Pretty soon we had four pipers, maybe not good but loud. … A tyro practicing can set your teeth on edge — it sounds and looks as if he had a cat under his arm, its tail in his mouth, and biting it. — Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers
It’s over two weeks past Candlemas and I can easily feel that Spring is coming out as there’s both longer days and shorter nights, but it more importantly feels in my bones as if Winter’s truly passing and Spring’s now actively thinking about arriving. Mind you that also means the skiing is difficult as the snow’s melting on the surface and the Mill Pond has to be checked twice daily to see if if it’s still safe for wandering onto.
Despite the turning of the season in my bones, I’ve been just a wee bit tired this week as the Council of Shadow Libraries met here for the last fortnight. Fascinating conversations, lots of whiskey imbibed and friendships renewed and made. What shadow libraries are is something I’ll discuss another time, but now let’s turn our attention to this edition…
Denise got her money’s worth from Jonathan Cowie and Tony Chester’s Essential SF: A Concise Guide. ‘Essential SF packs a lot of information into 268 pages. But it doesn’t feel swamped by excess nor is it uselessly brief. It’s a handy reference guide that can be picked up and leafed through any time you need information about the most popular aspects of science fiction fandom. It’s also useful if you’re just looking for an interesting book to read or film to watch.’
A novel full of music and myth should make great Summer reading and Grey has a recommendation: ‘Charles de Lint dedicates The Little Country to “…all those traditional musicians who, wittingly or unwittingly, but with great good skill, still seek to recapture that first music.” A traditional Celtic musician himself, de Lint has peopled The Little Country with musicians and filled it with music. All of the chapter titles are titles of (mostly) traditional tunes, and there is an appendix of tunes written by Janey Little, the book’s main character — tunes actually written by de Lint himself. (‘Tinker’s Own’ on their Old Enough to Know Better CD recorded de Lint’s “The Tinker’s Black Kettle,” one of the tunes in this novel.) Any readers who are at all musically inclined may find themselves itching to reach for their instruments and try out the tunes.‘
She also says of Medicine Road that ‘I suppose it’s fitting, for a story about twos, that the creators are two Charleses. Charles Vess’s illustrations make this not-so-simple fable deeper and richer. Vess combines line drawing and painting in a way that makes his pictures simultaneously vividly life-like and fairy tale-remote.’
Jack dove head first into a couple of books, Kenny Mathiesen’s Celtic Music: Third Ear: The Essential Listening Companion, and June Skinner Sawyers’s Celtic Music: A Complete Guide. ‘So what I have is two books purporting to tell you, the person with a strong interest in Celtic music, what you should be listening to. I’m assuming that you already know a lot more than the average punter about Celtic, so I won’t bore you with stating what Celtic music is, or why it’s so hot right now. Methinks that what you want to know is how good these two guides are at suggesting what there is out there for Celtic music that you wouldn’t know existed.’
Jo’s first review is of Hugh Shields’ Tunes of the Munster Pipers: Irish Traditional Music from the James Goodman Manuscripts: ‘It isn’t often that a new book of tunes comes along that could successfully change the whole way we look at Irish music, but this book has that potential. Over 500 tunes are compiled in it, as recorded by James Goodman beginning back in the 1840s and spanning two decades. The collection has long been regarded as a holding ground of Irish traditional music but was never published due to the onerous task of editing the manuscripts into a format recognizable today.’
She also says ‘One Northumbrian musician, Billy Pigg, deserves further study. Billy Pigg played the pipes for the love of it, not for fame or fortune, and that seems to be what made him such a great success. His fiery speed and innovative style has greatly shaped the nature of Northumbrian piping today. The recent publication of A.D. Schofield and J. Say’s Billy Pigg: The Border Minstrel, gives us an excellent opportunity to learn about the personality behind the greatest influence on Northumbrian piping.’
Michael looks at Holly Black and Ellen Kushner’s Welcome To Bordertown collection: ‘A generation ago, Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold introduced us to Bordertown, an abandoned American city sitting on the Border between the “real world” (The World) and Faerie (The Realm). A place where science and magic both worked, if equally unpredictably, it became a haven and a destination for runaways and outcasts of both worlds, a place where humans and the Fae (aka Truebloods) could mingle, do business, eke out a living, and find themselves. It was a place where anything could happen.’ Need I say that a goodly number of women writers are present throughout the course of these books?
A while back Will was so unimpressed with a movie that he just had to tell us about it. Well, he tried to, but … he kept getting in his own way. The movie? A live action film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. ‘This would make an excellent movie for a home-editing kit. You get 129 minutes, and you could cut it down to a fun 90. Hint: Start by cutting the voice-over. I don’t always think voice-overs are a mistake, and it’s true there are a few clever bits in these voice-overs, but there aren’t enough to justify them.’
As cooler temps become the rule of the day, Denise takes a look at Trader Joe’s Organic Hot Cocoa Mix. She found it a lovely way to start the day, and perhaps even enjoy the evening; “…if you’ve a mind, a splash of Kahlua and/or Bailey’s wouldn’t be amiss.” Now go see what she thinks cocoa lovers should give this one a try.
Elizabeth reviewed three graphic adaptations of classic novels published by Puffin Graphics – Red Badge of Courage, Black Beauty, and Frankenstein – with mixed results. ‘Of the three graphic novels reviewed in this omnibus, Gary Reed and Frazer Irving’s vision of Frankenstein is the best. Far from simply putting Mary Shelley’s words to images, the excellently adapted narrative by Gary Reed and cover art for Frankenstein the graphic novelgorgeously creative illustrations by Frazer Irving turn it into high art.’
Gary reviewed a new release by Arar, a duo from Spain. ‘Marina Tomás Amado and Maria Cruz Millet are two very busy and creative young artists. But somehow they’ve found the time and inspiration to record this album of music that joyously celebrates youth, love, connections, and the act of creation itself. They make music under the name of Arar, which in Catalán means plowing – turning over the earth to sow. Fans of intimate acoustic music can reap the benefits of their sowing in their self-titled debut album.’
Gary also reviewed a new box set of a cult favorite indie rock band from the ’90s, The Collected Works of Neutral Milk Hotel. ‘Neutral Milk Hotel was sometimes basically a solo project and sometimes a full band. [Frontman Jeff] Mangum only released two full-length album as NMH, 1996’s On Avery Island and 1998’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. If you were into indie rock in the mid to late 1990s, chances are you had and loved those albums. The latter one is sometimes touted as the best indie rock album ever. Listen to indie rock of the 2000s – The Decemberists, Beirut, Typhoon, and A Hawk and a Hacksaw come to mind – and you’ll undoubtedly hear Neutral Milk Hotel’s influence.
Jack Merry covered a large handful of bagpipe CDs from traditions other than Scottish, including Latvia, Spain, Bulgaria and France. ‘Not surprisingly, my CD collection holds much more than just Irish, Scottish, and English music! In preparation for the next Wild Hunt festival, I’ve been looking at piles of CDs from bagpipe-based groups from ’round the world. ‘Tis amazing how much good piping music there is even when one avoids the standard Irish and Scottish schools of music!’
Our reviewer John O’Regan wrote up an omnibus review (as was his wont) of three Celtic related CDs: Chris Stout’s First o’ the Darkenin’, Freeland Barbour’s The Black Water, and James Thurgood’s Handy Little Rig. ‘Solo instrumental efforts by band members or ex-band members sometimes start out as a one-person venture, but the end result is often a conglomeration of ideas and influences suggested by fellow musicians that have come on board. In this review we look at three essentially solo albums by noted instrumentalists who play very distinctive instruments – fiddle, accordion and harmonica. All are well known in their chosen circles, but only one of these records is truly a solo album in every sense of the word.’
John also reviewed a couple of contemporary pipe band releases, The Scottish Power Pipe Band’s Cathcart, and Manawatu Scottish Pipe Band’s The Calling. ‘These are good examples of the winds of change blowing through the piping world and how bands are adapting to them. Some go into the realms of experimentation with a full knowledge of the possibilities therein, while others tread carefully in their initial moves towards incorporating a wider sphere of influences to their music.’
Another of John’s reviews covered a very large selection of Celtic music, ranging from harpists to singer songwriters to Christmas albums and some Nordic-Irish contradance music. Do check out his overview of music from the likes of Wendy Stewart, Gordon Duncan, Ben Sands, Mary Coogan, Dirty Linen, Patricia Brady and more.
Did you say piping? Another of John’s reviews was this massive omnibus review of Scottish piping CDs. It features three discs from the Glenfiddich Piping Championships, several years’ worth of programs from the Dr Dan Reid Memorial Solo Piping Competition, The Pipes and Drums of British Caledonian Airway, and lots more.
‘I was a little intimidated when a package of seven bagpipe CDs arrived at my house,’ Tim said. ‘Now, I love bagpipes in all forms as much as anyone who doesn’t actually play them can, but a stack that size is a powerful amount of droning. I took the plunge, turning my house into Drone Central for a while.’ What CDs is he droning on about? Willie Clancy’s The Pipering Of Willie Clancy Volumes 1 & 2, Tommy Martin’s Uilleann Piper, Brian McNamara’s A Piper’s Dream, Kevin Rowsome’s The Rowsome Tradition, and various artists’s World Pipe Band Championships 2000, Volumes 1 & 2
Our What is one I found in the Archives. It is a this piece of writing by writer Kage Baker who was asked what her favourite folk tale was…
‘Hmmm… When I was a child, it was ‘The Tinderbox’. To analyze why: Starts out with an adventurer wandering the world free– I liked that. Meeting with a supernatural person who sends him off on a treasure hunt– good. Heaps of money encountered, in a way a child can readily appreciate: a heap of pennies! A heap of silver coins (maybe dimes? Or even quarters!) A heap of GOLD (so cool as to be mythical).
And a Tinderbox? What was a Tinderbox? I wondered for years. Three immense magical dogs with successively bigger eyes, all of whom can be rendered tame by use of a magic apron. I was scared to death of big dogs, so I liked the idea they could be tamed this way. Plus the recitation of their eye size (‘big as saucers.. big as cartwheels… big as millstones’) in its repetition appealed. Hero uses his money to buy fine clothes, a nice house, and the best food– seemed sensible to me, just what I’d do. Falls in love with a princess who can only be got at through magical means– yay! A love interest! Magic dog outwits spy by running all over town chalking Xs on all the doors– funny image, that. Hero gets caught eventually anyway– oh no! suspense! But sensibly gets a child to fetch his tinderbox. And then the giant dogs, each with their particular eyes, save the day.
On growing up, I have discovered that this was a Hans Christian Andersen story originally– and in the original version the soldier doesn’t get doublecrossed and left in the cave by the witch, as I was told. In the original, she keeps her part of the bargain and pulls him out of the cave, but he gets greedy and kills her to keep the tinderbox for himself. I would have disliked that immensely, had I heard that version. Heroes should play fair. It would have undercut the entire premise of the story if he were actually a bad man. Children love justice.
I also liked Beauty and the Beast, especially once I’d figured out it was the same story as Eros and Psyche, and it’s a bit more profound in terms of life lessons. So that one followed me into adulthood. But when I have to tell a story to a child, I’ll usually start with the Tinderbox.’
Now for your listening pleasure, the 2015 Førde Traditional and World Music Festival 25th Anniversary Sampler edition offers us up the String Sisters playing ‘The Champagne Jig Goes To Columbia and Pat & Al’s Jig’ which they performed at that festival. Isn’t it simply amazing?