To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due. –Hob Gadling’s toast in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Season of Mists
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 will be celebrating by attending a concert by the Neverending Session in which they perform Halloween music, both classical such as ‘Danse Macabre’ and more contemporary tunes such as ’The Great Pumpkin’ and one by the Red Clay Ramblers, ‘The Pumpkin Dance’.
Roast pumpkin soup with smoked ham, sourdough rolls shaped like skulls courtesy of an idea by a Several Annie decades ago, Indian-spiced veggie hand pies and nutmeg pumpkin ice cream will be our eventide meal tonight which will be perfect for working off when we have an evening contradance by Chasing Fireflies In the Great Hall which tonight is Ingrid, my wife who’s 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? Oh 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 …
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.’
Cat brings us a full-cast audiobook production of a landmark graphic novel: ‘It’s hard work to adapt the Sandman graphic series to another medium, but I’ll say that Audible, with the participation of the author as the narrator, has done it most excellently. It’s a full cast production with the usual exceedingly high production value that I’ve come to expect from Audible. This is the second Gaiman audio-drama that I’ve listened to recently as I experienced the recent BBC production of Neverwhere as well, which I highly recommend. And I recommend this as well, as long as you’ve got a strong stomach, as this is a dark fantasy with more than a touch of horror.’
Cat next looks at 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!’
Grey say that ‘Clare Leslie and Frank Gerace have provided a wonderful resource in The Ancient Celtic Festivals and How We Celebrate Them Today. This slender book (fifty-eight pages) can be read by anyone from upper elementary school on, but younger children would also enjoy it if it were read to them. It is clearly designed primarily for the school and library markets, but “folky” families and those interested in Celtic traditions will also want it for their own libraries.’
Possibly the earliest example of the American ghost story gets reviewed by Kestrell: ‘It is difficult to think of an American ghost story more well-known than that of Washington Irving’s short story ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. Though Irving’s original sources for the stories may have been local folklore based on the same stories which the Grimm Brothers would collect and publish back in the Old World, Irving’s tale would emerge as one of America’s first and most familiar stories until, like the best stories, it seeped into the American consciousness the way well water rises from some hidden source deep underground.’
Nellie found much to appreciate in The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: ‘Jean Markale’s telling of many traditional stories illustrates this history vividly and causes us to reflect on the essential nature of the holiday. Identifying, through Markale’s exploration, with our pagan ancestors, gives Halloween the serious reflection it deserves. We can look now at this black and orange night and see beneath the mischievous spectacle, a holiday of changes, of reverence, of comprehension and wisdom.’
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 look at Ray Bradbury’s quintessential Autumn novel and film which gets an appreciative review by the same 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.’
Books can get successfully turned into other forms as we see in a review by Vonnie of an interesting performance of an Ellen Kushner novel: ‘Ellen Kushner and Joe Kessler at Johnny D’s. Kushner performed Thomas the Rhymer as a combination reading/musical performance at Johnny D’s, the synergy between the songs and the narrative was much stronger. The pauses, in particular, highlighted the words far better than the end of a paragraph on a page ever could. Kushner sang and played guitar, whilst Josef Kessler played fiddle and mandolin.’
William rounds out these reviews with a look at Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree: ‘A must for young and older readers alike, this book belongs in your hands right now. Run, skip, leap to your book seller! Jump into it as you would a great heap of October leaves. If you begin to look at Halloween or yourselves in a secret, new way, then thank the grand old man of Fantasy for the privilege.’
Festive Samhain, everyone! Denise here, and I’ve stolen away the food and drink section this issue. Why? Because ghoulish delights abound! I’ve stuffed my face with all sorts of seasonal delights … though not everything was particularly delightful. Come along and see, won’t you?
First off, in a nod to the spirit of the season, Dunkin’ Donuts released a slew of themed donuts. I tried their Spider Donut, but I wasn’t particularly impressed. “It’s a mess. Somewhere, Mary Berry is sobbing.” Read on to learn more!
Still got a touch of a sweet tooth? Well, why not try a Cadbury Screme Egg? ‘…I prefer the protoplasm look of that gooey sugar goodness. I’ve always been a weird kid.’ Check out this treat to see if it’s something you’d fancy!
Want something savory instead? How about Transylvanian cheese? Happy Farms Preferred Transylvanian-Romanian Cave Cheese, to be exact. Let’s just say that if you’re able to get your hands on some, you should. There’s more to be had in the review, but for now let’s just leave it at this; ‘Thank you, Transylvania.’
And what better way to wash things down this spooky season with a Harry Potter themed drink? Flying Cauldron’s Butterscotch Beer is just the thing. ‘A nice quaff when you’re feeling Potterish. And this time of year, especially with #HarryPotter20, who isn’t?’
Cheetos’ Bag of Bones is a suitably spooky entry into the holiday snack aisle, and a perfect go-to for the season. And I’m pleased: ‘When you queue up a spooky movie this season, grab some of these to really get into the spirit.’
Cat now first looks at a Doctor Who adventure that’s a horror story which is beloved by many fans of the series: ‘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 British Empire both adored and despised, played by Louise Jameson. That it is set during 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.’
Babylon 5‘s ‘Day of the Dead’ as written by Neil Gaiman is a study of what happens when an alien race creates their own strange version of that Hispanic holiday on that space station. Read Asher’s thoughtful look at this episode. This being a Neil related thing, it won’t surprise you that there’s an annotated script which Grey reviews here.
Denise looks at two classics in the horror film genre: ‘Halloween and its sequel Halloween II put their own spin on the Boogeyman. This Boogeyman is Michael Myers, locked up in a mental institution after stabbing his sister to death on Halloween night when he was six years old. The house where Michael and his family lived remained empty ever since. Well, until the night HE came home (sorry, but I had to use that line somewhere in this review.) Anyway, Michael comes back home fifteen years after his murderous deed, seeking vice-minded teenagers (and unlucky adults) to add to his body count.’
Robert looks at the Justice League Dark film: ‘Once I got started on the Justice League Darkcomic, I had to go back and check out the 2017 animated film. If anyone is expecting a film version of the new comic series, guess again: the film was released before the new series was even announced, and while there are similarities, they are very different sorts of critters.’
Charles Vess in his most excellent Book of Ballads illustrates Sharyn McCrumb’s take on the Halloween tale of Thomas the Rhymer. It’s the only All Hallows’ Eve related story here but everything here is well worth your reading time. Cat has a second opinion on it here.
Cat next has a look at a lavishly illustrated edition of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere: ‘So if you’re looking for a new edition for yourself, I wholeheartedly recommend this edition. Indeed if you’ve got a fan of dark fantasy and horror, this is a perfect gift for them as well. With Halloween needing new traditions this year with the lockdown screwing it over, why not give yourself or them this book?’
And since we’re doing Gaiman, Rebecca takes a detailed look at his groundbreaking — and quite eldritch — series, The Sandman: ‘I admit to some trepidation about writing this review. So many authors, editors, musicians, and reviewers have said so much about these books. This series altered the face of the comics industry. It’s drawn in thousands of people who had never read a comic book before.’
In line with our mini-theme of Neil Gaiman, and slightly offside of our “autumn/Halloween” theme, Robert had a look at a whole complex of graphic works that started with Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic: ‘Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic — the original story, not the series — began when DC Comics approached Gaiman about doing a series that would bring together the “magic” characters of the DC Universe. Gaiman created the character of Timothy Hunter, a twelve-year-old boy who has the potential to become the greatest magician of the age — our age. Gaiman’s story became the basis for the ongoing DC/Vertigo series of the same name.’
John Ney Rieber continued story, and developed a series: ‘John Ney Rieber’s continuation of Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic is a complex, multilayered story that focuses not so much on Gaiman’s mythic connections (although they are there in full measure) as on Tim Hunter: finding his magic, and his bearings in the world(s) he inhabits is intimately tied in with growing up, which Tim does a lot of in this series.’
Si Spencer took the idea one step farther: ‘Life During Wartime represents a distinct break with The Books of Magic as it had been developed by Neil Gaiman and John Ney Rieber. Si Spencer, working with Gaiman, “updated” the characters and took them into a new set of trials that speak strongly to a contemporary audience.’
Lets offer up a lively bunch of Autumnal music this outing. Well Autumnal music in a loose sense I grant you…
Jay Ungar and Molly Mason’s Harvest Home: Music For All Seasons is to the liking of Brendan, who says, ‘With their 1999 release Harvest Home, they have given themselves a new challenge. Arranging a set of tunes from the broad variety of American rural music traditions, designed to celebrate the seasons and labor of farm life, they also decided to try their hand at incorporating these folk themes (both original and traditional) into an orchestral piece called “The Harvest Home Suite.” The result is a beautiful, surprising complex CD which showcases the many rural traditions of the United States while, just as Ungar and Mason hoped, giving all of these pieces a new energy.’
Next up Cat has a look at a recording from Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelly and Charlie Pilzer’s Hambo in the Barn: ‘Back in the twentieth century, a lot of Scandinavians relocated from Sweden and the surrounding countries to the upper Midwest where they became farmers and shopkeepers for the most part. Naturally they brought both their instruments and their music with them. Not surprisingly, this music has persisted to this day which is why this lovely CD exists.’
Dave leads off our music reviews with a look at the Burning Bright box set: ‘The title comes from the William Blake poem, “Tyger, Tyger” and the reason is…that Tyger is Ashley Hutchings’ nickname. Having said that…let me next alert all and sundry that Free Reed is the greatest box-set compilation maker in the world, nay, universe! There is such a wealth of material in one of their sets that to properly appreciate it one must spend quality time with it to savour each mouth-watering delectable. And it’s not simply the music, although they are called Free Reed MUSIC, but the posters, and especially the books that are prepared and accompany each package are filled with enough photos, posters, memorabilia and biographical text to keep all your senses busy. Stick your nose in the book…it even smells good! One warning though…if you don’t like the sound of the concertina, approach this one carefully…but…the concertina grows on you, and this is five hours of definitive British folk music.’
He also has a look at another box set, The Time Has Come: 1967-1973, by another band that evokes Autumn for me: ‘By my recollection it was The Pentangle when they started. And then they lost the definitive article and were just Pentangle. Whatever they called themselves, they were like fish out of water at the time. My friends didn’t listen to them at all. We were all more into The Who, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix. The loud stuff. The flashy stuff. But now, years later, I find myself listening to this mix of jazz, folk, blues, and traditional music far more than I listen to those other bands.’
Deborah offers up the best look ever at Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief: ‘1969 saw the release of two albums that gave me a case of musical whiplash: Pentangle’s Basket of Light and Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief. (If memory serves, the third leg in that triad of bands, Steeleye Span, was still a year away from formation.)’ Go ahead and savour every word of this fascinating remembrance of things long past.
If there be a First Lady of English Folk Music for the past near fifty years, it must be Maddy Prior, whose singing has defined this tradition more than any other vocalist has. Deb has two looks at her, …And Maddy Dances and Comfort and the Unexpected: In Conversation with Maddy Prior. Trust me when I say that each of these articles will enlighten you more about Maddy than a hundred articles in the English music press ever could!
Gary has a recording for us that sounds like a lot of fun: ‘Waltzing in the Trees is a delightful record that brings lively contra dance music into your home. Amarillis is a Pennsylvania-based trio: Maro Avakian on piano, Donna Isaac on fiddle and Allison Thompson on accordion and concertina. They play a mixture of traditional and contemporary Irish, Scottish, English and North American jigs, reels and slip-jigs in medleys or sets. Of course, no contra dance is complete without a few waltzes now and then, and this collection has several good examples.’
English folk singer Fay Hield’s new release Wrackline seems suited to the season, with its songs of selkies and witches and cruel mothers. Gary says it’s ‘a beautifully realized album of traditional and trad-style folk song steeped in English lore.’
Gary also has a review of the latest release from the Montreal band Suuns. It’s an EP titled Fiction that features Arabic-colored indie rock, riotous Frank Zappa raps, and more kinds of experimental post-rock made with guitars, drums and analog synthesizers.
Looking At Sounds is a new album from a quartet led by French-Algerian bassist Michel Benita. Gary notes that it includes some fine contributions from Swiss flugelhornist Mitthiew Michel and especially Belgian keyboardist Jozef Dmoulin on Fender Rhodes. ‘All in all this is a lovely album full of intricate textures and rhythms and sturdy melodic explorations.’
I know it’s early Autumn but I have a Autumnal shopping idea so I devidently to include this release here, so let me quote myself: ‘Are you looking for that perfect Winter Holiday gift for your lover of English folk rock? Oh, do I have a gift that’s perfect! EMI has just served up A Parcel of Steeleye Span. This triple disc set contains the entirety of their first five albums for Chrysalis, from 1972’s Below The Salt to 1975’s All Around My Hat with Parcel of Rogues, Commoners Crown, and Now We Are Six being the recordings in between. This completely remastered collection has 46 tracks in all, including a number of very tasty bonus tracks.’
Jennifer gives us detailed instructions on how to make disembodied heads to hang about in our grounds and messuages, the better to purify the sluggish livers of friends and visitors who might visit during the macabre season and come upon them unawares.
The season in turning, so why a song to see you off that celebrates it that turning? It’s ‘Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)’ by Judy Collins who sung it at The Newport Folk Festival, fifty five years ago. It was written by Pete Seeger in the late Fifties and first recorded in 1959. The lyrics save for the title, which is repeated throughout the song, and the final two lines are the first eight verses of the third chapter of the ‘Book of Ecclesiastes’. The Byrds aLao recorded it and you can hear them sing it here. This version was recorded at the Boston Tea Party fifty one years ago.