What’s New for the 11th of June: Space Opera, Folkmanis Rat in a Tin Can, Lots of folk rock – Steeleye Span, Orthodox Celts – Maddy Prior interview, some contradance and some bluegrass; a catty film review; Vess’s Ballads & Sagas; and some new Norwegian folk rock

All things flow from the spirit, Master Anderson. Governments are made up of their people. So long as they are men and women of character, the nation stands. ― James Stoddard’s The High House

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I awoke well before dawn as I wanted to watch the Northern Lights as they’ve been particularly outstanding right now. Though none of the humans save Tamsin, our Estate Hedgewitch,  joined me, but several of the Irish wolfhounds that guard our livestock accompanied me as well and even some of Tamsin’s owl companions flew low overhead. We, well at least we humans, found them fascinating as the wolfhounds and owls seemed to be playing a rather complicated chase game.

We later had breakfast back in the Kitchen nook created originally for members of the Neverending Session to play in the Kitchen — thick cut twice smoked applewood bacon, blueberry waffles with butter and maple syrup, tea for me and Tamsin as well, and Border strawberries, the ones that start red as blood and turn white as bleached bone, as well. We both felt in need of  a very long walk to work it off, or a long nap… I, however, needed to put this together so both choices were put off for later consideration!

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Cat goes sideways in time: ‘Ah, to visit John Carter and the inhabitants of Barsoom, Edger Rice Burrough’s richly imagined Mars. The characters in Robert Heinlein’s The Number of The Beast did in their travels across the multiverse, and now the protaganist of Rainbow Mars does it. Well, sort of. Maybe. Possibly. Let me explain the confusion that I may have intentionally generated… Larry Niven has stated many times that he firmly believes that time travel is logically impossible — an utter and complete fantasy. So when retrieval specialist Svetz heads back from polluted future Earth in search of extinct animals, he tends to sideslip into fantastic, fictional worlds. And delightfully so in these stories.’

He next has a collection with an an interesting premise: ‘Now we can add to the list of great Sf and fantasy pub tales  this Larry Niven collection, The Draco Tavern, which collects all of the previously printed Draco Tavern tales, with a few new pieces thrown in for a bit of value added like all the extras we get on DVDs these days.‘

He finished his Niven reviews with Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven’s The Mote in God’s Eye which he say of that ‘Until the likes of Iain M. Banks with The Culture series and Neal Asher with the Polity series came along, quite possibly the best Space Opera of all time was this forty year-old novel that took the Space Opera novels of the 1930s and 1940s and very, very nicely updated them.’

Lis says of Larry Niven’s Hugo Award winning Ringworld: ‘Louis Wu is 200 years old, and … bored.When a Puppeteer, a member of a species that’s been absent from Known Space for a bit over 200 years, diverts Louis’ transfer portal shift in the course of his birthday celebration, Louis Wu is ready to be recruited into a new offworld adventure. The fact that this will involve traveling with the Puppeteer, called Nessus; Speaker-to-Animals, a very junior diplomat of the predatory, big-cat-like species humans have been at war with multiple times, the Kzin; and a fellow human, Teela Brown, who is genetically “lucky”; and all of them in an untested, experimental hyperdrive ship much faster than any existing hyperdrives…what could possibly go wrong?’

Speaking of The Culture series, Gary has several reviews for us, the first being a book of literary criticism about the Culture series. He says Simone Caroti’s The Culture Series ‘is valuable reading for anyone who wants to move into a deeper understanding of what that series is really about, where it stands in the history of SF and literature, and why it’s important.’

He has read (and reviewed) a lot of the late great Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels, but for some reason hadn’t yet covered the second of the series, The Player of Games. He’s now remedying that: ‘It’s a deceptively layered story, something of a game in itself. From the very outset we’re told by the unidentified narrator that all is not what it seems. The story begins with a battle that is not a battle and ends with a game that isn’t a game, we’re told. Just who the book’s title actually refers to is but one of the bits of authorial legerdemaine we’ll contend with as we follow the story.’

He did look at the final novel that Banks wrote before cancer took him at far too young an age: ‘The Hydrogen Sonata: High concepts to ponder, natural and constructed wonders to marvel at, plus intrigue, mystery and action to keep you turning the pages; The Hydrogen Sonata is yet another Banks novel to savor.’

Gary here in this review echos what I really like about The Culture series: ‘As with all of Bank’s Culture novels, Surface Detail is richly imagined in addition to being intricately plotted. The characters’ actions sometimes surprise but never seem out of character. The settings are minutely described, and in such a way that I can almost always them see in my mind’s eye. There was a short section somewhere past the midpoint where I felt that the plot got bogged down for a while; other than that, I could hardly turn its nearly 650 pages fast enough.’

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Speaking of summer blockbusters, James reviewed Catwoman, the one with Halle Berry … and was not amused. ‘If all you need in a movie is Halle Berry in a tight, revealing leather outfit cracking a whip, stop reading this right now and go see Catwoman. If you care about anything else in a movie – like plot, acting, originality, or excitement – see anything else.’

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Ana G. Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Paul Nathan had a book that was to the liking of Gary: ‘This is, the authors of Tequila! A Natural and Cultural History say, the “second tequila boom” in the United States. The first occurred around the turn of the 20th century, after a mescal produced by Sauza took top prize at the 1893 Chicago Exposition. But Mesoamericans have been pit-roasting agaves for up to 10,000 years, from the north rim of the Grand Canyon south to Guatemala, and cultivating the succulent plant for nearly as long.’

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Debbie took a thorough look at Charles Vess’ The Book Of Ballads And Sagas #1 – 4. ‘Vess, who has a solid reputation for illustrating such works as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories (also published in graphic novel form) also loves the ballads and sagas that have been entertaining people for hundreds of years, and in this series of books he has collaborated with some of the best-known writers in fantasy literature, including Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Charles de Lint, Sharyn McCrumb (not a fantasy writer but an author of mysteries with an Appalachian folkloric theme), Midori Snyder, Robert Walton and Delia Sherman (whew!) — I hope I’ve not left anyone out!’

Raspberry dividerGary soared with delight for Brian McCarthy’s After|Life. The jazz saxophonist and his nine-piece ensemble’s latest work is a musical exploration of the birth and evolution of our Solar System. ‘These are heady scientific and philosophical – even spiritual – concepts. But the music on After|Life, while heavenly to listen to, is distinctly down to earth. This is for the most part tuneful, melodic jazz by a crew that’s in synch.’

Gary also enjoyed a new recording by jazz pianist Edward Simon and his trio, with Mexican-American singer Magos Herrera, called Femeninas: Songs of Latin American Women. ‘Edward Simon, a performer, composer, and arranger, has built his career since his first trio recording in 1994 on original compositions and “jazz informed” arrangements of pieces from the Great Latin American Songbook. His partnership with Herrera, who  sings in Spanish, English, and Portuguese, and is deeply connected to the Latin American jazz scene past and present, is a natural fit.’

And Gary delved into the new album Substrat by Guillem Ballaz, who is described as ‘a multi-instrumentalist musician who seeks inspiration on the margins of tradition …’ Gary says, ‘I would never have seen the cultural or artistic similarities between the Sami of Norway and the people of the Spanish region of Catalonia, but Catalán musician Guillem Ballaz did. And he incorporates a couple of Sami singers including the world renowned Mari Boine into his new project Substrat.’

John O’Regan penned an informative and moving remembrance of Irish musician and singer Mícheál Ó’Domhnaill. He was a central figure in the Irish music revival, playing in Skara Brae, The Bothy Band, Nightnoise, with Kevin Burke, and many others from the 1970s until his untimely passing. ‘Mícheál Ó’Domhnaill was so pivotal to many eras in Irish music history. He may have been a quiet man but his influence can be detected and felt to this day. As well as a performer I will always remember Mícheál Ó’Domhnaill as a sensitive musician, poignant vocalist and above all a kind and gracious man. He was among my heroes and when I hear his dulcet tones on ‘Is Trua Nach Bhfuil me in Eirin’ on the first Bothy Band album or ‘Lord Franklin’ on ‘Promenade’ — I know one thing for certain — we won’t hear Mícheál Ó’Domhnaill’s like again.’

Lars reviewed a rare recording of folk songs by the U.K. singer Graham O’Callaghan. ‘In This Heart is a timeless album. Since Graham O’Callaghan steers clear of all things fashionable, he has created a recording that can be played no matter what fashion dictates. It may not catch your breath the first time you hear it. But give it time, and it will grow on you.’

‘One of the problems with listening to new albums from old groups is that we each have our favourite era of those groups’ history,’ Lars says about Steeleye Span’s Bloody Men. ‘Any new product is always compared with those “classic albums” of the past, albums that usually stood for something new and revolutionary when they first appeared. But how can you continue being revolutionary for almost four decades?’ Read his review to see what he thinks about this one. (Spoiler: he likes it!)

Speaking of Steeleye Span, Michael Hunter interviewed Maddy Prior when she was touring Australia with her then-new CD Ravenchild. They discussed the album, her bandmates, Steeleye, ravens, folk-rock, and folk music in general. As Michael said: ‘It’s been a long and influential career that shows no signs of slowing down, for which a great many people are very grateful! The Ravenchild CD is a fine representation of where she is now musically: mythological and current, folky and contemporary – and with that unique and unmistakable voice.’

Peter liked an early album by a Serbian band playing Celtic music, the Orthodox Celts’ Green Roses. ‘Musically, the band is very tight. As a folk rock band, they sit midway between The Pogues and The Old Blind Dogs. Orthodox Celts was formed by fiddle player Ana Đokić some seven years ago. They all come from Belgrade in Serbia. Aleksandar Petrović sings all the lead vocals. I have to say that at first I was not sure about his voice, but after listening a few times it grows on you, and there is hardly a hint of a Serbian accent. This album only goes to prove that good taste in traditional music is not just confined to the British Isles.’

Peter also got a kick out of John Bull’s Alive and Kicking: ‘For over 25 years the John Bull band has been plying their own particular brand of folk rock to tunes for ceilidh and barn dances. This is a long-awaited release from a band that is now broadening its horizons. Their ‘bread and butter’ is playing dance tunes, but here on this album they include some songs. While they are essentially a ceilidh dance band, making this album has provided the opportunity for the band to explore new ideas. These include some re-worked material taken from their involvement with theatrical productions by The Riverside Players on the Wirral, Cheshire. The result is indeed a fine example of the closeness a band only gets after years of playing together.’

Peter wasn’t quite as sanguine about Brian Peters’ Different Tongues: ‘Singers of traditional English songs are born to it, not made, so therefore some do it better than others. Listening to Brian Peters on Different Tongues, I somehow got the distinct feeling that Brian has got a lot more to offer than what is on this album.’

Tim reviewed some banjo-forward CDs, including an omni of three: Hilarie Burhans’ Put On The Skillet, Hubie King and Diane Jones’ There Are No Rules! and Reed Island Rounders’ Goin’ Back. ‘I was lucky to get to hear some good old-time banjo recordings recently. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground when it comes to banjos. There are the folks who love them, and then there are the misguided. I think there’s hope for the misguided, though; they just haven’t listened to the right recordings. These three, for instance.’

Tim then went on to Steppin’ On Cords and The Road To Burhania, a couple of releases by Hilarie Burhans’ Hotpoint Stringband, which specializes in contradance tunes. ‘I’ve said before that good contradance bands rarely make good sit-and-listen-to bands. I’ve also noted that there are exceptions to that rule, and Hotpoint Stringband can be added to that list. All of the tunes on these discs are danceable, and they are also eminently listenable.’

Somebody else, but we’re no longer sure who, reviewed Hotpoint Stringband’s Hotpoint Special, one of that ensemble’s most enduringly popular CDs. ‘This band from Athens, Ohio, has taken a new approach to playing contradance music, namely throwing in everything including the kitchen sink. Traditional reels and waltzes are fused with original compositions and the result is a heady mix ready for the dance floor. The album kicks off with “Bus Stop Reel” which illustrates well the Hotpoint’s specialty. Start off with a rump-shaking rhythm. Add banjo and then remaining instruments. For a dash of something extra, throw in a bit of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” ‘

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Our What Not this week is another treat from Folkmanis. Says Robert: ‘I seem to have another Folkmanis puppet lurking around, this one the Rat In a Tin Can. The Folkmanis website describes him as being ready for a playful picnic (note the napkin in one paw). However, it seemed to me that he might just as easily be a waiter in an upscale rat restaurant: his black-and-white pattern might almost be taken for formal wear.’

Raspberry dividerFor our Coda, the young Norwegian “hard” folk rockers Gangar have teamed up with one of Norway’s most promising folk singers, Synnøve Brøndbo Plassen, on their upcoming debut album. We have a preview of their first single, “Sukkeri Er Søtt (Sugar Is Sweet)”, which drops June 16 just in time for your Solstice revelries. It’s taken from a fun old folk song of the same name, learned from a recording by fiddler Aslak Brekke (1901-1978), and combined with a Reinlender (what Norwegians call the Schottische) they learned from a recording by Ole “Ola” Løseth (1897- 1978). Done of course very hard fast and loud. (Gary reviewed Gangar’s Tre Danser EP from late 2022.)


I'm the Pub Manager for the Green Man Pub which is located at the KInrowan Estate. I'm married to Ingrid, our Steward who's also the Estate Buyer. If I'm off duty and in a mood for a drink, it'll be a single malt, either Irish or Scottish, no water or ice, or possibly an Estate ale or cider. I'm a concertina player, and unlike my wife who has a fine singing voice, I do not have anything of a singing voice anyone want to hear!

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About Reynard

I'm the Pub Manager for the Green Man Pub which is located at the KInrowan Estate. I'm married to Ingrid, our Steward who's also the Estate Buyer. If I'm off duty and in a mood for a drink, it'll be a single malt, either Irish or Scottish, no water or ice, or possibly an Estate ale or cider. I'm a concertina player, and unlike my wife who has a fine singing voice, I do not have anything of a singing voice anyone want to hear!
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