Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta
As Christopher Fowler has bitterly complained, Guy Fawkes Day has fallen out of favour in Britain being called now Bonfire Night more often than not, and Halloween, that holiday started long ago by the Irish, has become way more popular than Guy Fawkes. Of course The Kirk has more or less mostly fallen across all of Britain so it’s hardly surprising that an anti-Catholic holiday is fast waning in popularity.
Now we don’t do fireworks here on Guys Fawkes Day or any day as it spooks the companion animals, the livestock, and the wildlife all too much. The loudest ‘fireworks’ you’ll see here is a roaring bonfire. Now I know it’s quite nasty out there, so let’s get you a cider and you can hunker down by the Pub fireplace while I get this Edition ready for you…
Jack leads off our book reviews with a look at a novel he really didn’t like: ‘I’m a fiddler. I like Steven Brust. I love most any novel with folk music as a theme, particularly when musicians are the characters. So why the fuck did I find Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill to be not even worth finishing? Good question — and one that I will answer in some detail. Perhaps more detail than this badly written novel deserves.’
Robert brings us a book for curling up with the little ones on a chilly night, Helen Ward’s The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse: ‘You’ve undoubtedly heard this story, or at the very least heard of it, probably under some variation of “The Country Mouse and the City Mouse,” or the reverse. It’s a well-loved children’s story that has received innumerable treatments throughout the years. Author/illustrator Helen Ward has brought us the latest version.’
Warner really liked this book: ‘A tribute to Golden Age mystery fiction is always welcomed, and a specific tribute to Peter Wimsey is a welcome surprise. What Would Wimsey Do? is Guy Fraser-Samson’s tribute to that great detectives, in the form of a more contemporary murder mystery. It is worth noting that the book had been previously published as Death in Profile in the United Kingdom, and that this new publication by Felony & Mayhem represents its first American publication.’
He also loved this novel: ‘Overall Always Coming Home is at an impressive achievement in storytelling, and World building. It is a staple of future history, and the work of obvious influence. And this is possibly the most thorough and dedicated interpretation of the texts assembled, included many related pieces throughout. I can highly recommend this volume, particularly it to those with any interest in the work of Ursula K. Le Guin.’
‘…Buckle up and I’ll tell you about pumpkin cupcakes so delicious my friend told me to never buy them again, because they were way too dangerously good. Yes, supermarket brand cupcakes so good my friends threaten my life.’ With an opening like that, Denise’s look at Aldi’s Village Bakery’s Mini Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes is definitely worth a look. Because Fall is just getting good, and you want to enjoy the best, don’t you?
Grey turns her attention to The Two Towers: ‘Yes, I had a press ticket. Yes, I went to the earliest possible showing yesterday, opening day (December 18), and refused to eat any popcorn or drink any soda, lest I be distracted even minutely from the film. Yes, I am an obsessed fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. Actually, I prefer “devoted.” (There are different sorts of obsessed, err, devoted fans. Cat, our Editor in Chief, collects all sorts of special editions of Tolkien’s work, and has reviewed the extended-release DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring for this issue. I, on the other hand, have among my most prized possessions the tattered paperback of The Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham that I first read as a child, and a copy of “The Red Book” in which some of my dearest friends have written their favorite passages or quotations on the fly leaves and end papers. I think of Tolkien as one of my grandfathers.) The point being that if you want an unbiased opinion from a viewer who came to the movie yesterday without any preconceived notions as to what it ought to be… well, I’m sure they’re out there.’
Gary says Historia Natural is the third release by the Colombian trio Los Pirañas, “which deftly and excitingly mixes South American rhythms of cumbia, tropicalia, salsa and more, with psychedelic rock, surf guitar, dub, and computer effects for a sound and style that’s all their own.”
Lars says of Western Wall and The Tucson Sessions: ‘For me, this is very much a case of old heroes returning. Who could help but be infatuated by the lovely Ms Ronstadt in the middle of the Seventies? She had it all: looks, voice and a clever choice of songs. Ronstadt was one of a wave of American female singers on the borders between rock, country and folk. Emmylou Harris was another of those singers. But she was definitely more country, carrying on Gram Parson’s vision of a marriage between rock and country.’
No’am has a review of Maddy Prior’s Arthur The King: ‘The practice of writing quasi traditional songs may horrify some, but it’s been my experience that such songs are much richer to our ears than the “finger in the ear” standard diet. Whilst I imagine that this fine disk will be labeled as “contemporary folk,” it’s difficult to picture any of these songs being played in a folk club by one person with an acoustic guitar. Modern technology is necessary in order to present these songs in their full majesty, and we are all the richer for Maddy and her merry men having done so.’
The concert season, for those who follow such things, is in full swing, and Robert has a look at an album of chamber works by Henryk Wieniawski: ‘Henryk Wieniawski, like his countryman Frédéric Chopin, was in great demand as a soloist — so much so that his performance schedule seems to have seriously impacted his work as a composer. Another prodigy, he entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of eight, in spite of being underage and not French. By age thirteen, he had completed his course of study on the violin (with gold medal), written his first compositions, and met Chopin at his mother’s Paris salon.’
Vonnie looks at a darkly tinged album: ‘An Echo of Hooves has June Tabor returning to what, in my mind, she does best, delivering ballads or songs that tell a tale. For this she has chosen eleven Medieval ballads. Some of them are very well-known, like “The Cruel Mother,” “Hughie Graeme,” “Sir Patrick Spens” and “Bonnie James Campbell”. Others are new to me.’
Winter is not far out, so a Winter Queen of ours from some years back, Josepha Sherman, talks of it and its folktales in her Winter Queen Speech: ‘What is Winter? A time to fear? A time for darkness and death? No. Winter is merely part of the endless cycle of sleep and awakening, dying and rebirth. The trees know it: they don’t die each year. They merely sleep through the coldness and put out new leaves in the spring. The birds know it: they come and go by the seasons. The snow is merely a blanket that protects the earth, insulating it against the cold and providing it with moisture in the spring. The darkness doesn’t last throughout. It ends in the middle of the winter, with the solstice in December, and the light returns even in the deepest cold of winter. No, Winter is nothing to fear.’
Our music for you as our Coda is quite naturally is The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s ‘Homefires’, their look at Guy Fawkes Day and what it means to British culture. Where and when they recorded it seems to have been lost right now though I’ll add in if I find out that information. There’s a trove of live recordings they sent us, so expect more music from them.