A Kinrowan Estate Stoty: A Guest Lecturer


Several Annies, do pay attention now as there will be a quiz afterwards!

Well, now. Mackenzie has asked me in as tonight’s guest lecturer. He likes to keep these seminars going through the summer months, you know, when otherwise the staff and denizens of  the Kinrowan Estate get too caught up in the long days and short nights in Oberon’s Wood. Remember, Masters and Mistresses, you are supposed to be writing about books here.

And what does it mean, to write ‘about’ books? Hey? Any of you bright-eyed boys and girls ever paused to think about it, in your rush between the reference stacks and Jack’s in barrel? I’ve seen that barrel, and a mighty void it is, too. What are you all about as you proffer your analyses of art to the waiting ether?

Some might consider it a self-referential waste of time, especially the business of review and literary critique. ‘Them as can, do,’ the saying goes. ‘Them as can’t do, teach. And them as can’t do neither, criticize.’ Of course, that old saw is usually trotted out by someone who has written a bad book and been caught at it. There is power and skill needed to review a tale properly, so as to catch the casual reader’s interest and send it on like a well-aimed sling stone to find the original work itself.

But you may need to ask yourselves — and a frightening question it is — are you committing metafiction? When you write about another’s world, are you outlining the borders for the uninformed, or extending them? Are you lighting the path or creating a detour? It’s not my business or concern to tell you that — no, it’s not, so you can put away your notes and that dismayed look, young woman — it’s merely my intent to make you think about it. To read deeply and then to talk about it is a serious thing.

We all walk into books hoping. We hope for joy or mere amusement; for fulfillment of a dream and the filling of an idle hour; for a clear look at something we have glimpsed in dreams, or the first look at what has been unimaginable. When we consent to read a tale, we’re consenting to a journey that we have to take on faith. We hope to be well and safely conveyed the whole way, and not left robbed of our time by some nameless highwayman. We trust the writers to know the way and show us all the best sights. At their best, all writers take us on the perfect road; at your best, you are sharing your experience on that road.

Consider yourselves cartographers, ladies and gentlemen. Every book opened is a new world discovered. Worlds are vast things. They harbor as much danger as delight; neither one is always easy to find, and maps are required. Not all worlds will sustain life — a warning to the explorer behind you on the road can give warning that ahead is a deadly insufficiency of oxygen, or warmth, or wit. A bright red ‘Here Be Dragons’ pulls in as many eager travellers as it warns off the timid ones: someone languishing for the company of dragons may never find their heart’s desire without your directions.

So sharpen your pens and calibrate your compasses. The folk on staff all brought out their brightest inks, and the maps displayed in the books are grand examples to emulate.



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What’s New for the 7th of July: A Passel of Roger Zelazny Reviews, A Write-up of an Irish Pub, Two Pieces of Live Music by Rosanne Cash, Where Irish Coffee Originated, Irish (and a Little Welsh) Music of a Modern Sort

Time is never called in my recurring dream of pubs. — Ciaran Carson in Last Night’s Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music

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I’m Iain, the Librarian here at the Kinrowan Estate. I‘m settling in for a quiet day of reading and answering correspondence after finishing the forthcoming edition (my fellow librarians and book lovers still like letters despite email which we all use of course), as Ingrid, our Steward, took my apprentices, the Several Annies as they’ve been called for centuries out of tradition, for the day for them to learn what an Estate Steward does.

So first breakfast. Unlike Reynard, I always drink tea as I never developed a taste for coffee no matter how good it was. So it was lapsong soochong, a loose leaf first blush smoked black tea from Ceylon. With a splash of cream of course. And a rare surprise too — apple fritters served with thick cut twice smoked bacon, using apple wood only, and yet more apples in the form of cinnamon and nutmeg infused apple sauce. There was even mulled cider for those wanting even more apples in their breakfast fare! Thus fortified, I turned to writing the What’s New for this week …

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We’re doing nothing but works by Roger Zelazny this time so we’re leading with a review by April of his longest work: ‘Roger Zelazny’s Amber series spans three decades, ten volumes, several short stories, a RPG, graphic novels and even a recent revival attempt (John Betancourt’s Dawn of Amber series). Packed into those original books and stories is a wealth of characters, settings, items and plots — far too much minutiae for any but the most die-hard fan to remember. And that’s where Krulik’s The Complete Amber Sourcebook comes in. The Sourcebook is not for someone who has not read the entire series, as spoilers are literally everywhere. Krulik assumes an audience already familiar with the core set of books.’

She also has look at an unusual novel from a SF writer doing his only thriller: ‘Dead Man’s Brother is a delight to read — Roger Zelazny’s language and characters seem right at home in this genre — and regrettably over all too fast at less than 300 pages. If only more such jewels were left to unearth…’

LCat leads off a review in this way: ‘If you started listening to audiobooks over the past ten or so years, considered yourself to be extremely lucky as you’re living in a true Golden Age where narration, production, and ease of useless is extremely good. But long ago, none of that was something you could take as a given as it most decidedly wasn’t.’ Now read his review of Roger Zelazny’s Isle of Dead to see if this older audiobook transcended these limitations.

And he says ‘Roadmarks features a protagonist somebody is trying to kill as he moves along a time-travelling road. As one does. ‘Zelazny really didn’t do plots all that well, but he was gifted at developed unique characters and settings. So, like so many of his novels, this one’s true strengths lies in the unique nature of the setting, combined with the character development…’

The Ides of Octember: A Pictorial Biblography of Roger Zelazny is, I will note, ‘a bibliography which was prepared as part of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, a six volume undertaking, of which you’ll find the first volume, Threshold, reviewed here.’ Read his review on this bibliography which only diehard Zelazny fans or libraries with a strong  sf emphasis should consider buying, so quite naturally we have a copy.

Let’s not give away what happening in the story Lis reviews which is A Night in the Lonesome October: ‘Snuff is our narrator, here, and he’s a smart, interesting, likable dog. He’s the friend and partner of a man called Jack, and they are preparing for a major event. Jack has a very sharp knife, which he and Snuff use in gathering the necessary ingredients for the ancient and deadly ritual that will be performed on Halloween.’

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

While poking around in the back reaches of the Library, he also ran across an old favorite, Roger Zelazny’s collection The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories: ‘Although he published his first story in the early 1950s, Roger Zelazny didn’t really impact the science fiction scene until 1963. That’s when I remember reading “A Rose for Eccelsiastes” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (with their best cover ever illustrating Zelazny’s story). He followed it up the next year with the title story of this collection, which won him his first Nebula award. Zelazny and his contemporaries went on to become the American branch of science fiction’s New Wave, and pushed the envelope until it was altered beyond recognition.’

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Reynard had the story of Irish coffee: “ Let me tell the tale of Irish coffee while I fix you one. It is said the very first Irish coffee was invented by Joseph Sheridan, a barkeep at an airbase located in Foynes, a small town in the West of Ireland.”

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Gary, the music editor, here. In new music, I reviewed a new release Birds & Beasts by one of my favorite groups. ‘As much as it has depicted desert landscapes, the music of SUSS has essentially been inward looking. Reflective of the effects of those landscapes on the artist’s eye and ear. With their fifth full length release, the ambient country masters turn outward to revel, in their subtle, introspective way, on the creatures that populate the world around them.’

Another new one is from one of my favorite singers, Jake Xerxes Fussell’s When I’m Called. ‘Common elements of the human condition — the passage of time, mortality, and especially themes of travel and wandering — run through the nine songs on this LP, all delivered in Fussell’s melted-butter baritone.’

I also enjoyed new music from Cuban band leader and cuatro virtuoso Kiki Valera, an album called Vacilón Santiaguero. ‘This is the summer album I didn’t know I was pining for. It takes me back about 20 years to when the world and I were very into Son Cubano, but rather than an exercise in nostalgia, Vacilón Santiaguero feels and sounds vibrant and fresh.’

It being just after Independence Day in Ameria, I delved into the Archives intending to compile some reviews on the themes of liberty and freedom, but ended up with a big batch of Irish (and a little Welsh) music! Go figure.

Christopher Woods wrote up Dragons Milk and Coal, the second studio album put out by the Welsh band Bluehorses. ‘Anyone who likes loud, lively, fun, slightly punk-flavoured pub style folk-rock will simply love any of the Bluehorses albums. They are all very good. This one however is the best yet, and to my mind, it’s up there with the likes of Oysterband and The Men They Couldn’t Hang for both its musicianship, and its blend of traditional and new.’

Chris White reviewed Paul Brady’s Nobody Knows: The Best of Paul Brady. ‘This retrospective collection pulls together tracks from over half a dozen albums, released through the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, and it demonstrates quite a wide assortment of material and musical styles. Ranging from traditional songs to slightly bluesy ballads, these songs sometimes tend towards a Van Morrison sound and at other times tend towards an almost mainstream, commercial sound.’

Jack Merry lovingly wrote up a career overview of The Pogues’ discography. ‘Once upon a time there was a band called The Pogues whose original name was Pogue Mahone, Irish Gaelic for “kiss my arse” before a BBC suit realized what it meant and said that they needed to change their name if the Beeb was to air their material. Pogue Mahone was indeed a good description of this band: their wild and drunken mix of trad material with the energetic kiss-off attitude of punk created a musical style that London and the greater world of rock ‘n’ roll had never seen.’

Jack also had some opinions about The Pogues’ live release Streams of Whiskey, over which there was some controversy over whether it should’ve been released. ‘This was obviously a truly fantastic concert and everyone is having the time of their lives. No one gives a shite if the vocals are good, or if the instruments on key. All the cuts here together make for an impressive display of what the lads sounded like live. Only ‘The Fairytale of New York’ should’ve been here but isn’t.’

Jack also did an omnibus review of Black 47’s first six albums and an EP, in which he noted that ‘…Black 47 is the quintessential Irish-American rock ‘n’ reel band as it merges traditional material with the political and cultural consciousness of the newer Irish immigrants. All the usual themes are here — political angst, love, racism, violence, and redemption.’

Judith reviewed a new release of an old concert, Paul Brady’s The Liberty Tapes. ‘Both the sound and the lineup send a cheerful shiver of deja vu up the spine of a veteran listener or player. Brady sings as he does on the old Green Linnet LPs that have by now been played over and over, and it’s that same crisp winning sound that won us over way back when.’

Mike was enthusiastic about the latest from Black 47. ‘On Fire is a live recording of grand musical and engineering quality. Much of the energy came from the band’s playing to their own audience on their home court of New York City. We kick off with “Big Fella,” a tribute to Michael Collins, that has a rockin’ sax break. Second up is their own take on “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which proves that yes indeed, you can mix Dixieland, Irish riffs, the spoken word, and rock — if you but have the right trombone player.’

Peter, in his inimitable fashion, gave a positive review to Paul Brady’s The Paul Brady Songbook — the CD version, that is. ‘You might say this is really the album from the film of the book! In August 2002 RTE television, Ireland’s national TV station, filmed a six programme series featuring Paul’s music, called The Paul Brady Songbook. This was shown only in Ireland, from October through December of that year. This album is a selection of those recordings. I understand there is also a three-hour DVD available of the entire series of programs. Just to confuse you it is also called The Paul Brady Songbook.’

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Our What Not is Kim‘s writeup of Keoghs Irish Pub, her favorite pub in her hometown of Toronto. She says the owners have made ‘community building seem effortless, and have built the relatively new (circa 1997) pub into a hub for celebrating Irish culture in North America. The bar and its patrons are friendly, and some of the session night regulars appear to be stalwarts of the local Irish music scene. This is no age ghetto either — regulars range from pensioners to young, and often easy on the eyes, patrons in their 20s. The decor is tasteful and simple, not too dark, and the fireplace and kitchen add a bit of warmth, while the snug creates a spot for quiet conversation.’

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So the Infinite Jukebox, our somewhat fey media server, has a song written and performed by Johnny Cash’s daughter, Rosanne,  that shows that she’s every bit as great covering her own material as she is covering his material as she did here. This week it’s ‘Runaway Train’ which comes from the same Bimbos concert in San Francisco that January evening. It details the end of a relationship that may or may not have been about her own such ending but it’s certainly heartfelt.

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A Travels Abroad story: Truly Shitty Celtic Metal


They called themselves a Celtic metal band — they weren’t exactly metal, but I couldn’t in all honesty call it folk in spite of the fiddler, and they did certainly know how to mangle a jig or a reel all too well. Not that the crowd, after midnight on a warm summer evening, who thought they were of Irish extraction even if it was so diluted that it was more than a splash of water in a jigger of bad blended Irish whiskey, cared a flying fuck.

I was down London way on that evening as Ingrid, my wife who’s the Estate Purchasing Agent and our Steward, had business with a company doing extremely low impact river based hydro power that we hoped would give us more electricity at an affordable cost. (It was promising but they were five years out from selling the units, though we did end up as one of the test sites.) Neither of us is Irish but the Pub was near our hotel and it raining too steadily to venture far that night.

I lied earlier — they were truly shitty. And as drunk as the crowd was to boot, which was no mean feat. We stayed for a few minutes, got back to our hotel before the rain really came down, and traded stories for several hours with the Dublin-born and raised barkeep, who made a rather excellent Irish coffee.

Now it is possible to combine Celtic and metal successfully, though it rarely gets done. If you care to hear two bands taking a piss while doing so, go find Thin Lizzy, the Irish rockers from the Seventies, playing ‘Whiskey in a Jar’ — not bad at all despite Phil Lynott’s truly shitty voice, but far better is Metallica’s cover, which features the ballsy voice of James Hetfield. And the best blending of rock music with Irish traditional music is most everything done by the Irish group Horslips.

Now I must leave you, as I want to listen as the Neverending Session play the John Playford composition, ‘Drive the Cold Winter Away’, which was done by Horslips here.


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What’s New for the 23rd of June: A special edition for the Solstice, Wales in literature and music, and yes, in film.

She’s looking for the music. She can hear it but she can’t find it. There are candles everywhere. Some parts of the room are low-ceilinged and high-cushioned, just right for kissing and gossip and splitting a bottle. Some parts are ballroom-size. The floor slopes down, away from the stone ceiling. Dawn trips a little, blames the drink. The bass gongs through her blood, a fiddle skirls, the faraway downbeat (alone of a tinny fusillade) cracks two glasses touching, a false blow, ting! Not in this room. Nor the next.  — Jennifer Stevenson’s ‘Solstice’


So, Midsummer has just come and gone, but summer’s not an event that disappears once the presents are opened. No, now we’re in the golden eternity, that endless perfect afternoon that arcs from June to September, a rainbow in every shade of heat. The air smells of forges and plums, cool water becomes a lover, and the best room in any house is the bower under a tree. The oaks are favoured for the best shade, one of the apricot or peach trees for snacks, or the rose arbors for the sheer overpowering delight of the perfume. With, of course, a book or three.

It’s that way here on the Kinrowan Estate, of course. Most of the staff are either out under the trees all day, or down in the cellar making sure the ale doesn’t evaporate in the heat. Reynard says that’s both a public service and a public trust, and tries to restrict it to his own staff; but when the heat hits triple digits, a lot of us turn dwarf and head for that little iron-bound door to the down-below beside the bar. Imagine our mixed mob of thirsty mortals, nature spirits and semi-demi-hemi immortals, all trying to sidle unobtrusively down the cellar steps!

In defense, Reynard has posted the score sheets for the Summer Reading Club on the cellar door. MacKenzie and Lilith are the judges, of course. They keep a special cart in the hall outside, filled with select and unusual volumes: that’s the trick, see, you have to read and review whatever the two of them have put out there. MacKenzie, I think, is trying to educate the lot of us — Lilith, being fey, has a warped sense of humor and slips in the real oddities. At least, I think it was her who stocked the Domesday Book in the original Old English.

Next to drink, the regulars in the Pub like books best, so there’s hardly a one who won’t pause before he tries to dive down the stairs to check his standing in the ranks. There are dozens of little leather wallets hanging on that door, and every one in the Club has personalized theirs some way: poker work, horse brasses, Avery labels, glowing eldritch script. When someone finishes a book, they add a review to their wallet. Scores are kept for quantity, of course, but also for quality — a thoughtful analysis of Gus’s little monograph on iris corms got twice the points garnered for someone’s slapdash review of all 140 volumes of the North American Manticore Stud Registry.

And of course, a lot of the non-drinkers — well, people who drink less, anyway — are usually popping in to check their scores as well, so there’s a sort of automatic defensive cordon in front of the door. And not only are all the readers checking the master lists to see who has read what and how long it took them, most of them are trying to peek in someone else’s wallet to check out their latest effort as well. It’s all anyone can hope for to get an ale they actually ordered!

Of course, we all manage. You can’t keep us away from books or ale, not if those delights were guarded by the Summer Queen’s guards themselves! So sit you down and have one of each, and celebrate the summer with us. If you can’t make up your mind, Reynard will be happy to try the new season’s brew out on you; and you could do worse than check out the tasty volumes on display in this edition.

Hail the Summer Queen!


Cat reviewed an Arthurian collection edited by Mike Ashley. ‘The Merlin Chronicles includes superb tales of magic and adventure, most specially written for this volume, ranging from short stories to complete novellas — including a Robert Holdstock piece, “Infantasm,” which I can’t find anywhere else. Their common theme is the dark side of the Arthurian world, the realms in which Merlin and the magic of the old beliefs clash with what Arthur thought he was creating.’

He wasn’t persuaded by the thesis of Kath Filmer-Davies’s Fantasy Fiction and Welsh Myth: Tales of Belonging. ‘What she does not prove to my satisfaction is that “Welsh stories, used with skill by accomplished story-tellers, break down cultural barriers, establish humanity as one family, remove our deepest fears and fill us with assurance and hope.” It’s a pity that that was the thesis of Fantasy Fiction and Welsh Myth: Tales of Belonging, as it has some cracking good stuff in it that is not related to the thesis.’

I (Iain) reviewed the audiobook edition of Alan Garner’s The Owl Service when it came out a decade back: ‘Listening to The Owl Service as told by Wayne Forester, who handles both the narration and voicing of each character amazingly well, one is impressed by his ability to handle both Welsh accents and the Welsh language, given the difficultly of that tongue, which make Gaelic look easy as peas to pronounce by comparison.’

Jo Morrison reviewed Jeffrey Gantz’s The Mabinogion, and Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones’ The Mabinogion, and had some advice on which to choose. ‘This proves difficult indeed, for although they both relate the same stories, their differences are profound and pronounced. The Everyman edition is more poetic, with flowery language and more ancient ways of speaking. The text is comparable to reading the King James version of the Bible, both in tone and in word choice. The Penguin edition is more modern, reading like contemporary stories. It is easier to follow for the modern ear, but loses some of the mystique lent by the older translation.’

Kim gave a rave review to Alan Garner’s opus. ‘The Owl Service is one of those books I found transformative as a young person. It also set me on the path to the original tales of the Mabinogi, and provided new insights on their worldview. I admire Garner’s courage in moving beyond the good and evil morality tales that simplify issues for children.’

Kim gives a gracious review to Donna R. White’s coverage of the Malbinogion, A Century of Welsh Myth in Children’s Literature. ‘White delivers a very competent discussion of both Garner and Alexander, particularly the influence of poet Robert Graves’s White Goddess on both authors, and includes enough interview material to satisfy adult fans looking for a reason to revisit these works.’

Next up, Kim turned in her own massive omnibus review of The Malbinogion in literature, including many of the works of Lloyd Alexander and Evangeline Walton. ‘The Mabinogion has inspired many other writers, such as Alan Garner and Susan Cooper (see her The Dark is Rising series), in creating compelling fiction for young adults. The material provides an early glimpse of the themes that inspired the Arthurian romances, and shows an early European worldview that shares a lot more with the Nordic myths than with the Mediterranean.’

She also gives high marks to the audio versions of three books by Lloyd Alexander, The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, and The Castle of Llyr audiobooks, as read by James Langton. ‘I heartily recommend these audiobooks as an antidote to discontent on long car rides, and as a lure for Alexander’s writing. Like the printed books, these offer both insight and delight, drawing on classic mythology, coloured with the best of American sensibilities. These heroes struggle with themselves as much as with any external foes, and when they triumph, there is a place for them in a world where people are tolerant and sensible.’

Lisa had some quibbles with John Matthews’ The Song of Taliesin: Tales from King Arthur’s Bard. ‘In many cases Matthews has substantially fleshed out, altered or “improved” his sources where they might, in the frequently poor translations he relies on, have appeared obscure or corrupt. In some cases, in a desire to fit very different traditions into a coherent philosophical system, Matthews depends too much on more modern assumptions from Wicca (typified by frequent generic references to “the goddess”) and New Age esoteric mysticism — more than I, for one, am comfortable with in a Celtic context…’

She had more than quibblers with Matthews’ Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman, which she criticized thus: ‘…in its mingling of outdated with current, of academic scholarship with New Age wishful thinking, the free-ranging combining of texts from different sources, and an excess of unsupported assertions, the book is not at all reliable in a scholarly sense.’

One of our diverse authors reviewed Audrey L. Becker and Kristin Noone’s Welsh Mythology and Folklore in Popular Culture. ‘The editors make some large claims for the influence of Welsh mythology and legends on modern popular culture in their introduction, “Re-Imagining Wales,” which does make one important point: the Wales of the Mabinogi, the central body of Welsh myth, is not the “real” Wales.’

Rebecca gives three thumbs up to Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. ‘In short, these novels are everything the Arthurian legend should be. They are full of noble characters and great deeds, and deep emotion without sentimentality. They are dignified and graceful, and they leave the reader in no doubt as to why the legendary Arthur is still remembered today.’


Jennifer offers chilaquiles for breakfast on a hot summer morning. No, really. When your ears are sweating a little, you don’t notice the heat outside so much. Your clothes smell delicious all day. Takes ten minutes. Any lucky soul who shares your breakfast with you will roll over with their paws in the air and love you for a solid week afterward.


Take a number of well-known musicians, toss in fans and a camera crew, put all on a train traversing Canada. That was the intent of the 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.’

In new music, Gary gives a glowing review to Linda Thompson’s Proxy Music. ‘What do you do when you have a heart (and a notebook) full of songs but can’t sing them yourself? Well, if  you’re Linda Thompson and you have connections to (and are beloved by) several generations of musicians on both sides of the Atlantic, you sign up a bunch of them to play and sing them. By proxy, as it were.’

He also reviewed some new jazz. ‘Melodic, rhythmic, replete with lush harmonies and head-turning improvisation, Tarbaby’s You Think This America is just about everything I want in a jazz record.’

And from his personal archives with just a touch of a tie-in to Wales, Gary looks back at a favorite classic album, Deep Purple’s Book of Taliesyn, which he says ‘was definitely of its time, and this was not the version of Deep Purple that went on to mega-stardom with a string of hits that started with “Smoke On The Water.” But there are a lot of ideas here that were fresh at the time, some remarkable arrangements, a rhythm section capable of working a deep groove, and two extraordinary soloists in Lord and Blackmore.’

From our Welsh Music Archives, Huw was disappointed by Telyneg’s Nadolig Yng Nghymru (Christmas In Wales). ‘Overall, I have to say that, for me, the CD’s constant mixture of spoken word and music doesn’t work. It’s occasionally entertaining on the first listen. On repeated listens, though, it is irritating. To be positive, Bowen’s harp music is wonderful. I would have been happy to listen to an entire CD of it. The songs are a bit of a mixed bag, with the selection of modern and traditional songs in two languages lacking any real sense of coherence.’

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.’

Kim says ‘Carreg Lafar’s second album, Hyn … “combines great vocals and tasteful arrangements of Welsh traditional music, along with some nice originals, in a mix that seems slightly medieval and mysterious, while at the same time anchored with contemporary folk sensibilities.’

She also had very nice things to say about Pigyn Clust’s Perllan (Orchard). ‘This is an exquisite album. It’s difficult to decide whether the instrumentals or the vocals are more compelling — rest assured that both are lovely, and the combination is at once exciting and restrained. This disc will appeal both to fans of Celtic and early music, who will probably find it difficult to remove from the CD player.’

Kim also reviewed a brace of Welsh music recordings, from Crasdant, Gwerinos, Ogam, and two various artists’ collections, Welsh Choirs Sing Folk, and the Rough Guide to the Music of Wales. ‘Not surprisingly, these albums boast some fine vocal performances, and some interesting similarities with related Celtic and European traditions. There is both the call-and-response singing and the interesting harmonies that one would expect in a land of choirs. There are also some very fine female vocal performances, all with a distinctive style that is quite different that of neighboring Ireland, Scotland and England.’

‘I have always had a weak spot for Welsh music,” Lars admits. ‘It may not be as instantly catching as Irish or Scottish music, but once you start to dig into it, is equally rewarding. For those new to the music on this path, Ffynnon’s Celtic Music from Wales is as good a place as any to start. They are a little less traditional in their approach than groups like Calennig or Ar Log, but are a fine way to start developing a taste for what could be considered as the little sister of Celtic music. Full Welsh lyrics with English translations add to the experience.’

Lars reviewed Calennig’s homage to the music of trad singer Phil Tanner. ‘But A Gower Garland is much more than just a re-recording of songs collected from Tanner. It is a tribute to the culture of a small part of south Wales. Tems and Carron-Smith have done their research very well. They have dug deep into the local traditions, picking songs to show different faces of the life of Old Gower. And each song is accompanied by a detailed description of where the song comes from and what it was used for.’

He also reviewed two various artists’ compilations, The Music of Wales, The Folk Collection, and The Music of Wales, The Classic Collection. ‘Together these albums present a nation’s musical heritage. They provide a fine starting point for anyone wishing to get musically acquainted with Wales. They also serve well as a souvenir from the country, which according to its people would be larger than England if you flattened out all the mountains and hills.’

Peter had high praise for the live album Once Upon A Winter’s Night by Yardarm Offa. ‘The quality of the recording is excellent; indeed if not for the audience singing the choruses, it would be hard to distinguish it from a studio recording. But the band singing live and responding to the reaction and mood of the audience as they are enjoying the songs and joining in, is a joy to behold. It lifts the band, and you get that extra sparkle in the performance that is impossible to recreate in a cold studio recording. This is true folk music, as it should be, and what you hear in a real folk club.’

Peter enjoyed Trefor & Vicki Williams’s Timeless Land. ‘The duo seem to have found their own niche in the spectrum of folk performers, with Vicki taking the lead on vocals. All the songs are performed softly and honestly with an effective simplicity that makes for good listening. Probably what you might expect to hear in a U.K. folk club.’

Tim was pleased with a couple of Welsh discs, Llio Rhydderch’s Melangell, and Boys From The Hill’s Boys From The Hill. ‘Welsh music isn’t something that’s easily found, at least not where I live. I have found that it’s usually worth the effort when I do manage to track some down. I was thrilled to hear these two discs. One documents an old, but still extant tradition. The other is more contemporary in sound, but the influence of that tradition is heard throughout.’

Vonnie Carts-Powell reviewed a batch of Welsh CDs that contained some overlap, starting with a compilation she liked very much. ‘The various artists’ compilation from Sain was an invaluable aid to gaining some clue about the state of Welsh folk music. Goreuon Canu Gwerin Newydd (The Best of New Welsh Folk Music) is a sampler of 18 tracks by 15 Welsh groups, including the hilarious reggae interpretation of Welsh sea chanty “Flat Huw Puw” by Gwerinos.’


We’re still processing the loss of Canadian troubadour Gordon Lightfoot just over a year ago in May 2023. To celebrate the Solstice, here’s a live recording of his ‘Summertime Dream’ from a 1979 live broadcast on PBS’s Soundstage program.


We all tell stories and Jennifer Stevenson tells a great one in ‘Solstice’ which Grey reviews for us here: ‘The reader somehow senses that everything Dawn sees, each action she takes, even her name, has a deeper significance. She’s not just playing for a great party, she’s playing to keep a shrinking, fading man alive on the longest night. And if it’s an over-the-top, splendid bash that keeps the sun alive for another year, well, human beings believed that for a very long time. Maybe this story will help us remember some of what we’ve forgotten.’

You can hear the author splendidly reading  ‘Solstice’ here. You can read the story thisaway.

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A Kinrowan Story: The Oak King


Oak King story as told by The Old Man

We’ve had human Oak Kings down the years such as Aurthur Rackham, and in more recent years, Charles de Lint and Christopher Golden, but he was most decidedly was not human though his glamour would be a proper guise for most humans not to know that when looking at him.

He was made of roots, leaves and a skeletal structure not of bone, but of living oak. Seen without his guise, he resembled a tree trying to be human in appearance and not coming that close as his proportions were simply wrong — too many joints in the limbs, shoulders too wide and even a skull that even I found painful to look at. He had no eyes but could obviously sense the world around him; no ears nor mouth either. It sounded like a riddle I’d had been told  by a Norn centuries upon ago.

When I looked even closer at him, I could see that everything on the surface of him was moving visibility — leaves rusting though there be no breeze here in the Pub, branches and roots questing for something, and his whole being pulsing with eldritch energies. Damn he was unsettling even to my ravens who were perched in the rafters.

(I’ve never told the humans who live on this Estate that the Pub itself stands on a crossroads between here and somewhere else as some of them have enough trouble sleeping as it is without knowing that.)

My luck must have been slightly cursed that late evening as he shambled towards me. I sighed deeply, put away The History of Raven Kings I’m reading and turned towards this being. I inclined my head slightly towards him as I bow to no one, human or otherwise. He, not being human, didn’t notice my intended rebuff.

A voice entered my head, deep and somehow akin to dry oak leaves rustling in a Winter wind. A voice I’d rather not have heard ever asked me a question that I could not answer, nor really wanted to know that the question existed. Even My Ravens were visibly quite agitated by the question.

Emotions flushed rapidly through me from him — irritation, anger, puzzlement, even sadness And then he was simply gone. Not there. As if he’d never been here. I quickly wrote notes of this encounter and sketched him out in detail in my Journal as I knew deep in my bones that I’d forget all of this within minutes if I didn’t.

Now what were we talking about? Do remind me…


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What’s New for the 9th of June: Some beach reads — dark fantasy, superhero romance, comic fantasy and teen aliens; Finnish fiddles, Swedish-American jazz, and an Earl Scruggs tribute, and a grab bag of archival music; glam rock on film; an Alan Moore tribute

We keep our cats as happy as we can. Anna Nimmhaus


Whats Iain drinking, you ask? That’s Mozart dark chocolate liqueur.


Cat reviewed the first two books in a dark fantasy series by Stephen Dedman, The Art of Arrow Cutting, and Shadows Bite. ‘While I can argue that both Batman and Grimjack are anti-heroes, that cannot be argued of our hero in this universe, Michelangelo ‘Mage’ Magistrale, a footloose photographer who wishes to avoid trouble at all costs, and whose idea of a relationship is a zipless fuck. Unfortunately for him, this relatively banal existence is about to end. Ancient evil will soon cause him endless grief!’

Denise got her kicks with Larry Doyle’s Go, Mutants!, which sends up mid-century SF tropes, teen angst and just about everything else. ‘This mish-mash of history, B-movie mayhem and slapstick might have turned into a real mess if it wasn’t done properly. Luckily, Larry Doyle has a way with the subject matter, and a seemingly limitless knowledge of mid-20th century history and culture. As with Joss Whedon, I wonder what the author’s life was like back in high school. It couldn’t have been pretty.’

Michael Hunter enjoyed Jennifer Estep’s Jinx, part of a series blending superhero action and romance. ‘I’ve loved this series so far, and have grown quite fond of the setting and the characters. Jinx is quite enjoyable, a worthy installment to the Bigtime Books. Estep demonstrates an admirable adeptness at blending genres, respecting the demands of superhero comics and romances without missing a beat, all the while maintaining a sense of humor.

Michael Jones had a good time reading Robert Asprin & Jody Lynn Nye’s License Invoked, a tasty morsel of Big Trouble in the Big Easy modern fantasy. ‘It’s a fun and quick read with engaging characters, a familiar but enjoyable premise, and plenty of potential for sequels. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see more of Boo-Boo and Liz, as the chemistry between them shines and carries the story along swiftly. This may not be the most complex or sophisticated novel of the year, but once I started it, I couldn’t put it down.’


It’s cherry season, and it’s beer season, so we’ll let Denise tell us about Council Béatitude Cherry Tart Saison. ‘Cherry Tart is a Saison that thinks it’s a Sour. There’s lovely sour here, which compliments the notes of cherry perfectly. Even a bit of cherry pie vibe. Sour cherry pie. Because there’s strong sour cherry here. Which I adore, but that much pucker may not be for everyone. Especially folks ordering a Saison.’


In the Archives, Kimberlee brought us a hybrid review of film and music, covering Todd Haynes’s glam rock cult classic Velvet Goldmine, and David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and The Man Who Sold The World. ‘The film’s characters are outrageous and fascinating. The dialogue is sassy and cheeky. Though all the players are dynamite, the great favorite has to be McGregor’s Curt Wild. Watching Ewan thrash nude onstage, then play out his hysterical role as a stoned June Cleaver bringing Brian Slade cocktails and slippers as part of their manager Jerry’s (Eddie Izzard) publicity hype, is just too much fun.’

IMG_0272April admitted she wasn’t Alan Moore’s biggest fan, but she really enjoyed smoky man & Gary Spencer Millidge’s 50th birthday tribute Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman. ‘There’s a certain fascinating joy at discovering Moore’s work through the lens of others’ talent, vicariously soaking in what it is about him that inspires them. Their own delight and awe is infectious and I find myself wanting to give From Hell another try (as well as hunt down copies of his other work). While this is not the sort of book you would read straight through from cover to cover, it lends itself to opening to a random page and reading an essay here, admiring a two page inked comic there and otherwise enjoying the contents at your own pace and direction.’


In new music, Gary reviews Finnish fiddle music on Duo Emilia Lajunen & Suvi Oskala’s Toisjalkainen. ‘The duo of Emilia Lajunen and Suvi Oskala are known in their homeland and elsewhere around the globe as masterful interpreters of the historical fiddle repertoir of central Finland. Just by playing this music, both the well known repertoire and compositions they unearth while delving through archives, Emilia and Suvi are breaking ground as women performing music traditionally played only by men.’

He had very good things to say about The Mavericks’ Moon & Stars, which he says ‘ … is the music you put on as the cookout is winding down on a perfect summer night, the music to chill with as you finish that final beverage and talk quietly with your friends as you watch the light fade and the stars come out. It’s pleasant, soulful Latin-tinged Americana that just doesn’t wear out its welcome.’

Gary also enjoyed EarlJam: A Tribute To Earl Scruggs, with banjo legend Tony Trischka leading a stellar cast of bluegrass, oldtime, and Americana players and singers. ‘The 15 songs on this generous album were among some 200 informal recordings that modern bluegrass legend John Hartford made when he and his old friend Earl Scruggs got together (mostly at Earl’s house) to jam, over a period of several years beginning in the mid-1980s.’

And Gary reviews a big band jazz album, Evolver, from a tentet led by bassist and composer Bruno Råberg. ‘With Evolver he returns to the large ensemble format, this time with a tentet of top talent plus remarkable special guests pianist Kris Davis and tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III. It’s a complex, multi textured affair, swinging from melodic to highly experimental, bluesy to modal, jazzy to near classical, and back again.’

From the Archives, Alistair reviewed three albums by Aly Bain: First Album, Lonely Bird, and Follow the Moonstone, the latter with The BT Scottish Ensemble. ‘These three recordings have all been on the music shelves for some years now, and should certainly be in the library of every lover of traditional fiddle music. Taken together, they cover a wide range of material, including Shetland, Scottish, Irish, Quebecois, and U.S. traditions, a number of recent compositions, and a set of symphonic arrangements on traditional themes. Only the English get passed over! They are a fine showcase for a musician at the peak of his abilities, with all the passion, sensitivity and eclecticism that are his hallmarks.’

Chris reviewed the eponymous CD by American singer-songwriter Kreg Viesselman. ‘In short, Kreg Viesselman is a somewhat gruff voiced singer whose great strength is the ability to craft story songs that combine honest emotions with poetic yet accessible language. He’s a damn fine guitarist and harmonica player, too.’

Gary reviewed what apparently was the only album by the U.K. based Téa Hodžić Trio. ‘Stay Awhile is a beautiful album of mostly traditional songs from the Balkans. These three musicians perform with a superb sense of connection, working closely to bring out every drop of emotion in these often hyper-emotional songs, while never overplaying or over-emoting.’

Judith gave high marks to The Stones of Callanish, a folk opera written by Les Barker, set to traditional Scottish music, and delivered by a stellar cast of musicians and singers. ‘Les Barker, so used to writing witty puns, is also a wonderful writer of serious material, and so good at selecting traditional tunes and fitting lyrics to them. Much of this excellence lies in his perception of complex meaning and sound of words in lyrics, a skill that bypasses so many contemporary songwriters. On the other hand, the traditional Scots material is so good, he doesn’t have to worry about finding great tunes!’

Mike was pleased with the music on a long-anticipated album from Mary Black. ‘Full Tide is Mary’s first full studio album since 1999’s Speaking With The Angel. This uncharacteristically long break from the recording studio had long-term fans of Mary worrying that she had nothing left to say and was perhaps losing interest in making music. Full Tide is a strong statement to counter any such fears, and is a timely reminder that Mary is still one of the finest voices to come out of Ireland.’

Peter turned in a short omnibus review of music that’s startlingly varied: ‘For this review I decided to pick, purely at random, four CDs from the Green Man Review mailroom’s “orphans pile” and see what they have to offer. None of these artists are known to me, so with a virgin ear and a blank canvas, I set out.’ See what he thought of Lucie Idlout’s E5-770, My Mother’s Name; Liza Garelik’s Liza Garelik and The Wonderwheels;
BenJammin’s Shining From Inside; and Dave Rowe’s By The Way.

He also enjoyed a live album from an obscure folk group, The Skirlers’ Cutting the Bracken. ‘Take Lorraine Kelly and Marion Storey both on fiddles, add Allen Bowling on highland and border pipes, Bob Smith on vocals, mandolin, guitar, tin whistles and bodhran, Chic Judge on highland pipes and vocals, and Tom Docherty on guitar and vocals, and there you have it — Celtic folk music blended in a single malt style. But is this the real thing from Scotland? Err, not exactly — the album was recorded live at The Golden Lion public house in Prittlewell, Southend.’

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Chasing Fireflies


Come on in, you’re just in time! We haven’t started yet… don’t just stand there in the doorway, come in, come in! We have a contradance planned for tonight. I’m Kate, one of the assistant cooks here, but I’m also a dance caller. Grab yourself a seat for now, we’ll start soon. The band has to finish tuning, and… oh, there’s a fiddler missing! Would someone go roust Béla out of the pub?! I’ve danced without a fiddler before, but it just seems to lack something. As I was saying, as soon as Béla graces us with his presence, and the band finishes tuning, we’ll walk through the first dance. You’ll need a partner, of course; go ask one of those fine people sitting over by the fire. Go on, just ask! Yes, you can do this, it’s very easy. It is so! It’s just walking to music is all, for want of a better term. Well, mostly, anyway. But don’t you worry, the other dancers will help you.

Still no sign of Béla, eh? Who went to fetch him?

It’s that new porter that’s been tapped in the pub, I’m sure. Béla’s developed quite a taste for it. You should give it a try yourself, but after the dance, please. You’re certain to have quite a thirst then. Ah, I see some of the wallflowers have left their chairs and are headed this way. Looks like you’ll dancing this first one after all! Very good, now if you and your partner would fall in down at the end of the set, because I think I see Béla coming in…

Now, everyone, take hands in groups of four, starting at the top of the set. Odd numbered couples are active, even are inactive. Actives, change places with your partner, please. Let’s dance ‘Lady of the Lake.’ Actives meet in the center of the set with a balance and swing. Now promenade down the middle. Turn alone and come back… cast around. Do a ladies chain over… and back. Now balance and swing with that person below… and you should have progressed and be ready to meet in the center again. You’ve got it! Now, everyone back to place and we’ll dance this one with the music. Béla, if you please…


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What’s New for the 26th of May: Taza Chocolate, June Tabor live (twice), music books, remembering a beloved Irish singer, a beloved Canadian singer, and more

Things are bound to get a whole lot worse before they can get any better. Let’s have a drink. — Robert Heinlein’s “Logic of Empire”


I’m Jill, one of many, many House Jacks and Jills here down the centuries. Some doubt that we really exist, and insist that we are but a story spun by tellers of tales very late at night in hopes of garnering one more pint, a few more coins and hopefully a warm bed. I’ve no doubt that I exist, but that proves nought, as I might be just part of that tale someone else is telling…

What is true, what is not, largely depends on what you wish to believe in. And what I’ve been thinking about lately is how easy it is for that which is not real to be taken for that which is. And how things refuse sometimes — or ofttimes — to fit into neat little categories. Like we Jacks and Jills, they defy easy definition. All I know for sure is that all of us are an aspect of the same narrative.

So books are stories of course, but so music in its own be it instrumental or spoken. An Irish reel such as “Toss the Feather” and “Banish Misfortune” The latter has  a long history  when the first version was written down from 1850 when Edward Cronin played it and it  was ltranscribed and then  published in a famous compendium of Irish tunes.

All of our food carries with a history with going back centuries, if millennia. The Babka is a sweet bread often made with chocolate. Its original name was baba which means “grandmother.” But as time went on bakers made smaller loaves, so they started calling it babka, meaning “little grandmother.” This dessert originated in Easter Europe in the 19th century within Jewish communities.

The first illustrated story?  Egyptologists have discovered the oldest copy of what is being called the world’s first illustrated book, a 4,000-year-old edition of the “Book of Two Ways,” an ancient Egyptian guide to the afterlife considered to be a forerunner to the “Book of the Dead.” Cool, eh?

I could go on and talk about puppets, tarot cards, children’s toys and other things we’ve reviewed over the decades, but I think I’ve made the point I wanted to which is everything has a story if you know where to look for it, so do so and you’ll be please for doing so.IMG_0272

Not surprisingly, we’ve reviewed a lot of biographies and autobiographies about both performers and bands. So let’s pull a few of  those reviews from the Archives…

Remember ‘Hotel California’ which The Eagles did? (This performance of it is from their concert at the LA Forum back in 1980.)  Well, David looks at what’s likely the definitive book on them and that circle of Southern California musicians: ‘Subtitled the true life adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and their many friends, Barney Hoskyns’ Hotel California is exactly that: a chronicle of the heady days of the singer-songwriter era, when songs became diary entries, and radio listeners learned more about the artists’ sex lives, drug use, and political interests than we had ever known before. Hoskyns captures them all, in all their egomaniacal glory!’

David says Julian Dawson’s and on piano… Nicky Hopkins: The Extraordinary Life of Rock’s Greatest Session Man is a great treat for readers: ‘Dawson has captured the man, the time, and the milieu very well. The life of a sixties (seventies, eighties, nineties) rock’n’roller is documented perfectly. The book reads easily, and the story is so engaging that time flies by.’

David also looks at Mark Brend’s biography of a late and very much missed rock ‘n’ roller: ‘Mark Brend has written the first biography of Lowell George, described in the sub-title as guitarist, songwriter and founder of Little Feat, but known by his fans (and that includes many of the musicians who worked with him) as “a real musician.” Yeah, he was the Rock and Roll Doctor but the self medication got to him and he passed away far too early, but he left behind a legacy of songs and music that live long afterward.’

Clay Eals’ Steve Goodman: Facing The Music, says Gary, is about someone whose lyrics you’ve likely heard: ‘Everybody knows one Steve Goodman song. The Chicago-born and -bred folksinger wrote “City of New Orleans,” the iconic ’70s song popularized by Arlo Guthrie. If that were the only thing he’d ever done, it would be enough, because it’s a great song, expressing universal truths in a tale set in a particular time and place. Its chorus of “Good morning, America, how are you? / Don’t you know me, I’m your native son,” perfectly captured the blend of confusion and optimism that reigned over the late 1960s and early 1970s in America, as a generation came of age that loved their country but felt alienated from some of its actions and beliefs.’

Howard Pollack’s Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man gets an insightful look by Gary: ‘Aaron Copland is the central figure in serious American music, and Howard Pollack has produced a biography worthy of the man. His treatment of Copland in more than 500 pages is reverential but never blindly worshipful, candid without being lurid, scholarly but rarely tedious.’

Jim Longhi’s Woody, Cisco & Me, says Rebecca, ‘is an entertaining account of three men’s adventures as mess-men in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. The Woody in the title is Woody Guthrie, the famous folksinger and labor organizer. Cisco is Cisco Houston, Woody’s organizing partner, who also sang and acted in Hollywood. The story is told by Jim Longhi, an Italian-American friend of theirs who went on to become a lawyer.’

And now for something completely different: Robert takes a look at a biography of a Canadia-American composer who had a big influence on modern music, Carol J. Oja’s Colin McPhee: Composer in Two Worlds, which as a biography is somewhat problematic: ‘Oja has done a remarkable job of filling in the outlines of McPhee’s life from interviews and his papers, but I’m not sure I can really consider this a “biography” in any real sense – it is much more about the music than about the man, and valuable for that. McPhee was, after all, a problematical character: forward-looking, to be sure, but ultimately, more influential as a source than as an example.’

For the story according to the man himself, Robert turns to McPhee’s own memoir, A House in Bali: ‘Colin McPhee, a Canadian-American composer who had much more influence on American music than the body of his music might indicate . . . , left behind two books that were as influential, if not more so, than his compositions: Music in Bali . . . and A House in Bali, a charming and perspicacious memoir of his years in Bali in the 1930s.’


Robert had the happy opportunity to sample another offering from Taza Chocolate, this time their Coconut Almond bar: ‘[T]his is one I can recommend for those times when you just have to have a little bit of chocolate — more than two bites verges on overwhelming, even for a confirmed chocoholic like me.’


Mattie brings us a film that memorializes the music of Irish singer Sean McCarthy late of Listowel, County Kerry. ‘Since his death in 1990 McCarthy has been honored there with the Sean McCarthy Memorial Weekend, which has been going from strength to strength since it started in 1991, and includes a trek through Killocrim bog, which he so loved. The “Weekend” has secured the immortality of his work within his community, but now it has been copper fastened for a wider audience by The Songs of Sean McCarthy, a video of 15 of his 160 songs sung by his friend and fellow Kerry-person Peggy Sweeney. The video covers a wide range of emotions, feelings and levels of consciousness, just as his songs did.


Sometimes the companion work to an awesome series is every bit as good as that series, as Cat tells us here: ‘The Art of The Mouse Guard is nearly three hundred and seventy pages of awesomeness and it’s packed with artworks such as sketches, pen and ink illustrations, and painted art. Let’s not overlook the photos of miniature sets of interiors and buildings that were used as references. Yes miniature sets of interiors and buildings were built by David Peterson to help him visualise the unique reality that his mice exist in.’


From the archives, Asher reviewed Aliens Alive, a live offering from Norwegian hardanger fiddler Annbjørg Lien. ‘This is a CD for fans: live cuts from the 2001 Norwegian tour; all of her other albums are represented, and there’s even some new material. Though Lien’s hardanger is the centerpiece, the band’s sonic integrity is due in part to including Väsen guitarist Roger Tallroth, as well as Norwegian guitar virtuoso Rolf Kristensen, keyboardist Bjørn Ole Rasch (of Bukkene Bruse), Hans Fredrik Jacobsen providing flutes, bagpipes, clarinet and oud, and Rune Arnesen and Per Hillestad driving percussion.’

David approved of a retrospective collection of the songs of Danny O’Keefe. ‘You probably remember Danny O’Keefe, if you know the name at all, as the performer of the all-time classic tune “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.” I think I have heard this song done by more pub singers than any other. And it still sounds good. This collection is subtitled “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.” One guesses that it’s there so prospective buyers will think, “Oh! I know that one!” But Danny O’Keefe has a lot more great songs, and Raven has selected a choice bunch for this collection.’

David was very much in favor of the Gordon Lightfoot Songbook box set. ‘A proper retrospective would deal with each of Lightfoot’s albums in turn, but the good people at Warner Archives/Rhino have created such a marvelous compilation in the four-disc Songbook that anyone interested in his career can simply dip into his life-work through this anthology. Released in 1999, Songbook is a model box-set.’

He also reviewed Beautiful, a compilation and homage by various Canadian musicians. ‘A group of (mainly) Canadian artists began work on a tribute album which would honour his lifework as a writer and singer of songs, and as a model for a couple of generations of musicians from the Great White North. Beautiful is the resulting labour of love, and it’s a winner from start to finish.’

Gary also got on the Lightfoot bandwagon, reviewing one of his all-time favorites, Don Quixote, which he’s owned since it was released in 1972. ‘I probably listened to it nearly exclusively for several weeks, and to this day as we near its 50th anniversary I can still sing along with every song and even sing most of them without the record going. It’s one of the classic albums of the era that I play most often even today.’

Michelle wrote up a lovely omnibus review of some early albums by Beth Nielsen Chapman including her debut self-titled album, You Hold the Key, Sand and Water, and Deeper Still. ‘Though sweet and controlled, Chapman’s voice isn’t particularly striking. Nor are her melodies easy to sing along with. It’s her words, emphasized by restrained, stately arrangements, which make her so extraordinary. They’re not sophisticated, witty rhymes, but intensely personal, heartfelt observations about love and loss.’


We’re not sure who wrote this Folkmanis review as our What Not this time, as that information does seem to have gone walkabout: Folkmanis has gained an excellent reputation in recent decades for its overwhelming array of puppets. The plushies range from eerily lifelike to utterly fantastical. Right now I’m holding the Sea Serpent Stage Puppet in my hand. Well, okay, I’m wearing it on my hand. . . is that so wrong?’


If there’s any voice that match the cool, strong feel of Grace Slick, it’d be in my not so humble opinion that of June Tabor, whom I’ve heard live and that we’ve reviewed many a time, including this review of An Echo Of Hooves. Now imagine that she performed Slick’s ‘White Rabbit’ with quite possibly the finest English folk rock band ever in the form of the Oysterband which has been reviewed here many, many times, including Ragged Kingdom which is their second second album with Taborr, the first being Freedom and Rain some thirty years ago.

Well you don’t need to imagine it happening as it did and you can hear ‘White Rabbit’ as performed by her and the Oysterband at City Varieties in Leeds on a November night some years back.

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A Kinrowan Estate Tale: A Restless Queen


I’m It was late at night when the green-cloaked storyteller told her tale. ‘ “Turning and turning in the widening gyre,” ‘ she said softly, quoting Yeats, ‘ “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; The center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

‘The Queen knew that all was lost — her kingdom, her people, even her gods were gone. Nothing had survived in a war that ended with the Queen and her opposite, the King, fighting each other on a battlefield of bones, of blood, of the smell of chaos itself.’

She went on, ‘Though they cut each other deep, oftimes to very bone, neither could die as their mutual hate kept them from dying. And the land itself died just a bit more with each blow that landed from their swords.’ She took a deep drink of our Autumn ale and continued, ‘Eventually the king dealt a blow from his broadsword that cleaved her left arm off. That didn’t kill her, but she cried for mercy and he granted it, so long as she left the Kingdom never to return. She did, and like a restless spirit, wanders the land looking for peace.’

She finished her drink and with her only arm fastened her cloak tightly about her before she left us wondering how history becomes legend and legend gives way to myth and eventually drifts through our lives like fog.


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What’s New for the 12th of May: a Terry Pratchett edition: Discworld and other worlds, adult fantasy, YA stories, and lit-crit; new Karelian, Canadian and Big Band music; and Smithfield Fair from the archives

Cats have a way of always having been there even if they’ve only just arrived.  They move in their own personal time.  They act as if the human world is one they just happened to have stopped off in, on their way to somewhere that is possibly a whole lot more interesting. — Terry Pratchett in “The Unadulterated Cat”


The Kitchen followed through on their promise to Béla to cook choucroute garnie, a hearty pork and cabbage dish… Actually it’s even better than usual as it’s garnished with homemade kraut that we did last year with cabbages we grew and cider we made here.

I’ve got a whisky that I think you should try, it’s Toiteach which is a wonderfully peaty single malt from the Bunnahabhain brewery. Served neat with neither water nor ice is how we do it as there’s no single malts here that shouldn’t be appreciated that way. If you’re interested in knowing more about Scots whiskeys, take a look at the review by Stephen of the late Iain Bank’s Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram as I believe it’s simply the best look at single drams ever done.

It’s our usually grey beginning to December here in the Scottish Highlands: rainy, cold and blustery winds to boot. Even the most diehard of Estate staff find going outside unless their duties require to do so are quite willing to stay inside. Iain’s has been keeping to his hiding spot and I myself are spending time off duty in the Kitchen quite content to play tunes and nosh on whatever the staff there feels we should be eating such as blackberry cobbler, the very last of the fresh fruits here.

So there’s no theme this edition, but rather is whatever the Editors found interesting with our usual mix of new materiel along with some older material from the Archivesinvluding all our book reviews being on works by Terry Pratchett. So let’s get started.


Christine got a big surprise when she read Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch after taking a break from Discworld for several years. ‘Discworld has changed since last I visited. There are still plenty of laughs to be had here, but they are almost overshadowed by the sheer darkness of this story, and by the remarkably sympathetic, shockingly un-bumbling lead character Sam Vimes. The man is actually deep. He’s sensitive, conflicted, intelligent, and I’ll be damned if he’s not a do-gooder! What’s going on here?’

Gary reviewed several Discworld books, including Thief of Time. ‘The book’s plot centers on one Miss Susan, a beloved school teacher in Ankh-Morpork who ignites her young students’ passion for learning. She also happens to be a human-immortal hybrid, the granddaughter of Death — you know, the skeleton guy in the hooded cape who sometimes carries a scythe? Her grandfather enlists her in a quest to stop a plot by The Auditors to halt time, thus ending the disturbances caused in their orderly universe by the pesky presence of people.’

He also read Pratchett’s first YA Discworld title: ‘The Amazing Maurice is a retelling of the Pied Piper legend (in fact the subtitle is The Pied Piper of  … Discworld?), told in Pratchett’s typically skewed way.’

Gary got a kick out of The Last Hero, the story of Discworld’s Cohen The Barbarian. ‘This one is special, since it’s illustrated by Paul Kidby, who has previously collaborated with Pratchett on book covers and calendars. It’s a big coffee-table book, loaded with gorgeous paintings of Discworld, drawings, sketches and hilarious renderings of the story’s characters and situations.’

And he especially enjoyed the 25th installment of Discworld in which the Printing Press is invented. ‘As a former newspaperman myself, I got a real kick out of a lot of the gags in The Truth. As a former journalist, Pratchett got a lot of details right. He also takes every opportunity to draw on many 20th century forms, from the detective novel to the newspaper movie about bumbling reporters and hardbitten editors.’

Kathleen found the U.S. publication of a facsimile edition of Pratchett’s first Discworld novel to be revelatory. Of The Colour of Magic, she says, ‘I first read this book in my callow 20s, and I dismissed it as a light piece of fluff, funnier than most fantasy (a definite plus) but derivative. I was wrong.’

She also reviewed one of Pratchett’s non-Discworld YA books, Nation. ‘This is a story of worlds ending. Everyone’s world ends differently, but sometimes those endings overlap, forcing the survivors to join forces. Eventually, too, new worlds begin. They are seldom what we expect them to be, and the world’s ending usually reveals that that world wasn’t what we thought it was, either.’

Kathleen beat the drum for Wintersmith, the third installment of Pratchett’s YA series that began with The Wee Free Men. ‘Wintersmith is a wonderful book, and I advise all adult fans of Pratchett to get it and read it. Give it to your children to read. Better yet, read it with your children. This is a story you can all happily share.’

Rachel had some thoughts about Pratchett’s YA novel The Wee Free Men: ‘…this review is mainly going to be of interest to two groups: those who have never read anything by him and are wondering if The Wee Free Men is a good starting point; and those doubtful fans who are wondering if the cutesy title and the fact that it’s marketed as a young adult novel mean that it’s dumbed down or less good than or different from his recent Discworld novels for adults. In order: yes, it’s a great introduction to Pratchett; no, it’s not dumbed down …’

She also reviewed the follow-up, A Hat Full of Sky. ‘Tiffany Aching is back. So are Granny Weatherwax and the Nac Mac Feegle. If that means nothing to you, be aware that I’m writing about the sequel to The Wee Free Men, in which young Tiffany Aching and a band of rowdy fairies rescued her sticky little brother from the Fairy Queen. A Hat Full of Sky stands on its own, but you should read the first book anyway; it’s good.’

She also found Monstrous Regiment unexpectedly weighty. ‘It’s funny as hell, especially if you’ve watched a lot of war movies or had slogans like “One blow, one kill” yelled at you by a sergeant or sensei. But it’s more a serious novel that also makes you laugh a lot than a comedy that has serious bits. Reading it is an enjoyable experience, but not a comforting one.’

Richard Dansky has been our most prolific Pratchett reviewer. He went in-depth on The Fifth Elephant when it was part of a campaign to release early Discworld books in the U.S. ‘As much as the dedicated Pratchettian (such as myself) may wish to rush into reading the story, the book itself demands attention, and causes consternation as well.’

He definitely enjoyed the book in which “music with rocks in it” comes Discworld. ‘Soul Music – the novel – rests pretty much in the middle of the Discworld canon. The story of a young druid named Imp Y Celyn who heads off to the big city to seek his fortune playing music, the novel is certainly enjoyable, but it lacks the marvelous inventiveness of The Colour of Magic or the emotional clout of Reaper Man. It is, however, funny as hell… ‘

He says there’s a lot going on in Hogfather. ‘That’s because the book is really the Disc’s take on all things Christmas, thinly disguised here as “Hogswatchnight.” Pratchett’s not about to let such a juicy target go by without peppering it from every angle he can. That’s not to say that Pratchett is anti-Christmas, indeed, far from it. But he clearly differentiates the spirit of the holiday from the way it is celebrated in some circles, and finds those celebrants wanting.’

Richard says it took a while for Pratchett to get around to skewering vampires. ‘One gets the suspicion that Pratchett’s been looking forward to this one, though, as Carpe Jugulum isn’t just a book about vampires on Discworld. It’s also a meditation on tradition, knowing your place, modernity, Goths, Highlander, parenthood, faith, religious crises, identity and most important of all, keeping your Igor happy. Got all that? No? Then read the book.’

Finally, Richard reviewed Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature, a book of literary criticism which he found mostly unsuccessful. ‘In their attempt to expose as many critical takes on Pratchett as possible, Andrew M. Butler, Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn have gathered together what can only be described as an encircling barrage of approaches. In some instances, the writing is incisive, insightful and useful in opening new approaches to reading Pratchett’s work. In others, it’s turgid, self-righteous and poorly supported, making one long for a good Edmund Wilson-style smackdown.

And then there’s Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett … Kathleen rejoiced when their early joint project Good Omens was put back in print. ‘Good Omens is a very funny, very serious book about the end of the world. The Antichrist has been born and is now 11 years old, and all manner of classically predicted phenomena are manifesting. Naturally, most of them are being ignored, misinterpreted or missed altogether. And since this is the work of Gaiman and Pratchett, there is a darkly comic twist to the action.’

Kelley then enjoyed the audio version of Pratchett and Gaiman’s (or Gaiman and Pratchett’s) Good Omens, though not without a few quibbles. ‘Despite my criticism of a few accents, I thoroughly enjoyed Martin Jarvis’s rendition of Good Omens. He met the challenge of a massive number of voices head on, always sounding as though he had a sly grin hidden away in the pit of his stomach.’

And Cat thoroughly enjoyed Gaiman’s screenplay for … well, not exactly Good Omens, although it’s related. It’s rare, and it’s actually called just A Screenplay. ‘It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, it reads like Neil at his very best. Stylistically, it’s similar to both Coraline and Wolves in the Walls. Unlike the War for the Oaks treatment where it really helps if you”ve read the novel, it stands on its own very nicely.’


Zina has a story for us about something quite wonderful: ‘For me, the inky little cups of Turkish coffee are exactly that — it’s not so much the coffee itself that’s so wonderful, but what tends to happen over the cups of it, even if I’m drinking it alone. I was in a tiny, tiny village in the pastoral English countryside visiting friends a bit ago, and after dinner we had Turkish coffee, some tunes, and a great deal of talking and laughing, in the lovely, warm, hospitable dining room of that unbelievably old house.’


Richard reviewed one of the animated adaptations of a Discworld story. ‘Wyrd Sisters is not a masterpiece. The animation is far too clunky for that. It is, however, a faithful, enjoyable rendition of the book, and neither Pratchett fans nor newcomers will find much cause to complain.’


In new music, Daryana gives us a fresh review of Mua, the second full-length release from the Karelian band Ilmu. ‘The album’s 13 tracks delve into the essence of primordial Earth, capturing the magic of nature’s dance and the raw beauty of life and death. Collaborations with artists like Saylyk Ommun and Tuomas Rounakari add depth to the sonic landscape, infusing traditional folk songs with a contemporary arrangements.’

Gary reviews some new Quebecois music: ‘Guitarist and singer Yann Falquet steps outside the familiar confines of Genticorum, the Quebecois folk trio in which he has recorded and toured for more than two decades, with a set of traditional songs on Les Secrets Du Ciel. Though it represents a slightly different direction than usually followed by Genticorum, his warm baritone vocals and textured guitar playing still feel familiar and comforting.’

Gary also enthusiastically reviews Canadian singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Abigail Lapell’s latest. ‘Anniversary is an album full of love songs and a certain amount of introspection as Lapell hits her 40s and ponders time, the past and the future, the present, and loved ones alive and ghostly.’

He also enjoyed the aptly titled Exuberance by Christopher Zuar Orchestra. ‘Exuberance is a sprawling, need I say exuberant chronicle of his relationship with the woman who’s now his wife, animation filmmaker Anne Beal. But don’t expect lush slow dances and waltzes; this is a clear eyed romp through the highs and lows (but mostly highs) of a relationship between two, as they say, “creatives.” ‘

From the Archives, our Jayme Lynn Blaschke turned in reviews of several releases by the prolific Louisiana-based Scottish folk band Smithfield Fair. We’ve pulled several from the archives including Cairdeas (Kinship), Highland Call, The Winter Kirk, Jacobites By Name, and Winds of Time. ‘Smithfield Fair is a band that has adopted a rustic, rugged sound that eschews glossy adornments or slick production and, for the most part, succeeds admirably,’ he says.

Jayme also enthused about Across the Water by the American Celtic band SixMileBridge. ‘Altogether, this former Houston band (now based on the U.S. East Coast) puts out a confident, vibrant sound that at times hints at a wide range of influences that include such notables as the Cranberries and Ashley MacIsaac. You can’t really say that there is a “SixMileBridge sound”; they’re all over the place, picking and choosing from a wide variety of musical traditions, with one song sounding nothing at all like the one preceeding it. And that, for what it’s worth, is a good thing.’

John O’Regan turned in an omnibus review of Celtic music with an international twist. ‘This omnibus review features bands from the UK, Ireland, Canada and the USA [including Smithfield Fair] whose basic approach would be to buck the obvious ideologies associated with Celtic music. Some have mixed lineups nationality wise, and others just like taking chances with the music and adding their own personal flavours to the brew. The fact that the bulk of the material on 90% of the seven CDs under review contains mostly all original material says enough for the personalised viewpoint expressed on things Celtic.’

Mike Stiles got into the Smithfield Fair act as well, reviewing their disc Burns Night Out! ‘For this CD they put on their best Broad Scots in homage to the immortal Robbie Burns. They pack 18 of his pieces into three-quarters of an hour, but nothing is rushed or short-changed as they put their unique stamp on the old familiar material.’


So lets us finish off with some choice music from Nightnoise, to wit ‘Toys, Not Ties’ which was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain, some thirty years ago. For more on this superb sort of Celtic band, go read our career retrospective here. Nightnoise had its origins in members of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae, august bands indeed, and also included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on What’s New for the 12th of May: a Terry Pratchett edition: Discworld and other worlds, adult fantasy, YA stories, and lit-crit; new Karelian, Canadian and Big Band music; and Smithfield Fair from the archives