What’s New for the 24th of December: The Heist; Seasonal music and books; The Polar Express; winter ales; and Christmas Revels

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink unto thee.

First stanza of the ‘Gloucestershire Wassail’
carol, which dates back to the Middle Ages


If Reynard didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him. So said Iain while enjoying a rather spectacular Boxing Day Stout. He went to say that ‘He’s a singular force, and we’re lucky to have him. He showed up here at Christmas time with a travelling kit and pulled a concertina from that bag and started playing. Bloody good he was.’

What endeared him was not his music but that he noticed we were decidedly short-handed behind the bar and said he had more than a bit of experience tending bar. So the staff said ‘Sure, come help us.’ He worked ten hours from early evening to the wee hours. Smiling, not looking harried and pleasant as well. Made sure everyone was treated right too, a neat ability as we were slammed by having a wedding that afternoon.

Our Pub Manager at the time was from the Border area that Reynard was from and it turned out that they had friends in common, so she hired him on the spot: he’s worked his way up over the past thirty years to Pub Manager. Now we think that he’s in his Fifties, and has been married to Ingrid, our Estonian born Estate Steward, for a decade now. He’d worked at a few Pubs previously, largely those being owned by friends but admitted that he spent more time observing how a good Pub worked than actually working in them.

Good bloke to have here.


Just three book reviews this time, all of seasonal works. Oh, but what works they are!

Let’s start off with a look at Charles de Lint’s Newford Stories: The Crow Girls. Of all the immortal shapeshifting being that inhabit the Newford stories, the most charming at least for me are Maida and Zia, the two crow girls, who look like pinkish teenagers all in black naturally. After you read Cat’s review, you can experience them first hand in A Crow Girls Christmas written by (obviously) Charles de Lint and charmingly illustrated by his wife, MaryAnn Harris.

Grey says ‘When I was a teenager I often repeated these lines to myself as a kind of charm. It wasn’t that I expected them to make something happen; the words were a “happening” in and of themselves, and just saying them put me into the middle of it. They were a door into Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising cycle, one of the most compelling stories I had ever read. The story compels me to this day, and I continue to re-read it every few years.’

Jo has this review she wrote for Folk Tales, the predecessor of GMR a very long time ago: ‘Folk legend merges with Jane Yolen’s creative world to create a work of pure magic in The Wild Hunt, which should be destined to become a classic in the world of children’s literature. Pitting the forces of light and dark against one another is a common theme, but it is rare for those forces to acknowledge the other as essential to their own existence, as done in this delightful tale. Yolen’s use of time and words have woven a masterpiece from the ancient threads of an old tale together with the modern threads of something totally new and different. The resulting tapestry is beautiful to behold.’


It’s no secret that Denise adores dark beers. And while the warmer months may make the body happy, her taste-buds sneer at all the light beers those months have on offer. So when things start to get cool, she starts to anticipate all the porters, stouts, Scotch ales, and holiday selections brew masters inevitably hold for the chillier parts of the year.

This year, as Yule approaches and thoughts turn to fireplaces and friends, why not take a peek at her thoughts on few of this season’s offerings? There’s Egg Nog Ale and Holiday Milk Stout from Flying Dog Brewery, and Shiner’s Texas Warmer for folks who are more worried about sixty degree temps rather than minus sixteen.


Richard looks at what is a now a best beloved film for many here: ‘For those who haven’t seen the filmed version of the play (and shame on you if you haven’t, stop reading right now and go watch the bloody thing), The Lion In Winter details one rather dysfunctional family’s Christmas gathering in France. Of course, the family is that of Henry II of England (including Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionhearted and the future King John, among others); the invited guest is Philip Capet of France, and the holiday gathering takes place at Henry’s castle of Chinon.’


Christopher has, though it’s no surprise, a glowing review of a beloved holiday favorite. ‘Perhaps it’s the season, or the utter magic of Van Allsburg’s talents, whatever the reasons, the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of The Polar Express appears luxurious and incandescent.’


In new music, Gary turned in a year-end omnibus review of some very good World Roots releases from Spain, Scandinavia, and South America that came out in the past few weeks. This worthy crop of music includes Sigrid Moldestad’s Breim, Alba Careta and Henrio’s Càntut, Johanna Juhola’s A Brighter Future, Madera Viva Trío’s Senderos, and Los Ruphay’s The Three Seasons Of The Andes.

Gary also covered a new release by the electro-acoustic Norwegian duo Njaalos Ljom titled simply 2. Traditional music played on acoustic instruments with elements of electronics and noise is one of my sweet spots, and Naaljos Ljom hits the bullseye with 2. It honors the old tunes that express the soul of certain parts of Norway going back a century or more, and brings them to a modern audience in a package that they may find more familiar and appealing than the old scratchy archival recordings. In that way, they’re definitely taking part in the age old folk process.

From the archives, Chuck reviewed a Celtic-flavoured CD of winter music: ‘On Midwinter Night’s Dream, Boys of the Lough include Aly Bain (fiddle), Cathal McConnell (flute, whistles, song), Dave Richardson (concertina, mandolin, cittern, accordion), and Christy O’Leary (uilleann pipes, whistles, song). They call on Christmas and winter traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Shetland, and Sweden to put together a fine CD.

As a listening treat, Gary brought us a video from the first pandemic Christmas, in 2020. Frode Haltli and his Avant Folk ensemble, joined by singer Helga Myhr, gathered (with social distancing) to record “St. Morten,” a traditional Norwegian version of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas,” in a little church near Haltli’s home in Svartskog. We wouldn’t mind if this became regular holiday listening.

Jayme was fascinated but not entirely won over by an esoteric recording, Donal Hinely’s Midwinter Carols: Fourteen Selections on Glass Harmonica. ‘This is, I would say, the perfect CD to have playing in the background during a Christmas party or holiday gathering. It’s unpretentious and familiar on some deep level, but the look of fascinated confusion on listeners’ faces once they realize they’re listening to something unworldly may turn out to be the real treat for the host.’

Kim lovingly reviewed some of her personal favorite holiday CDs including Ensemble Galilei’s A Winter’s Night: Christmas in the Great Hall; St. Agnes Fountain’s Acoustic Carols for Christmas, and Comfort & Joy; various artists’ Oh Christmas Tree: A Bluegrass Collection for the Holidays. ‘My personal holiday tastes run to the traditional and instumental, and I prefer those that refer to the religious or seasonal aspects of the seasons; I loathe those lounge singer holiday albums that go on about Santa bringing diamonds, or snowmen officiating weddings. Give me a holiday album that doesn’t pander to the frenzy, something soothing and instrumental, I say.’

Peter found plenty of good music in Broceliande’s album Sir Christèmas. ‘For me, a Christian living in the Northern Hemisphere, it is a time of the year pervaded with a feeling of good will to all men and which brightens up your spirits, in an otherwise cold and dreary winter. Broceliande are four people from California, (where Christmas can be a little bit warmer) but they have chosen songs, carols and tunes from England, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany and America.’

‘Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 8 (The “Christmas” Concerto) has long been one of my favorite baroque works,’ Robert said in his review of this work and Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons on a disc by an ensemble known as Red Priest. Of the Christmas Concerto, he says, ‘In places the music registers so much differently than what I’ve been used to that it took me a moment to realize that this delightful piece of music was indeed the old warhorse I’ve loved all these years.’

Robert also wrote about a brief song by Claude Debussy that, sadly, is all too appropriate for these times, more than 100 years after he wrote it: “Noel des Enfants Qui N’ont Plus De Maisons” (“Christmas Carol for Homeless Children“) on soprano Carmen Balthrop’s CD The Art of Christmas, Vol. 1. ‘It’s a strange, disturbing (and possibly disturbed) thing — Debussy wrote it in 1915 during World War I as a plea for vengeance, a prayer from the French children that the Germans should have no Christmas.’

Scott had mixed feelings about Enya’s And Winter Came…, which he said mostly has little to distinguish it from the singer’s other albums. ‘On And Winter Came… the two standout songs are “Trains and Winter Rains” (the leadoff single) and “My! My! Time Flies!” The latter song features the album’s one guest performer, guitarist Pat Farrell, and has an uncharacteristically lively tempo with quirky lyrics making reference to people as diverse as Isaac Newton and The Beatles. It’s a rare example of Enya letting her guard down a bit and audibly having fun with a particular song, and she should do songs like it more often.’


I know that theThe Winter Solstice just passed, but let’s still have our annual story about that sacred event, Jennifer Stevenson’s ‘Solstice’ about a small-time rocker — well, listen to it as told by the author to find out what happens to her on that night, or if you prefer to read it, you can do so here.


Our coda isn’t a musical selection this time. Up to her passing a decade or so back from cancer, Vonnie was a frequent attendee of the Christmas Revels at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here’s her lead in to the one she saw fifteen years ago: ‘The Christmas Revels is a special event, an annual tradition on par with performances of the Nutcracker, only tailored to lovers of folk traditions. After 42 years, it has accreted tradition of its own, which helps audience members to feel like part of the holiday community — which is the point of the Revels. The culture on which the performance focuses changes from year to year but the basic shape of the performance — and its professionalism — remains constant.’

Gus the Estate Head Gardener

I'm the person responsible for both the grounds and the livestock which are raised here. I live with Bree (my wife) in one of the cottages that has been here for centuries. I actually enjoy Winters here as my work load is considerably reduced as I let the younger staff members handle the needed work which leaves me time for reading, ice skating and skiing, not to mention just being with my wife. Bliss!

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About Gus the Estate Head Gardener

I'm the person responsible for both the grounds and the livestock which are raised here. I live with Bree (my wife) in one of the cottages that has been here for centuries. I actually enjoy Winters here as my work load is considerably reduced as I let the younger staff members handle the needed work which leaves me time for reading, ice skating and skiing, not to mention just being with my wife. Bliss!
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