Welcome to GMR

If you haven’t encountered us before, read on; otherwise skip to the weekly edition which is up every Sunday morning and which alternates with a Story every Wednesday morning.

Everything that interests us as a diverse group of individuals will get attention here, be it Rock and RollIrish music, a  jazz or classical recording, tarot decks,   Folkmanis puppetsmanor house mysteries and science fiction novelsfiction inspired by folklore, sf filmsegg nog recipes,  ymmmy street foodchocolatewhisky and cookbooks… Well you get the idea.

Stories about the Kinrowan Estate will show up every Wednesday, be it Gus the Estate Head Gardener talking about pumpkins; Reynard, our Manager of the Green Man Pub located in Kinrowan Hall, sharing stories; Zina on the Neverending Session and Midsummer as well; or even Iain, our Librarian, talking about life there such as the Several Annies, his Library Apprentices.  And you’ll see material from The Sleeping Hedgehog, the in-house newsletter for our staff, such as Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Estate Gardener here in the Victorian Era, on a tree spirit. You might even meet Hamish, one of the current hedgehogs living in the Library who sleep the Winter away in a basket near the fireplace in our Library.

So if you’ve got something you’d like reviewed, whatever it might be, email me here as you never know what’ll tickle our fancy.

PS: you’ll also get to hear some choice music here every week such as Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’  from his Rodeo album. I sourced it off a Smithsonian music archive which has no details where or when it was recorded which surprised me given how good they usually are at such things.

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What’s New for the 21st of January: Mary Gauthier’s Rifles & Rosary Beads, Elizabeth Bear on chocolate truffles, some Roger Zelazny reviews, Music from Sufjan Stevens, Bruce Campbell’s Jack of All Trades series and other matters

Endings are rubbish. They’re only the place where you choose to stop talking. — The Narrator in Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ACome in, we’re almost ready for you to read this edition, but first have a drink. As always, this edition’s just one of many going back decades, which is why you’ll find material that appeared quite some time back, say a review of a book still beloved but then still to come out when the review was written from a galley provided by the publisher.

Back then, all galleys of forthcoming books and preview CDs were physical, none of these services like NetGalley existed, which is why we got delivered to us all ten hardcover volumes of Tolkien’s The History of Middle-earth, or that Fairport Unconventional box set.

Oh, we still get many deliveries, but I‘ll frankly admit that I do miss the days when our Mail Room brownies here on this Scottish Estate sorted through the weekly postal delivery and put things into staff postal boxes based on their somewhat eccentric beliefs of what should go where. Now let’s see what piqued the interest of the editors this time…2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AFor your winter reading pleasure, we have A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, a classic English manor house novel that gets looked at by Lory: ‘The story is not really a “whodunit” — the “who” is pretty clear from the outset — the question is “how” and, even more, “why” he did it, and Milne keeps us guessing until the end. The plausibility of the solution is not one that would hold up to heavy scrutiny, but the pleasure lies not in the verisimilitude of the puzzle but in the ingenuity of its construction and unravelling, and the witty repartee among the characters.’

Robert has a rather unusual book by Roger Zelazny — well, unusual for Zelazny, at least — Damnation Alley: ‘One of the key elements of Zelazny’s work was his complete disregard for the boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and mainstream literature. Consider that, within a science fiction framework he frequently introduced mythological characters, not as mythic archetypes but as actual characters, and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable stylistically within the genre into more widely accepted literary conventions. And, having said that, I’m faced with Damnation Alley, a novel from early in his career (1969) that seems, on its surface, to undercut my points.’

And more Zelazny, again from Robert, this time Creatures of Light and Darkness: ‘Among his other virtues, Roger Zelazny was as willing to experiment with narrative structures as he was with thematic content. This wasn’t a constant thing — most of his writings fit into a standard naturalistic narrative framework quite easily — but one catches glimpses in, for example, the “traveling” passages in Nine Princes in Amber. Creatures of Light and Darkness, published in book form in 1970, shows Zelazny at his most inventive, formally and thematically.’

Scott has for us a review of Untangling Tolkien: A Chronology and Commentary for The Lord of the Rings, a book that has some serious flaws. Michael Perry’s book is a mixed bag for Scott: ‘Perry intends the book to serve as a reference to The Lord of the Rings, enabling the reader to get a better sense of what events happened simultaneously in the story, where in Tolkien’s writings a particular event is described, and a deeper appreciation of the structural coherence of Tolkien’s work. Untangling Tolkien generally succeeds in these regards, especially the latter; this book is essentially an exposition on Tolkien’s attention to chronological detail. Unfortunately, the book also gives every appearance of having been put together in great haste, as though the publishers were more concerned with releasing the book by a certain date than with presenting the best possible book.’

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Kage loved video with a fierce devotion that showed in her reviews, as we see here with her lead-in to the Bruce Campbell’s Jack of All Trades series that gleefully screwed historic accuracy royally in favour of a more entertaining story: ‘In the soul of every history geek, there is a hidden volume wherein are listed the names of History Geek Guilty Pleasures. Don’t try to deny it, fellow history geeks; you know it’s true.’

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A writer by the name Elizabeth found something very much to her liking in Dean’s Sweets: ‘Portland seems to me one of the quintessential New England seacoast towns. With its long streets of red masonry buildings and its quirky alleyways, coffee shops, and squares, it’s a fine place to spend a wandering day. It makes sense to me that one of the best local New England chocolates I’ve tried should make its home here.’

I’ve got a whisky that I think you should try. It’s Toiteach, which is a wonderfully peaty single malt from the Bunnahabhain distillery. Served neat with neither water nor ice is how we do it, as there’s no single malts here that shouldn’t be appreciated that way. If you’re interested in knowing more about Scots whiskys, take a look at the review by Stephen of the late Iain Bank’s Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram as I believe it’s simply the best look at single malts ever done.
2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AMuzsikas’ The Bartók Album gets an appreciative look by Brendan, who also reviewed Bartok’s Yugoslav Folk Music which you’ll see connects intrinsically to this recording: ‘During a recent festival in celebration of the works of Béla Bartók — one of this century’s most important musical composers — at Bard College, the Hungarian tradition revivalist band Muzsikas discovered that many people were quite familiar with Bartok’s classical compositions while being quite ignorant of the Hungarian folk musical traditions that inspired much of those compositions.’

Of Many Languages, One Soul Gary notes that ‘If you at all like instrumental music from southeastern Europe, if you enjoy the sound and versatility of the clarinet, or if you just like wildly eclectic international music – personally, all three describe me – then this Balkan Clarinet Summit disc is a must-have.’

Gary also reviews a new album by American singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier. Rifles & Rosary Beads is a collection of songs co-written with service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their loved ones, through the auspices of a project called Songwriting With Soldiers.

An career-spanning tribute album to Captain Beefheart? Gary says Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas’s The World of Captain Beefheart is pretty good. ‘It’s great to hear these reverent but not by-the-numbers covers of Captain Beefheart tunes.’

Scott Allen Nollen’s Jethro Tull: A History of the Band, 1968-2001 gets a superb look-see by Kate: ‘Scott Allen Nollen has proven his devotion as a Tull fan in the countless miles travelled and the hours passed collecting details and interviewing band members and other associates. He has included nostalgic pictures of the band, some of which were borrowed from Ian Anderson, the often frenzied flautist who, despite some controversy, became the Fagin-like front man for the band. After ten long years of research, here is a comprehensive and entertaining story of the much misunderstood Jethro Tull. The authenticity is underlined by the thoughtful and honest foreword written by Ian Anderson himself.’

Robert picked Tummel’s Payback Time as his recommended recording  this outing: ‘Think about the band playing on while the Titanic goes down. Think of some of Joel Gray’s bitchier numbers in Cabaret. Think of Josephine Baker at her most outrageous taking Paris by storm. Think of a bunch of crazy Swedes with no inhibitions whatsoever getting together and letting everyone have it, right between the eyes. That might give an inkling of the tone of Tummel’s Payback Time.’
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Every s often we ask folks which work by Tolkien they liked best. Here’s how one writer, James Stoddard, responded: ‘Is this a trick question? The Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece in so many ways. I recently listened to a reading of the trilogy on CD. Despite having read the book five or six times, I was amazed at how it kept my attention. Only the Council of Elrond chapter flags a bit for me. I see the work differently every time I read it. I thought Sam a silly fellow when I read the book as a fifteen-year-old; now his constant loyalty invariably moves me. But the best part of many excellent scenes is at the Crossroads–the thrown down head of the statue of the ancient king, garlanded with flowers, a single ray of sunlight shining on the shattered visage. ‘They cannot conquer forever,’ Frodo says, and my eyes always unexpectedly mist over. It is the book’s theme, captured in four words. Brilliant.’

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For this week’s Coda, Robert brings us a clip from an artist who was new to him — ‘Although,” he says, “I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from him. I first ran across Sufjan Stevens in the soundtrack to Call Me By Your Name, in which he has three songs, two written for the film and one remix, which are compelling, to say the least — the combination of Stevens’ ethereal vocals and rich instrumentation, which seems to be a hallmark of his work, is immediately engaging. At the risk of introducing a spoiler, here’s ’Visions of Gideon,’ which closes the movie. I won’t say more, except to caution you to brace yourself.’

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A Kinrowan Estate story: The Snug

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Ah, you’re back! Now, where were we? Ah, the Snug: the Snug is a tiny room to the other side of the bar (served via a sliding hatch) which has a small wood-burning stove, a couple of old armchairs, and a carved oak settle, which tends to act as a repository for copies of fRoots, The Living Tradition, The Economist, On The Border, and other worthy publications. One wall is lined with bookshelves that contain a few board games (chess, checkers, dice made of human bone, nine-man’s morris), novels, collections of short stories, poetry and the like. There’s a surprising number of first editions here, many of them donated and signed by the authors (some folks will do anything for a pint when they’ve run short of cash!).

The Snug, like all of the Pub and the whole Estate is smoke-free, and it’s the place that you’re most likely to encounter some of our needlework crowd working on their projects, including The Norns when they drop by for a chat. If you happen to overhear them reading aloud to one another (as you pass the door enroute to the loos), wait for the inevitable laughter — it’s a music in itself! Oh, and I nearly forgot. The painting over the stove is by Charles Vess!

Finally there’s The Nook, or ‘the back room’ as it’s more often called these days. The most important piece of furniture here is the bar billiards table. If you’re a visitor here, my advice is not to play against any of the folk sitting at that table near the Fireplace, all of whom are preternaturally skilled at the game and should be left to compete against each other! Aside from these sporting encounters, The Nook frequently (and perhaps I shouldn’t be telling you this) doubles as a committee room for various meetings of editors and staffers. The bar billiard table converts to a regular table simply by lifting the plywood cover into position. One side has a wall-mounted work surface with six high bar stools ranged along its length. Take a look beneath and you’ll find six power points and telephone sockets, just the things for connecting a laptop or recharging an iPad. Surprising? That’s just how the Green Man Pub is. There’s no juke box, no arcade games, no closing time and no arguments. (Well, not many that get testy, as that gets you evicted.) Me? I do most of my Journal writing in the Nook — particularly when it gets too noisy out there.

The gent in black wants to know if I’ll have a game of bar billiards with him — winner buys the next round. What the heck, I’ve still got the proceeds of a well-paid storytelling gig in my pocket. You set ’em up, I’ll just get the ales in now.

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What’s New for the 14th of January: Comfort Food, The Bordertown series, Music from Nick Burbridge and other matters

Pick up a whistle and give us a tune, good man Mickey
Tip on a stool in the old saloon, show them how it’s played
It’s not too late to get right, there’s nothing to do but play all night
Jesus, it’s better than picking a fight, playing the Sligo Maid

Nick Burbridge’s ‘Lay the Sligo Maid‘

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AIt’s our usually cold, raw weather we get this time of year here on the Kinrowan Estate which means even the most diehard of Estate staff find going outside unless their duties require to do so something to be avoided. Iain’s been keeping to his hiding spot and I myself are spending time off duty in the Kitchen quite content to play tunes and nosh on whatever the staff there feels we should be eating such as blackberry cobbler or beef barley soup if they feel someone needs something heartier.

When we moved the Kitchen and related spaces to the second under cellar quite some generations back, we built a comfortable sitting area into it. Just built-in benches that can set up to eight or thereabouts comfortably with a deep ledge at the back of the benches for food, drink and such to be put. Won’t surprise you that it’s a favoured spot for almost everyone come the colder part of the year.

So let’s see what the editorial staff has for you this time..

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 Life on The Border was the third and last of the original  Bordertown series until The Essential Bordertown: A Traveller’s Guide to the Edge came out some seven years later. It was a fat little paperback with two weird looking individuals, one of whom might have pointed ears. I think they’re meant to be Bordertown elven punks. Cat has a loving look at it here.

He also thinks that Finder is the best look at this shared universe: ‘My personally autographed copy of the hardcover edition is subtitled A Novel of The Borderlands, which tells you that it’s set in The Borderland ‘verse created by Terri Windling. It’s not the only Borderland novel: her husband, Will Shetterly, wrote two splendid novels set here, Elsewhere and Nevernever. I, however, think that it’s the best of the three.’

Grey says that ‘The Essential Bordertown anthology (edited by Terri Windling and Delia Sherman) was written to be your first Bordertown friend, the handbook you keep with you until you find your niche — or at least until you get to The Dancing Ferret and have your complimentary first drink. It’s partly a collection of stories told by a variety of the city’s residents and visitors, and partly a really good travel guide — the kind you wished you had the first time you visited a place where you didn’t speak the language.’

Michael looks at Holly Black and Ellen Kushner’s Welcome to Bordertown anthology, the latest entry in this series: ‘A generation ago, Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold introduced us to Bordertown, an abandoned American city sitting on the Border between the “real world” (The World) and Faerie (The Realm). A place where science and magic both worked, if equally unpredictably, it became a haven and a destination for runaways and outcasts of both worlds, a place where humans and the Fae (aka Truebloods) could mingle, do business, eke out a living, and find themselves. It was a place where anything could happen.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AOur food and drink commentary this time comes courtesy of Solstice’ author  Jennifer Stevenson who tells us about her comfort food: ‘Comfort food is defined as “German or Danish” for me, because those were my maternal grandparents’ comfort foods: whole milk, cream, butter, mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, lots of noodles with heavy creamy sauces, coffeecakes, homemade cookies, thick soups. Oh, and box food from the 1950s. ’2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ATony Kushner and Maurice Sendak’s Brundibar gets a review by Rebecca: ‘Pepicek (very small) and Aninku (his sister, even smaller) have a problem: their mother is very sick. The doctor told them to go to town to get milk, but how can two children who have no money buy milk? And how can they get money when they have nothing to sell? They could sing for money … except that Brundibar (Czech slang for bumblebee) can sing much louder than two small children, and he chases them off. With the help of three talking animals, three hundred schoolchildren, and eventually the whole town, they chase off bullying Brundibar, get money and milk for their mommy, and so are happy again.’

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Deborah has an appraisal of the newest album from one of her favourites English groups: ‘I’m just on my third listen to Steeleye Span’s Dodgy Bastards. This latest offering from a band I’ve loved since their earliest albums is a mixed bag. Fortunately, the contents are largely on the side of excellence. There is very little here that doesn’t work for me, but what doesn’t work for me really doesn’t.’

Jo says that Telyn is for all  ‘those interested in the Welsh tradition should check out Llio Rhydderch, who studied and toured with the fabled Nansi Richards. For the uninitiated, an explanation is in order. The Welsh have a drastically different style of playing, largely due to the nature of the music itself. Their music is ornamented through theme and variation, a more classical style, rather than through the sort of ornamentation heard in Scottish and Irish music.’

Lars has a concert rememberence for us: ‘While in London in the summer of 1977 I went to the now defunct Southwark Folk Festival and for the first time I saw Martin Carthy in action. The festival was held in a teacher’s training college and the evening ended with Martin performing in the middle of the floor in an assembly room. We were just over a hundred sitting on the floor in circles around him. No stage, no microphones, no spectacular lights, just a man, his voice and his guitar. Pure magic. Do not expect me to tell you which songs he sang. I only remember a powerful ‘The Famous Flower of Serving Men’. But I have been a fan ever since.’

Patrick also looks at  Welsh music in the guise of a Robin Huw Bowen recording: ‘Hunting The Hedgehog is all traditional music, a collection of Welsh Gypsy tunes handed down through four generations of harpers with nary a hint of Dion. Bowen’s skillful fingers make the instrument sing as only a harp can, portraying the enchantment of a beautiful country and free lifestyle.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AOur What Not is a longstanding question we ask folks, to wit what’s your favorite work by Tolkien. Once again, The Hobbit proves popular as Jasper Fforde says it’s The Hobbit, because it’s the only one I’ve read – I liked it a great deal but was never really into spells, wizards and trolls, so never took it any further.’ it’s worth noting that The Hobbit, despite having a reputation as a children’s book is far and away more popular than The Lord of The Rings. Among the staff, particularly according to Iain Mackenzie, the Estate Librarian, it’s read mostly in the Winter and  there’s a reading group for it that’s been around as long as the book has been around.
2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2A‘Laying The Silgo Maid’ which is our Coda today is made available courtesy of Brighton, England based singer/songwriter, novelist, poet, and playwright Nick Burbridge and his musical vehicle named McDermott’s 2 Hours (when he’s not collaborating with the Levellers). Nick can slip easily from Irish folk to really great folk rock, so it won’t surprise you ‘tall that Nick’s a favorite of many of us here including myself and we even interviewed him once upon an afternoon.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Unreliable Narrators

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So if you’ve been with us for any length of time, you no doubt that a lot of us here tell stories about a place in Scotland called the Kinrowan Estate, its inhabitants and what happens there. Some might sound mundane such as the Contradances held here, some might sound a bit fanciful such as the history of this Estate and some simply you think can’t be true, say that story about the ghost fiddler playing at dawn one early Winter day.

It’s not for me to say which stories are true, which might be true and which couldn’t possibly be true. And it really doesn’t matter as long as you find the story being told satisfying.

Well dear readers, I come to tell you that all narrators are unreliable and just can’t be trusted to tell the truth especially when it seems most likely that they are indeed telling a truth. Note I didn’t say the truth as I don’t believe there is ever such a thing as every storyteller believes that the story they’re telling could be true.

I remember a storyteller that came in just past midnight on a cold, windy night in, I think, in November quite some decades back. He ordered a whiskey, one of our more expensive ones, and paid for with silver coins from an empire that may or not have ever existed. After he finished off that one, he asked if could trade a tale for a place to stay for a few nights. Sure as long as you pay for your whiskey, said Reynard.

But, you say, I’m a reliable narrator. No, I’m certain you’re not as you filter everything through your perceptions and you likely have no idea what many of those filters actually exist as they’re deeply buried in your consciousness, so deep that you don’t know they exist. So everything that you tell is not reliable as it is only what you believe is the truth.

Now the best storytellers are the ones that know that every story’s a lie but know how to make you believe it’s true, say the story of a Robin Hood who isn’t the hero as told in most tales, but rather is the villain of the tale and the Sheriff of Nottingham is the hero, or where the rule of King Arthur saw Britain plunged into unending civil war as Arthur gave into his baser instincts.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if the stories we all tell aren’t true in some manner as long as they’re something that’s entertaining. And that’s my story for now.

Now where did my Ravens get off to?

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What’s New for 7th of January: a Raga Guide, Elizabeth Hand on Chocolate, Ellen Kushner on Urban Winters, Music from Skerryvore, A Royal Christmas and other things as well…

A wild winter storm rages around a large house that is isolated from the rest of the world. Traditionally, the Wild Hunt appeared around the time of Epiphany—January 6 in the Church Calendar—when winter was at its most severe in Northern Europe. No country is specified, but this is, after all, a fantasy world. The house is both a comfortable dwelling with a large library in keeping with Jerold’s quiet personality, and a parallel setting that matches Gerund’s much more active one. A hundred yards from the house is a granite outcrop where the Hunt gathers: This rock might have been a thousand miles away. Or a thousand years. — Jane Yolen’s The Wild Hunt2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AI’ve noted before that we are blessed with lovely summers, an atypical condition in Scotland, by sharing a Border with The Fey. That’s bloody great but it’s also because of The Summer Court, so guess what Winters are like when that Court holds sway? Let’s just say we get true winters, and suffice it to say that we’ve no shortage of snow here.

Winter here sees the Library being very popular, both as a place to be in as it’s social gathering place like the Pub, and as a reading place. Built a century-and-a-half ago, it’s a bloody big four-storied cube that has an alternating schema of book shelves and windows on three sides with various openings from the original Estate outer wall. Couches and chairs are to be found in perfusion. There’s even a fireplace, fronted with fireproof glass, against the wall that faces The Wild Wood.

I hope you’ve got somewhere as comfortable as we have for a favourite reading spot on these cold, windy Winter evenings. And of course we’ve reading and listening suggestions for you this edition…2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2A

Brendan has a fascinating book for us to consider reading: ‘Reading Allen Lowe’s book American Pop from Minstrel to Mojo: On Record 1893 to 1957, I found myself agreeing with the late Tupac Shakur’s vision of the afterlife. Heaven would simply be a large night club filled with all of the late, great musicians of yesteryear. For eternity, all you need to do is stroll through and listen to the fine music… Ironically, if someone told me some years back that this vision consisted entirely of American pop music, my younger self would have concluded that they were describing Hell, but this book — among other influences — has convinced me of my folly. Early American pop music in any of its known forms — jazz, blues, ragtime, vaudeville, country or rock — is truly one of the highest achievements of the American culture.’

A  guide to ragas in their splendid diversity by Joep Bor greatly expanded what Gary knows about that subject: ‘Well, now I know a little bit more, thanks to this impressive book. Subtitled A Survey of 74 Hindustani Ragas, The Raga Guide is an exhaustive and scholarly work, aimed primarily at musicians and serious students of music. It comes with four CDs, each containing 18 to 20 “condensed” versions of classical ragas. The ragas themselves feature either sarod (a sitar-like stringed instrument), flute, or male or female vocal soloists.’

Kelly has a look at a book by a composer who many of us here like a lot: ‘Berlioz was never successful as a composer. His music was never much accepted during his lifetime (in fact, Les Troyens was not even performed in its entirety until some years after Berlioz’s death), and his everyday life exhibited the tenuous existence that we equate with all Romantic artists. In order to remain solvent, Berlioz often had to turn to penning articles of criticism and commentary on music and cultural matters for the Paris publications of the day. By all accounts, Berlioz hated this work and the necessity of it, which is ironic given the quality of his writing, as evidenced in Evenings with the Orchestra.’

A book by Colin Harper and Trevor Hodgett gets a look see by Liz: ‘Irish Folk, Trad And Blues is a sprawling, overcrowded, rush-hour subway car of a book that piles on more eccentric musicians, frenetic booze-ups and unscrupulous music industry types than my brain could keep track of. It is a collection of essays and previously published reviews and interviews that covers roughly thirty years of Irish, English and American music-making (from 1962 to 1998). The book explores the history of the English and Irish Folk Music Revivals of the 1960s, Van Morrison and Them, the Blues boom in Northern Ireland, Irish Rock, Irish Folk Music in the 1970s, The Irish Trad Revival, and the Folk Music Revival of the 1990s.’

Robert looks at two works on a composer that we’re very fond of here: ‘Any genuine understanding of the role of Béla Bartók in twentieth century music is contingent on knowing about the cultural context in which he was formed — or in which he formed himself, as seems likely to be the case. The understanding is two-pronged, as Judit Frigyesi, in Béla Bartók and Turn-of-the-Century Budapest and Peter Laki, in Bartók and His World, make clear.’

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Gary seems to have enjoyed a chocolate bar made from single-origin beans by a company based in Eureka, Calif. From his review, it sounds like a multi-media experience. ‘The bar is beautifully decorated in an incised pattern that resembles Islamic geometric tesserae.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2A‘My favorite musical discovery of 2017 was Turkish psychedelia’ Gary says. As an example, he explores an album called XX, which he explains is ‘a two-disc set celebrating the 20-year career of a band called Baba Zula.’

Gary also reviews Cartes Postales, an album of French chanson by American folk-country singer Eric Brace. ‘Through his dad’s records and some time spent living in France as a teenager, Eric learned to love the jaunty, blue music of the Paris cafés and the Gypsy jazz of Reinhardt and Grappelli,’ he says.

Robert takes a look at what many have called Capercaillie’s ‘crossover’ album: ‘To the Moon was my first exposure to Capercaillie, so of course, it was what’s generally considered their “crossover” album. This is by no means a negative, or even something that’s very obvious: it’s more apparent in the rhythm patterns, the instrumentation (sorry, but no one is going to persuade me that the bouzouki is a traditional Scottish instrument), and the general treatment.’

Robert also came up with an album of early works played on a forerunner of the guitar, Frank Wallace’s Delphín: ‘Frank Wallace, guitarist, lutenist, baritone and composer, has concentrated on the literature of the vihuela de mano, similar in appearance and sound to a guitar but tuned like a lute and a mainstay of the courtly music of early Renaissance Spain. Because the surviving literature is scant, many performers have been deterred from exploring this instrument. Wallace has not.’

Scott looks at an album from an artist you’ll likely know if you’ve been reading us long: ‘And Winter Came… will undoubtedly appeal to people who are fans of Enya’s earlier work. It also gives enough reasons for people who might have gotten bored with her sound to tune back in.‘2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AThe What Not this edition is Ellen Kushner’s Winter Queen Speech on The City in Winter: ‘Once, not so long ago – but longer ago now than it was then – it snowed in the city, and did not stop until everything changed. When we woke up, all the usual sounds were gone. No one was begging for loose change, or yelling for help from muggers, or telling her husband everything was all his fault. Some children were laughing and building snowmen in the courtyard of our building. There were no cars.’2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AThe public spaces in Kinrowan Hall such as here in the Library are much more likely to playing just tunes instead of tunes and songs as that’s more comfortable listening for most of as we work. Afterall Robin Williamson’s  ‘Five Denials on Merlins Grave’ which was recorded at the The Brillig Arts Centre, Bath, England, on the first of December thorny years ago does require your attention, doesn’t it?

So you’re much more likely to hear something from on the Celtic traditions of which there are many, or the  Central European or Nordic traditions. Our tune for you to hear the Edition out is ‘The Ginger Grouse Jigs’ by Skerryvore, a Scottish group formed some fifteen years ago, as performed at the Shetland Folk Festival in 2013.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Guild of St. Nicholas

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So it was a long year. Looking forward to this one, though. All sorts of things I can stand seeing the back of, you can always hope, can’t you? You want another one of those, or do you want to try Bjorn’s new batch of Midwinter Ale? Right.

There you go, darlin’. I think you’ll like it. They certainly do, we’ll be lucky to see the back of them by dawn!

Ah, it was the annual New Year dinner for their local — they’d be the Ancients and Venerables of our local Guild of St. Nicholas. They always come in here from the Guild Hall after the dinner bit and keep the party going. They say they start with a toast to the Guildmaster, Lord Winter, and His Lady at the beginning of the dinner and pretty much plan to not stop ’til the next morning — the excuse, see, is that they pretty much don’t get to drink during practically all of December. Hey, you think drinking and driving is bad, you try it in a sledge with eight reindeer to control!

Well, no, not everyone, of course, just the Santas — the store elves and tree trimmers, candle lighters, gift wrappers, roast chestnut sellers, bell ringers, and professional carolers can usually get away with a tiddle here or there, but even so, it’s professional pride and custom that keeps most of them pretty much sober and working hard.

That entire guild doesn’t even bother with meetings or events from the end of November to after the New Year. I think they run around rescuing members from exhaustion and over-exertion, mainly.

Yeah, they spend most of the dinner laughing about things that happened, like the time Dan there on the end had two handfuls of his beard torn out by a kid who was sure it was fake, or the time Marta, the dark haired girl on the right, she’s a Christmas pudding maker, she discovered that her daughter had decided to store the salt in the sugar bin after she’d made three hundred puddings. Good thing winter puddings are made well before Christmas.

Nah, we don’t mind. They start off noisy and laughing, but sooner or later, they’ll go pretty quiet, once the toasts start, and once most of the other customers have left. Reynard usually sends us off-shift and stays at the bar himself. Oh, people sometimes stick around and try to listen, but weirdly, they don’t seem to remember much, other than getting this sort of, I don’t know, confused, solemn but peaceful look on their faces and saying that everyone just talked, but they can’t really remember any of it.

Even Spike, who’s usually impervious to just about anything. I once came in the morning after the dinner, and Spike was sleeping in the armchair there by the window. When I woke him up and gave him some ale for his breakfast, I asked him if he’d heard any good stories last night. He sort of screwed his face up in this confused kind of way, then smiled just like a little kid, and said, ‘bah, well maybe, I guess. . . only, jus’, you know, there’s still a real meaning behind Christmas, innit?’ Then afterwards, he didn’t remember saying it, looked at me like I was crazy when I said something about it ten minutes later.

What? No! Of course we don’t try to find out. They start keeping those naughty and nice lists as soon as Christmas is over, you know!2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2A

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What’s New for the 31st of December: A Folkmanis Mouse with Cheese puppet, three chocolate candies from Chocolove, Big Country performs “Auld Lang Syne’, Glen Cook’s Annals of the Black Company, And Happy New Year!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne? — Robert Burns2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2A

Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year’s celebration, is a time to look at what one has accomplished in the past, and to look forward to what one expects of the coming year. So it’s indeed fitting that the final edition for this year of GMR is on Hogmanay.

So it’s the last day of the year as counted on the Christian calendar, and conversation, nibbles, music and potent drink (for those considered adults which is more flexible here than British law really allows) are celebrating. It’s been snowing, a gentle but steady affair, which makes it look rather magical outside Kinrowan Hall. The Neverending Session has splintered itself so that some of them were in the Kitchen playing Nordic trad when I was there earlier, another group’s playing French trad in the Library and of course there’s a group in the Pub playing trad Irish, a very pleasant thing indeed.

Bjorn, our Brewmaster, has a new Winter Ale on tap today. Actually he has three he unveiled today and several ciders to boot. Toasting the New Year here will be done with a metheglin he’s been aging for over a generation now, a perfect benediction indeed. Oh, and Mrs. Ware and her Kitchen staff made eggnog without any spirits for those who don’t or shouldn’t drink the spirited stuff.

Nibbles, savoury and sweet, abound as we skip an eventide meal on this day so the Kitchen staff can celebrate properly as well. Everyone not doing something else will do a stint in the Kitchen helping prepare and circulate the nibbles. Yeasty things such as flatbread for noshing on with various spreads, cheeses from Riverrun Farm, sausages and other meats in hand rolls, and even some veggies are on hand, as well as an entire table brimming with cookies and other sweets. 
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It’s the time of year when we look back over the year (or years) past, and Robert came up with a series that has become a contemporary classic: Glen Cook’s Annals of the Black Company, recently (well, fairly recently) reissued in a set of omnibus editions. Start with The Chronicles of the Black Company: ‘We all have our personal lists, individual counterparts to those periodic lists of “most important,” “best,” or whatever the accolade of the moment might be. I have a personal list of “best fantasy series” that includes some works that might not be “great,” but several that I think arguably are. In the realm of modern heroic fantasy, in particular, I think anyone would be hard put to protest the inclusion of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Fritz Leiber’s tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Michael Moorock’s great cycle of stories of The Eternal Champion, and Glen Cook’s Black Company.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ARobert has a treat for us: three chocolate candies from Chocolove: ‘Chocolove is an American company headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, that produces chocolate bars and candies using all natural ingredients and following the traditions of European chocolatiers. What came across my desk was three packages of “nut-butter cups” — one the classic peanut-butter cup, and two made with almond butter.’2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2A

Joselle doesn’t like this time of year, but a recording called An Ancient Muse cheered her up: ‘Normally, I can’t stand winter. It’s cold, it’s dismal, and I tend to get sick a lot. Nonetheless, winter 2006 has made me one happy woman, in spite of the general nastiness. This is largely thanks to an event that I and several other folk/Celtic/world/eclectic music fans have been anticipating for nine years …’

Judith has a Finnish recording for us: ‘Vaylan Virassa means “in the flow of the river.” The river here is the Torne, at the border between Finland and Sweden, the zipper in the jeans of Scandinavia that extends north from the top of the Gulf Of Bothnia until it turns as a pocket through deep reindeer country towards Kiruna and Norway. The Swedish acoustic folk band Jord plays music from the area around the Torne on this first album. Jord is Jan Johansson on accordion and bass, Gun Olofsson on guitar, flute, and percussion, Susanne Rantatalo on percussion, and Erling Fredriksson on bass, harp, and flute. All sing, but I suspect Rantatalo sings the most.’

I’d be remiss not to note that Robert Burns did a lot more lyrics than just those for ‘Auld Lang Syne’, which Lars notes in reviewing The Complete Songs Of Robert Burns in Twelve Volumes: ‘This is one of the most ambitious recording projects I have encountered within the folk music world, covering all of Robert Burns’ 368 songs. It took about six years and twelve volumes to complete, with a great number of well known Scottish musicians and singers taking part. (As an appendix to this review you find a list of all participating singers and musicians and on what volumes they appear.) In total the series give you almost 15 hours of music.’

Robert’s been looking back over years past again and came up with the final volume to a series we’ve reviewed here, Gamelan of Central Java XV: Returning Minimalism: In Nem: ‘The subtitle of this disc, “Returning Minimalism,” denotes a key fact about twentieth-century American minimalism: it makes extensive use of the formal elements of gamelan. The circular structures, repetitive melodies, intricate rhythms, and incremental modulations of tone are all hallmarks of the music of such American composers as Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, and John Adams through at least part of their careers.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AOur What Not this outing is a Folkmanis Mouse with Cheese puppet that got overlooked when it came so Reynard gives it a review now: ‘I’ve no idea when it came in for review, nor do I know how it ended up in the room off the Estate Kitchen that houses the centuries-old collection of cookbooks, restaurant menus and other culinary related material, but I just noticed a very adorable white mouse puppet holding a wedge of cheese in its paws there. Somebody had placed it in a white teacup on the middle of the large table so I really couldn’t overlook it. ’2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AOur musical coda should be ‘Auld Ang Syne’ of course! I think that the Infinite Juxebox has got a Big Country live version. Ahhh, yes, it’s actually ‘In A Big Country’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ as performed by them at the Barrowland Music Hall on New Year’s Eve thirty-four year ago. The Scots band was in fine form before the quite enthusiastic Glasgow crowd and they certainly gave it their all.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Mythologist John Campbell

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AI was watching a New Years Eve gig and it was clear to me how tribal it felt. Good communities are tribes. They have rituals and myths and those kinds of deeper realities that light up everyday reality and give it some substance. I felt like I was looking at a tribal ceremony, and I liked that. — attributed to Joseph Campbell

It’s no wonder that it’s so hard to tell fiction from fact these days.  Astrid, who’s one of my Several Annies, the Library Apprentices (well sort of though they’re really a whole lot more than that but tradition gives them that appellation but I digress as I oft times do) was deep in the net researching her presentation on contemporary traditions regarding New Year’s Eve when she stumbled upon the quote above.

It certainly sounded like something that Campbell would have said but she quickly discovered that though it was widely attributed to him, no one actually said where it was from! So she asked me if I knew where it came from. I thought it sounded familiar so I first checked several online resources that I trust and no, Wikipedia was not one of them, as anything full of self appointed wankers with shite for brains who edit at will with no regard for the truth is not to be trusted ‘tall.

So I decided to assign all of the Several Annies the task of combing through the published works of Campbell to see if they could spot that quote. I know that it’s a large corpus of work but they were all concentrating on him and his works for the Winter when this question raised its head, so I figured that they’d find it if actually existed.

(Digression for a minute: it’d be really, really useful if the Joseph Campbell Foundation, who’ve been doing superlative new editions of his works, provided an online searchable database of his works. Alas they don’t.)

Months passed and not one of them found anything close to it. Indeed they didn’t find anything on him that might have formed the basis of that quote, however much it got bastardized, in much the same manner that a tune can get changed as it passes from one musician to another. And it’s entirely possible that some other writer said something akin to that and it got attributed to him in the same manner that the reverse happens with composers who, by the time that a tune passed from session to session, gets his tune considered to be trad arranged. Just ask Irish fiddler and composer Phillip Varlet, who composed ‘The Philadelphia Reel’, which was the name that the House Band recorded it under as they were told it was a trad arranged composition! Not his name but he gets royalties for it now.

I’m imagining that someday we’ll have folks on sites like Wikipedia listing lines of dialog created for Peter Jackson’s films which are based rather loosely on Tolkien’s works as being actual text by him. Don’t laugh — I’m serious as similar things, as I’ve noted here, do happen. In an odd sense, the Internet harkens back to the era before printed works somewhat supplanted the oral tradition, in that texts are now as fluid as they were then as they passed from storyteller to storyteller.

So can I interest you in afternoon tea? Mrs. Ware and her Kitchen staff promised that they’d make tarts with those Border strawberries that turn white as they ripen after starting out red if I’d read The Hobbit a chapter at a time in the mornings to them, a trade I willingly agreed to.

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What’s New for the 24th of December: Vonnie attends The Revels, Chocolate (of course), A “Must-See” Movie, A Klezmer Nutcracker for Chanukah, Kage at Christmas, A Crow Girls Christmas, Winter Music by the Horslips, A Kinrowan Estate Tradition, Iceland’s Yule Lads and other matters

It was Christmas and Kinlocochbervie had a festive atmosphere about it. Decorations and fir trees decked out with tinsel stood in windows, lighting the dull afternoon with flashes of cheerful Technicolor brilliance, and the door to the Compass was adorned with a massive wreath. The smell of burning wood was in the air, as the wind tugged at the ribbons of smoke issuing from most of the chimneys. I walked past the Compass, and my nose was assaulted by the wonderful odor of roasting chestnuts, something I had not smelled in years. It conjured many images of Christmases past, and as I walked to the first of the shops on my list, I was whistling a merry carol. — Richard Brennan in Paul Brandon’s Swim the Moon

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AOne of our centuries old Estate traditions among the inhabitants here is to leave presents anonymously for each other in places where the intended will be likely to find them. I was the recipient a few years ago of a leather case with silver workings for my button concertina. I suspected Ingrid, my wife, was the gifter but she said no and gave me a lovely goat shearling lined leather duster. Some of the gifts are clearly intended for everyone here, such as the new stove in the sauna that appeared overnight.

Mrs. Ware and her oh so talented Kitchen staff spend much of  the period from late November right through to lambing season providing lots of edible treats that are placed around Kinrowan Hall and the grounds as well, such as peanut butter dark chocolate fudge behind the bar in the Pub; s’mores ready for roasting in the warming hut out by the Mill Pond; and carefully wrapped clay pots of smoked sausage and veggie soup in the Barn for those doing outdoor chores in this cold weather, to name but a few of them.

I keep myself busy here in the Pub and elsewhere in this Hall as my aging bones no longer tolerate the cold all that well. Iain’s off with his wife Catherine  on a concert tour in Sweden which means that I’m doing this Edition, so let’s get started…2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ALet’s start off the book reviews this time with a look at Charles de Lint’s Newford Stories: The Crow Girls. Of all the immortal shapeshifting beings that inhabit the Newford stories, the most charming, at least for me, are Maida and Zia, the two Crow Girls, who look like pinkish teenagers — all in black, naturally. After you read Cat’s review, you can experience them first hand in ‘A Crow Girls Christmas’ written by (obviously) Charles de Lint and charmingly illustrated by his equally talented wife, MaryAnn Harris.

Chris looks at deservedly beloved holiday classic: ‘Perhaps it’s the season, or the utter magic of Van Allsburg’s talents, whatever the reasons, the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of The Polar Express appears luxurious and incandescent. If you have (as we do) a beloved dog-eared copy that gets read each Christmas you won’t find any misguided, dramatic, self conscious, ‘gee, how can we repackage this for media savvy kiddies?’ mistakes; just the familiar, wonderful, book in a nice matching slipcase. What you will notice most are the deep, rich, exquisitely printed illustrations.’

Grey looks at a seasonal work from Wendy Froud and Terri Windling: ‘The faery court of Old Oak Wood was not the largest in the British Isles, but it was the oldest, steeped in elfin history and tradition. Ruled by Titania and Oberon, those celebrated lovers of story and song, the wood was a misty, mossy place hidden deep in the hills of Dartmoor. The court maidens of Old Oak Wood were said to be the most beautiful, its dancers lightest on their feet, its flying faeries faster than the wind. Its wizards and its warriors were famed throughout the faery realm. But young Sneezle was none of these things; he was just a humble tree root faery who lived in a small round house at the very bottom of Greenmoss Glen — The Winter Child

Jack says that ‘being a fiddler in a Celtic band and of Scotch-Irish extraction, I’m very intrigued by Celtic aspects of the various midwinter celebrations. Henry Glassie’s All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas Mumming is a superbly written account of a vanishing Celtic holiday ritual that can be traced back well over three hundred years.’

Our wrap-up for books this outing isn’t a book review, but very much worth telling you about anyway. Kathleen has an online journal where she talks about her late sister Kage, author of the acclaimed SF series The Company. Here is an entry which which has her reminiscing about Kage during the Christmas season.2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AChocolate at this time of year is one of the most sought after treats. So let’s let Kelly tell us about one she found: ‘By the register little chocolate squares beckoned. Labeled, somewhat exotically, ‘Xocolatl de David’, there were three sorts, but the one that caught my eye read “72% Ecuadorian Chocolate with Black Truffles and Sea Salt”. Not a chocolate truffle, mind you, but the kind of truffle pigs sniff out of the woods in Italy and France. I surrendered to impulse and bought one.’

Robert has a look at some chocolate truffles, definitely not the kind that pigs sniff out: ‘Trader Joe’s Assortment of Boozy Little Chocolate Truffles seems to be a seasonal item, which is possibly why they’re not listed on the Trader Joe’s website, which in turn is why I’m not able to provide any background information. . . . The box does state that the truffles are made in England and claims “A little bit of booze in each bite.” The booze in question is either London gin, Scotch whisky, Navy rum, or Prosecco. Since the truffles are bite-size, a helping can add up to more than “a little bit of booze.”

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ADenise has a feel-good film to tide the wee ones over after the games and presents have been done to death. It’s Disney/Pixar’s Brave, and while she thought it was a fun romp, she wished for more. ‘If Disney/Pixar had simply touted the film as their latest story-telling adventure, I would have thought it was adorable.  Instead, it was trotted out as the second coming of awesome. … But instead of sweeping vistas and an “epic fantasy adventure”, we get the same ol’, same ol’, with Scottish accents.’ Still, the Celtic music in this film is amazing.  Which brings us to…

But before we get there, Robert has a must-see for us: Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name: ‘It’s hard to avoid comparisons between Call Me By Your Name and Brokeback Mountain, even though the stories couldn’t be farther apart. Let me just say that, for this viewer, at least, the impact was equivalent. I remember after seeing Brokeback Mountain, I just walked around for about an hour, not thinking, really, just sort of digesting what I had seen – or trying to. Call Me By Your Name had a similar effect — it’s like a time bomb that goes off as you’re leaving the theater.’

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ACharles de Lint says in The Forests of The Heart novel which I’m reading now that we should ‘Have another drink and just listen to the music’. So let’s have another drink and see what I found apt to the Christmas spirit…

April looks at Vintersongs: ‘Originally intended as a Christmas CD, Triakel’s second release developed a broader theme while the trio was in the studio — winter. And not just any winter, a Swedish winter. This beautiful follow-up to 1998’s eponymous Triakel celebrates not just Yuletide, but Advent, St. Stephen’s Day, New Years and Epiphany with a glorious blend of tunes and words old and new, both joyous and somber.’

Gary looks at a delightful album which celebrates Acadian-Cajun Christmas traditions: ‘Valse de Noël is authentic rooted music made by real folks. It’s music of the season for anyone who is tired of the same old commercial ditties and worn-out carols. It’s a gentle but hearty way to wrap up the year.‘

Iain looks at Drive the Cold Winter Away, a sort of trad album: ‘On whole, the album plays like it’s a cold winter night in our Pub with the Horslips playing music to warm their bones and ours. It is a superb acoustic album with excellent production on the remastered CD (and all of their albums are on iTunes in USA) that was marketed as a Christmas album when it first released but it really is just great Irish celtic rock music which has been toned back a bit.’

Judith looks at a cool project: ‘The Golden Dreydl is subtitled “A Klezmer Nutcracker for Chanukah.” It combines a children’s story by writer and radio host Ellen Kushner with a klezmer adaptation of tunes from the Nutcracker, originally released by the Shirim Orkestar in 1998 as The Klezmer Nutcracker. Kushner has behind her several fantasy novels, including Swordspoint, Thomas the Rhymer and The Golden Dreydl. Resumès of the Shirim include the Klezmer Conservatory Orchestra, Hypnotic Clambake and Les Miserables Brass Band.‘

Lars looks at the Gothard Sisters’ Christmas: ‘It is always nice to hear an album from artists you have never heard before. I have come across many seasonal albums over the years, but never one so cute as this one. It is nicely packaged and well thought out with some imaginative arrangements.’

He also looks at a very Swedish affair: ‘Whoever came up with the idea behind Jul i Folkton (Christmas in a Folk Style) must be praised. It seems so simple, yet it works so well. Gather a number of Sweden’s best singers and musicians within the folk and roots field and let them tackle, in small groups, some of our best loved Christmas hymns and songs. No rocking backgrounds, no jingle bells nor songs about Santa Clause or reindeers — after all they are relative newcomers to Christmas — just the songs and tunes beautifully performed, nothing else.’

Michael has something decidedly delightful for us: ‘The show’s film of the Steeleye Span Mummers Play was known to have existed but was feared lost, as much of the (Australian) ABC’s early programming was tragically and carelessly thrown away, wiped or literally used as road fill! No other video of the play has ever been mentioned. Luckily, the bulk of the GTK sessions were found unharmed a few years ago and have been appearing with some regularity on YouTube.’

Robert is equally delighted by a concert album, String Sisters Live: ‘There seems to be something magical about the number “6” when you’re talking about fiddles. Maybe that many fiddlers reaches a kind of critical mass that sets off a chain reaction of some sort. At any rate, when the six fiddlers in question are six star-caliber women from across the Britanno-Nordic musical realm, what you wind up with is some really, really good music.’

He also has another album that’s especially suited to the season: ‘Magnum Mysterium is a collection of choral music around the celebration of the birth of Christ – the “Magnum Mysterium” that has provided such a rich heritage for Christmas celebrations. Although Grex Vocalis is a Norwegian group, the disc also offers carols from France and England and includes a “Norwegian” hymn, “The Infant King,” that originated in the Basque country.’

Vonnie says that ‘Strike the Harp is not the best collection of Irish holiday music I’ve heard. It is, however, an excellent reminder of the 2012 Revels show, and a pleasant, somewhat eclectic collection of Irish music.’, <em>2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AOur first What Not is entitled ‘Iceland’s Yule Lads are Like 13 Demented Santas and They are Amazing.’ The article on Atlas Obscura leads off this way: ‘“Unless you are lucky enough to have been born an Icelander, or have lived in Iceland through a Christmas season, you probably won’t have heard of the Yule Lads,” reads The 13 Yule Lads of Iceland, a children’s book by Brian Plinkington, presumably for non-Icelandic kids to learn about the holiday myth.’ Read the ever so slightly demented story of them here.

Up to her passing a few years back, Vonnie was a frequent attendee of the Christmas Revels at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here’s her lead in to the one she saw fifteen years ago: ‘The Christmas Revels is a special event, an annual tradition on par with performances of the Nutcracker, only tailored to lovers of folk traditions. After 42 years, it has accreted tradition of its own, which helps audience members to feel like part of the holiday community — which is the point of the Revels. The culture on which the performance focuses changes from year to year but the basic shape of the performance — and its professionalism — remains constant.’2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AIt’s certainly quite definitely Winter here as the calendar reckons such things and it feels like it with cold mornings and snowy, chilly days. So let’s see what I can find on the Infinite Jukebox, our server of all things digital, to brighten us up a bit… I choosing  the Horslips doing ‘Drive the Cold Winter Away’ as their cover of the John Playford composition is outstanding. It was recorded at The Spectrum, Philadelphia on the 24th Of March thirty eight years ago.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Our Mill Pond

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AAbout fifty years ago, the Steward authorised spending money to rebuild the dam that had for a very long time been used to create a reservoir for the mill, for grain grinding and so that there was a place to cut ice for use in keeping meat and other such perishables from spoiling. When we stopped milling our own grain and electricity made possible the use of commercial coolers and freezers, the dam went to ruin over several decades. All that changed when the Steward decided that it would far less costly in the long run if we were self-sufficient in electricity, so in the Seventies she started us on the way to being so, and now we use wind, solar and water to generate every kilowatt of the power we use.

We even added power to the yurts, the old crofter cottages, and the common bathing facilities that they share with those like like Gus and his wife, who live in one of those old crofter cottages. It means that they use electric power to heat their domicile and only use wood when they want a fire going. And all of our energy generation, even wood, has effectively a near zero carbon footprint in its effect on the environment.

That’s the boring part of this story. The fun part is that we’ve had our skating pond back for a couple of generations now. Not to mention ice for our curling and hockey games as well. It’s a big pond, some six acres all told. It freezes solid by the third week of December and stays safe most often ’til late March. It’s a half mile from Kinrowan Hall, so we built a club house there to get warm, change clothes, and even grab something to eat, as there’s a kitchen there.

Fifteen years ago, The Steward authorized a Zamboni to be purchased and a building to house it as well. That means we can clean up the ice when too many skates make it too rough for use anymore.

Now the pond gets heavy usage, such as midnight skating parties and championship curling tournaments that draw some hundred folk to the Estate in the winter. What the Steward would not allow is any permanent lighting there as he, and Tamsin, our Hedgewitch and Mistress of All Owls, said that’d interfere with the night creatures here. So we built a stone lined fireplace instead for bonfires, and only use it at night when the moon is strong.

But skating remains the most common use of this ice, as nearly everyone here skates and cross-country skis as well (the latter is another tale to tell later), as nothing beats skating across ice that’s three quarters of a mile from end to end and is several hundred feet wide. I’ve skated in many places in Europe and this is the best ice I’ve experienced.2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2A

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