God Jul!

Ahh, the wandering carolers have been here singing for their Cider: Wassai! 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 to thee.

Indeed ’tis true that nothing beats for a winter drinking treat well mulled apples with spices enhanced with really potent cider. And let’s not forget the still warm gingerbread cookies.

After a few centuries, anything needs a good cleaning. I watched with considerable bemusement a generation ago when the staff here moved this endeavour from a printed affair existing in bound leather journals like the one I write in, to one that existed only as a website. Now it goes from being a website to being a journal of sorts which brings it back to what it was like a long, long time ago.

I volunteered to write up these entries as I’ve kept journals of what goes on this estate that houses both Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog for my own amusement for more years than anyone save my Ravens remember. And I find the staff and their reviews quite fascinating, as they really believe in what they are doing.

What you will see here are is a mix of new reviews and anything I find interesting in the archives. I will do a major update every two weeks with smaller postings ’ween those. Of course, I will comment on the goings on here as well — handfastings, who’s fucking whom, what ale just got tapped, what my Ravens did that got them in trouble, and what’s cooking in the Kitchen.

Amusingly our Librarian here at the estate, Iain Mackenzie, has been using my journals from time to time to tell some of the stories of this ‘tea cup’ culture as he calls it over at Sleeping Hedgehog.

Winter Solstice is upon us and I am fascinating by how writers have treated that most sacred of holidays (well at least as far as I am concerned) in fiction. I’ve also some choices in music that I’ve heard played that definitely tickle my fancy for wanting to hear this time of year.

For your seasonal music listening pleasure, I am first going to send you to our Nordic music one-off. The hundred or so recordings in this write-up are but a mere taste of all the Nordic recordings we’ve reviewed, but it’s enough to keep you in interesting music for quite some time!

The Nordic countries indeed have a rich tradition of music related to Christmas, not only traditional carols, such as those performed by Grex Vocalis in their CD Magnum Mysterium, which has truly international scope, but also in more informal approaches, such as the Julevariasjoner, variations on traditional carols by Norwegian pianist Wolfgang Plagge.

I’ve heard it hundreds of times down the decades both live and in recorded forms, but I still love Russian composer Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker for the sheer joy of the festive nature of this relatively new work from my perspective. If you get a chance, go see it performed live!

And we’ve got a couple of contributions to the season from the Italian baroque composers — Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 8, the “Christmas Concerto,” which, not inappropriately, is coupled with Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons in a CD from the baroque ensemble Red Priest.

Piping music of a more traditional nature has graced my life for many, many a year. One of the best pipers I’ve ever heard is Northumbrian musician Kathryn Tickell. We’ve got reviews of her outstanding work this way and over here as well here.

My favorite recording of all time is Dawn Dance by Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser. If you haven’t encountered this artist before, suffice it to say that you’ve missed hearing one of the best fiddlers that has ever existed.

For a quick read of a Winter Holiday nature, nothing beats James Goldman’s The Lion in The Winter, a play centered around a Christmas Court of Henry the II and his extremely dysfunctional family.

A similar quick read is T. S. Eliot’s Murder in The Cathedral verse play, riffing on the matter of Thomas Beckett, a cursed soul if ever there was one. As a storyteller, I find it fascinating that Eliot drew heavily on the writing of Edward Grim, a clerk who was an apparent eyewitness to the event.

And the GMR chapbook of Jennifer Stevenson’s short story, ‘Solstice’ is something I re-read every year. You can read it here or better yet listen to Jennifer herself reading it!

All of us are now headed over to the Robert Graves Reading Room in the Library because Jane Yolen’s up there reading from The Wild Hunt novel she wrote to a group of staffers, while Adam Stemple, her son, plays ever-so-tasty Scottish tunes. Oh, you heard about the rather striking tartan they are wearing? That’s the Douglas plaid which is their clan.

Now fill up your mug of mulled cider and we’ll get on our merry way . . .

The artwork this post is by Charles Vess. It is the cover for Tapping the Dreamtree, a Charles de Lint collection. Use of image granted by the artist.

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