Welcome to GMR

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

Everything that interests us as a diverse group of individuals will get attention here, be it Irish music or perhaps a tasty jazz or classical recording, tarot decks,  puppetsmanor house mysteries and science fiction novelsfantasy inspired by folklorebeloved filmsegg nog recipes,  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 Pub 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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A Kinrowan Estate story: Memories

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Hello, there. I know what you’re thinking — you might as well say it out loud. You’re thinking, “What’s a grubby teenager doing wandering around the Hall?” There once was a grubby teenager who lived in this building — I remember him very well — so take it as an indication that you don’t know everything. And I might tell you that it’s not a good idea to offend me. I’m not vindictive, but I can be less than cooperative. You might keep that in mind, the next time a window is stuck.

I don’t sound like a teenager? Well, why should I? Maybe I’m not a teenager. I could be a raven, after all, and that would be just as apt. (There have always been ravens here.) I could be Munin, who sat on Allfather’s left shoulder and made sense of the news that Hugin brought. As the poet sang:

Huginn ok Muninn fliúga hverian dag
Oörmundgund yfir;
óomk ed of Huginn, at hann aptr ne komit,
þó saámk meirr um Muninn.

Or I could not. I could be something else entirely, now couldn’t I?

I was just listening to Barber’s Adagio — well, someone was listening to it. I was eavesdropping, which is very easy for me — I don’t even have to try. Someone said it’s a monument to grief, but I think it’s rather silly to try to put music in a box like that, don’t you? It’s much more than that — it’s the memory of passion, a little bit of that — what’s the word I want? — tristesse, not quite melancholy, but the memory of loss. Even happy memories have that bit of sadness to them, don’t you think? Because they’re memories.

Think of it this way: what do you suppose makes a city come alive? Seriously, now, think about it — all those lives passing through, soaking into the stones and bricks and streets — and how long does it take? Fifty years? A hundred? A thousand? I’ve . . . this building has been here much longer than that. It knows things, things that might surprise you, and it has its own wishes and dreams. Did you know this is a Place? I thought that might surprise you. That’s how much alive it is, how powerful its memories are, how deep they run in the stones and bricks and beams of this house. They reach across to other memories, other Places, other lives.

There’s one of you, at least, who understands that, that cat-eyed man who always seems to be looking past things as he wanders the halls and gardens. You’ve seen him? Hah — your thoughts are all over your face again — you think he’s vague and somewhat of an airhead, don’t you? Well, you just keep thinking that. I think he really delights in those glimpses, that he understands — imperfectly, most likely, but he at least realizes there’s something there, maybe even a little bit of what it means. Maybe it’s because his memories are not limited to yesterday.

You see? You’ve only begun to scratch the surface.

Mackenzie? Another whose memories aren’t limited, but he’s also one who keeps trying to confine them. Well, better him than me, I say — I’ve much too disorderly a mind for that, and it seems to soothe him, somehow, so I suppose that’s alright — that’s his job, after all, to keep all those memories in some sort of order, he and that multitude of Annies — there have always been Annies, and I remember each and every one of them — and he — Mackenzie, that is — generally seems to need soothing. Well, but that’s what they are, don’t you understand that? Dreams, dissertations, flights of fancy, ruthless examinations, stories of battles fought, loves lost and won: the moment they take shape, they become memories.

What’s that? Well, of course I know everything that goes on here. Ah — I see you begin to understand. Why a grubby teenager? Well, two things about that: beware of neat and obedient teenagers — they’re up to something, and I’m being quite straightforward today. And as for the rest — well, teenagers should be confused and rebellious. After all, they’re tomorrow’s memories, and the future doesn’t make sense yet. Although I’m going to be around for a while.

So we’ll see how that goes.

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What’s New for the 27th of November: Arthurian matters

‘You must remember, there’s always something cleverer than yourself.’ — Merlin to Arthur in the Excalibur film

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I’m sitting in our Pub with my iPad open to our WordPress site, a pint of Autumn Ale at hand, a cold sleety wing blowing on the windows as I half listen to the Neverending Session playing a set of tunes they learned from Paul Brandon, while I’m putting together this edition on all things Arthurian.

King Arthur and his story and those associated with him are written deep into our culture, in everything from books such as The Once and Future King to films such as Excalibur, so I decided to see what we’d reviewed that touched upon him. And discovered not surprisingly that we’d indeed done quite a few reviews, mostly of a bookish nature, but also a look at what I consider the best film on him, Excalibur, and a lovely song cycle about him by Maddy Prior.

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A work called simply Arthur the King is favoured by Grey: ‘Who was the real Arthur? Many authors today dig into history and piece together the fragments they find there. They offer us Arthur as Celtic chieftain or as Roman warlord. They find traces of him in the Mabinogion, and speculate on the possibility of his having used Libyan warhorses to give him the advantage over the Saxons. They give his name and the names of his knights the proper Welsh or Latin spellings. They try to show us an authentic Arthur, an Arthur we can believe actually existed. Graeme Fife is not one of these authors.’

Though this author is best known for her Pern series, Grey gives us a review of her sole Arthurian novel: ‘”No hoof, no horse,” say the Worshipful Company of Farriers. “Farriery,” the craft of shoeing horses, was even more vital in the days when every mobile enterprise was dependent on horses, especially the enterprise of war. And what more famous warrior-king has there ever been than Arthur? What might it have been like to have been Arthur’s farrier? Anne McCaffrey gives an answer to this question in Black Horses for the King.’

Joel looks at the work I mentioned above: ‘T.H. White’s four-volume take on the Arthurian cycle draws heavily on the late-fifteenth century romance, Le Morte d’Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory. This in turn brought together in one place the myriad legends, songs, and poems, both French and English, about the mythical king and his knights. But in the half century and change since its publication, White’s tetralogy has almost certainly been the more widely read, if not amongst scholars of medieval literature.’

Michelle has a book she recommends highly: ‘Christopher Snyder, a professor of history and politics at Virginia’s Marymount University, is not one who believes in a historical Arthur, nor that such a man would be important even if proven to have existed. His book The World of King Arthur is devoted entirely to the impact of the idea of King Arthur — the social and artistic legacy of the legends.’

Rebecca looks at Leslie Alcock’s Arthur’s Britain: ‘The good news is, Arthur did exist. The bad news, to devotees of Arthurian legend, is that he was a battle commander, not a king; he didn’t control all of what we now think of as Great Britain; and some sources called him lustful and perverted. But this excellent book says he existed. Woo-hoo!’

Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Seeing Stone: Book One of the Arthur Trilogy also finds favour with her as she notes here: ‘I found this novel for children aged 9-12 delightful and informative. It is the story of Arthur de Caldicot, a curious, ambitious young boy growing up in medieval England, near the Welsh border. Arthur has a mean older brother, a Welsh mother and grandmother, a stern but loving father who has some plan for him that Arthur can’t quite figure out, and a handful of other siblings.’

Robert wraps up our Arthurian book reviews with a nice, scholarly foundation: ‘Originally published in 1999, The Arthur of the English is the second volume in a series of scholarly anthologies centered on the Arthurian literature of the Middle Ages. As the series editor, W. R. J. Barron, points out in the Preface, the new series takes full advantage of the more expansive scholarship in the field and is thus able to focus on the cultural and historical as well as linguistic aspects of Arthurian literature in Europe.’

Fall leaves

A rather  brutal take on the Arthurian mythos draws this comment by reviewer Asher: ‘Here is a tale of human folly — “Whatever the cost, do it”. Of a noble dream – “One land, one king!” Of magic – “Can’t you see all around you the Dragon’s breath?” Of its passing – “There are other worlds. This one is done with me.” And of memory – “For it is the doom of men that they forget.” Excalibur is arguably the most exciting film version of the myth of Arthur to date.’

Asher states forthrightly that Mists of Avalon which is based on the Marion Zimmer Bradley novel ‘is a revisionist Arthurian tale. The film opens much like Braveheart‘s “Historians in England will say I am a liar…” with an agonized and weary, almost crucified Morgaine narrating — “No one knows the real story. Most of what you know… is nothing but lies” — as her boat glides into the mists, a device that welded this viewer to his seat, not wanting to miss any of the necessary adjustments to the legend.’

Kimberly has a choice bit of popcorn viewing for us: ‘As a made-for-television flick, Merlin is watchable fantasy fun. But if you want any fidelity to the original Arthurian legends, f’get-about-it! It ain’t gonna happen in this movie. Still, there aren’t tons of fantasy pieces on television that don’t require a barf-bag, so enjoy what you can from this one — particularly the special effects. The fairies in the magic woods are delightful, and so is the early scene where young Merlin is asleep in a hollow tree, where he meets Nimue for the first time and discovers his powers. Of course, Evil Queen Mab snatches Nimue from Merlin for revenge and scars her for life, but she is restored by Merlin’s love and last act of magic, to her youth. Merlin lives happily ever after with her. Awwwww.’

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Maddy Prior’s Arthur The King which I was listening to earlier draws this note from No’am: ‘This disk tries primarily to separate the fact from the fiction. “The historical Arthur is a highly controversial figure. Theories abound as to his region of activity and his ancestry.” are the first two sentences in the well written sleeve notes. Arthur also tries to provide in music a feeling of what it was like to have been alive in time of Arthur. Thus we have songs written from the point of view of Arthur himself: “The poet and the troubadour have stolen my name” are the opening words from “The Name Of Arthur,” from what constituted the aristocracy of the time — people who were more Roman than British, from the warriors, and also from more artistic and legendary viewpoints. “The Hallows” begins with the words “From my name has come a dream, a fable, a myth.”‘

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Arthur and the various tellings of his myth are writ both deep and wide upon the British folklore. (Robert Holdstock makes good use of that folklore in his Ryhope Wood cycle) so let me offer you up A Gazetteer of Arthurian Onomastic and Topographic Folklore. Caitlin R. Green in her dense nineteen page article in Arthurian Notes & Queries lays out an argument for where Arthur fits in British folklore. It’s usually dense academic prose but still worth reading if you got a keen interest in this subject.

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Let’s finish off with Robin Williamson performing ‘Five Denials on Merlins Grave’‘ which he wrote. It’s from his performance at The Brillig Arts Centre, Bath, England on the first of December 1978.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Old Ben, the Steward

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Dear Anna,

You asked about the story you’d heard about Old Ben, the Steward in the early Sixteen Hundreds, who helped create the publishing house that is now here. I can’t tell you much about him, as where he came from or what he had for formal training as a printer is not recorded in the Estate Journals.

Yes, it’s true that the first thing Old Ben did was write and publish the first true history of the Estate. Or so they thought at the time. We now know that he, errrr, lied. Or if you prefer, Old Ben told his story in a way that he apparently thought was best for the Estate.

It’s a masterful piece of fiction accounting for all that a normal Estate would have, including a cleverly constructed history of the Kinrowan family all the way back to the Conquest. He even included genealogical charts for the family and insisted that somewhere on the Estate there was a Kinrowan family graveyard. There isn’t any such graveyard, as a later Steward got the Head Librarian and his Several Annies to search the Archives and they also conducted a physical survey of the grounds that took a decade to complete. They found quite a number of unmarked grave sites but none that could possibly be a Kinrowan family graveyard.

Why Old Ben did this is unknown to this day, as he even lied in his Journal. Quite amazingly lied. And no one had the slightest clue he was doing this as they assumed he was just doing something he wanted to do. It was ap Owen, a much later Steward, who realized that what he said was not what local folk remembered and ap Owen trusted them more than he did Old Ben.

Some of what — no, let me correct that — most of what he wrote became received history here. It’s even possible that he created the story of the Neverending Session, the myth of the Jacks and Jills, and certainly created the origins of the Estate itself. But since most of it is quite entertaining, no one cares if it’s really true. Well, Iain cares.

Until next time, Gus

 

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What’s New for the 20th of November: Sayers on Holmes, after the Apocalypse, David Bowie, choral music, hot chocolate, ravens in the library and other matters

There is always a moment when stories end, a moment when everything is blue and black and silent, and the teller does not want to believe it is over, and the listener does not, and so they both hold their breath and hope fervently as pilgrims that it is not over, that there are more tales to come, more and more, fitted together like a long chain coiled in the hand. They hold their breath; the trees hold theirs, the air and the ice and the wood and the Gate. But no breath can be held forever, and all tales end. — Catherynne Valente’s In The Cities of Coin and Spice

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Beastly weather, isn’t it? Come dry off by the fire and do get a drink as well. Put your kit and guitar case over there. We’ll sort out where you’ll be staying later. I must say ’tis not often that one of our Summer Queens such as you visits us this time of year, but I know that you’re here for the symposium on Cathrynne Valente as you crafted the exquisite music based on The Orphan’s Tales novels she wrote.

Ahhh, that’s ‘The Hidden Dragon Reel’ that the Neverending Session’s playing though I’ve no idea why it is called that despite, Gus saying he knows why but won’t tell. I never met the fiddler who left that tune here and the Neverending Session has, like most groups of individuals who learn music by ear, a not unsurprising lack of knowledge about who composed that music. They can tell which Pub has the best ale, which smallpiper, say Finch who works here, fits the best into a given tune, and even the history in exhausting detail of their instrument, but where a tune originated  is usually not something they know.

So I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Ingrid, our Steward, to get you settled into your room and she’ll give you introductions to as many of the staff as are around that you’ll need to know, so I can get this edition stitched together…

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Cat leads off our book reviews with a novel he really loves: ‘Emma Bull hasn’t written many novels in her career but all of them are superb in their own way. Be it Bone Dance, Finder or War for The Oaks, my favorite of her novels, all are superbly written. So when I recently was looking for a novel to read on one of the many cold, rainy nights we’ve had this Autumn, I turned to Finder, a novel I enjoy re-reading every few years.’

Fairy tales retold is the basis of the anthology edited by Dominic Parisienne and Navah Wolfe that Cat liked quite a bit: ‘Some books you buy for the stories within, some books you buy for the sheer joy of what they look like, such as the British edition of Charles de Lint’s Someplace To Be Flying for its cover art as I did, or perhaps the Small Beer Press edition of Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of The Sword for, well, because you love the novel and wanted to own a really nice edition of it. And then there’s The Starlit Wood which combines superb stories with truly amazing design.’

Another work on a subject dear to us came into the Kinrowan Library and Iain reviewed it for us: ‘Some are exhaustive works running over a thousand pages covering this subject in excruciatingly detail, which is not what we’ve got with Philip Freeman’s Celtic Mythology, which is rather concise at under three hundred pages. So does it work at that length as an introduction to this subject? Mostly yes.’

Irene says of a slender volume by Dorothy Sayers on a subject dear to many of us: ‘These essays, as well as a transcription of an original radio play featuring a young Peter Death Bredon Wimsey and Sherlock Holmes, are reprinted in the slim volume by The Mythopoeic Press entitled Sayers on Holmes: Essays and Fiction on Sherlock Holmes. The essays are lovely examples of canonical scholarship and show Sayers’ skill as a detective and a scholar (for what is a true research scholar but a detective) as well as her undoubted skill as an entertaining author.’

Robert has a look at a trilogy that, as much as anything else, can be called a “post-gay” fantasy: Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu: ‘In a northern city a mutant is born, a creature neither male nor female, possessed of strange abilities and unknown motivations, who runs away from his “normal” home at the first opportunity. Soon there are gangs of youths infesting the slums of the cities, violent, angry, hedonistic, of indeterminate sex and admitting no debt, least of all love, to their forebears.’

And another trilogy from Robert, Jane S. Fancher’s ‘NetWalkers: ‘My history with Jane Fancher’s ‘NetWalkers trilogy begins a few years ago when, in one of those fits of madness that sometimes overcome me in bookstores, I picked up a copy of Groundties, a book by a totally unknown author (well, unknown to me) that looked interesting. Mmm — as it turned out, make that “captivating.” ‘

imageHot chocolate becomes very popular with folks here when the weather turns cold, with or without a measure of brandy in it. Richard had a recommendation on where you can find great hot chocolate in a place called Matthews: ‘Now, North Carolina’s not what you’d call a hot chocolate hotbed, at least east of the mountains, on account of the fact that it’s generally pretty warm. Which is why I never expected the hot chocolate in this shop which my wife practically dragged me into (she’d done some scouting, having previously infiltrated Hillsborough with friends on a yarn-shopping expedition) would blow my socks off.’

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Danger Girl: The Ultimate Collection by J. Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell caused Denise’s inner five-year-old to think ‘the best marketing for this series would be a ‘Got Boobies?’ campaign.’ Her adult self answers, ‘As a woman I’m sure I should be offended / flabbergasted / spouting off some sort of Subjugation Of Women claptrap, but this series is just too beautifully drawn to be anything less than breathtaking.’

How about, rather than ‘Got Boobies?’ we say ‘Got Brains?’ Robert has some thoughts on Oracle: The Cure: ‘You don’t really need tights and a cape to be a superhero. You don’t need super strength or mutant abilities. You don’t even have to have your body surgically or chemically altered. (Willingly or otherwise.) Mind, these things don’t hurt, but you don’t really have to have them — not these days.’

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Gereg says of a CD he reviewed before the artist passed on that ‘Let’s start with the obvious. David Bowie is a genius. Musician, composer, actor, and mime, his versatility is always impressive. He defined — and very nearly created — glitter rock; he was the first white man inducted into the Soul Hall of Fame; he narrated a superb version of Peter and the Wolf; his film performances have ranged from Pontius Pilate to the Goblin King to the most alienated alien in cinematic history.’ So now you’ll need to read his review of David Bowie: Rare and Unseen to see why it left him rather underwhelmed.

Jayme says that ‘Clannad is quickly becoming one of the most compiled bands in Celtic music. Already boasting two “best of” collections and a soundtrack collection, Clannad now adds An Diolaim to the list. Fortunatley, An Diolaim isn’t just another opportunistic knock-off, for it repackages the majority of songs from Clannad’s hard-to-find second and third albums, Clannad 2 and Dulaman, respectively.’

Richard has high praise indeed for a Maddy Prior album: ‘Flesh & Blood is one of the finest CDs I’ve heard in years. Prior’s voice, always angelic, has never sounded better; and, with the able help of Nick Holland and Troy Donockley, she has picked material that does her vocal talents justice. Indeed, the collection is so captivating that I’ve had to take it out of my work rotation; after all, I don’t get paid to stand around and gawk dreamily to music.’

Gary reviews a new box set that collects the two records that Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt released as Trio, plus a separate disc of unreleased material, alternate cuts, and more. It’s a lovely set, he says, but it doesn’t make him like the recordings any more than he did when they first came out.

Robert takes a look at a new release from ECM Records, Gavin Bryars’ The Fifth Century: ‘English composer Gavin Bryars was born in Yorkshire in 1943. He studied philosophy at Sheffield University and, as might be expected, became a jazz bassist during his time there. He’s worked in a number of different idioms and styles, from jazz to minimalism, and has written operas, string quartets, concertos, and at least one requiem.’

And more choral music from Robert, Eric Whitacre’s  Cloudburst and Other Choral Works: ‘The selections presented in Cloudburst and Other Choral Works reveal the diverse influences that have provided a foundation for Whitacre’s writing, from the progressive rock of his pre-college days through his classical training at Juillard. Meurig Bowen, in the essay accompanying the disc, notes that Whitacre’s eclectic influences are something he shares with many of the younger generation of American composers. I might point out that it is also similar to the background of the performers who are making these works known, as well as their audience.’

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Our What Not this time is our ever popular question of what is your favourte Tolkien. Emma Bull positively raved about her liking for Tolkien: ‘Still The Lord of the Rings, man. Probably because of the bit with the mushrooms. And also, Strider? Cool. Aragorn, unfortunately, not quite as cool.But Shadowfax equals eternally cool.’

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Dry now? Good. I realised that I’d not introduced you to our readers, so I now will. Readers, this is SJ  ‘Sooj’ Tucker, a musician and writer most excellent. She’s our reigning Summer Queen this year (well for several more weeks)  and is here to play for us and just hang out. So here’s her performing ‘The Raven in The Library’. This performance is at ConFusion in Troy, Michigan, on January 23, 2010, and the performer you see here with her is Betsy Tucker.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: The Hunting Party

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This was related to me a couple of days ago by one of our visitors:

I heard it only faintly, the jingle of harness in the courtyard. The men I’d been watching heard it, too. The pale man I’d never met was the first, I think — he suddenly cocked his head, intent. Then the rest, Kit and Robin, and the two men whose names I didn’t know, although I’d seen them from time to time, all rose from their table and headed toward the door, wrapping cloaks around themselves, the pale man’s hand resting on the bronze hunting horn at his belt. I followed, although I wasn’t sure I should. I’m inquisitive to the verge of foolhardiness, sometimes.

The moon was just full — the Slaughter Moon, they call it, or the Blood Moon — but the light seemed to be swallowed by the group of mounted men in the middle. Well, not all men — both the Lord and Lady of the Wood were there, she conversing easily with the one who seemed to be the leader, a fierce-looking old man with one eye and a pair of equally fierce hounds at his feet — great red-eyed, wolfish things they were — and I noticed another woman sitting tall, a long spear held casually in one hand, and next to her, another with a business-like bow. A broad-shouldered man with antlers fixed on his helmet nodded to my group as they approached — and then I realized he wasn’t wearing a helmet. I began to wonder if I had been wise to tag along, as I began to notice the others in the party. I had heard of them, some of them, but never thought they were real — I recognized them from the stories. But, I snuck a little closer — they were speaking together, quietly, and — well, I was curious.

I heard Robin call the horned man “Great One,” and the Lady of the Wood greeted Kit as “Maker” and said something I didn’t catch about riding on the same side. Kit just grunted — he was different tonight, not his usual joking self. The two strangers hung back a little, although I heard the dark one address the huntsman as “Brother.” They had seemed to know each other quite well. The golden man made some joke about “the other horn,” and was glad it was left behind tonight. They all laughed at that, and the huntsman said “Not yet, not yet.”

They mounted, and I began to be sure I didn’t belong. The golden man and his companion suddenly unfurled great wings, sunlight and shadow. Robin was somehow different, green eyes glowing in the darkness, his face harder, colder than ever I had seen it (I heard a soft roll of thunder that seemed to come from nearby), while Kit seemed bowed by some great sorrow.

The pale man leaned down from his horse and looked right at me. “I’d advise you to stay in tonight. And tell your friends the same.”

It seemed the wise thing to do. I heard the peal of the horn, as though in the distance, as I scurried back into the Hall.

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What’s New for the 13th of November: The Hobbit considered, Emma Bull’s fav libation, breakfast at Kinrowan Hall, music from Leonard Cohen, the Irish pub considered, stories that need warning labels, and other matters…

Here’s tae us! Wha’s like us? Damn few, and their all deid! Maire’s the pity. –– traditional Scots toast used by Iain Nicholas Mackenzie, our Librarian, when he hosts whisky tastings

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I can hear the wind driven sleet hitting on the windows, so I’ll limit my wandering to the inside of Kinrowan Hall, but first I think I’ll sit down in the Kitchen, get some breakfast — a bacon cheddar bap, an apple and a big mug of Darjeeling tea will do — and watch what’s going on…

I see a book Reynard reviewed, Big Book of Bacon, is now sitting on Mrs. Ware’s corner desk. I think he got it from her so it’s come full circle. And I see several bottles of our Kinrowan Special Reserve Pear Cider is on her desk with a note from our Steward that they’re to be packaged up and sent to Riverrun Farm in appreciation for their providing honey for our ciser (half cider, half mead) bottling this year.  Hmmm… I spot a copy of Sleeping Hedgehog that has a loving look at a recent book, Children’s Games in Street and Playground by Ioan Opie, the British folklorist. Been meaning to read our copy of that work.

Ahhhh I see they’re discussing how many American style buttermilk biscuits they’ll need with that beef stew for the eventide meal. And I see one of my Several Annies, Rebekah, is being asked by Mrs. Ware if she’d like to join her staff when she gets done with her Estate, errr, Library apprenticeship in two years. She’s the one who introduced us to wonderful Jewish baked treats. Oh and I see that someone has been mushroom hunting, so the beef stew will have these tasty morsels in it. Barrowhill beef is always a treat no matter how it’s used.

Now let’s get started with this edition…

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Gary very much liked William Gibson’s latest The Peripheral. At its base The Peripheral revolves around climate change, but it’s not about that, he says. ‘It’s just the baseline fact in these characters’ lives.’

Gary also looks at a perennial favorites of lots of us: ‘The long and colorful publishing history of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit continues with a new edition that seems to be aimed at reclaiming the written version of the story as a way to introduce it to young readers. It’s a handsome hardcover book with illustrations by the young Jemima Catlin, who was hand-picked for the assignment by the Tolkien Estate.’

Robert continues our book reviews with some thoughts on Peter S. Beagle’s The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche and Other Odd Acquaintances: ‘Peter S. Beagle lives and writes in a universe where anything can happen, and probably will. He is also one of those writers whose books should carry a warning label.’

He goes on to another book that should probably have a warning label, The Incrementalists, a collaboration between Steven Brust and Skyler White: ‘Readers who like everything laid out plainly are going to hate this book – nothing is up front. I was struck by how much of the story happens behind the words: it comes in layers and as they get unpeeled, one discovers more layers.’

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In our food and drink section, Joseph takes a look at Bill Barich’s A Pint of Plain — Tradition, Change, and the Fate of the Irish Pub, which he describes as ‘a brilliant hybrid of new journalism and memoir… ‘By his own admission, Bill Barich is a dreamer on a mission to recapture his youth. But he greets each illusionary fishing hole, village, and forest with clarity and wisdom. In the end, the reader — not the author — feels nostalgic and thirsty for something never really existed.’ And Joseph even tells you how he did it.

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Creatures of The Night, says our resident Summer Queen, ‘is a slim hardback graphic novel which ‘contains two short stories by Neil Gaiman, both illustrated by a frequent collaborator of his, Michael Zulli. Previously released in plain text form in Smoke and Mirrors, “The Price” and “The Daughter of Owls” have been reworked by Gaiman for their debut here in comic form. The front cover illustration combines art from each story (a barn owl and a calico cat) with a seemingly unrelated, but gorgeous, image of a woman’s profile against a full moon.’

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Brendan found much to like in the recording called Glory Be: ‘Finality Jack is a trio of instrumentalists based in Northamptonshire, England and named after an obscure 19th century English politician, Lord John Russell. Consisting of Tim Perkins on violin and bouzouki, Richard Leigh on violin and kantele (a nordic form of the violin), and Becky Price on accordion and keyboards, they play an intriguing mixture of English- and French-influenced instrumental music with a smattering of Eastern European polka in there as well. These may not be typical traditional dance tunes, but in their quiet way they all feel as exuberant and full-of-life as the Greek morris dancers on the cover of the CD.’

Following the news of Leonard Cohen’s death last week, Gary reviews Cohen’s final album You Want It Darker. ‘At the age of 82, and obviously faced with knowledge of his own mortality,’ Gary says, ‘Leonard Cohen released an album that is just as vital and important and true and confounding as anything he did in his long career.’

Gary has high praise for Rising Grace by Austrian-born jazz guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel. The album features a quintet that includes established jazz figures such as pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade, as well as a rising star in trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. The music, Gary says, embraces ‘warmth, light and indeed the grace of the title.’

Here This is Home is to the liking of Lars: ‘The Irish song tradition is really many traditions, the main lines either the more loud and boisterous sound of groups like The Dubliners, or the more gentle approach of ensembles like Planxty and Patrick Street. I find it hard to choose between them, which one I pick is entirely up to what mood I am in. Colleen Raney is a representative of that second line, with a soft voice and backings to match it. She is from Portland, Oregon. This her fourth album was mostly recorded in Dublin in the summer of 2013, and it might as well have been by an Irish singer.’

Our Belguim based Richard gives a detailed review of what turned out to be a spectacular evening at Minnemeers Theater despite some preconceptions of what he expected: ‘I have seen June Tabor live numerous times in recent years and I thought I knew what to expect at her concerts. I own just about every recording she ever made, the first review I wrote for GMR, when it was still Folk Tales, was of a Tabor CD and I do not expect many surprises from her performances.’

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Our What Not this time is Emma Bull’s answer to our question about what her favourite libation is: ”I drink winter ales in the summer, too, because mmmm, winter ale! Summit Winter Ale, from Saint Paul, Minnesota, is delicious, with plenty of toasted malt flavor and a lovely slightly sweet finish. Good all year ’round!’

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Leonard Cohen wrote any number of memorable songs but perhaps the most fitting in honour of him upon his passing this week is ‘Hallelujah Chorus’  as performed by him at the Beacon Theatre, NYC on the 19th of February 2006.  The unusual take on a well known story from the Christian faith is matched perfectly by his gravelly voice.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: All The World’s A Stage

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From The Sleeping Hedgehog, date unknown. No idea if it’s a story retold there, or a true story transcribed into written form. Not that it really matters, does it?

There, my friend. I am not good company tonight, but if you can stand the long face, I’ll buy the rounds, all right? Here, Reynard — a pint for this compassionate one, the poor bastard…

No, sure it will be all right. Surely. It is just that…you know they say that the world is a stage, yes? Vesti la giubba, vesti la giubba! The sad fruit of hate, the agonies of grief, the cries of rage, the bitter laughter. We breathe the air of this lonely world along with everyone else, and we hold up a mirror — but which is the reflection?

The stage and the world. As Signor Shakespeare said — are they not the same thing? We think, no! they are not, surely they cannot be…yet disaster strikesin a mockery of our mockeries, like mirrors reflecting mirrors over and over again, until you cannot tell where life starts and then art continues on, or perhaps it’s the other way around. Which is art? Which is life? Reynard, give me another? No, it’s all right, you know I can hold my drink, I’ve been drinking since before you were whelped! Another for you, my friend?

Ah, don’t look so worried, you. Surely it will be all right. Our company…we follow the grand tradition, the great art, yes…we are one of the few companies left of the Commedia dell’Arte, we are! Each performance different, the story the same, but everything fresh, each night new… We each have our roles, our specialty, each of us has studied long and hard.

Yes, I am Arlecchino, sometimes I am Truffeldino. Someday when I am a bit older I will master Pedrolino as well, or perhaps he will master me — but Arlecchino, he is my favorite and always has been. Troublemaker, servant, go-between, clever boots…that’s me! Your servant, my master!

Ah, my master. Well, he is our director, he is a great clown, a subtle actor, a genius of improvisation! And a good businessman as well; he owns our company. Ah, my friend, I am worried. We came to this great city, was it years ago now? Surely not…but now, they shout for us as the kings and queens of the stage! 

Tragedy and comedy, both the mirror image of the other… He has a terrible temper, but he is honest, my master is, you can trust him.

She is beautiful, you know, my master’s wife. She is much admired. Much admired. She is sometimes my Columbina, sometimes she is Isabella. She is very clever as Columbina, her improvisations are very good.

Look at the time. I will have to be at the theatre soon. Reynard, one last one for the night. Perhaps just a bit of that whiskey. A sniff of water.

Yes, I am worried. It is this damned place, it turns everything around. Do we become our roles, or do they become us? 

But surely it will be all right.

Come down later to see the performance tonight, the? For some reason, I’m actually dreading tonight, I don’t know why. I will feel better if you are there in the audience, my friend. I must go, for, as they say, the show must go on, no matter how we feel, the?

Ridi, Pagliaccio!

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What’s New for the 6th of November: a Guy Fawkes song from The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Irish trad music, Guy Fawkes Day, urban grit, pirates, and other matters…

On November the Fifth people gather on the heath
Point their Roman candles at the sky
Out of broken branch and leaf they construct a fiery wreath
Ready for the burning of the Guy

The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s ‘Home Fires’

imageOf course some of us here being good Scots, we wholeheartedly celebrate Guy Fawkes Day here with a ritual burning of the traitor in a bonfire. We skip setting off the traditional fireworks as various creatures really, really don’t like them.

The Several Annies usually construct him from paper and plaster over a wire frame with each group trying to be creative, such as when they recreated the gunpowder casks he tried to set off before he was captured. This year, they just did Guy himself.

It’s the 50th anniversary of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which first aired on the 27th of October, 1966, meeting a request for yet another Peanuts holiday-themed special that could run annually, like the previous year’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. Gary reviewed Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Peanuts Greatest Hits, which includes ‘The Great Pumpkin Waltz’ from that special.

And let’s wish Gordon Lightfoot, a well loved Canadian, musician, a happy seventy-eighth birthday. If you want to know more about what his music is like, fellow Canadian David offers us a loving look at his Songbook recording. His best known song is likely ‘The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald’, and Peter, Paul and Mary sang a number of his compositions, including ‘For Lovin’ Me’ and ‘Early Morning Rain’.

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I’ve got a look at a Rebecca Ore novel that I liked quite a bit: ‘Slow Funeral is one of those Autumn novels that one reads to invoke the feel of the Appalachian Highlands, where the magic and mystery are as real as the bittersweet taste of rhubarb fresh from the garden, or the sound of a murder of crows gathering overhead during a funeral. This is not the clean, neatly packaged magic of the modern Witches, but the old, deep,and often dark magic that is old as the Hills themselves — or perhaps even much older.’

Kim looks at a novel, Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, that riffs off the Welsh Blodeuwedd story: ‘This is a magical book, and the finest of Alan Garner’s young adult novels. Now, a lot of people associate magic with ethereal forces, great quests and spells and all that, and indeed spells can be found in several of Garner’s other books. The Owl Service reveals a different kind of magic, the kind that arises from the interaction of people with patterns, of desires that unwittingly mesh with the larger forces around us, harsh magic that people employ without knowing it. The book is multi-layered, with themes that sneak up on the reader, requiring a second or third read, and many fans who read the book as children report returning to it as adults. ‘

At first glance, Linda S. Godfrey’s Monsters Among Us: An Exploration of Otherworldly Bigfoots, Wolfmen, Portals, Phantoms and Odd Phenomena looks like the sort of title that could potentially muscle its way out of the overcrowded neighborhood frequented only by the converted and members of CSICOP looking for something to get mad about, and into more mainstream territory. The cover, with a single staring eye peering out through a knothole in a fence, is tasteful and the design is clean. Godfrey herself seems like a good choice to cross over the mainstream. She first rose to prominence by introducing the so-called “Beast of Bray Road” – an alleged Wisconsonian werewolf – to the national audience. A professional journalist, she quickly became a go-to interview for various cryptozoological documentary shows, even as “dogman” and “werewolf” sightings exploded in number.

Stephen says of an Alan Garner work that ‘These are only the questions which I find myself considering today. When I read Thursbitch again (and I will), they may be different, as they may be for you, when you read this book. The reasons for this are that Thursbitch is a book that casts the reader as an enthralled participant, rather than a passive recipient. It is, to repeat, a mystery. It may unsettle you (if not actually give you nightmares), but you’ll love it unequivocally nonetheless.’

Robert brings us a look at two interconnected books by Kage Baker, beginning with Dark Mondays: ‘Baker is an extraordinary storyteller who refuses to let herself be bound by the expectations of genre, as the stories here show. In fact, on the basis of this collection, I think I would just call Baker a slipstream writer and not try to get any closer to a categorization of her work (“slipstream” being the genre that wasn’t, according to some people).’

The second is — well, it’s like this: ‘Kage Baker’s short novel, Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key, is not a sequel so much as a continuation of the adventures of John James, fugitive, sometime pirate, and free-lance muscle, who was introduced in her novella “The Maid on the Shore” in Dark Mondays.’ Robert explains that. Truly.

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We ask our guests questions on bloody near everything, though food and drink are foremost of those questions year in and year out. So it is that writer Elizabeth Hand has a succinct answer to our ‘How do you like strawberries’ query: ‘Strawberry rhubarb crisp! Also, just eating them fresh from the farm. Our little church across the road here in the Center has an Annual Strawberry Festival, and I’ll get strawberry shortcake there next Saturday. Many years ago, my former partner Richard Grant made May wine using sweet woodruff we’d grown, white wine (or was it champagne?) and fresh strawberries. That was great. I should do it again someday…’

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Rachel says that The Wolves in the Walls is exactly what one would expect from a picture book written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean: a charmingly surreal trifle full of dream-logic twists and rhymes begging to be read aloud, featuring unexpected appearances by strange people and rowdy wolves, and all of it seen through the eyes of a small but determined girl who could be Coraline‘s little sister.’

Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street takes us into territory that’s a bit beyond surreal: ‘Transmetropolitan is another of Warren Ellis’ spiky and superbly wrought stories that, in many important respects, turns comics on their head. Back on the Street incorporates the first three numbers in the series in the tale of Spider Jerusalem, journalist.’ Robert says, if you haven’t met Spider Jerusalem, you’re in for an experience.

And now we’re going to stretch our definition of “graphic literature” once again to include a book on the work of a very interesting illustrator: r/evolution: The Art of Jon Foster. Says Robert: ‘One thing that I’ve found a delight while reviewing for GMR is the chance to move into fields I’ve never been able to focus on much before, one of which is illustration, specifically the art of the fantastic. Given my love of science fiction and fantasy and their allied genres and my background in fine art, it’s a wonder to me that I’ve never concentrated on this, and so have missed artists such as Jon Foster — until now.’

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Deborah really loved this recording: ‘Okay, I’m in love. Electric sitar! Bliss! No, seriously. Not hyperbole: it’s love. I’m replaying one of my happiest discoveries in a season of catch-as-catch-can, the Strangelings CD, Season of the Witch. And yes, that’s Donovan’s classic song, as redolent of the 1960s as anything short of “Purple Haze” could possibly be. The first three songs on the CD are covers, and they all work. Hoo.’

Gary says The Hazel and Alice Sessions is a labour of love: ‘The influence of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard continues to reverberate in bluegrass and Americana music. The two became pioneer women in the male-dominated world of bluegrass music in the 1960s, leaving their mark on generations of musicians and singers like Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and The Judds. A few years later California fiddler and singer Laurie Lewis looked to them for inspiration that has been key to her own 40-year-plus career. She’s honoring that legacy with this album-length tribute to Hazel and Alice.’

Gary reviews The Lost Nashville Sessions of Waylon Jennings, 14 songs he recorded for a U.S. military recruitment radio program in 1970. ‘It’s a valuable document of a key musician at a historic time in American music,’ Gary says. ‘Plus it’s a hell of a lotta fun to listen to. These recordings demonstrate just what an earthy, rootsy singer Waylon Jennings was.’

Gary attended a performance by The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc in Seattle, and reports back on the experience. He says, ‘The crowd of about 100 on a very rainy Saturday night were intently focused on the music and very appreciative. … An evening that began in a major grump for me ended with everyone, I think, in a very good mood. That’s the power of music.’

Eilean mo Ghaoilan album by Arran area musicians, gets an enthusiastic endorsement from Lars: ‘This album is the brainchild of Gillian Frame, fiddler and Arran native, and if the Arran tourist board doesn’t adopt it as its official soundtrack (assuming there is such an animal as an Arran tourist board) then they’re definitely missing a bet. Had this album been recorded in any town I know, it would be on the front counter of every gift shop in the county.’

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Our What this week in an Inn and they have a long and honored history in literature, but the one Camille reviews for us is quite real, so  listen up as she introduces us to the Circa 1894 B&B in rural Ontario: ‘The place accurately bills itself as a getaway. And with three guest rooms and delightfully accommodating hosts, my (much-needed) getaway lasted just over a week.’ Go read her delightful review for all the lovely details on this B&B.

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For your Guy Fawkes celebration, let’s finish with ‘Homefires’, a Guy Fawkes song from The Men They Couldn’t Hang, a left of centre English folk rock band whose recordings we’ve reviewed many times. I’ll single out this by of as representative of the band and its music

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Venison Stew (A Letter to Tessa)

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A letter from the journal of Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria to her friend, who was staying in Constantinople as of this letter. Alex, as she was known, copied her personal correspondence into her Journal. She noted in her will that her letters were to be part of the Estate Library upon her death. She would live to well over a hundred, even longer than Her Queen would!

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Dear Tessa,

It’s now starting to get seriously cold here and we’ve enjoyed the heating in Kinrowan Hall as it’s been below freezing overnight for the past fortnight. I’ve pulled my long woolen skirts and sweaters out of storage and am glad that there’s not much that needs doing outside this time of year that I can’t delegate to Estate staff. As I get older, I’m very much appreciating that our Steward convinced our bankers in Edinburgh that a central hot water heating system was needed. It’s certainly nice to be warm in the winter. 

Fitting for the weather, Cook decided a few days ago that a venison stew and sourdough rolls would be a good repast for the communitarian supper we have on Fridays here. Fortunately we had some venison that was aged just right after hanging outside for several days, so I had the lads take a haunch off it and deliver it to him for use in the stew.

Cook noted that was a particularly good Fall season for venison, as the previous winter had been mild and the summer fattened them up nicely and you want meat well marbeled with fat, which was also the case with the pigs we let forage in the acorns dropped by our ancient oaks. My staff has had some very long days slaughtering the latter and getting the meat either preserved in a brine or, as is our preferred manner, twice smoked before hanging in the dry, cool cellars beneath Kinrowan Hall.

Potatoes, carrots, onions, dried mushrooms, juniper berries, and a generous measure of red wine went into the large stew pot yesterday so that the stew would have a chance to get its full flavour. It certainly smelled good when one passed the Kitchen and it tasted even better! Fresh pressed cider and hot gingerbread for dessert were all else served and it was quite sufficient.

Now I’m off to The Pub to sit by the fire and listen to the musicians play while I work on another sweater. The wool was from the North Country farm whose daughter Catriona is a Library Apprentice here. We traded some of our metheglin, Welsh style mead,  for it. It’s lovely wool indeed!

Affectionally yours, Alex

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What’s New for the 30th of October: Boston fiddler Katie McNally’s new album, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock, The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween, ‘Tam Lin’ as performed by Fairport Convention, Ancient Celtic Festivals, Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, two essays on Maddy Prior, Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief revisited and other matters…

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

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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…

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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.’

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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.

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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.’

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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.’

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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.

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