She looks like the wizened old crone in that painting Jilly did for Geordie when he got into this kick of learning fiddle tunes with the word ‘hag’ in the title: ‘the Hag in the Kiln,’ ‘Old Hag You Have Killed Me,’ ‘The Hag With the Money,’ and god knows how many more. Just like in the painting, she’s wizened and small and bent over and … dry. Like kindling, like the pages of an old book. Like she’s almost all used up. Hair thin, body thinner. but then you look into her eyes and they’re so alive it makes you feel a little dizzy. — Charles de Lint‘s ‘The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep’ story, which is collected in Dreams Underfoot.
Here in this quite remote Scottish Estate where the nearest town’s a good thirty-five miles away, the group of thirty or so souls here year round forms a community that’s at its most cohesive when the weather turns decidedly cold and oftimes unfavourable to travel. This ‘hunkering down’ is a gradual process that starts in early Autumn and doesn’t really end ’til after lamb season in April as it’s hard to be a good host when you’re covered with blood, shit and other stuff that’s unpleasant in general.
Pumpkins are versatile food here, so you can help us harvest them now that our first light frost has passed; likewise apples and potatoes need harvesting and proper processing for the uses they’ll be put to. Gus, our Head Gardener, uses for staff anyone physically healthy and able to be properly picky at what they’ll be doing.
All work and no play makes Gutmansdottir an unhappy girl indeed, so there’re contadances pretty much weekly here. Tonight a visiting band, The Black Eyed Susans, are playing. But first, let’s see what’s in this GMR edition…
Grey offers up some well-known fairytales: ‘So what does Iona and Peter Opie’s The Classic Fairy Tales have to offer that makes it worth being reprinted numerous times since its first publication in 1974? Chiefly this: collected here are twenty-four of the best-known traditional fairy tales as they were first published in English. The earliest is “The History of Tom Thumbe, the Little, for his small stature surnamed, King Arthvrs Dwarfe: Whose Life and aduentures containe many strange and wonderfull accidents, published for the delight of merry Time-spenders,” dated 1621. The text from which “Hansel and Gretel” — the last tale in the collection — is taken was published in 1853.’
Not a book review, but very much worth telling you about anyway is this matter. Kathleen has an online journal where she talks about her late sister Kage, author of the acclaimed SF series The Company. Here is her entry which which has her reminiscing about Kage during the Christmas season. And here’s a review of one of her collection, The Best of Kage Baker, which will give you a great introduction to her fiction.
Robert is somewhat puzzled by Steven Brust’s newest novel, Vallista, the latest installment in the ongoing adventures of Vlad Taltos: ‘As he and his host of the moment are relaxing over coffee, there comes a clap at the door. Only Dragaerans clap, so after arming himself, Vlad opens the door; it’s Devera, who happens to be the granddaughter of the goddess Verra (Vlad’s patron goddess), who asks him to walk with her. They wind up at a large manor house near where Kieron’s Watch used to be; they walk into the house and Devera vanishes.’ It gets worse.
Stephen says of an Alan Garner work ,which is definitely aimed at adults, that ‘These are only the questions which I find myself considering today. When I read Thursbitch again (and I will), they may be different, as they may be for you, when you read this book. The reasons for this are that Thursbitch is a book that casts the reader as an enthralled participant, rather than a passive recipient. It is, to repeat, a mystery. It may unsettle you (if not actually give you nightmares), but you’ll love it unequivocally nonetheless.’
HandMade Films was a British film production and distribution company founded by that George Harrison. Notable films from the studio included Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Time Bandits, The Long Good Friday and the film Cat’s reviewing for us, The Raggedy Rawney. He says that it ‘is based on traditional Rom folklore — something I personally found fascinating. This adaptation of folk tradition to contemporary times makes it more fully comprehensible, compared with portraying it in the ancient long, long ago time. At least for me.’
The Michael Kamen soundtrack is equally fascinating for him, as he tells us: ‘Some pieces of film music stick with you long after you’ve seen the film. And if it’s a really interesting tune or song, it may make you seek out the soundtrack and see how it sounds outside of the film. Such was the case with the specific piece that got my mojo rising: the Blowzabella-style music that showed up in the wedding scene in Raggedy Rawney’.
April has something rather nice she reviews for us: ‘Every so often an unexpected, and very welcome, treat shows up in my mailbox, courtesy of Cat, who’s constantly on the lookout for new chocolate-related review opportunities. This time around it was a box of bonbons from Diana Malouf’s Ococoa – candy that is both beautiful to look at and a pleasure to eat.’
Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…a gal in super-tight spandex! Denise takes a look at Danger Girl: The Ultimate Collection, and thinks it’s fantastic even with the skimpy attire. “Oh yeah folks, if you’re thinking these girls suit up in fatigues, you’re in the wrong series. In Danger Girl, the ladies are kitted up in outfits that would have She Hulk and Vampirella bringing the Girls something to cover up with…. As a woman I’m sure I should be offended/flabbergasted/spouting off some sort of Subjugation Of Women claptrap, but this series is just too beautifully drawn to be anything less than breathtaking.” Read all about it in her review!
Gary (one of several we’ve had on staff) says of Quake, a sort of trad Nordic recording from Den Fule, that: ‘When I was trying to find something that my good friend, a Breton girl of 22 who loves nu-metal music, would like, I pulled out Den Fule. Her assessment: “That’s really fun, kinda like Irish music, but it rocks.” This accomplishes in 10 words what will take me at least 300 to re-iterate.’
Lars has some very complimentary comments about the first two releases from TRADarrr (yes, that’s how they spell it, he says), a new/old group, Cautionary Tales and Further Tales of Love! Death! And Treachery!: ‘Let me sum it up: TRADarrr’s debut album is one of the best first albums I have ever heard from anyone. But is it really a debut album? Three of the five members on that album (PJ Wright on guitars, Guy Fletcher on fiddle and mandolin, and Mark Stevens on drums, cornet and keyboards) played together in Little Johnny England, and the other two (Greg Cave on guitars and Marion Fleetwood on guitar and various bowed instruments) were no newcomers in the music business. Joined by Ric Sanders, Dave Pegg and Chris Leslie from Fairport, Jerry Donahue and a few others, the only thing new is the band name.’
Some recordings seem to me to be more in tune with the colder time of year and so it is with the Old Hag You Have Killed Me recording, which pleases Peter: ‘The Bothy Band’s second release was hailed by many as a ground breaking album. Irish music was to move forward in a different direction. It is hard to believe it was 33 years ago when listening to this album, as it sounds just as crisp as anything that might have been recorded today.’
Gary reviews Any Other Way, a new collection of singles and live material cut by Jackie Shane, a transgender soul singer in 1960s’ Toronto: ‘If you’re a fan of ’60s-style soul music, you’ll really enjoy this great collection. If you’re not already a fan, this just might make you one.
Stephen says of Troka from the band of the same name that ‘The majority of the music on this CD is composed by members of the band and takes in polkas, waltzes, marches and polskas with occasional forays into Swedish, Irish, Balkan and bluegrass. The arrangements are complex but uncluttered, and steer away from the familiar folk approach of a “lead instrument,” taking the melody while the rest accompany. This is genuine “group,” playing with everything beautifully integrated to the extent that it’s hard to imagine these tunes being performed any other way.’
Vonnie finishes off our music reviews with a look at June Tabor and the Oysterband at the Nightstage nearly thirty years ago: ‘By the time June Tabor came on, glowering ferociously the entire time, to sing “Mississippi” I wasn’t too worried about surviving — I was simultaneously ecstatic to have discovered something so new and so good, and also deeply comforted to have found the music that I’d always needed to hear. If the gig had been a church revival, I’d have been saved. As it was, I was converted.’
That chill in the air can only mean one thing to the skein-inclined; time to grab some yarn and start on some projects to warm things up. While knitting seems to get the majority of the love, crochet will always have a solid place in my heart. No, it’s not because telling people I’ve been “hooking” all weekend gives me a chuckle, though that is always fun. The history of crochet is fascinating, and all the more intriguing because it’s not truly nailed down. Whether it be its origins in Europe (or China? Or Peru?) or its history in the States, it’s a craft that always has something new to discover. Me, I like to thank Queen Victoria for taking up the hook and making crochet popular in the West. While I may never try making lace as she did, there’s a cowl pattern and some soft merino calling my name…
Okay, let’s see if there’s any Old Hag tunes on the Infinite Jukebox, our digital media server. I’ve got one by the Bothy Band whose Old Hag You Have Killed Me is one of best Irish trad albums ever done, and we’ve audio of them performing ‘Old Hag You Have Killed Me’ which we’ll share with you as it’s very splendid. No idea when it was done, though 1976 is the most common guess, or where it was recorded for that matter. But here it is for your listening pleasure.