O I forbid you, maidens a’,
That wear gowd on your hair,
To ameome or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.
Child Ballad 39A
It got sharply colder on this Scottish estate over the past week so Mrs.Ware, our Head Cook, decided to have the staff of Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, prepare the fire pit for slow cooking a meal. The meal she has planned is slow roasted lamb spiced with garlic and cumin, buttered potato chunks and sautéed spinach with coarse ground black pepper and aged Riverrun Farms feta cheese. For dessert, there will be pumpkin turnovers served with fresh churned Madagascar vanilla ice cream.
Meanwhile I’ve been organising the reading groups, which always gear up as the weather gets colder, with of course the usual Norse language study group, ones devoted to works by Patricia McKillip, JRR Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, Robert Holdstock and Diana Wynne Jones. Of course there’s a Harry Potter group too, as a new book came out this past June in the series, though I’ll freely admit find her writing style incredibly pedestrian.
(Grey has an interesting essay on writing that was originally in the Sleeping Hedgehog which didn’t fit neatly anywhere, so I’m putting it here. Go ahead and read it as it’s her usual eloquent writing. I’ll wait.)
This edition was to be themed around the holidays of All Hallows Eve, All Souls Day and Samhain, but it ended up reflecting what we as editors think befits this time of the year when Summer is past, Autumn is fully upon us and Winter is still quite a bit off… So give a listen to ‘The Pumpkin Dance’ by the Red Clay Ramblers off their unreleased The Merry Wives of Windsor album as I get started on this edition…
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 he 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.’
Triskell Press has released a digital edition of Charles de Lint’s Yarrow: An Autumn Tale, which Grey delightfully notes is ‘set in de Lint’s Ottawa, the one he first envisioned for his novel Moonheart, and expanded in its sequel, Spiritwalk. Those readers who have fallen in love with the wonderful Tamson House of these two novels will be delighted to note its brief appearance in Yarrow as well. However, the characters in Yarrow are part of different story than the residents of Tamson House and their associates, and Yarrow is a stand-alone novel.’
Grey say that ‘Clare Leslie and Frank Gerace have provided a wonderful resource in The Ancient Celtic Festivals and How We Celebrate Them Today. This slender book (fifty-eight pages) can be read by anyone from upper elementary school on, but younger children would also enjoy it if it were read to them. It is clearly designed primarily for the school and library markets, but “folky” families and those interested in Celtic traditions will also want it for their own libraries.’
The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles, says Kim, answers a question you might’ve had: ‘Ever wonder what happened to the Child ballads that came across the water? Have you been curious about the lives of the folks whose wavery voices emerge from Lomax’s home recordings? This book contains the answers, plus over one hundred New World cousins to those ballads collected by Child, transcribed by balladeer John Jacob Niles in his trips through the southern Appalachians during the 1920s and 1930s.’ You can here Niles singing ‘The Carrion Crow’ here. It’s better known as Child 26, ‘Twa Corbies’ which is here performed by the Old Blind Dogs.
Nellie found much to appreciate in The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: ‘Jean Markale’s telling of many traditional stories illustrates this history vividly and causes us to reflect on the essential nature of the holiday. Identifying, through Markale’s exploration, with our pagan ancestors, gives Halloween the serious reflection it deserves. We can look now at this black and orange night and see beneath the mischievous spectacle, a holiday of changes, of reverence, of comprehension and wisdom.’
A fine version of the Tam Lin story is reviewed by Richard as he looks at a Pamela Dean novel: ‘An early part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale series, Tam Lin is by far the most ambitious project on the line. The story of Tam Lin is one of the better known ones to escape folklore for the fringes of the mainstream; you’ll find references scuttling about everywhere from old Fairport Convention discs to Christopher Stasheff novels. There’s danger inherent in mucking about with a story that a great many people know and love in its original form; a single misstep and the hard-core devotees of the classic start howling for blood. Moreover, Dean is not content simply to take the ballad of Tam Lin and transplant it bodily into another setting.’
We next look at Ray Bradbury’s quintessential Autumn novel and film which gets an appreciative review by the previous reviewer: ‘By right and nature, all October babies should love Something Wicked This Way Comes. It is a love letter to autumn, and to the Halloween season in particular, a gorgeous take on maturity and self-acceptance and all the dark temptations that come crawling ‘round when the calendar creeps close to October 31st.’
Books can get successfully turned into other forms as we see in a review by Vonnie of an interesting performance of an Ellen Kushner novel: ‘Ellen Kushner and Joe Kessler at Johnny D’s. Kushner performed Thomas the Rhymer as a combination reading/musical performance at Johnny D’s, the synergy between the songs and the narrative was much stronger. The pauses, in particular, highlighted the words far better than the end of a paragraph on a page ever could. Kushner sang and played guitar, whilst Josef Kessler played fiddle and mandolin.’
Pumpkin Ale has been a staple of the Autumn season for at least twenty years on both sides of the Atlantic. Much of it is bloody awful — over-spiced sweet shit. Well it turns out that it’s not a new fad ‘tall as a letter from Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria to her close friend Tessa some one and fifty years ago demonstrates that pumpkin ale has a long existence. You can read her letter here.
Dave leads off our music reviews with a look at the Burning Bright box set: ‘The title comes from the William Blake poem, “Tyger, Tyger” and the reason is…that Tyger is Ashley Hutchings’ nickname. Having said that…let me next alert all and sundry that Free Reed is the greatest box-set compilation maker in the world, nay, universe! There is such a wealth of material in one of their sets that to properly appreciate it one must spend quality time with it to savour each mouth-watering delectable. And it’s not simply the music, although they are called Free Reed MUSIC, but the posters, and especially the books that are prepared and accompany each package are filled with enough photos, posters, memorabilia and biographical text to keep all your senses busy. Stick your nose in the book…it even smells good! One warning though…if you don’t like the sound of the concertina, approach this one carefully…but…the concertina grows on you, and this is five hours of definitive British folk music.’
He also has a look at another box set, The Time Has Come: 1967-1973, by another band that evokes Autumn for me: ‘By my recollection it was The Pentangle when they started. And then they lost the definitive article and were just Pentangle. Whatever they called themselves, they were like fish out of water at the time. My friends didn’t listen to them at all. We were all more into The Who, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix. The loud stuff. The flashy stuff. But now, years later, I find myself listening to this mix of jazz, folk, blues, and traditional music far more than I listen to those other bands.’
Deborah offers up the best look ever at Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief: ‘1969 saw the release of two albums that gave me a case of musical whiplash: Pentangle’s Basket of Light and Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief. (If memory serves, the third leg in that triad of bands, Steeleye Span, was still a year away from formation.)’ Go ahead and savour every word of this fascinating remembrance of things long past.
I know it’s early Autumn but I have a Winter Shopping Holidays idea as I had to include this band here, so let me quote myself: ‘Are you looking for that perfect Winter Holiday gift for your lover of English folk rock? Oh, do I have a gift that’s perfect! EMI has just served up A Parcel of Steeleye Span. This triple disc set contains the entirety of their first five albums for Chrysalis, from 1972’s Below The Salt to 1975’s All Around My Hat with Parcel of Rogues, Commoners Crown, and Now We Are Six being the recordings in between. This completely remastered collection has 46 tracks in all, including a number of very tasty bonus tracks.’
If there be a First Lady of English Folk Music for the past near fifty years, it must be Maddy Prior, whose singing has defined this tradition more than any other vocalist has. Deb has two looks at her, …And Maddy Dances and Comfort and the Unexpected: In Conversation with Maddy Prior. Trust me when I say that each of these articles will enlighten you more about Maddy than a hundred articles in the English music press ever could!
She finishes off her reviews with ‘Dear Richard, Please Will You Play…?’, with the subtitle of Three shows, three settings, one happy woman which is her loving look at three shows by Richard Thompson, founding member of Fairport Convention who has gone on to a long career as an artist of sterling repute.
Although it focuses more on the music from the Peanuts Christmas program, Gary notes that the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Peanuts’ Greatest Hits does include “The Great Pumpkin Waltz,” as well as selections from several other television programs that Guaraldi scored.
Boston fiddler Katie McNally’s new album, her second, focuses on the music of Cape Breton Island (which is home to the Celtic Colours International Festival every fall), particularly the music made by expatriate fiddlers who lived and worked in “the Boston States” in the 20th century. Gary says ‘McNally continues to grow into an impressive fiddler’ on this album, aptly titled The Boston States.
Gary also reviews the Kari Ikonen Trio’s Beauteous Tales and Offbeat Stories. He says, ‘This album is about equal parts upbeat swinging jazz, icy Nordic soundscapes, and pensive, occasionally dark excursions into modernist interpretations of European folk music,’ which sounds like perfect autumn fare to me!
And Gary reviews Finale: An Evening With Pentangle, which draws on the performances from the English folk-jazz supergroup’s 2008 reunion tour. ‘And what performances they are!’ he says. ‘Excellent musicians in the ’60s, they seem at the height of their powers on these recordings. It helps that the recordings themselves are beautifully done, but McShee doesn’t sound a day older than 21, the guitarists are absolutely amazing, and the rhythm section is supple and inventive.’
Unlike Fairport Convention which has retained much of its folk roots which are detailed in this review, the Oysterband has evolved beyond their original roots over the decades. But Vonnie reviews a recent album in which they returned to those roots with a collaborator: ‘June Tabor has reunited with the Oysterband for a second album, Ragged Kingdom and the two suit each other better now than when the first album, Freedom and Rain, made in 1991. Considering that the first album was magnificent, many of us had high expectations for this album. It a very different creature, and very good.’
Our What Not this time is from Kelly Sedinger on why he likes Fall: ‘Autumn’s always been my favorite season, for so many reasons. I love the fact that I don’t spend my days in some degree of perspiration. I love the feeling of encroaching coolness in the air, and the fact that at night I can use a comforter again. I love how clear the air gets once the southern humidity stops coming up Buffalo way. I love how my wardrobe expands again; t-shirts and shorts give way to long-sleeve t-shirts and henleys and denim shirts and overalls. I love the return of football, the way Friday nights feel like an event again, and the scent of leaves and apples in the air. What do I love best, though? Maybe it’s my daughter going back to school. Or maybe not.’
It’s nigh unto All Hallows Eve, so naturally I’m offering a classic All Hallows’ Eve song. In 2007, Fairport Convention would recreate their Liege & Lief album with the original lineup sans the departed Sandy Denny so Chris While did the vocals and was quite stunning in her performance, so let’s hear their ‘Tam Lin’ as performed on the night of the 10th of August.