A Kinrowan Estate story: Hrafnfreistuor (A Letter to Anna)


Dear Anna,

Did I tell you that Local 564 of the Ancient and Venerable Guild of St. Nicholas, which represents Santas, Santa’s helpers, department store elves, tree trimmers, candle lighters, professional gift wrappers, goose stuffers, roast chestnut vendors, plum pudding makers, sleigh drivers, carolers for hire, bell ringers, and related trades is here on their summer retreat? Local 564 covers all of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Border Counties of England so thy’ve been coming here for generations now.

The Several Annies from Europe are fascinated by their round bellies, wire-frame spectacles, and white beards which are quite real. One of them remarked that they were more jolly versions of Hrafnfreistuor, whom they find scary at times. Now in their defence, Hrafnfreistuor is built along the line of a mountain king in some dark story that a storyteller would describe in a tale late at night.

He’s been here far longer that I’ve been here and he ‘rents’ one of the guest rooms that we have here. No idea what he did once upon a time before he came to be here but now he spends hour upon hour drinking ale, the darker the better he claims, and writing in his leather bound journal with the embossed Yggdrasil on its cover. Though not someone who plays an instrument, he has a fine singing voice and can sing bloody well in English, Gaelic, Old Norse, and, not at all surprisingly, Icelandic. His is a deep voice, like thunder rolling in on a summer night.

He is more than a bit skilled at hedge witchery, a skill I admire. We’ve had long, rambling conversations while walking the Estate smoking our briar pipes about the proper juniper berries to make a good gin, which flowers make the best honey to use in mead, why birch bark is good brewed for a headache from too much ale and too little sleep, and why that tree should never be cut ever. It was uncanny to watch the Estate resident ravens follow him on all our walks over the past several decades.

He also assists my lads in cutting the winter firewood and he’s quite a sight with an axe! His personal axe must weight forty pounds and he can fell a tree of considerable girth in a few swift cuts. He also helped rebuild the dam on the mill pond — watching him pick up hundredweight stones and fit them just so is a sight to behold.

One summer, we hosted some Scottish revival games and he tossed the caber one-hand nearly fifty feet beyond anyone else could with two hands. And that night, he hosted a night of drinking, singing Scottish songs old when Bonnie Prince Charlie turned tail and ran, and telling stories of battles lost and love won.

So I told the apprehensive Several Annies that though he may look fierce, he’s a gentle giant. Iain’s only concern is that none of them take a shine to him as that’s not a path we want to tread down. That way lies a broken heart and possibly worse.

Affectionately Gus


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What’s New for the 26th of November: Music we’re thankful for; fairy tales and myths; a graphic novel about a pandemic; an Old Hag, a Piglet, Canadian television, and hot chocolate!

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
“It’s the same thing,” he said.


Now that was tasty!

I was grumbling yesterday morning to Mrs. Ware, our Head Cook here at the Estate that houses us, that porridge is often boring even if many here like it as Winter breakfast fare. (OR Melling actually found a way to make eating porridge sound cool.) She smiled and said to stop by the Kitchen ‘morrow morning as she had an idea.

So I came to the Kitchen the next morning early before it got too busy and discovered that I was being served thick soup made from rice and minced pork with interesting spicing, served along with green tea and a deep fried cruller. She said it was called canjii in Korean and a visitor showed her how to prepare this hearty meal years ago.

Now I knew that Korea has a millennia old cuisine with food traditions from a number of sources but I hadn’t actually had this traditional breakfast staple from there, as I spent my time overseas in India and Sri Lanka, which have a decidedly different cuisine.

Indeed the staple food for Koreans is rice, and specifically a particular type ofn short grain rice called sticky rice, because its grains stick together rather than falling apart. Mrs. Ware decided to use well-cooked brown rice as she likes the flavour better than the white rice used in Asia. It was a wonderfully tasty and quite filling breakfast.

Now I’m off to find her a copy of The Pooh Cook Book as she’s catering an all-day event for younger children from the School of The Imagination and she wants to do their meals as Pooh and company did them. I will of course review the book as well so you, our dear readers, can see how good the recipes are!


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

A novel gets a nod of approval from one of our Deborahs: ‘Fitcher’s Brides, by Gregory Frost, is one of the most recent additions to Terri Windling’s excellent brainchild, The Fairy Tale Series. As such, it shares shelf space with other such remarkable works as Briar Rose by Jane Yolen and Tam Lin by Pamela Dean. Fitcher’s Brides is, at its core, a retelling of Bluebeard, a cautionary fairy tale that warned against curiosity and temptation, for dark and potentially fatal secrets are hidden behind the locked doors of unknown husbands. While the original fairy tale seems to remove power from women in this regard, the version Frost here purports has a much more satisfying feminist slant to it.’

According to Denise, ‘Peter Dickinson takes the salamander of myth and gives it a new spin in The Tears of the Salamander. In 18th century Italy, young Alfredo is a promising singer in the church choir, and sings with the true love of one born to it. Soon though, he reaches the age where he must make a decision: to become a castrati and continue with the choir for his whole life, or to take his chances and hope his singing voice after puberty is as good as it had been before. As he weighs his decision, tragedy strikes. He is soon introduced to his Uncle Giorgio, a man whom he has never known and whom his father hated. Alfredo is whisked away to Sicily, where his uncle is the Master of the Mountain, a powerful man with the fire and fury of the mountain at his control.’

Eric looks at another book in Windling’s Fairy Tale Series: ‘In Briar Rose, Jane Yolen’s reinterpretation of the story of Sleeping Beauty, the reader is entertained in just this manner. Framed around Rebecca Berlin’s childhood memories of her grandmother’s repeated recital of Sleeping Beauty is a somber retelling of the myth with the Holocaust and the death camp of Chelmno as the setting. The book blends together two story lines in alternating chapters. In the odd-numbered chapters Rebecca’s grandmother tells her version of Sleeping Beauty repeatedly throughout the childhood of Rebecca and her two older sisters. The even-numbered chapters describe the adult Rebecca’s journey to discover the truth behind her grandmother’s claims that the story was real and that she was the princess in it. The two tracks run in parallel, with each segment told by Rebecca’s grandmother keeping pace with the discoveries Rebecca makes about the truth behind the tale.’

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

Jane Yolen, Shulamith Oppenheim and Stefan Czernecki’s The Sea King is 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.’

Kathleen has a look at book she’s treasured since her childhood, Tolkien’s Smith of Wooton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham. She says, ‘Smith and Farmer Giles have the advantage of being completed by Tolkien himself, and are lovely, polished tales. . . . They are the work of a very modern and well-educated scholar — but like all Professor Tolkien’s work, they feel like an echo of the sunlit fields and shadowed woods of the British mythic landscape that he so loved.’

Vonnie says a novel she reviews by Patricia McKillip ‘is nearly a prose-poem. The writing is lyrical, the events mysterious, the metaphors shadowy and aquatic. The plot suffers from it, as it does from turning the ocean into a character. This is a diffuse mystery, and the reader has to trust the writer that a point will eventually emerge from the pages. McKillip is both good enough and well-known enough to entitle her to our trust, but at its best, this novel is not a page-turner. Even more so than most of her books, the best way to enjoy Something Rich and Strange might be to read it aloud, enjoying the leisurely trip rather than racing to the destination.’


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


David binge-watched and reviewed Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3 of the Canadian television drama-comedy Slings & Arrows, which follows the fortunes and misfortunes of a Shakespeare festival in a Canadian town. ‘There is something distinctly Canadian about the whole thing. I’m sure that festival towns exist in other countries, but the nature of government sponsorship of the arts, expectations of the Minister of Culture, and the attitudes of the press and audiences speak volumes about the contradictory nature of the arts in Canada. ‘


Gary gives a qualified thumbs up to Val McDermid & Kathryn Briggs’ Resistance, a graphic novel about a modern pandemic. He notes that ‘ …well before COVID-19 was loosed on the world in late 2019, Scottish crime novelist Val McDermid and Pennsylvania based (and Scotland-educated) graphic novelist Kathryn Briggs began their collaboration on Resistance. It’s a cautionary tale of human hubris and carelessness leading to a bacterial pandemic that eventually wipes out a hefty percentage of the world’s population.’


David is grateful for the reissue of Blues Boy, an old album by bluesman Geoff Muldaur. ‘Long out of print, the albums Muldaur made for Flying Fish Records were recorded in 1978 and 1979. They have languished in oblivion until now. Lovers of rootsy, bluesy guitar-based music owe Rounder a debt of gratitude for reclaiming them and providing us with this sparkling anthology.’

David also enjoyed Sunday Best: The Cream of the Solo Albums, featuring cuts from the first three solo albums by Russell Smith, formerly of the Amazing Rhythm Aces. ‘Smith’s voice is not especially strong, but it is true and engaging, especially when he pushes it a little bit. The presence of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section adds a rock-solid base to Smith’s songs.’

‘We owe a debt of gratitude to labels like Raven and Mystic for giving new life to this exciting music,’ David says of four reissues, two each from Australia’s Raven and England’s Mystic. Read on to see what he liked about David Ackles’ Five & Dime, Roger Chapman’s Mango Crazy and Mail Order Magic, and Tommy Sands’ Man, Like WOW!

Gary was not disappointed by his most anticipated record of the year, the third release by Norwegian pedal steel guitar whiz Trond Kallevåg. ‘With Amerikabåten Trond and his highly sympatico ensemble have created a concept album. In nine songs he displays his affection for American culture as he explores the feelings aroused by the history of Norwegian emigration to America since the middle of the 19th century, a wave that crested in the early 20th. It plays out in what Trond refers to as Nordic Americana, drawing equally on Norwegian and American folk music, country, and a heavy dose of jazz at its base.

Gary looks back to a long-ago favorite that he still enjoys, Joan Baez’s Gracias a la Vida. It is, he says, ‘… a surprisingly coherent and well produced and recorded album for the haste in which it was put together.’ The Spanish-language album, he says, ‘… was kind of a curiosity in the U.S. but quite popular in Latin America. Its heartfelt renditions of classic songs presented in unfussy arrangements make it stand out as one from the era that still sounds quite good today.’

Since he probably won’t be traveling to the U.K. for a jazz gig, Gary is grateful to have Green Park, a record by the London-based quintet led by jazz violinist Benet McLean. ‘Way back in the ’90s I started listening to Django Reinhardt because Richard Thompson named him as an influence. The more I listened to Django the more enamored I became of the playing of Stephane Grappelli, his fiddling compatriot in the Hot Club of France. I’ve been a fan of jazz violin ever since, and now I can add Benet McLean to my list of favorite players.’

Richard took an in-depth look at an idiosyncratic album of songs by an idiosyncratic artist, The Wings Of Butterflies, featuring Les Barker. ‘It is hard, even in a lengthy critical article, to convey the full scope, force and architecture of this idiosyncratic vision of a world ravaged by its inhabitants, many of whom are both perpetrators and victims. The ideas are hardly new and, as I have hinted, will be applauded or shrugged off, depending on the listener’s viewpoint. Even the most cynical or annoyed must concede the brilliance of Barker’s conception, and even if the grandiose set pieces cannot be divorced from their context, there are a good half-dozen or so songs that deserve to enter the standard acoustic folk repertoire.’


I found another of Folkmanis reviews in the Archives by Robert: ‘This Folkmanis puppet is The Piglet. I have to confess, as I sat here looking at him reclining on my bed — he’s rather large, about 14 inches from nose to curly tail (not corkscrew curly, but it’s making a good start) — the first thought that came to my mind was the title of a Tony Hillerman mystery, The Sinister Pig. With his half-closed eyes and slightly open mouth, he looks — well, hungry. (Although now that I think on it, that seems appropriate for a piglet.) I couldn’t help but remember, looking at him, that pigs are omnivorous.’


I’ve been reading Charles de Lint‘s ‘The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep’ story, which is collected in Dreams Underfoot which has the following lovely passage about old hag tunes:She looks like the wizened old crone in that painting Jilly did for Geordie when he got into this kick of learning fiddle tunes with the word ‘hag’ in the title: ‘the Hag in the Kiln,’  ‘Old Hag You Have Killed Me,’ ‘The Hag With the Money,’ and god knows how many more. Just like in the painting, she’s wizened and small and bent over and … dry. Like kindling, like the pages of an old book. Like she’s almost all used up. Hair thin, body thinner. but then you look into her eyes and they’re so alive it makes you feel a little dizzy.’

Okay, let’s see if there’s any Old Hag tunes on the Infinite Jukebox, our digital media server. I’ve got one by the Bothy Band whose Old Hag You Have Killed Me is one of best Irish trad albums ever done, and we’ve audio of them performing ‘Old Hag You Have Killed Me’ which we’ll share with you as it’s very splendid.

No idea when it was done, though about fifty years ago is the most common guess among those who speculate about such things, or where it was recorded for that matter. But here it is for your listening pleasure.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Greening the Estate (A Letter to Anna)


Dear Anna,

It’s over the past fortnight that the greening of the Estate took place and that means I’ve been very busy gathering such things as holly, winter berry, pine boughs, pine cones, and setting up the Several Annies and some of the lads to construct wreaths and garlands in the courtyard they make use of every year.

Mrs. Ware and her staff make a big deal of it by preparing a good lunch for them as they do what admittedly is a filthy job with the pine gum coating everything, small cuts on the hands as you really can’t use gloves in this work, and the occasional twisted ankle that occurs in the woods while gathering the source material. So she makes sure they have lots of mulled cider, hearty sandwiches, and winter ale for those of age. Whether there is any correlation between the amount of winter ale consumed and the number of twisted ankles has yet to be determined.

We do a Christmas tree as well, though I doubt there’s a hard and fast Christian to be found on the Estate, which is appropriate as a Christmas tree is anything but a true Christian ritual. As far as I can tell, the first trees associated with Christmas Day are trees in Guild halls decorated with sweets to be enjoyed by the apprentices and children in what’s now Latvia and Estonia around the early 1400s. They came here with the marriage into German line by the Royals.

Our tree is not topped by an angel but rather has a candle firmly placed on it. The decorations are mostly handmade and some are centuries old, but there are also some exceedingly rare and equally old glass ornaments as well. The Tree, as it’s simply called here, is set up in a corner of the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room, which I think is rather appropriate.

Small gifts are placed under it — books, sheet music, clothing, various rare spirits including, rumour has it, a century-old brandy, Hungarian chocolates, and even I see what is a Max Trader violin for one lucky Several Annie whom Béla has been teaching lovely Hungarian waltzes.

All in all, it’s shaping up to be another excellent Winter Holiday season with celebrations of Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, and Twelfth Night!

Glögg is now being made available by Mrs. Ware on an ongoing basis. Did you know her deceased husband, may his soul rest peacefully, was a fellow Swede? I didn’t, as she keeps her history to her breast very well, but two of the Several Annies were gossiping about her as girls are wont to do while they crafted wreaths of spruce boughs, pine cones, coloured ribbons, and winter berry. It certainly explains her fondness for all things Swedish!

Until next time, Gus


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What’s New for the 12th of November: a grab bag of adult and YA fiction and nonfiction; Russian and Eastern European folk-rock, classical, Celtic, blues music and more; Sons of Anarchy; an intrepid air hostess

Hot from the oven, drizzled in corn syrup, bread pudding was one of his favorites. Suzanne Collin’s The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes


Bread pudding. Ahhh blessed bread pudding. The Kitchen here has been making it come cooler weather every year for at least one hundred and fifty years, according to a note from a visitor reprinted in The Sleeping Hedgehog that raved about it.

Now good bread pudding is not a matter of tossing together stale bread (Mrs. Ware disdains the idea of using it), adding cream and eggs, tossing in spicing, and baking off ’til ready to eat. So, it’s more complicated than that. So you need the right bread – something too light nor too heavy. The Estate version uses a brioche style bread that is fairly light and absorbs flavours well.

The other ingredients are just as crucial – eggs and whole milk, bittersweet chocolate, nutmeg and cinnamon. Yes, bittersweet chocolate. And Mrs. Ware, our current Head Cook, swears anything less than whole milk isn’t milk at all.

Now let’s check out this edition while the bread pudding is being baked off…


Camille liked just about everything about Jessica Reisman’s YA science fiction novel The Z Radiant except its cover, which she says is the worst ever. ‘Being swept along by The Z Radiant is like being swept along by a river with deep currents; sometimes you float along the warm surface amid the shimmer of light glancing from the shallows, and other times you feel the cold gripping your legs, leaving you gasping for breath.’

Craig compares and contrasts a novel and two biographies about the notorious bank robber Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd. ‘These three books – all mainly about the same subject and all written in vastly different manners – combine to paint a picture of a legendary figure. The two bios, while repeating much the same material, approached their subject from different points of view. Additionally, McMurtry and Ossana chose to exemplify Charley Floyd’s heroic status through the convention of fictionalized storytelling. I found the differing methods to be equally successful in portraying different aspects of the man who was Charles Arthur Floyd; and I found it very interesting that I was able to glean the authors’ opinions on their subject through their words.’

Donna was interested in the topic of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s The Age of Homespun but found the book frustrating. ‘Alas, I am not convinced that even an avid “textilian” — i.e., a textile historian — would find it terribly interesting or useful. The amount of historical detail is too great and simultaneously too chaotic for the book to pass muster as good scholarship.’

Gary continues his review of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle with the second book, The Confusion, which picks up shortly after Quicksilver ended: ‘As we enter the final decade of the 17th century, Eliza (now the Countess de la Zeur) is in the busy port town of Dunkirk; Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds, is enslaved by Ottomans in Algiers, and Daniel Waterhouse is dithering (as is his wont) in London, where he is supposed to be trying to get Isaac Newton out of his alchemical doldrums and back into the mainstream of the vast changes sweeping the world during what we now call the Enlightenment.’

Elizabeth had high hopes for David Stahler Jr.’s Truesight, a YA science fiction novel about a planet where everyone is blind. ‘I really wanted to enjoy this novel, but despite the original and creative concept, the execution was, sadly, very predictable. Anyone who has read Lois Lowry’s The Giver will recognize several similarities between the two books and will subsequently be able to determine what happens at the end without too much trouble.’

Jessica had good words for Alice Hoffman’s Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic novel aimed at the YA audience. ‘It was such a sad book, and the sadness was real. Hints of magic were woven so deftly into the world — which, as in fairytales, had places named what they were, like “the city” or “the village”— that they were real too. While it was a book about sad things, it’s important to note that it was not depressing. The conclusion was so natural (and yet, I didn’t really see it coming; not the way it did, anyway) that I closed the book immensely satisfied and wishing that I’d paused at each chapter, for air, instead of hurtling through the whole story like a bookworm on fifty pounds of coffee.’

Kate found herself adrift in Alice Hoffman’s Water Tales, so she turned to members of its target audience, her own kids. ‘It turns out that these short novels are indeed of interest to children, and considering the cheers that meet our daily revisiting of these characters, I would have to recommend the book. Perhaps I would not encourage an adult to seek a fulfilling read here, but I can say for sure that my kids will be passing it on to friends of their own.’

Nellie got a lot of information out of a book all about medicinal herbs by Shatoiya de la Tour. ‘Making medicines with Earth Mother Herbal is a simple and straightforward thing, taught with clear, concise directions. De la Tour provides a list of recommended tools, and ideas for setting up an herb room. She explains how to brew teas (there’s more to it than you might think), and shares her methods for formulating tinctures, oils, salves, capsules, pills, lozenges, compresses, poultices, and even suppositories, using dried and fresh herbs.’


Both of our culinary are of liquid nature this time, so let’s have Gary tell us about them.

He starts off with a loving look at Reid Mitenbuler’s Bourbon Empire which bears the subtitle of The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey: ‘If you enjoy reading about food and drink (and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t), or enjoy well-written popular history on any topic, you’ll like Bourbon Empire.’

Amy Stewart’s book might be a novel from its title but as he notes ‘No, it’s not a murder mystery or a light romantic comedy. The Drunken Botanist is a botanical exploration of “The plants that create the world’s great drinks,” as its subtitle says.’


Donna said she only had one complaint about the first season of the FX drama Sons of Anarchy on DVD was that ‘… it was so damn’ good I had a hard time getting engaged in any other series after we watched Episode Thirteen. Oh, I guess that’s not a complaint! That’s a compliment!’


April says Air: Letters from Lost Countries, by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker, is off to a promising start as a series. ‘The story is unpredictable, engaging and impossible to set aside. Blythe herself is simply marvelous. No shrinking violet, despite her crippling fear of the sky, she’s also not a stereotypical “plucky heroine.” She’s flawed, but also intelligent, resilient and someone readers can readily root for.’


Big Earl was favorably impressed by a compilation of Texas blues called From Hell To Gone And Back. ‘Compared to similar offerings by other labels, From Hell To Gone And Back: Texas Blues provides a pretty broad overview of the genre, and a fairly consistent one at that. In this era of the cheap-buck blues compilations, Vanguard’s Texas Blues sounds like a labour of love. Definitely worth the price.’

Christopher was lukewarm about an album from smallpipes player Dick Hensold. ‘Big Music for Northumbrian Smallpipes isn’t going to go down in my list of classic albums – the smallpipes remain a fairly brash instrument however skilfully they are played, and at times (like on Hensold’s variations on ‘My Ain Kind Dearie’) the album is more of a technical than a musical achievement. Nonetheless, this is recommended for open-minded music fans and a must for anyone with an interest in the smallpipes.’

Gary says one of his favorite songs of the season comes from the album Fiction and Folkore by the group Lakvar. ‘They’re a big ensemble of at least seven musicians from all over central and eastern Europe, based in Stuttgart, playing a rock-influenced version of Eastern European folk music.’ The music, he says, is ‘…rooted in folk traditions (“folklore”) but swept together from numerous sometimes disparate corners of Europe, vigorously stirred and shaken (“fiction”) by these musicians from different cultures, traditions, and genres.’

Gary also reviewed a big handful of folk rock releases from all over Russia and adjacent lands in this omnibus review. They include A Iz Pod Goroda (From the Town) by Narechie’s , who ‘specialize in the Russian style of polyphonic singing by male and female voices, accompanied by musical backing that ranges from gentle lilting folk rock to heavy, bluesy prog’; Galki, from Аratseya who ‘play Belarusian folk songs in a setting that combines traditional and modern elements, and also mixes traditional songs with modern rock and pop hits’; Elem’s Northern Spirituals by these St. Petersburg based fans of gothic Americana and noisy rock by the likes of Swans, PJ Harvey, Pink Floyd and Neil Young; Runara’s Way of the Sun: ‘The dozen songs on the album are a mix of acoustic folk and folk rock, built around themes and stories from folklore, fantasy, and the like’; and the neofolk Northstar by Aina, a singer from Tura, the capital city of Evenkia, who comes from a long line of reindeer herders who enjoyed singing and round dancing.

Gary found it a little hard to summarize Refrains of the Day Volume 1 by Pidgins. It employs percussion, synthesizers, and processed vocals and sounds as the soundtrack for videos cribbed together from stock sources, reimagining self-help and business jargon as modern mantras. ‘Percussionist Milo Tamez uses a wide variety of traditional hand and “talking” drums, to which he also adds gongs, rattles, chimes and more. Vocalist and sound manipulator Aaron With employs an even wider array of sounds including synthetically processed chants and (quoting from the one-sheet): Cristal Baschet, pitched cicadas, glass armonica, filter-tuned rainforest field recordings, metal resonances, circuit-bent Speak ‘N Spell, Laotian Kheng, Chinese Sheng, scraped m’biras, hurdy-gurdy, nightjars and owls, and torn cardboard.’

Gary also speaks highly of Fear of Falling Stars, the new album from Kristen Grainger & True North. ‘Every song is filled with little details that make big differences – in production, writing, playing, and singing. Grainger’s songwriting keeps getting more incisive and her singing more nuanced with each outing. Don’t miss this one if you enjoy acoustic Americana with a lot of heart, sharp songwriting, and, as Kristen puts it, “harmonies stacked like cordwood.” ‘

Jeff was highly impresed by an album called The Wilderness Years by Texas bluesman TW Henderson and his band The Blues of Cain. ‘My lasting impression is of a substantial, fully-realized return to the fold of a complex man. Older, sadder, and perhaps wiser, TW Henderson sings and plays from the heart. The entire recording has a powerful cinematic feel, and left me with a strong sense of his life and times. I cannot listen to this CD without seeing TW walking along a dusty Texas highway, Strat over his shoulder, leaning into the ever-present wind.’

Lenora learned to like Ingrid Heldt’s Love Matters, once she adjusted her expectations. ‘This is not modern folk music. It’s a lovely album in the style of pre-rock pop, influenced by some modern singers, but just as often influenced by jazz. Except for the electric nature of the background, most of the songs could have been recorded in the forties. Ingrid Heldt’s vocal style, too, while high and beautiful, has an old feel, as if someone had magically stripped the scratches and crackle from an ancient record.’

Mike was gobsmacked by Dorris Henderson’s only solo full-length release, Here I Go Again, with good reason. ‘Dorris Henderson is a little bit of Libba Cotton, a little bit of Tom Waits at his classier turn of growl, a little bit of Holly Near, and a whole lot of that deep smoky soul to which contemporary American folk music turns a deaf ear. Never mind that roots stuff. This CD is a study in the bedrock.’

Robert was won over by a classic performance by Jascha Heifetz and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra of the Brahms and Tchaikovsky violin concertos. ‘As has become habitual with this series from Sony, there is not much to be said about the performances that can be said in less than superlatives: two of the great orchestral works for the violin by two of Europe’s greatest composers of the nineteenth century, performed by one of the greatest violinists of the twentieth century with an orchestra and conductor who have, perhaps, been equaled but arguably never surpassed, at least at the time these recordings were made.’

Stephen dove deep into Liz Carroll’s Lake Effect and came up with a question. ‘It should go without saying that this is a very fine CD indeed, composed (in the main), by a towering musical talent and performed by a group of musicians, each of whom is among the very best on his or her instrument. For all that, there’ll still be folks who’ll castigate Carroll for showcasing innovation and technique over tradition and soul. Do they have a point?’ Read further for his thoughts on the matter.


Our What Not this outing is a Folkmanis Mouse with Cheese puppet that got overlooked when it came so Reynard gives it a review now: ‘I’ve no idea when it came in for review, nor do I know how it ended up in the room off the Estate Kitchen that houses the centuries-old collection of cookbooks, restaurant menus and other culinary related material, but I just noticed a very adorable white mouse puppet holding a wedge of cheese in its paws there. Somebody had placed it in a white teacup on the middle of the large table so I really couldn’t overlook it. ’


So let’s 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, on the 23rd of April twenty-six 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.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Guy Fawkes Day (A Letter to Anna)

Dear Anna,

It’s nigh unto Guy Fawkes Day and Iain’s Library apprentices got the jones to put on a full-blown celebration, which The Steward agreed to fund, provided that Iain gave them a full lesson on what Guy Fawkes Day really means in the United Kingdom, historically and currently, including how Halloween has now largely replaced it.

Many Catholics takes offence at the burning of an effigy of the Pope that takes place at Lewes Bonfire in Sussex on this day – which makes perfect sense. Of course, Guy himself was a Catholic, so many, many Protestants in England assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the Catholic Church was behind the attack on Parliament. (Iain says a fellow Librarian uses the pejorative ‘Fucking papists’ when referring to the Church.) Soon thereafter they developed this celebration, which featured burning effigies of Guy and the Pope. And lots of fireworks.

Revisionist historians ofttimes claim that that there was no conspiracy to blow up Parliament but rather Guy and his fellow conspirators were framed by the Government to stir up anti-Catholic hatred. That might be true, might not be true. What’s true is that there’s no definitive way now to tell what happened so long ago.

Now mind you, most folks more commonly call it Bonfire or Firework Night so they’re in it for the drinking, the bonfires, and the rather drunken singing of such songs as ‘Devil and the Washerwomen’, ‘Remember the Fifth of November’, and ‘Guy Fawkes Prince of Sinister’.

Iain pointed out to them that Guy had denounced Scotland and the King’s favourites among the Scottish nobles, so it wasn’t surprising that the Scots are enthusiastic celebrants of the Fifth of November. Not that the good Presbyterians of Scotland needed much of an excuse to hate the Pope. And many, like a bookseller I was chatting with one time in Aberdeen, are openly anti-papist even now. 

Our Brewmaster’s devised an ale similar to what was called mild ale, which is a beer with a decidedly malty palate that originated in Britain in the 17th century or earlier. And Mrs. Ware is having her staff making food that would’ve been served by a late 17th century Pub.

So hopefully you can fly back here for the week-long celebration from All Hallows Eve through Samhain and now Guy Fawkes Day. Should make for an interesting week!

Affectionately, Gus


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What’s New for the 29th of October: Halloween is Nigh on Us!

I forbid you maidens all that wear gold in your hair
To travel to Carterhaugh for young Tam Lin is there
None that go by Carterhaugh but they leave him a pledge
Either their mantles of green or else their maidenhead

Fairport Convention’s ‘Tam Lin’


 It’s quite cold and blustery here on this Scottish Estate so we’re all thankful that  the Fey provide the lighting for the exterior pumpkins, as candles of a conventional nature wouldn’t stay lit at all. But the lighting of a supernatural nature is perfect. We here on the Estate and invited guests will be celebrating by attending a concert by the Neverending Session in which they perform Halloween music, both classical such asDanse Macabre’ and  more contemporary tunes such as ’The Great Pumpkin’.

Roast pumpkin soup, sourdough rolls shaped like skulls, cinnamon-spiced pork hand pies and nutmeg-spiced pumpkin ice cream will be our eventide meal tonight which will be perfect for working off when we have a midnight contradance by Chasing Fireflies which tonight is Ingrid, our Steward, on hand drums, Bela, our Hungarian violinist, Finch, one of our barkeeps, on Border smallpipes and Iain, our Librarian on violin.

Now let’s turn to our more or less Halloween-centric edition. To start things off, how about a lovely reading of ‘Halloween’ by Robert Burns? It’s a poem perfect for the season, and read by David Hart with just a wee touch o’ the brogue. As for the rest of the haunts in this issue? I think you’ll find much to check out later. I think there’s even going to be some food and drink of a Halloween nature courtesy of, well, let’s keep that a secret …


Cat starts off our book reviews with Smoking Mirror Blues, a novel by Ernest Hogan. Cat says of it that ‘In the very near future, the citizens of Los Angeles are preparing to celebrate Dead Daze, a bacchanalian rave of a holiday that’s an over-the-top merging of All Hallows Eve, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and Mardi Gras. The reawakened Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, riding the body of a human, is feeling quite well, thank you! And let’s not forget that the Day of the Dead, which forms part of Dead Daze, is at its heart a time when the barriers between the dead and the still-living are all but completely erased. So maybe the gods do walk again … And this holiday, not dissimilar to the one in the Strange Days movie, needs National Guard troops to prevent rioting!’

So how about a Day of The Dead set story that involves a small town mechanic called Grace who discovers the man she loves is dead? And that she can cross over when the veils are thin to see him? Such is the premise of Charles de Lint’s The Mystery of Grace which Cat notes that ‘It is a perfect introduction to de Lint, as it doesn’t requite you to have read anything else by him at all, but gives you a good feel for what he is like as a writer, as it has well-crafted characters, believable settings, and a story that will hold your interest. And it is a novel that you will read again to get some of the nuances that get missed in the first reading.’

Craig has a review of a horror novel set on a closely related holiday: ‘Brian A. Hopkins is an acclaimed writer and editor (he has won Bram Stoker Awards under both guises) who also operates an innovative publishing company (Lone Wolf Publications, which produced the multimedia anthology Tooth and Claw, Volume One and another Stoker winner, The Imagination Box), yet who still has time to crank out terrific work for other smaller houses like Earthling Publications. El Dia de los Muertos (“the Day of the Dead”) is his most recent Stoker recipient, winning the 2002 award for best novella.’

Halloween is the time for vampires, and so Denise takes a look at Gross and Altman’s Slayers & Vampires: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Buffy and Angel. She found an detailed “oral history” that is sure to please fans of both shows.  ‘I can feel the authors’ love for their subject, and their excitement is contagious.  … [A] fun read that’ll keep you in party anecdotes for this coming holiday season, and into the next one.’

One of our Garys has a look at Christopher Golden and James A. Moore’s Bloodstained  Oz: ‘If you like lots of violence and gore, and you’re a fan of The Wizard of Oz, then you’ll like this book. The evil manifestations of Baum’s characters are one of the highlights of the book. If you like a book with an ending, prepare yourself to write your own, as the authors apparently intended.’

Jack looks at a Diane Wynne Jones novel that befits this holiday: ‘It’s a good solid book with memorable characters and an engrossing plot which got read in one rather long sitting on a cold, rainy afternoon late in October. SEversl pots of Earl Grey tea and a number of the tHe Kitchen’s excellent scones were devoured in the reading of Fire & Hemlock.’

Love, hate, or baffled by The Wicker Man, there’s no denying it’s a horror classic.  No, not the horrendous 2006 remake, but the original 1973 film starring Christopher Lee.  The original film has caught the eye of many, including many academics. Kestrell takes a look at Benjamin Franks’ The Quest for The Wicker Man: History, Folklore, and Pagan Perspectives, a collection of articles from a conference that focused on the film.  ‘The Quest for The Wicker Man is highly recommended for any dedicated Wicker Man fan and especially for academics writing about this classic cult film.’  Read more about this collection in her review!

Let’s not give away what happening in the story Lis reviews of Roger Zelazny‘A Night in 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.’

Nellie looks at The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: ‘Through Jean Markale’s book we can find the real legitimacy for Halloween as a holiday. It is not simply about children traipsing from door to door looking for candy (or else! Trick or Treat!). It is not simply about a reverence for ancestors, or a time to let go of all inhibition. There is a reality to it that gives it a deeper presence, and which beckons us to seek its true meaning, in addition to its true history.’

A fine version of the Tam Lin story is reviewed by Richard as he looks at a Pamela Dean novel: ‘An early part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale series, Tam Lin is by far the most ambitious project on the line. The story of Tam Lin is one of the better known ones to escape folklore for the fringes of the mainstream; you’ll find references scuttling about everywhere from old Fairport Convention discs to Christopher Stasheff novels. There’s danger inherent in mucking about with a story that a great many people know and love in its original form; a single misstep and the hard-core devotees of the classic start howling for blood. Moreover, Dean is not content simply to take the ballad of Tam Lin and transplant it bodily into another setting.’

We next look at Ray Bradbury’s quintessential Autumn novel and film which gets an appreciative review by the previous reviewer: ‘By right and nature, all October babies should love Something Wicked This Way Comes. It is a love letter to autumn, and to the Halloween season in particular, a gorgeous take on maturity and self-acceptance and all the dark temptations that come crawling ‘round when the calendar creeps close to October 31st.’

Just in time for the festivities a couple of nights from now, Robert has a look at Alex Irvine’s The “Supernatural” Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons, and Ghouls: ‘I seem to be faced with another one of those television spin-offs, this time from the series Supernatural, about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who hunt demons and other nasty customers not entirely of this world ….
Alex Irvine has taken this basis, and the various creatures the brothers encounter, drawn from myths, urban legends, and folklore, and turned it into a “bestiary of the unnatural”.’

Thomas has a guide to this holiday for us: ‘Halloween, an unofficial holiday, is nonetheless celebrated by millions of people in North America and the British Isles, rivaling only Christmas in popularity. In the heavily illustrated Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, York University professor of history Nicholas Rogers traces the history of this holiday from its alleged beginnings as a Celtic festival, Samhain, marking the end of summer, to its many and various manifestations today. ’


Horror films have been part of the Halloween experience in the States for a very long time now. And we’ve had our share of wonderful seasonal treats, as well as time-wasting tricks.

Cat looks at a Doctor Who adventure beloved by many fans of the series and one of the few horror ones it did: ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang featured Tom Baker, one of the most liked of all the actors who’ve played The Doctor, and Leela, the archetypal savage that the British Empire both adored and despised, played by Louise Jameson. The Victorian Era is something that British have been fond of setting dramas in, well, since a few years after the era ended. Doctor Who has had stories set in this era myriad times.’

Denise takes a look at a ‘trick’ of a tale with her review of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. She doesn’t hold back on her distaste: ‘If the folks responsible for this garbage really wanted to depart from the first two films and create something authentic, this basic story could have been an interesting movie …. Happy Halloween? Not with this clunker.’  Read her review for exactly why she’s nonplussed.

Another trick-y tale is The Haunted Mansion, a film based on a ride at the Disney resorts. Denise thinks that all the beautiful set design can’t make up for a film that can’t quite figure itself out.  ‘This is a lovely film to look at, but there’s not a lot of substance. Just double-check to make sure any young children you take are up for a pretty good scare.’

A choice bit of British horror is next.  Jekyll is ably reviewed for us by Kestrell who says that ‘this version is not so much a remake as a retelling of the Jekyll/Hyde story. The story is relocated from Victorian Edinburgh to contemporary London and follows one of Jekyll’s descendents, a research scientist named Tom Jackman (James Nesbitt).’ Kestrell concludes that ‘While I found this re-telling of a traditional story exciting and exceptionally well done, I would suggest that this series is not for everyone. Viewers looking for a remake of the original story will not find it here; those viewers who prefer American Hollywood effects may also be disappointed.’


Denise has many a Halloween treat – and one trick – for us all this fine day. First off, she digs into a Cadbury Screme Egg. No, not creme. SCREME. ‘I recommend splitting an Egg with a friend, or saving a half for later. I’ve done the stomach work, so you don’t have to overindulge. Unless that’s your thing. Then? Happy Halloween!’

Next, she indulges in a four pack of Chocolats Passion Skulls. ‘The attention to detail is staggering; I can barely draw a straight line, yet these beauties have red in their sockets, golden teeth, and a splash of gold on the “parietal” that could be the sun glinting on them…or the reason for their demise. Six of one, half dozen of the other, I say.’

Need a drink after all that candy? Denise obliges with Flying Cauldron’s Butterscotch Beer! (We don’t dig TERFs here, but we do dig interesting mythology…and soda.) ‘Flying Cauldron’s Butterscotch Beer is a light, fizzy soda that’s non-alcoholic, for the wee muggles/no-mags in your life. Don’t think that means adults won’t like it, however. As cream-esque sodas go, it’s not that sweet.’

Aiming for something savory rather than sweet? Denise’s review of Aldi’s Happy Farms Preferred Transylvanian-Romanian Cave Cheese is sure to satisfy. ‘There are two types on offer, the regular and “soaked in red wine.” Naturally, the wine version went into my tote.’

Last but not least, a treat that was more of a trick for our stalwart foodie; Dunkin’ Donuts’ Spider Donut. ‘Impressive, no? No. It’s a mess. Somewhere, Mary Berry is sobbing.’

Whatever you decide to eat and drink this fine Halloween, have a wonderfully spooky time!


Robert has a look at a suitably scary graphic novel from a story originally penned by Robert E. Howard: ‘Pigeons from Hell is an adaptation by Joe R. Lansdale of a story by Robert E. Howard, with art by Nathan Fox and color by Dave Stewart. Lansdale is at pains to point out, in his “Notes from the Writer,” that it is really an “adaptation” — updated, exploring some new facets of Howard’s story, and not to be confused with the original, all of which leads me to treat it as its own creature.’

And what would Halloween be without demons and ghosties and that sort of thing? Well, that’s what we get with the latest incarnation of John Constantine, in Hellblazer, Vol. 1: The Poison Truth. Says Robert: ‘I’ll be honest: John Constantine is not a comic book hero who has ever really grabbed me. I can’t think of any particular reason for that, unless it’s his rapid-fire delivery and glib personality. Maybe it’s because he’s a sociopath, and I’ve learned to be wary of those — even comics. (It’s a wonder how many of the characters in this collection really don’t like Constantine very much, but they go along with him.)’


David found some blues to his liking on Doug Cox & Sam Hurrie’s Hungry Ghosts. ‘Every Wednesday night at the Edgewater Pub and Bistro in Comox, B.C., Doug Cox and Sam Hurrie take the stage to play some old blues and regale the audience with tales about the songs and singers they pay tribute to. I’ve only been to B.C. once, and it was only as a stopover in the Vancouver Airport, so it hardly counts, but if I ever get out there on a Wednesday night, I know where I’ll be!’

David also reviewed a couple of albums by Kate Campbell, including the country folk Monuments and Twang On A Wire, a collection of choice covers of country songs by women in the late ’60s and early ’70s. ‘The songs come from an era (1968-1975) when women were breaking through in Nashville. Strong women’s voices were being heard all over, and especially on the radio in Mississippi and Tennessee where Kate Campbell grew up. Lynn Anderson, Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, Dolly Parton, Donna Fargo, Tammy Wynette and more … these were Kate’s influences.’

A Mexican folk song about a witch is one of the tracks Gary liked on Grit & Grace from Jennifer Wharton’s Bonegasm. ‘If you like brass ensembles, you’ll love this trombone choir led by Wharton and her deep-throated instrument that growls, grumbles and groans with palpable soul. It’s not ground-breaking, but Grit & Grace is, like Wharton, a winning combination of gritty and graceful.’

Gary was looking for a particularly seasonal Richard Thompson album in the archives, before he realized that he’d never reviewed it. So he promptly cranked one out. ‘In a decades-long discography of albums full of dark songs, 1996’s You? Me? Us? stands out as Richard Thompson’s most macabre (right down to the creepy cut-and-paste artwork).’

Gary treats us to an omni review of some Nordic and Baltic folk and folk rock music. Of Gangar’s Stubb, he says, ‘What they do best is dance music – traditional Nordic folk dances like the schottische (which is called “reinlender” in Norway), hopsa, polka, mazurka, etc. Synnøve Brøndbo Plassen, who sings on “Sukkeri,” adds soaring wordless vocals to “Masurka fra Herefoss” a mazurka from Herefoss, in the lake country of southeastern Norway near the Skaggerak arm of the North Sea.’ On Fränder’s Fränder II: ‘The opening track “Evigt regn” (Eternal Rain) is an in-your-face statement, a wall of sound and thundering percussion over which Natasja provides soaring vocals. They really remind me most of Steeleye at their hardest rocking, but definitely with their own sound. The frequent instrumental interludes by the flute and fiddle is a truly unique and exciting sonic experience.’ And of the quieter Kiriküüt by the Estonian band Rüüt, he says ‘Three-part harmonies and rhythms that only sound complicated mix with a blend of old and new instruments on this, their third album. Rüüt is Maarja Soomre on melodica and vocals, Maili Metssalu on fiddle and vocals, Jaan-Eerik Aardam on guitar and vocals, and Juhan Uppin on the Estonian accordion and the kantele, a traditional hammer dulcimer type zither.’

Judith found a lot to like in a couple of albums by two Canadian roots bands, Tanglefoot’s Agnes On the Cowcatcher and The Bill Hilly Band’s All Day Every Day. ‘Tanglefoot often sings harmonies in the grand old folk style, with attention to vocal strengths and harmonic arrangement. Some songs even sound like the Kingston Trio, though others do sound more contemporary. The songwriting is strong and informative,’ she says of the first, and of the second, ‘The Bills plaything is style, and on this album they continue their charming Pacific mix of CanAmerican traditional, bluegrass, Euroethnic, and cabaret: all the styles currently in style out here.’

Kate revealed a personal connection to an album that’s about as “pop” as we get around here, Fiona Apple’s When the Pawn … ‘I have had one truly great love affair in my life, and this was its soundtrack. For those of you who know pianist and lyricist Fiona Apple from her previous album <i>Tidal</i> (1996), you can guess what that statement indicates. For the others, unfortunate enough to have overlooked Apple thus far, I’ll tell you, this is not a good thing. If ever Apple has had a nice relationship that ended in an amicable parting, there’s no sign of it in her music.’

Kim loved the Irish music on Cran’s self-released album Lover’s Ghost. ‘It’s difficult to explain in print, but Cran have an amazing sense of the language of sounds, the souls of the instruments, and they know how to use them to create the emotional atmosphere that the lyrics convey in words. Many of the vocals gain their sense of power through the repetition of chanting, such as in “Stolen Bride” or “Hó Bó.” The latter song has an unusual melody and is a work song sung for ploughing, a type of song which the liner notes report had died out by the end of the nineteenth century.’

Stephen delved into Alma De Buxo by the great Galician piper Susana Seivane. ‘Seivane plays bagpipes in a variety of keys, and is backed up by a tremendous group of musicians on bouzouki, violin, accordions, banjo, drums, bass, guitar, and well, a whole host of things! Every single arrangement is exemplary and the production is of the incredibly high quality that’s become synonymous with anything on the Green Linnet label …’


I’ll admit I love our pumpkin graphic that we’ve been using these past few weeks. But as Halloween is fast approaching, I think of Jack-o-Lanterns, and how living in the modern world is a good thing this time of year. Oh, not because of scientific progress, technological marvels, or anything like that, though all these things are wonderful and much appreciated. No, it’s because now we carve pumpkins rather than turnips for our Jack-o-Lanterns. I just don’t have the patience, nor the skill, to whittle a turnip into a candle holder. Though the turnip is trying to make a comeback, this year I’ll be marveling at – and being especially grateful for – our gourd-y seasonal visitors.


Very long after the band recorded Leige and Leif, which Deborah plays proper homage to in, “Trad Boys, Trad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do….?” Liege & Lief remembered, Fairport Convention played the entire album live at their own summer bash, the ‘07 Cropredy Festival. Everyone who was on the 1969 recording save Sandy Denny who had passed on was on stage so with Chris While doing the vocals for this epic experience. The soundboard recording is stellar, so here’s ‘Tam Lin’ as performed on a warm summer night.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Summer afternoon (A Letter to Anna)

Raspberry divider

Dear Anna,

So, Spring is waning fast, but summer’s not an event that just happens — it sneaks up on us like a barn own gliding past in the night. 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 of course. Most of the staff, including the Several Annies, 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.

In defense, Reynard has posted the score sheets for the Summer Reading Club on the cellar door. MacKenzie is the judge, of course. He keeps 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 he selects. MacKenzie, I think, is trying to educate the lot of us. At least I think that explains the Baba Yaga stories in Russian. One got points for finding a Russian fluent staffer and providing the proper bribes to get their cooperation.

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 my little monograph on pumpkins suitable for use in ales got twice the points garnered for someone’s exceedingly detailed review of the complete correspondence of Lady Raglan. And of course, a lot of the non-drinkers — well, people who drink somewhat 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 Queen of Air and Darkness’ guards themselves! I’ll keep you informed on the contest as it evolves over the Summer.

Affectionately Gus

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What’s New for the 15th of October: Music in fiction and non-fiction; Psycho and its sequels; Two Fat Ladies; some Gaiman; folk music from all over, plus some Zappa and some jazz

She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but she was a bit like a cat herself, forever wandering in the woods, chasing after squirrels and rabbits as fast as her skinny legs could take her when the fancy struck, climbing trees like a possum, able to doze in the sun at a moment’s notice. And sometimes with no notice at all. — Charles de Lint’s The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, sequel to A Circle of Cats (both as illustrated by Charles Vess)

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Autumn is a few weeks old now and we here on this Scottish Estate have begun to adapt to it as we always do. Everything from the behaviour of the lynxes as they hunt their prey to the food served up by Mrs. Ware, our Head Cook and her staff who’ve started the shift to serving the heartier foods that the increasingly cold, too frequently wet weather causes us to crave.

By October, even the Neverending Session starts folding in on itself as the ancient boon of food, drink and a place to sleep is outweighed by our remoteness. So that group is largely comprised of the musicians here, a number somewhere around a third of the Estate staff such as myself (violin),  my wife Catherine (voice and wire strung Welsh violin), Béla (violin), Finch (smallpipes) and Reynard (concertina). It’s always interesting to see who’s playing in it at any given moment. Nor is it by any means always present, a myth started by the musicians a long time ago.

So in the meantime, I’m reading The Cats of Tanglewood Forest for I think the third time as for me it’s an autumnal piece of fiction. Go read our review here for all the details on this wonderful work.

Now here’s our edition…

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So music and more music, both fiction and non-fiction,  is our theme this edition…

Let’s start off with  Last Night’s Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music pleased Chuck who tells us what’s about: ‘Ciaran Carson is an Irish poet and musician, who has, in Last Night’s Fun, put together a series of writings, each inspired by a traditional tune. In most cases, these are short essays. For others, he has written poetry or put together sets of quotations. Occasionally the subjects in consecutive chapters are directly related, but that is most likely happenstance.’

Next up is this novel of which Gary says, ‘The world is groping for a new mythology, one that makes sense in a world that has seen nuclear devastation and sent humans to the moon; a world that encompasses both communications satellites and children starving to death in the midst of plenty. Perhaps the new mythology will be found in the multiple collisions of cultures, histories, arts and religions; maybe it will be birthed through the agency of pop culture, which has supplanted classical music and art. Or so Salman Rushdie seems to be saying in his sprawling, entertaining and challenging novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet.’

Berlioz’s Evenings with the Orchestra came about as a result of him being neither a widely recognized composer in his lifetime, or being generally accepted at all during his lifetime, as Kelly notes in his splendid review: ‘In order to remain solvent, Berlioz often had to turn to penning articles of criticism and commentary on music and cultural matters for the Paris publications of the day. By all accounts, Berlioz hated this work and the necessity of it, which is ironic given the quality of his writing, as evidenced in Evenings with the Orchestra.’

Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span are two of my fave British folk rock(ish) bands, so it’s apt that Lars has a review of Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall’s biography of Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock as he helped birth both of those groups: ‘To some of us the subject of this book is, if not God, at least the musical equivalent to the pope. Name a group you like and have followed over the years, and there is a fair chance that Mr. Hutchings was there to start it, or at least influence the starting of it. He is in one way or another responsible for a very large number of the records in my collection, and yes, we are certainly talking three figures, here.’

Leona gives an incisive review of Black Is the Colour of My True-love’s Heart, an Ellis Peters novel: ‘Originally published in 1967, ‘this is a book of music, of silence, of words; it has love, hate, and all their analogues. Myths and facts combine to wrap the storyline in a heavy cloak of authenticity. This is a story of high passion and cool deliberation; it dances through the morals and minds of another age and gives the reader a wide window into the world of folk music and ballad-singers.’

So let’s include Emma Bull’s War for The Oaks with a battle between the Fey and some of we mortal humans that is settled using music on Midsummers Eve. It also features music from Cats Laughing, or perhaps Cats Laughing plays music from the novel. I’ll need to ask Will which it is… Ahhh he says the band comes after the novel. Oh and we’ve got the trailer made for a film version of the novel didn’t happen which has some of the music in the novel. Michael has a lovingly detailed review of it here.

I reviewed Mark Cunningham’s Horslips: Tall Tales, The Official Biography: ‘Horslips were, and in many ways still are, the Irish equivalent of Steeleye Span and, to a lesser extent, Fairport Convention, as they blend English and Irish traditional material and a rock and roll sensibility into what was the first Irish folk rock group.’ Did they get what they deserved? Oh yes.

Richard ends our English folk rock biographies by looking at Patrick Humphries’ Richard Thompson: The Biography: ‘Biographies of musicians are always dangerous propositions. Too many are tell-alls that insist on concentrating on lurid details and scandal, to the point where the reader forgets that the book is about a musician. Others go the other way, and are so slavishly and obviously creations of the PR machine that they’re essentially worthless as sources of fact. Books of both these sorts tend to cluster around hugely successful acts, and to clutter bookshelves right around holiday time.’ And let’s just say this this is decidedly not the biography this artist deserves.

Steven Brust, a musician himself, brings us, in collaboration with Megan Lindholm, The Gypsy, which — well, as Robert puts it: ‘There are three brothers who have become separated. They are the Raven, the Owl, and the Dove. Or perhaps they are Raymond, Daniel, and Charlie. They are probably Baroly, Hollo, and Csucskari. One plays the fiddle, one plays tambourine, and one has a knife with a purpose.’ 

Of course Robert says “Patricia McKillip’sThe Riddle-Master of Hed has harps and harpers at the centre of its story. And it won McKillip a World Fantasy Award as it bloodthirsty well should’ve given how good it is!’ 

Music is even more important in McKillip’s The Bards of Bone Plain, as he makes clear: ‘I’ve noted before the importance of music in the works of Patricia McKillip. I’ve probably also said something about the poetic quality of her writing. I know I’ve mentioned the way magic infuses her stories, context rather than event. That’s all here, in The Bards of Bone Plain, a story about poetry and music and magic.’

Music is also central in de Lint’s Greenmantle, although its effects can be somewhat of a mixed bag: it’s about a piper in a hidden village, and a Stag, and the Wild Hunt, and how music brings out what is deepest in our souls. 

Raspberry dividerCraig felt moved to rewatch and write about Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and then went on to cover its various sequels, prequels and remakes. ‘The shower scene, the much-imitated Bernard Herrmann score, the Master of Suspense’s little signature touches: all are familiar even to the moviegoer who has never seen it. Luckily, it has such power that even the most jaded will find themselves surprised by the most familiar scenes. Although the shock value of many scenes is lost today, it is still a terrific film and a must-see for the burgeoning film buff.’

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If ever there was a series that felt like it was British to the core and autumnal in its setting, it is the one Kathleen and her sister Kage wrote up, Two Fat Ladieswhose series documented that they were brilliant British cooks who rode a motorcycle with a sidecar, drank excessively, smoked whenever they pleased and cooked using bloody great hunks of meat, butter and anything else that isn’t ‘tall good for you. And funny as all Hell, which indeed the review is as well.

Raspberry dividerOur resident Summer Queen says ‘Melinda is Neil Gaiman and Polish artist Dagmara Matuzak’s first collaboration, and the resulting illustrated poem is a unique literary work. According to the press notes accompanying this release, Gaiman wrote the text specifically for Matuzak to illustrate, hoping for a few drawings and perhaps a painting or two, and she responded with forty-eight stunning black and white drawings and eight colour plates that delineate the harsh world Gaiman’s seven year old Melinda inhabits.’

Raspberry dividerDavid continues his faithful coverage of Canadian folk music with his review of two discs, Ken Whiteley’s Acoustic Electric, and Le Vent du Nord’s Maudite Moisson! He was disappointed by the Whiteley CD: ‘It’s a fairly bland recording well worth the $3 I paid for my copy, but definitely the weakest of the three albums in the set – and the weakest of Whiteley’s albums ever released.’ He was better pleased by the second CD: ‘Vocal harmonies backed by traditional acoustic instruments play a set of traditional songs from France, mixed with story songs about life in early Canada, drinking songs, jigs and reels – it’s a history of Canada in music.’

‘I have to be upfront about this. I am a sucker for a box set!’, David says. ‘Just looking at anthologies excites me! 100 Ans de Musique Traditionnelle Quebecoise is just what it promises to be, on four double CDs, all packed together in a wooden box. That’s right! Eight discs of the music of Quebec. Wow! And no Celine Dion! Just fiddle tunes, jigs and reels, accordions and harmonicas. That’s it. The real music of the Quebecois, who are the French speaking inhabitants of la belle province.’

David reviewed a compilation of music from Frank Zappa’s career, Zappa Picks – by Larry LaLonde of Primus. ‘Funny, challenging, a little bit dirty, even sophomoric at times, Zappa is an acquired taste. You don’t even have to like everything he did. His takes on modern orchestral music appeal to some, his doo-wop songs will appeal to others. His outrageous sense of humor, his virtuosic guitar playing, they’re are all facets of Zappa’s rich oeuvre.’

And Gary covered the companion disc, Zappa Picks – By Jon Fishman of Phish. ‘I have no idea if this stuff will appeal to Phish fans, but it seems like a pretty good Zappa sampler to me. Inspired lunacy, controlled chaos, social commentary, puerile humor, sex and rock ‘n’ roll without the drugs, and that mean guitar. Yup, I believe that covers it.’

‘A listener, especially one who doesn’t speak Finnish, could be excused for mistaking the music on Vimma’s Tornadon Silmässä for standard World music folk pop,’ Gary says. Don’t be deceived, he continues. The pretty vocals and catchy tunes serve songs with an urgent message.

‘I haven’t enjoyed any album of straight-ahead jazz this year more than I’ve enjoyed Chien Chien Lu’s Built In System,’ Gary says. ‘It’s an astonishingly assured sophomore release from a rising star of jazz and the vibraphone in particular. She’s one of the main reasons that the vibes are apparently the hip instrument these days – at least that’s what I’ve read, and on the strength of this album I have no reason to doubt it.’

Gary reviewed several 2023 albums of Russian folk music, including the rustic Beyond the Outskirts by Rabor. ‘Altogether it’s an engaging blend of soulful folk and folk-inspired music. Some are old traditional songs and some are composed by the band. The traditional selections are folk songs that accompanied Russian peasants’ rituals, collected by ethnographers in the 1970s and ’80s in different regions of Russia, mainly in Rabor’s native Kostroma oblast.’

Another Russian disk Gary covers is Kolkhozoy Traktor by Shono, led by Buryatian throat singer Alexander Arkhincheev of Irkutsk. ‘Arkhincheev is an expert on Buryat legends and epics, master of the Buryatian style of throat singing, teacher, and player of many Buryat traditional instruments. On Kolkhozoy Traktor he sings and plays the moriin khuur (a two-stringed bowed lute called “horsehead fiddle”), a three-stringed lute called sukha huur, and the tsoor (panpipe flute). He’s joined by Evguenia Tomitova on yataga, a traditional long rectangular zither; Vladimir Sidorov, vocals, bass guitar, and vargan (Jew’s harp); and Konstantin Tokarsky on the drum kit.’

In case you missed it, in September Gary reviewed the new album Wind And Sun from Finnish-Norwegian musician Sinikka Langeland. On this record she takes a break from her usual penchant for songs about mythology, Finnish rune songs, and works by traditional poets, instead setting to music some of the works of contemporary Norwegian poet Jon Fosse. Yes, the Jon Fosse who won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Check out Gary’s review and consider spending some time with this magical recording.

In one of Gary’s first reviews, written for Folk Tales, he sang the praises for the self titled disc by the Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble. ‘Vela Luka has been one of the most popular acts at the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle, Washington, for many years. The ensemble’s self-produced, -released, and -distributed CD gives a good idea of why. Clocking in at a little more than 77 minutes, Vela Luka’s recording is a rich and varied sampler of vocal and instrumental dance music from Croatia.’

John reviewed a unique and extensive collection of Irish music and folklore. ‘ … The Irish Life and Lore Collection of recordings is a celebration of Irish life and culture, of the individual and unique human voice in all its richness and variety, of exceptional musical talent and of the scope and limitless inventiveness of the human mind. Best of all, it is accessible to the world and is being produced as I write this review — if that is not an example of a living tradition, then I don’t know what is!’

Kim was quite pleased with a compilation album of Irish music, the Cork Folk Festival Archive. ‘This album has become a regular on my playlist at work and at home, so much so that I’ve delayed this review for just another listen. There are loads of great performances here, dating from 1991 to 1999, recorded in various pubs that host the festival. Both instrumental and vocal performances shine, and remind me that Ireland is still producing some of the world’s finest singer-songwriters.’

Raspberry dividerOur What Not is from Kage Baker who was a  storyteller beyond compare, be it in emails as Cat can well attest, at Ren Faires with her sister Kathleen serving up ale, lovingly critiquing quite old films, writing stories of chocolate quaffing cyborgs, whores who decidedly didn’t have hearts of gold,  or space raptors who are actually parrots now. So it won’t surprise you that was a master narrator of her own stories as you hear as when she reads for us ‘The Empress of Mars’, a novella she wrote.

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Now let’s have some music to finish out this edition. It’s Northumbrian piper and fiddler Kathryn Tickell performing ‘The Pipes Lament’, a tune written by her, which was recorded at the Shoreditch Church, London on the 15th of June a decade ago, should do nicely. Tickell, by the way, connects indirectly to Charles de Lint’s The Little Country novel as smallpiper Janey Little in the novel lists Northumbrian Bill Pigg as one of her inspirations to become a musician, something that Tickell also acknowledges.

Posted in Commentary | Comments Off on What’s New for the 15th of October: Music in fiction and non-fiction; Psycho and its sequels; Two Fat Ladies; some Gaiman; folk music from all over, plus some Zappa and some jazz

What’s New for the 12th of October:

Hot from the oven, drizzled in corn syrup, bread pudding was one of his favorites. — Susan Collins’ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

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Bread pudding. Ahhh blessed bread pudding. The Kitchen here has been making it come cooler weather every year for at least one hundred and fifty years  according to a note from a visitor reprinted in the Sleeping Hedgehog that raved about it.

Now good bread pudding is not a matter of tossing together stale, adding cream and eggs, tossing in spicing, and baking off ’til ready to eat. No, it’s more complicated than that. First you need the right bread — something not too light nor too heavy. The Estate version uses a brioche style bread that is reasonably balanced in that nature and absorbs flavours well. And though some recipes claim it’s better made with day old stale bread, our Cook finds them a cook’s myth.

The other ingredients are just as crucial– eggs and whole milk, bittersweet chocolate, nutmeg and cinnamon. Yes bittersweet chocolate. Mrs. Ware, our current Head Cook, swears anything less than whole milk isn’t milk at all.

So while the bread pudding is being baked off, let’s turn to this edition…

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Tunes

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What happens is that the tune happens to you — you don’t happen to it. You can’t help it, because it’s not you, it’s the tune. Night after night, morning after morning, day after day, the tunes live inside your head. They sing themselves to you, they have their own life independent of yours, and when your life and their lives intersect, the minor, everyday magic that all musicians live for…happens.

You might first hear a tune out at a session, or on an eagerly awaited new album, or at a performance. It weaves itself into your head, into your gut, into the spaces between the cells of your body. You may not even know it’s there, not for days, weeks.

And one day, while wholly occupied with something else, or just waking up in the morning, or last thing before dropping off to sleep, the tune sings itself to you — sometimes so softly you hardly know it’s there, sometimes in such an insistent, demanding way that there’s no mistaking that it wants your attention.

Sometimes it’s just a fragment, a phrase, or just one half of the tune. (At that point, it’s sometimes worth going out to find the tune rather than letting it find you, before the unresolved tune drives you to distraction.) Other times, the entire tune is whole and entirely itself, like Athena stepping fully formed from Zeus’s forehead.

Which is not to say it’s not best to double check that you’ve got the thing right; there’s any amount of tunes where it’s fairly obvious someone’s done what a friend calls a ‘cut and shunt’ — the A part of one tune grafted onto the B part of another — and it’s stuck to become an entirely different tune. (Last night, we played a tune and someone led the B part into a different phrase from another similar tune at the end of it…which was obvious when we turned it round to the A again, as everyone briefly wanted to go into the other tune; but never mind, we all did it together and every time we came to the phrase, so it probably didn’t matter much.)

They’re pretty much simple little things, these tunes. They’re a bit like nursery rhymes, repeating themselves and dangerously skirting a kind of musical doggerel, yet the best tunes form a complicated, fascinating tapestry from simple, plain threads.

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