There’s nothing for your comfort in the place where I was born
Someone’s got the roses ’cause my people got the thorns;
My people are the poor ones, their country made of stones
Their wealth is in persistence, in stories and in bones
Oysterband’s ‘One Green Hill’
Autumn will be soon upon us – Summer’s already waning as the plants in our gardens are just now showing their form of botanical entropy, which puts them on their last legs before first frost kills them off entirely. So Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, and his staff has been drying beans and apples, preparing root cellars for carrots and the like, braiding strings of onions and garlic, sending cornucopias of produce to the Kitchen for Mrs. Ware and her staff to pickle, can or freeze as they see proper.
And you want to know about all the banners flying high in the rafters of the Great Hall? They represent some of the ‘lost’ nations of Europe, such as Alba, Andalucia, Breizh, Catalunya, Crsu, Cymru, Eesti, Elsasz, Euskadi, Føroyar, Friesland, Gallega, Jura, Kernow, Mannin, Northumbria, Occitania, Samiasne, Savoie, Ulster, Vlaanderen, and Wallonie. These all have delegates here, as do some newly re-emerged nations such as Slovenia and Kosovo, for The Devolving Europe Festival, which is being held here for the next two weeks.
(One of our reviewers, Richard, looked at a fictional take on a very fractured Europe in reviewing David Hutchison’s Europe in Autumn and its sequel, Europe at Midnight.)
Now, these are not advocates for violent overthrow of the existing order, but rather like-minded folks who know that keeping their local cultures alive in an age of an increasingly homogenized European society is a matter of food being prepared and shared, ale brewed and drunk deeply, literature being written and read, plays being performed, and music being played long into the night.
Un Lun Dun, a fantastic look at a London that is just out of sight, gets a very detailed review by Kathleen: ‘China Mieville (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, The Iron Council) is renowned for the world he has created around the great, multi-species, many-storied city of New Crobuzon. Those are adult works, beyond a doubt: ferocious and frightening, full of the incandescent mysteries and fatal sins of maturity. At the same time, one of the conundrums of Mieville’s style has been the sense of a small boy peeking through his writing; the kind of little boy who delights in snot and crawly bugs, who chases his sister with a frog and forgets to take that interesting dead bird out of his lunch box. Sometimes this gleeful grossness amuses the reader in turn. Sometimes it seems unnecessarily provoking. But it has always reminded me of how young Mieville is.’
Richard finds another book in that genre: ‘Hidden, magical London is all the rage these days. First there was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, then China Mieville’s Un Lun Dun. And now there’s Mind the Gap, a collaborative effort between American novelist and comics writer Christopher Golden and British horror novelist Tim Lebbon. To be sure, that’s fast company for any book to be in, but Mind the Gap manages it more than respectably, and is an enjoyable, engrossing read that delivers plenty of thrills while deftly avoiding the numerous clichés lurking in wait for it.’
Rebecca likes Celtic Memories, a collection of stories, songs, blessings and charms retold by Caitlín Matthews and illustrated by Olwyn Whelan. Rebecca thinks this book would work wonderfully for reading aloud to children, and ‘Whelan’s pictures are charming, with bright, bold colors and a very Gaelic fondness for spirals and swirls.’
Robert was appreciative of booth the content and the cover art of Glen Cook’s A Cruel Wind: ‘Many years ago I read Glen Cook’s first Dread Empire trilogy, A Shadow of All Night Falling, October’s Baby, and All Darkness Met. I was impressed. Here was a heroic fantasy that cast aside the mold of Tolkien and Andersen, incorporated what was useful from Leiber and Moorcock, and then struck out on its own. Night Shade Books reissued the trilogy in an omnibus edition, graced with another of Raymond Swanland’s expressionistic covers, A Cruel Wind, and believe it or not, it’s better.’
The Robin Hood legend has been used for better worse times in print and video including a memorable retelling in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but Cat found a possible unique telling in the Robin of Sherwood series: ‘If the Robin Hood that had Patrick Bergin at its centre was a telling of Robin Hood as the embodiment of the Saxon/Norman conflict, Richard Carpenter decided to make his series an explicitly Celtic telling. ‘Celtic’, you ask, ‘How so?’ Well, let’s start with Robin having as his Lord, Herne the Hunter! Yes, The Hooded God Himself! OK, so how did Carpenter get to this vision of Robin? Why Robin as the Hooded Man?’
A book by Evan McHugh on Irish pubs and drinking Guinness really, really disappointed Gary: ‘I love good beer, and I love to travel. I also enjoy reading about both. I find beer writing more interesting than wine writing, because beer experts tend to be less stuffy about their craft than wine experts. And a good travel writer can make you feel almost as though you were along for the ride. So I jumped at the chance to review Pint-Sized Ireland: In Search Of The Perfect Guinness. Writing about travel and beer! What could be better?’ Now read his review to see why this was not sorority him.
Robert brings us a look at several takes on Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic. The first is Gaiman’s own: ‘Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic — the original story, not the series — began when DC Comics approached Gaiman about doing a series that would bring together the “magic” characters of the DC Universe. Gaiman created the character of Timothy Hunter, a twelve-year-old boy who has the potential to become the greatest magician of the age — our age.’
And we continue with John Ney Rieber’s continuation of the series: ‘John Ney Rieber’s continuation of Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic is a complex, multilayered story that focuses not so much on Gaiman’s mythic connections (although they are there in full measure) as on Tim Hunter: finding his magic, and his bearings in the world(s) he inhabits is intimately tied in with growing up, which Tim does a lot of in this series.’
And finally, Robert brings us his take on the “update,” Si Spencer’s The Books of Magick: Life During Wartime: ‘Life During Wartime represents a distinct break with The Books of Magic as it had been developed by Neil Gaiman and John Ney Rieber. Si Spencer, working with Gaiman, “updated” the characters and took them into a new set of trials that speak strongly to a contemporary audience.’
Alistair looks at a release from the Celtic Fiddle Festival: ‘Play On is the fourth release from a group of musicians who had no real intention of continuing as such beyond a one-off concert series in 1993. The enthusiasm, both on and off stage, generated by that project, which featured three of the Celtic world’s most noted fiddlers, Irishman Kevin Burke, Scot Johnny Cunningham, and Christian Lemaitre from Brittany has resulted, twelve years later, in hundreds of performances and numerous successful international tours.’
David sees Jean-Paul De Roover at the Pearl Company: ‘It was a quiet Thursday, and my wife was having some friends over. I had received an email about a last minute concert at The Pearl Company, but with such short notice I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. Rich couldn’t make it, Ralph wasn’t home, Jesse was away, and so on. I had to go out to allow the ladies space, but did I want to go to a concert alone? I could just go to the bookstore, have a coffee, browse for a couple of hours. Ah, what the heck, it’s five bucks, and maybe it’ll be good — after all, the review online compared this guy to Robert Fripp.’
Gary found ‘moody, dynamic music’ played by Norwegian jazz bassist Mats Eilertsen’s septet on their album Rubicon. It ranges from the klezmer-influenced opening track “Canto” to other types of contemporary jazz, including the ‘atmospheric noir jazz’ of a tune called ‘March’ that Gary likes very much.
Bassist Mats Eilertsen also plays with the Nils Økland Band on their album Kjølvatn, which Gary says is ‘an acoustic, tradition-based project by (the) Norwegian hardanger fiddler.’ The band is a mixed folk and jazz ensemble making contemporary music that sounds ancient, blending folk and Baroque sources, ‘and always with a distinctive Nordic feel to it.’
Gary also reviews another recent jazz release, the Peter Erskine Trio’s As It Was. It’s a box set that collects all four of the trio’s albums released from 1993 to 1999, featuring Erskine on drums, Palle Danielsson on bass and John Taylor on piano. Gary says ‘It’s four hours of music that covers nearly all the bases of contemporary piano trio possibilities, from sublime ballads and melodic post-bop, to a bit of swing plus lots of abstract contemporary works.’
It won’t surprise you to discover we’ve all got favorite reading places, mostly in the Kinrowan Hall (mine is my hidden space behind the Bar). So it didn’t surprise me that Zina has a cool place, one I hadn’t thought of: ‘The landing on the staircase on the first and second floors, with the window seat. I tend to disappear into my books, so noise and people walking past is never a problem. Maeve is not a ‘drape yourself across the reading material’ sort of cat, so as long as I’m not taking up her favorite pillow, she’ll deign to let me sit with her for a while and sometimes will even purr for accompaniment.’
As you might have guessed from the lyrics at the top of this edition, the song this time, is ‘One Green Hill’ as recorded off the soundboard on Bremen, Germany on the 3rd of April 1996′. There’s a splendid version of it on their Alive & Acoustic album which I think is the same cut on their Granite Years and Trawler collections.