Welcome to GMR

gmr.frontIf 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.

Background is a William Morris design; the fiddling green man was done for us by Lahri Bond.

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What’s New for the 26th of March: an Afghanistan music collection, music from Altan, a future Europe and India as well, Tarzan, ‘African traditions’ and other matters as well

I authorised that a model be made of Kinrowan Hall complete with the new Library addition, so that all could see how it would look when built. It will be more than just a bog standard architectural model as it’ll be complete with a real slate roof, tiny leaded windows and such. The library itself will be a open space four stories tall and another two stories below with shelves between the leaded glass windows on three sides and a skylight as well — Steward Jenny Sturgeon in her journal, 15 September 1880

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There is nothing quite like a freshly brewed pot of tea to get you going in the morning. I should know as I need at least two large mugs of tea before I’m fully awake. Not black though as I’ve a generous splash of Riverrun cream in my tea.

I once knew a well-regarded folk musician who started each morning with much more than a dram of Kilbeggan Irish whiskey. Seemed to suit him well for the coming day as far as anyone could tell.

So I’m up in my Library office, a pot of  Darjeeling second blush tea at hand, putting together this edition and watching the snow fall rather heavily outside the window. I’m playing a live performance by Altan with you hearing ‘A Bhean Udaí Thall’ from a concert in Phoenix nearly thirty years ago.

Want to see what I’ve got this week? Of course you do.

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The novel Gary looks at in this review is set in a richly imagined future India, Ian Mcdonald’s River of Gods. And it’s a bloody good read as well: ‘You can hold whole universes in your hand, between the covers. And as with those old faery tales, you need to pay attention to books like . They contain important truths, hidden inside entertaining stories.’

Kestrell looks into the future to review John Langan’s House of Windows. What does Kestrell have to say of this work of literary horror? Well, this might help — ‘House of Windows can be read on many levels — as a modern updating of the old-fashioned ghost story, as a commentary on the psychological ‘ghosts’ created by physical and emotional abuse, and as a perceptive reading of the overlapping of classic literature with supernatural fiction. Beneath all of these, however, runs the ongoing questions of why we read at all, why do words and stories possess such an irresistible attraction for us, and what these stories can reveal — or tragically fail to reveal-to us about our own lives and experiences.’

There is a very simple formula for determining whether a reader will like Dave Hutchinson’s Europe In Winter, the third book in his Europe cycle. Just ask the hypothetical reader if they like John LeCarre. If the answer is yes, then no time should be wasted in suggesting fervently that they give the Hutchinson a try, because they will almost certainly adore it.

Before there were superheroes, there were — well, the superheroes of an earlier age. Robert takes a look at a book about one of them, Alex Vernon’s On Tarzan: ‘Tarzan is one of those icons of popular culture that has taken on a resonance that runs from the personal to the mythic. One of the ironies that underlies Alex Vernon’s On Tarzan is that old question that I confront regularly: how much did Edgar Rice Burroughs put into that character, and how much have we provided?’

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Reynard told me a few minutes ago that he asked Kathleen what her favourite libation was and she waxed nostalgic: ‘Nova Albion of blessed memory – a bright copper, richly hopped ale with an aftertaste of roses. But in the world of beers I can actually get my hands on … maybe Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, full of fresh new Zealand hops. Or Lagunitas Censored Ale. Or even the venerable Bass Ale — served room temperature, of course. With straw floating on the top. I like hops…’image

Gary reviews Querido Mundo by New York-based Latin rocker Ani Cordero. It’s a follow-up to her critically acclaimed solo debut Recordar, and Gary says it’s ‘an album full of political and love songs she wrote, addressing both current affairs and affairs of the heart.’

Robert got very enthusiastic about an album that’s — well, something different. (Big surprise.) He starts off his comments on Vieux Farka Touré’s debut album with some notes on traditions: ‘There were, in the middle of the last century, over 1,000 languages spoken in Africa, grouped into four large families, not counting creoles and pidgins (estimates have actually ranged as high as 3,000 altogether). This does actually have something to do with the debut album by Vieux Farka Touré: when one speaks of “African traditions,” it is well to remember that those 1,000 languages reflect as many cultures and subcultures, which means there is no such thing as “an African tradition.”’

The same might hold true for another part of the world, as Robert notes while discussing Afghanistan Untouched: ‘I have to admit to a certain feeling of helplessness when faced with a collection like Afghanistan Untouched: it is, much more than entertainment, an ethnographic document. . . . This is borne out by the substantial documentation included in the accompanying booklet, which includes an overview and sections discussing the role of musicians in the life of the various ethnic groups that make up the country and commentaries on the various selections presented.’

Sean looks at yet another of an apparently endless number of Clannad anthologies, A Magical Gathering: ‘For those unfamiliar with the full panorama of the Clannad sound archive, these two discs might come as a surprise, as they contrast the band’s acoustic roots with more recent, perhaps familiar work, which is all too often formulaic, elegiac and in the hands of their most successful scion, Enya, totally commercial.’image

Our What Not this time is again a favourite tune as we asked a Winter Queen, the late Josepha Sherman, what hers was: ‘OK, my dear: I play the folk harp a wee bit (I’m sadly out of practice) and of the older songs, I like ‘Sumer is icumen in,’ ca. 1260 or so, by our old friend, Anonymous. I like it both for the melody and the words, which are cheerful and alive with the image of animals jumping about for the joy of it. It also makes for a cheerful round for several voices. For the earliest songs, though we don’t have the melodies, alas, I love some of the Ancient Egyptian love songs, which are downright modern — such as the one about the girl who sees her boyfriend and rushes out to meet him with half her hair still undone!’ She went on to note that ‘The Ancient Egyptians had our concept of romantic love, btw, clear in their songs. There’s even a sadly fragmentary one of a wife undressing her husband, who’s passed out after what was clearly too much drinking at a party, and how she loves him even so.’

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So let’s finish out this week with some more music from Altan performing at Somerville Theater in  Somerville, Massachusets  on the 13th of February 1993. It’s ‘A Tune For Mairéad And Anna’ from their performance at the Folkadelphia Session, 7th of March, 2015.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Speaker to Ravens

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Yes, a crow whisperer. Wipe that look of doubt off your face as the story I’m about to tell concerns one such being and his tale of what a crow whisperer is. Well, the tale is true as far as I know. And who am I to say it’s not true even if I suspect it’s not?

You’ve heard the story of the Tower of London ravens and that if they ever leave the Tower, it will be the end of Albion? I cannot say if that’s true, but the person who wondered into our Pub late one Fall evening wanted to tell a story. He asked for a dram of single malt, no water, in exchange. I poured him a Glenglassaugh and waited for him to begin …

First he noted that the commonly accepted tale among the ‘respectable’ press is that the Ravens have been in residence only since the Victorian Era but he said they’ve been there since then, and quite a lot longer. He added that the press is told that Ravens stay there because their wing feathers were clipped, thus they couldn’t fly away.

Neither is true, he said. Rather there’s been a crow whisperer, or to use the much older name, Speaker for The Ravens. Running in an unbroken line for well over a thousand years it is said, each such person was taught by the previous Speaker for The Ravens what the secret language of ravens is. It is an ancient language, predating any human tongue by uncountable years.

Each Speaker for The Ravens is told the story of how the first ancient Albion kings discovered that the Ravens were holders of the magic that bound them to the land, to the people, and to the gods themselves. That so long as the Ravens dwelt in what would someday be London and specifically where the Towers would be built, that Albion would endure. But the Ravens wouldn’t be content if someone couldn’t Speak for them, someone who knew their True Names.

For many centuries, these men, and quite a few women, and some who weren’t actually human, served their roles so well that the unbreakable bonds have never been weakened nor even really tested.

I noticed through the Pub windows that looked out towards the ancient oaks favoured by the Estate corvids that all of the crows therein were watching him intently as we walked away from the Pub. And then they winged about him, cawing loudly, and waiting for his response…

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What’s New for the 19th of March: Spring festivals, wise fools, outlaw heroes, an English country house mystery, chocolate!, and more

“I really didn’t mean to steal it.” Mr. Williams shook his head. He scratched at his chin nervously. “Why not? That’s what they’re there for. Tunes belong to everybody. So do stories.” ― Tallis and Mr Williams in Robert Holdstock’s Lavondyss

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Ahhh, there you are! Let me set aside the book I’ve been reading, The Haunted Wood: Britain’s Forests in Fantasy Literature. It’s a fascinating book though more than a bit dry as most academic works tend to be. As James Goldman noted in his preface to his play, The Lion in Winter, ‘Historians and storytellers don’t have much in common, but they do share this: the past, once it gets hold of you, does actually come alive. For scholars, this is troublesome. For writers, it’s the good stuff.’

So if you want something that’ll make for an entertaining read, it likely won’t be The Haunted Wood; rather it’ll be something like Charles de Lint’s The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, or perhaps the more horrific in Ramsey Campbell’s The Darkest Part of the Woods, both where The Wood is intrinsically part of the story.

Now get yourself off to the Green Man Pub, have a pint of our just tapped Spring IPA and keep a watch on Oberon’s Wood out the windows there to see if anything decidedly fey is going on there whIle I put this edition together…

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Spring is upon us and Grey has a book that reminds us how longstanding celebration of this and other such dates are: ‘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.’

Gary has something to say about a different kind of history, as portrayed in Susan Cheever’s Drinking in America: ‘Not only has alcohol been intimately involved in the history of the United States of America, it has been closely associated with some of the key moments in that history, from the very beginning. That’s the argument that Susan Cheever makes in her book Drinking in America: Our Secret History.’

Speaking of academic works, Kathleen looks at Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones & Susan Cooper: ‘Charles Butler is the author of several fantasies for children (The Fetch of Mardy Watt, The Darkling, Death of A Ghost). He also teaches English literature at the University of the West of England. In Four British Fantasists, he surveys juvenile fantasy through the lens of his professional scholarship, in a detailed analysis of the work of four acclaimed modern writers. He has chosen Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper and Penelope Lively as his subjects, identifying them — with good reason — as shining examples of the modern Golden Age of children’s fantasy: inheritors of the traditions of both E. Nesbitt and J.R.R. Tolkien.’

Robert takes us on a brief tour of a delightful collection of folk tales: ‘The subtitle calls The Uncommon Sense of the Immortal Mullah Nasruddin a collection of “stories, jests, and donkey tales of the beloved Persian folk hero.” Nasruddin, though, is more than simply Persian — he’s an avatar of the Wise Fool found in folklore everywhere.’

Steven has a look at a novel in a long running mystery series: ‘Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger was inspired by a real 1998 case that resulted in the murder of a police officer. The author refers to the case repeatedly but doesn’t offer any clues to its solution. Instead, he uses it as the springboard for a story that plays on Navajo history and mythology, with the “Badger” of the title turning out to be both a legendary Ute warrior and his son, the former having been thought of as a witch by mystified Navajos and the latter perhaps taking advantage of his father’s tricks following a murderous raid on a casino.’

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By now we’re all familiar with the story of Robin Hood, in one form or another. Robert takes a look at a graphic novel treatment, Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood, scripted by Tony Lee: ‘Anyone telling a story as well-known as this one is facing some built-in constraints, not the least of which is that we know there’s a happy ending, and it’s to Lee’s credit that he makes the telling as absorbing as he does.’

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Speaking of mysteries, an English country house murder mystery gets reviewed by David: ‘As traditional as the genres he chose might have been, in Altman’s hand they were turned upside-down, and sideways. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie became anti-hero and opium addict in Altman’s “western” McCabe & Mrs. Miller, set to the music of Leonard Cohen! A laconic Elliott Gould became Raymond Chandler’s private dick Phillip Marlowe in an updated LA for Altman’s “detective” classic The Long Goodbye. Robert Altman has been the most American of directors, and now, in Gosford Park, he takes on the English country house murder mystery. Altman’s Agatha Christie film? What could this mean?’

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What’s Zotter’s Labooko Peru Criollo Cuvée? It’s quite a mouthful, in more than one way. Gary tried this Austrian-made chocolate bar, and he says in his review that it’s ‘some of the best dark chocolate I’ve had in ages.’

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Jo says that ‘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.’ Read her review of Rhydderch’s Telyn for all the details.

Gary reports on a new CD by Jake Xerxes Fussel: ‘When I first listened to this new album What in the Natural World I thought he sounded like someone who has delved into the “old weird” American songbook once championed by the likes of Harry Smith, and I was right. He’s got an ear for a lyric and another for a melody, and he’s a pretty talented blues-style finger-picker of his electric guitar, too.’

The fourth album by Danish rockers The DeSoto Caucus, aptly titled 4, gets a close look from Gary. ‘They play a kind of laid-back desert rock that owes a lot to the sound of Giant Sand, but on this album they’ve added a major country-soul vibe, in addition to occasional elements of psychedelica,’ he says.

‘Cross-fertilization’ is a key concept in the history of any art form, and sometimes leads to amazing results, as Robert points out in his review of Siwan, a collaboration by a diverse group of musicians: ‘People sometimes remark on my taste in music (as in “What on earth are you listening to now?”), and I’ll be the first to admit it’s rather broad. I figure it’s all just music, and half the fun of it is finding the places where it all overlaps — you can always worry about classifications later. ‘

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Our What Not this time is a look at the birth of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra: ‘Some groups form in school or college, some grow out of teenage friendships and others from “musicians wanted” ads; nearly all of them are formed with the initial idea of sounding like somebody else. None of the above applies to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Nor, for that matter, do most other generalisations about how modern music is and should be made, or why.’  You can read the entire Independent article here.

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So let’s finish this edition with some music from Penguin Cafe Orchestra, to wit ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ from the Glastonbury Festival, the 26th of June, 1994. Oddly enough it’s become a very popular composition among Irish sorts of trad musicians and has been recorded by New Celeste, Patrick Street and Four Men and A Dog to name but some of the groups which gave done so.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Gathering of Stitchers

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I was watching the new reading group that had sprung up last Fall as they met in the Pub near the fireplace. They call themselves ‘A Gathering of Stitchers’. It was, not surprisingly, a reading group devoted to books on knitting and related subjects. Liath put together the group, but like all our reading groups (there’s at least a half-dozen at any given time with overlapping memberships), the group is communitarian in nature, which means everyone decides on what to read.

They started off with a surprising choice, McKillip’s Solstice Wood, but Liath said there was an interesting take on weavers and magic in it, which there assuredly is. Later choices included books on wools of the world, the Silk Road, the riots against mechanized weaving, and an oral history of knitting in rural Scotland between the Wars.

I wasn’t ‘tall surprised when I discovered that the Steward had granted them a generous stipend to visit sheep farms in the Nordic countries and talk to weavers and knitters there. And she promised them yet another stipend to go to Turkey as well. I was going on that one with Ingrid, my wife who’s the Estate buyer and our Steward, as Istanbul is one of her favourite purchasing cities, but the political unrest there made us cancel that trip.

Several years after getting the group going, we snagged our first meeting of Nordic weavers and knitters who decided to gather here in the dead of winter, as many had farms, which meant they couldn’t get away during the summer. Some forty came, stayed ten days, had a great time, and arranged to come back the next year. I was particularly happy, as the Pub made a very tidy profit at a normally slow time of year.

Oh and it’s fascinating to watch them discuss the book they’d just read and knit as they did so. They maintain eye contact, converse intelligently, and knit steadily along without ever looking down!

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What’s New for the 12th of March: The Word of God, boys’ love manga, tomatoes, a must-catch music festival, another classical tradition, and more

There is a similarity, if I may be permitted an excursion into tenuous metaphor, between the feel of a chilly breeze and the feel of a knife’s blade, as either is laid across the back of the neck. I can call up memories of both, if I work at it. The chilly breeze is invariably going to be the more pleasant memory. — Vlad Taltos, from Steven Brust’s Jhereg

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Chilly breezes are still with us, but we’ve hit that time of year when the outside temperatures may be anywhere on the scale — spring’s not quite here, but winter is starting to let go, so we’re in a thaw-and-freeze time.

All of which makes walking a bit of a gamble — one needn’t wade through snow drifts (the paths are clear), but it’s always a question of whether a puddle is actually a puddle or a sheet of ice. It pays to have fast reflexes, just in case.

And on mild days, everything drips, so walking under the trees may very well mean icy water down the back of your neck. A broad-brimmed hat is very useful.

The birds don’t seem to mind — the crows actually seem very happy, now that some of the snow cover is gone and they can poke around in hopes of something tasty. The sparrows, as well, are foraging around the clear places, looking for any seeds or buds they’ve missed before.

The squirrels are starting to nip the ends off of twigs: they’ll wait for the sap to start dripping out, and lick it off, as a nice side to the flower and leaf buds that are just starting to swell. The rabbits are still hunting down the last of last year’s dried grasses and herbs — it’s still a bit early for tender new shoots, but they remain hopeful.

And although there’s a lot going on outside, right now it’s a bit raw and blustery, so I’m just as happy to be curled up next to the fire putting this edition together. But, given the mood — well, we have to be prepared for anything.

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Cat looks at Lucifer’s Dragon, which, ‘as the Max Headroom series used to say, is set twenty minutes in the future. It set a century from now with flashbacks to a future not that far from our present. Though marketed as cyberpunk, it’s not really as hacking and computer networks in general don’t really play that much of a role. And it really does reflect that Grimwood was early in his career as it’s less well-crafted than his later work, which is extremely well-crafted.’

Cat was delighted to listen to Ken Macleod’s Star Fraction as he has a liking for near future dystopias,  that it ‘was set in a Britain that has severely fractured, has suffered at least one revolution and apparently a counter-revolution, and is now a Republic under a restored House of Hanover to the Throne. (Queen Victoria was the last in that line which ruled Britain from 1714 to 1901!) But it’s even more fractured than that makes it apparent as there’s a reference to North London being an area free from the security apparatus of the US / UN which bans certain lines of research by anyone to the point of banning knowledge of what those lines are. This makes it similar to Europe in David Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn novel in terms of fractured nation-states.’

David brings us something that we might not have been expecting: Lew Freedman’s Baseball’s Funnymen: ‘When most people think of the history of baseball, they think of it in terms of a Ken Burns documentary – soaring music, sepia tones, and a certain reverence for the deeds of players engaged in noble competition. But there are other sides of the game, not the least of which is humor. From the bungling, prank-playing Brooklyn Dodgers of old to the modern day, there have always been jokesters, pranksters and clowns both on and off the field.’

Michael looks as a book about possibilities, Alma Alexander’s 2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens: ‘December 20th, 2012. The end of the world, some might say. Five friends meet up twenty years after college, at Spanish Gardens, an old and favorite gathering spot. Olivia. John. Quincey. Ellen. Simon. Over Irish Coffees, they’ll hash out old memories and catch up on twenty years’ worth of happenings.’

Rebecca has some thoughts on one of the less classifiable works we’ve run across, Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire: ‘A leg is wounded. A boy, or a hog, or a man, or a woman, is offered in burnt sacrifice. An enormous black dog which is not a dog points the way. A severed head watches. A fire burns on a hilltop. The images whirl, kaleidoscopic, through a dozen stories, through the landscape of Northampton. They fill me, and the words fill me, and I feel pregnant with them. Not, perhaps, a conventional way to discuss a book I’m reviewing. But it’s not a conventional book.’

Robert takes a look at a most unusual book by one of science fictions most iconoclastic writers, Thomas M. Disch’s The Word of God, or, Holy Writ Rewritten: ‘It’s hard to know how to typify this book. Memoir, in some respects. Satire, most certainly. Polemic, but we expect no less from Disch, no matter what his mode of the moment.’

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Robert has some remarks on a couple of manga series in the genre known as “boys’ love” (BL) or “yaoi”. First is Isaku Natsume’s Dash!: ‘The main story in Dash! is about the relationship between Akimoto and Saitou. At the story’s beginning, Akimoto is a freshman member of the judo club who announces on his first day that he enrolled in that school because he admired Saitou, the school’s judo star. However, as Akimoto points out, Saitou “wasn’t all that good a guy.” He makes Akimoto his servant, running his errands, fetching lunch and drinks, and in general serving as his personal gofer.’

Next is Hyouta Fujiyama’s Ordinary Crush: ‘Hyouta Fujiyama has become one of my favorite mangaka doing BL, mostly because of her strong, clean graphics and charming stories. . . . In Ordinary Crush we have the core of a complex of stories portraying the students of Kinsei High, a highly regarded all-boys’ school that is rumored to be 90% gay.’

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We have a couple of TV series that Robert thinks fall within the rubric “be prepared for anything”. The first is Grimm” ‘If I had to place the series in a genre, it would come out as dark fantasy/supernatural police procedural, which at one point would have sounded weird, but given the direction television has taken since Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit the screen, maybe not so much these days.’

The second is Haven: ‘Haven is a small town on the coast of Maine that is generally unremarkable, except that some of the inhabitants have what we might call “special abilities.” These are mostly not an issue, but it seems that every twenty-seven years, what the residents (those in the know, at least) call “The Troubles” start cropping up: for some reason, these abilities become active, and can have unforeseen and often dire consequences.’

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Gary brings us a fascinating look at the history of the tomato — at least, part of it — in Andrew F. Smith’s The Tomato in America: ‘The tomato is one of the most popular “vegetables” in America, where thousands of tons of them are consumed every year. They’re similarly popular around the world. They’re also the subject of a small mountain of folklore. And like all folklore, some of it’s true, and some isn’t.’

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Cat starts off our music reviews with a look at something a little bit out of the ordinary — Theodore Bikel’s Treasury of Yiddish Folk & Theatre Songs: ‘But most of us are less aware that [Bikel] is both an accomplished musician and a supporter of folk music, including being the founder of the Newport Folk Festival. And he has recorded twenty record albums, mostly for the Elektra label, in addition to a few releases on other labels.’

The music on Nuit Blanche by the Tarkovsky Quartet, Gary says, ‘is a heady blend of classical, jazz, cabaret and more, and it’s all very cinematic.’ That’s fitting, he adds, because the quartet is named for Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky.

Robert has some comments on another group whose music is a blend of — well, let him describe it: ‘The German pop scene has got to be the one to watch. I’ve run across albums from Nubian drummers and medieval electro-pop duos who are big in the Berlin club scene, and now I’m listening to Corvus Corax, a group of street minstrels originally from East Germany who do a heady mix of medieval and contemporary world-beat/rock music.”

In keeping with our sort-of theme, Robert comments on another volume in the monumental series Gamelan of Central Java. This is Volume XIV: Ritual Sounds of Sekaten: ‘Ritual Sounds of Sekaten is a pendant to Volume II in the series Gamelan of Central Java, presenting three more examples of the music played for the Islamic religious festival of Sekaten in Java. The first two tracks are the same piece filtered through the performance traditions of Yogyakarta and Surakarta, the two main centers of classical Javanese music.’

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Word comes from our friends at Hearth PR that The Transatlantic Sessions tour will be part of the 30th anniversary MerleFest in April. If you don’t know what The Transatlantic Sessions or MerleFest are, Gary has more about it here.

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Our coda today is from a young musician I ran across recently who’s really quite fascinating. Someone said his voice sounds like a pint of whiskey ate a pack of Marlboros. And he looks like he might be all of seventeen. This is from the soundtrack of the film Hell or High Water; the song itself is titled Sleeping on the Blacktop; and the artist is Colter Wall. You can watch him perform it here.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Cranachan (A Letter to Ekaterina)

Evening Ekaterina,

Ingrid sends her love and hopes your trip to Canada is going well.  We both look forward to your tales of the Ukrainian community that took root in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba provinces.

Mrs. Ware cooked the traditional Scottish dessert that you love earlier tonight —  cranachan, which you know is made with oats, cream,  whisky and raspberries.

Scottish cranachan is a very quick, easy recipe. It is also a very festive recipe and perfect for any celebration, especially Christmas, Hogmanay, and it rounds off a Burns’ Night Supper quite beautifully. 

However, Scottish cranachan is too good to save just for special occasions and is especially good in the summer, making the most of delicious Scottish raspberries for a truly authentic recipe — but don’t worry if you can’t find them, use any raspberries. As with the other wonderful ingredients in the cranachan, it’ll taste good anyways.

If you use frozen raspberries, make sure to decrease the amount of sugar you use as most of them come in a sweetened syrup. Though I’ve noticed that the natural foods movement has resulted in just raspberries, no sweetener, being sold as well.

Yours with affection, Iain

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What’s New for the 5th of March: Tull live, Nils Økland Band US tour, Cuban music, a fictional travel guide, Tobias Buckell on Tolkien, a graphic novel by Maurice Sendak, a bio of Jim Henson and other neat stuff too

One day I walked the road and crossed a field to go by where the hounds ran hard.
And on the master raced: behind the hunters chased to where the path was barred.
One fine young lady’s horse refused the fence to clear. I unlocked the gate but she did
wait until the pack had left. — Jethro Tull’s ‘Hunting Girl’, Songs from the Wood album

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Come in! Put your anorak and boots over by the fireplace so they’ll dry out before you take leave of us. The snow storm’s made the Green Man Pub quiet today so I’m stitching together this edition and every so often reading a chapter from Scott Allen Nollen’s  Jethro Tull:  A History of the Band, 1968-2001, a most excellent band bio. It’s easily as good as Mark Cunningham’s Horslips: Tall Tales, The Official Biography or Nigel Schofeld’s Fairport Unconventional, a hundred and seventy page book included in the boxset of that name.

It’s a pity that neither Maddy Prior nor Steeleye Span have gotten a biography written about them. The only place they get their due is in Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall’s Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock where the early chapters depict his involvement in the formation of them and Fairport, but that means the last forty or so years isn’t covered.

Shall we see what we’ve got for you this time?
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Christopher Finch’s Jim Henson: The Works: The Art, The Magic, The Imagination gets a well- deserved review by Cat: ‘This is another authorised project by the Jim Henson Company making it akin to Imagination Illustrated which I reviewed here. It’s even copyrighted by Jim Henson Productions! Unlike that book, it actually covers the life of Jim from birth, in a nifty little laid-in booklet. That’s after not one but three introductions by Harry Belafonte, Frank Oz, and Candice Bergen. Belafonte and Bergen were just two of the many, many actors who appeared on The Muppet Show.’

On the other hand, Christopher Priest’s The Islanders was a mixed bag for Cat: ‘First thing to note is that this is not a novel. It’s more like notes that travelers put together on exotic (to them, not people who live there) locales they visited. Think of it as akin to something the publishers of Lonely Planet or Rough Guide have published for decades now. Some parts work for me, some didn’t.’

Grey says ‘So what does Iona and Peter Opie’s The Classic Fairy Tales have to offer that makes it worth being reprinted numerous times since its first publication in 1974? Chiefly this: collected here are twenty-four of the best-known traditional fairy tales as they were first published in English. The earliest is “The History of Tom Thumbe, the Little, for his small stature surnamed, King Arthvrs Dwarfe: Whose Life and aduentures containe many strange and wonderfull accidents, published for the delight of merry Time-spenders,” dated 1621. The text from which “Hansel and Gretel” — the last tale in the collection — is taken was published in 1853.’

Jane Yolen, Shulamith Oppenheim and Stefan Czernecki’s The Sea King is also appreciated by Grey: ‘This lovely folk tale has many old friends in it: Vasilisa the Wise, a beautiful princess who is also a bird; Baba Yaga the witch in her house that runs by itself on chicken legs; the King of the Sea in his underwater palace of crystal; and the innocently wise boy who finds his way because he’s generous and observant. And it has one of the most poignant story lines of all: the father who promises to sacrifice the first thing he sees when he returns home — only to find out that he’s just been borne a son.’P

Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak’s Brundibar gets a review from 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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In live music news, Norwegian hardanger fiddler Nils Økland is making a rare set of U.S. appearances this month. The 2016 Nils Økland Band release Kjølvatn was one of Gary’s favourite discs of the year. Now word comes that he and the band will be playing dates in Brooklyn (March 21), Chicago (March 22) and three days at Knoxville, Tennessee’s Big Ears Festival March 24-26. Full info on Økland’s website.

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The new Cuban album Cubafonía, Gary says, is ‘an impressive display of Daymé Arocena’s chops as a singer and her depth as an interpreter and extender of Cuban musical tradition. If you like Cuban or any other Latin music, or even if you’re just curious about it, you need Cubafonía.’

The Canadian band Cowboy Junkies have just released a remastered version of The Trinity Session. The original, Gary says, ‘… was pretty revolutionary when it was first released in November 1988. Their second release, it was recorded pretty much “live” and pretty much in one day, in a Toronto church, around a single microphone … In retrospect, it’s one of the foundational albums of what is now considered Americana music, and at the time there wasn’t much like it.’

Gary says he’s drawn to droning music lately, and he includes in that category Everyone Else by the American rock trio Slothrust. He says: ‘Nerdy lyrics by a female vocalist, embedded in songs that turn on a dime from folksy strumming to pummeling power chords – what’s not to love about Slothrust?’

Hello World is a recording that appeals to Lars: ‘Scotland, like Ireland, is proud of its heritage and traditional music, and quite rightly so. It takes its music and musicians seriously and pays them homage. Lorne MacDougall is a piper, and not just any piper — he is brilliant! You don’t get to be three times BBC Radio Scotland “Young Traditional Musician of the Year” finalist for nothing. Mind you he was awarded a BA in Scottish Music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 2005 — so I suppose that helps!’

Robert takes a look at yet another album by Clannad that we’ve reviewed, namely Landmarks: ‘I always think of Clannad as an Irish traditional group, which they aren’t — at least, not any more. Traditionally grounded, yes, as one can see from their early recordings, but what has become their signature style incorporates bits of everything from jazz to rock to pop and wanders rather easily into the “New Age” category.’

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Our What Not this time is the question of what is your favourite Tolkien. Like many others, The Hobbit is the favourite of Tobias Buckell: ‘Oh, it’s The Hobbit, hands down. I mean, I adore the novel because unlike Tolkien’s later work, it’s not overburdened. It’s a lean, well paced, adventure that takes you on this incredible tour through Tolkien’s countries and peoples and mythologies. I read it every couple years just to experience it all over again. I know The Lord of the The Rings is more popular in common culture, but I struggled through it and tried to pick them up recently and just found that I really kept waiting for things to just move. Frankly I thought the movies were a big improvement, although there were parts just kept limping along, like the end, that reminded of reading the books.’

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I  have a keen liking for the Tull of the Sixties and early Seventies which is why you’re getting a cut off their 1976 album, Songs from The Wood. The cut I’ve selected is ‘The Hunting Girl’, a fine pagan story about boy meets girl riding horse and … Oh just go give it a listen! It ‘s a soundboard recording from the 12th of November 1980 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

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A Travels Abroad story: Musical Ganeshes (A Letter to Svetlana)

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Dear Svetlana,

Glad to hear that your trip to Ukrainian speaking Canada went well. It’s amazing how much of their culture including language is intact over a century after their ancestors settled there! 

So you want know about the four Ganeshas residing in a spot behind the bar here in the Pub? You won’t be surprised to know there’s an interesting story behind them. It starts off a couple of decades ago when Ingrid and I were in Mumbai on a fabric buying trip for a Glasgow client of hers, long before she became the Estate Steward. As is our usual habit in a city like this, we spend as much time as we can in markets looking for interesting things to buy, from spices and grains to offbeat art and of course spirits when we see something we like. 

Ingrid spotted these in a stall selling the usual tourist tat — hookahs, badly dyed fabrics, and fluorescent coloured Buddhas. Does anyone buy an orange Buddha bright enough to see at midnight even when they’re not stoned? She spotted them on a shelf in the back of the stall —  just plain brass and about eighteen inches high. She dickered for them and got a reasonable deal on them. 

Getting them through Indian customs required a creative broker, some baksheesh, and considerable patience. Our broker swore to the export staff that they were going in a library of some importance befitting that deity who was the god for scribes. They ended up in the Pub because they are playing instruments. And yes I’m aware that they too are tourist tat.

A few years later, I ran across an odd little place in Dublin that only sold things from India. And there they were again but in stone this time. The owner explained that they cost as much in shipping as they did in actually buying, and she too ended up paying a not small amount to get them exported. 

Warmest thoughts, Reynard

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What’s New for the 26th of February: a concert on steel wheels, fiction Tanya Huff, Hershey chocolate, music by Skara Brae, women horror movie hosts and other neat things as well…

The Endless Rave happens at the edge of Soho proper. Some people say the first humans to return to Bordertown decided to celebrate by dancing there, and the dancing has never stopped. The dancers come and go, of course, and so does the music: sometimes it’s made by seedyboxes, and sometimes by B-town drummers gathered to jam, and sometimes by a dancer or two stamping a rhythm and humming a tune. No one knows how large the Endless Rave has been, but everyone swears there’s always at least one kid dancing there. — Will Shetterly’s Nevernever

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Another Banish Misfortune Winter Ale? Rather good, isn’t it? Bjorn, our Brewmaster, makes it every Winter and it’s a perrenial favourite among staff and visitors alike.

My favourite time in the Pub is the period between when I relieve Finch, the Afternoon Barkeep, so that the first few hours of my shift are early enough in the evening that it’s several hours before it gets busy here. The afternoon patrons have left for elsewhere and the evening patrons are hours away. There’s just enough business to be interesting, but no more.

This evening, the Neverending Session is off elsewhere, the Library I believe doing something with Iain, our Librarian, so I’m doing this edition and I get to play what I want here in the Pub. Right now that is Skara Brae’s Reunion Concert at the Dunlewey Lakeside in Centreon, Donegal on the second of January, some thirteen years ago. Now don’t go looking to order it as it was never released commercially but I was handed a soundboard recording of it and it’s one of the most played performances by me as both the music itself and the recording of it are first rate.

Now let’s see what I’ve got for you…P

Denise found two things to adore in Robert Michael “Bobb” Cotter’s Vampira and Her Daughters: Women Horror Movie Hosts from the 1950s into the Internet Era; female horror hosts, and a comprehensive guide to ’em.  “Cotter digs deep into the history of the horror host, and uncovers a wealth of knowledge about these hidden stars … And he does a bloody great job with it.” Happy haunting, horror hounds!

Robert takes a look at the third installment in Tanya Huff’s Enchantment Emporium series, The Future Falls: ‘The Future Falls continues the saga of the Gale family, begun in The Enchantment Emporium and continued in The Wild Ways. The Gales are not your normal family, although certainly given to family politics and rivalries, with a few interesting twists: for want of a better word, let’s call them witches.’

Robert also had some thoughts on two volumes of poetry published by a small press: ‘We are very fond of small presses here at Green Man Review, not least because they publish some of the most interesting things out there. Several years ago, A Midsummer Night’s Press was revived after a fairly lengthy hiatus. The press focuses on poetry, and we were happy to be able to take a look at the first two offerings, Lawrence Schimel’s Fairy Tales for Writers and Charles Ardai’s The Good-Neighbor Policy.’

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Robert takes a look at a rather arresting graphic novel: ‘Robert Venditti’s The Surrogates, drawn by Brett Weldele, is right up among the top graphic works I’ve run across recently. Set in a near-future megalopolis, it’s a fast-moving crime drama with a couple of unique twists.’ He follows up with a look at the sequel — which is actually a prequel, Flesh and Bone.

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Take a number of well-known musicians, toss in fans and a camera crew, put all on a train traversing Canada. That’s the gist of Festival Express. Sound intriguing? David thought so: ‘It opens with a faded map of north Ontario, Kapuskasing dead centre. Then the camera pulls back and from the middle of the screen comes a train — an old Canadian National engine — and tracks, lots of tracks. This is a movie about that train and the people who rode on it, and the places it stopped, and what happened one week in 1970 when this train went from Toronto to Calgary … with a cargo of rock’n’rollers and all their paraphernalia. What a summer.’

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We’ve oftimes said that we crave chocolate in its myriad forms, from drinking chocolate on a winter’s day to Tollhouse cookies, to a bar of dark chocolate. That does not mean that we love all chocolate as April, our resident Summer Queen (who loves Reese’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, but that’s a story for another time to tell) notes here: ‘Up for review are two of the Hershey-produced bars: Milk Chocolate with Roasted Almonds and the Royal Dark. Of the two bars, the Milk Chocolate with Roasted Almonds fares better, overall, although neither are really worth expending much effort to obtain. The milk chocolate, while unremarkable in taste, has a pleasant, silky texture to it, and the almonds impart a very satisfying salty crunch by contrast. It’s definitely a step up – even if just a small one — from the usual Hershey’s milk chocolate fare, neither overly sweet nor grainy.’

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American pianist Craig Taborn fronts a quartet on his new release Daylight Ghosts. Gary says ‘Taborn gives ample evidence on Daylight Ghosts that he excels in settings that range from near-classical to rocking modern jazz.

Mount Royal is the new album from jazz guitarist Julian Lage and bluegrass guitarist Chris “Critter” Eldridge of the Punch Brothers. ‘This album is at heart an Americana or American folk record, but it draws on all kinds of music within those traditions,’ Gary says in his review.

Gary says ‘Rhiannon Giddens’ Freedom Highway is one of those rare recordings that grabs your attention right from the first note and won’t let go. More vibrant than any history book and as timely as tomorrow’s headlines and tweetstorms, this is music to rock your body and roil your soul.’

Lars ends his review of SVER’s Fryd in this manner: ‘In all a very good effort worth the money for anyone interested in instrumental Scandinavian music. And from what I hear on the record they must be on hell of a live band.’ Now read his insightful review for all the details on this recording.

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Our What Not this time is courtesy of  Theodora Goss who has an essay titled ‘The Politics of Narritive Patterns ‘ which leads off thusly: ‘There are all sorts of reasons the American election went the way it did, but I think one of them, and perhaps quite an important one, was the way in which our thinking is determined by narrative patterns. What do I mean by narrative patterns? I mean that in narratives, in stories, there are underlying patterns we are familiar with. They recur from story to story: stories are often variations on these patterns. When we encounter these patterns, we feel fulfilled, comfortable — we recognize them, we like to read about them. We like variation, but only a certain amount of variation. Too much variation makes us feel unsatisfied, as though somehow the story is written “wrong.”‘

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I mentioned that I was playing a concert recording by Skara Brae, so I’ll finish off with a set of tunes, ‘Ar Chun’ and ‘Chuain Dom’, from that performance. And I’ve no idea why they didn’t get a commercial release of this performance as both the music and the production are quite fine indeed.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Hidden Dragon

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The dragon was carved of a local stone in multiple pieces by a local firm after consultation with an artist who sketched out the dragon. It didn’t look like the Welsh national symbol but rather was more akin to a serpent out of medieval illustrations. Nothing was written in any of the Estate Journals on why this representation was decided upon.

And that’s where the mystery started. Estate Gardener and Groundskeeper Lady Quinn some one hundred and thirty years ago refused to admit where the dragon was put, nor did anyone else have a clue as to where it was. Now keep in mind that our Scottish Estate is quite large, covering many thousands of acres. Though she described it as being sixty feet long and twelve foot tall at the head, that was still small enough that, in the right place, it couldn’t be seen more than a scant hundred feet away.

Well it obviously wasn’t near the central area of the Estate, so that left everywhere else. So I started looking for it on my walks and asked everyone else to keep an eye out for it. Ingrid, our Steward, was the one that found it. She took me to where it was one fine winter day late last year after the first decent snowfall. They had placed it very deep in The Wild Wood, three miles out, on a rocky outcrop where it had in the intervening years been covered in lichens and moss, effectively rendering it invisible unless you know it’s there.

We could have cleaned it of its covering vegetation but agreed that it deserved to be left as it is. And so we both agreed not to tell anyone else where it was. So it sits in its isolated forest opening just being a dragon unbothered by anyone. If anyone stumbles upon it, so be it, but I doubt that given where it is that will happen as it’s been hidden for all that time!P

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