in age!
In the meantime, may I offer you one of our seasonal ales? We call this one John Barleycorn in honour of that song which first saw life as ‘Sir John Barlycorn’ as written by Alexander Pennecuik and published by him as a broadside in 1725.
As I noted above, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span always seem to evoke Autumn for me, so it’s fitting that Lars has a review of Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall’s biography of Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock as Ashley helped birth both of those groups: ‘To some of us the subject of this book is, if not God, at least the musical equivalent to the pope. Name a group you like and have followed over the years, and there is a fair chance that Mr. Hutchings was there to start it, or at least influence the starting of it. He is in one way or another responsible for a very large number of the records in my collection, and yes, we are certainly talking three figures, here.’
A number of songs covered by Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span have a pagan emphasis such as ‘Tam Lin’ (covered live by the former here and the latter thisaway) and ‘Alison Gross’ being Child Ballads 34 and 39. Francis Child collected an impressive number of English folk ballads, many of them obviously pagan in origin, so let’s look at the edition of them published by Loomis House fifteen years ago: ‘A nice bonus is that they do include sixty ballad tunes drawn from Child’s original sources. (Child felt the words, not the music, were the ‘real’ ballad.) Any fiddler worth hearing will find much to learn from these tunes. And folklorists, traditional music lovers, storytellers, and just about everyone else who likes any aspect of what these ballads are should own this new edition. Even if you now own the Dover editions, these are a must as they are better in every way possible!’
And now for something completely different, as happens around here with regularity. (It’s that kind of place.) Robert has some thoughts on Thomas M. Disch’s The Wall of America (which seems somehow timely): ‘Thomas M. Disch was one of the more challenging of the American New Wave science-fiction writers. Where writers such as Roger Zelazny and Samuel R. Delany were pushing the boundaries of the formally acceptable in science fiction (and fantasy, for that matter), Disch was turning the conceptual universe upside down with novels such as Camp Concentration and 334. It’s also worth noting that he was a respected poet and literary critic (among other things), and those disciplines find echoes in his fiction.’
For this issue, Denise dove into a bag of Sirius Konsum’s Chocolate & Lakkris. And it seems that could be taken quite literally, “I didn’t want to review this. I wanted to grab the bag and flee into a hidden wilderness, so I could be alone with the deliciousness. … They’re more than candy, they’re comfort.” Intrigued? Well, blending chocolate and licorice is something Iceland has been doing for quite a long time, so it’s no surprise her licorice-loving heart found a new joy. Read her full review for exactly what she thought!
Take a number of well-known musicians, toss in fans and a camera crew, put all on a train traversing Canada. That’s the gist of Festival Express. Sound intriguing? David thinks so: ‘It opens with a faded map of north Ontario, Kapuskasing dead centre. Then the camera pulls back and from the middle of the screen comes a train — an old Canadian National engine — and tracks, lots of tracks. This is a movie about that train and the people who rode on it, and the places it stopped, and what happened one week in 1970 when this train went from Toronto to Calgary … with a cargo of rock’n’rollers and all their paraphernalia. What a summer.’
The four issue run of Ballads and Sagas that later got a book treatment by Tor gets a look-see by Debbie: ‘Charles Vess, an extremely talented graphic artist, has done just that. Vess, who has a solid reputation for illustrating such works as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories (also published in graphic novel form) also loves the ballads and sagas that have been entertaining people for hundreds of years, and in this series of books he has collaborated with some of the best-known writers in fantasy literature, including Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Charles de Lint, Sharyn McCrumb (not a fantasy writer but an author of mysteries with an Appalachian folkloric theme), Midori Snyder, Robert Walton and Delia Sherman (whew!) — I hope I’ve not left anyone out! They tell the stories: he does the illustrations.’
Gary reviews the album Urban Griot by the international jazz quartet NYConnection. ‘It’s a fine example of a mostly Scandinavian ensemble bringing its own sensibilities to jazz with convincing results that often swing and are always cool.’
The Red Clay Ramblers whose Old North State is reviewed here have been around a longtime and their members have done a lot of other recordings down the generations. Judith looks at one such recording here: ‘This season, independent CDs by Former Red Clay Ramblers are popping up everywhere. This one, Shining Down , is by Mike Craver, whose forte is piano, but who also plays guitar, percussion, and theramin.’
Lars has a confession: ‘Why was I taken by surprise by Himmerland’s The Spider in the Fiddle? Firstly, Denmark is full of good music, and Danish groups are constantly producing lovely music. Secondly, I have twice before discovered new favourite groups with Ditte Fromseier in. First there was Flax in Bloom, a group that never recorded but in concert turned out smooth Irish music, then Habbadam, a trio playing traditional music from Fromseier’s native Danish island of Bornholm. Habbadam’s albums still get played in my stereo.’
Perhaps the most faithful of the Oysterband fans that was ever among us, Vonnie once wrote a review for us of the lads in the early days of a better nation: ‘A quick Google search tells me that the average life span of a pearl-farmed oyster is six years, while the life span of a freshwater oyster can be as long as 80. The individual ages of the Oysters — members of our own, darling Oysterband — lie someplace between the two, while the Oysterband as a whole marked its 25th anniversary several years ago. If you’ve followed the Oysterband for only the past 20 years, Before the Flood will surprise.’
As Summer wends its way to Fall, it becomes the season of festivals. In Baltimore this weekend, there was a two-for-one with the Baltimore Book Festival and the Baltimore Comic-Con. Both had a lot to enjoy for readers, as well as chances to connect with creators, authors and more. At the Festival, there was cooking, beer brewing, science fiction and memories of times past. At the Con, there was comics, TV stars, science fiction and memories of times past. Coincidence at the similarities? Of course not. Stories are stories, and the links between different forms of storytelling are always there, if you take a look.
Speaking of John Barleycorn, I searched the Infinite Jukebox, our server of all things digital, and found a recording of the best known version of that song which was done by Traffic with Steve Winwood as vocalist and released in July 1970. This ‘John Barleycorn’ was recorded by them at Paris Theatre, London sometime in 1970.