Unite and unite and let us all unite
For summer is acome unto day
And whither we are going we will all unite
In the merry morning of May.

'The Padstow May Song' from Cornwall

24th of April, 2005

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Cat Eldridge here. Every year, we select an outstanding female writer or musician to be our May Queen. In return for a basket of goodies ranging from wine made from the grapes grown on our arbors to heather smoked Scottish salmon and the most tasty of Vermont cheddar cheeses, she delivers to all present at our Green Man feast on Beltane, a Speech about the coming of Spring. Elizabeth Hand, author of some of the most outstanding fantasy novels ever including her latest, Mortal Love: A Novel, accepted our invitation to be the May Queen this year. Though Beltane is still a week away, we're giving you, our dear readers, a sneak preview of Her Speech. So read on to learn what She will be saying...

I'm most honored and gratified to be this year's May Queen -- especially since I was never chosen as a girl to preside as May Queen at Saint Patrick's Parochial School, which each year produced a very good facsimile of an outdoor pagan ritual in honor of the Virgin Mary, complete with girls in flower crowns, boys bearing garlanded stakes, and a blossom-strewn statue of a Virgin. Not bad for Westchester County in the late twentieth century.

Still, first and foremost, I’d like to use this platform to herald a return to the old-fashioned values associated with the festival. Human and animal sacrifices are probably out -- the first are messy, the second politically incorrect -- but surely there are other ways we can honor the past while looking towards the future?

Licentiousness is always a good start, though historical May revels may not have been quite as lascivious as they were cracked up to be. A 1973 study, 'Long-term Trends in Bastardy in England' found no spike in pregnancies nine months after the day. This can't have been for lack of effort, at least on the parts of our fairer sex. A contemporary 17th century account of the ladies who lunched in Hyde Park notes the 'wheeling of their coaches about and about, laying of the naked breast, neck and shoulders over the boot, with lemon and fun-shaking.'

Whatever lemon and fun-shaking may have been, I'm all for it. Also for the deployment of bonfires such as were kindled on Beltane, 'bright fire.' A proper Beltane blaze should be started by rubbing two sticks together, though I personally might make use of a magnifying glass. Kingsford Odorless Charcoal Starter would be useful but perhaps not in the DIY spirit of the day. Ideally, you should have two bonfires; you run between them , then drive your cattle through. Given the lack of cattle in most suburban homes, one could improvise with the family dog or cat, but, again, this might be problematical. You should also be sure to obtain the proper permits from the local fire department, and perhaps make sure your home-owners insurance is up-to-date: in the last week, several folks where I live in rural Maine have lost barns to brush-fires that went out of control.

Hmm. Maybe we'd best get back to lemon and fun-shaking. How about May Wine? That's relatively safe -- you don't plan on driving anywhere on May Eve, do you? Much better to spend the day tending the garden, then set the table with lovely flowers and plan a sensual dinner for your best-beloved (put the kids to bed early). Alternately, have a picnic. In either case, decant this:

Gather one bottle of good white wine and one bottle champagne. Then gather several handfuls of sweet woodruff -- you do have some in your garden, right? -- leaves and flowers both. Dry the woodruff at very low heat in your oven; you can also hang them to dry, but where I live that would mean drinking July Wine. Once the woodruff is dry (this won't take long, the plant is very delicate), put it in a container with the white wine and let chill for at least an hour. Then strain the wine into a container (crystal is preferable, though I have used Tupperware with no lasting ill effects). Pour into fluted glasses, add champagne and fresh strawberries, and imbibe. Paper cups can stand in for crystal, especially if your revels are outdoors. Some have been known to drink the May Wine and champagne directly from the bottle.

Puritans of many stripes have always railed against such doings, and no doubt always will. In 1303 Robert of Brunne warned 'It is a gathering for lechery, / And full great pride, and hearty lye.' I'm with Shakespeare's Sir Toby Belch, who cried 'Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?'

My namesake, Elizabeth I, was a great fan of the day. If it was good enough for the Virgin Queen, it's good enough for me. Bring it on!

Cat Eldridge here. Ok, I'll admit that we get far more CDs for review than we can possibly ever review. The group of artists which produces the most recordings is, by far, singer-songwriters. How many? Oh, just consider that one week alone saw over thirty of them show up in the post. Really. Truly. (Hint to all musicians -- you really do need to send two copies of each recording. If you don't, chances are that your recording will get tossed in the trash as we'll favor musicians who can read the submission guidelines. If you're a singer-songwriter, you will get tossed in the trash for not following this rule!) Now that means that getting these little mothers reviewed can be, errr, difficult. Arkham Asylum has a whole wing for reviewers driven mad looking for something original to say about the debut CD from one of the many singer-songwriters who think a guitar, an 'ability' to write lyrics, and cheap CD-Rs equals an album worth hearing.

So I offered up a proposal to our staff. Let's have Peter Massey tell you about it: 'How do you fancy doing a omni review of some singer-songwriter CDs, selected purely at random -- literally the first dozen from the top of the pile?' asked the editor. 'OK' I said, and the 12 albums here are what duly arrived in the post. I know what you are thinking! Shouldn't there be 13 in a bakers dozen? Yes, but what the hell. On first inspection of the 12 CD's it was plain to see they really were a potpourri of different musical genres and styles, so I decided, purely as a bit of fun, (but it may also help you to make up your own mind as to whether or not to buy the album) to listen to each album and award it points from 1 to 5 for each facet I found. I must stress these are purely my view and should only be used as a guide. You of course may find what you hear as different.' Read Peter's entertaining look at these CDs and later you can buy him a pint or two of Newcastle Brown Ale in the Green Man Pub where he's listening to the Neverending Session play Irish music as he cleanses his ears!

Our other featured review is also of a music nature. Gary Whitehouse has an interview with John Convertino who Gary notes is '[a]n in-demand session drummer, he's also in the midst of recording a new album with Calexico, the followup to 2003's critically acclaimed Feast of Wire. In 2004, he moved from one Tucson neighborhood into another, and found out that he was going to become a father for the second time. And Convertino just turned 42, three days before the release of his first full-length solo recording, Ragland.'

According to Denise Dutton, 'Peter Dickinson takes the salamander of myth and gives it a new spin in The Tears of the Salamander. In 18th century Italy, young Alfredo is a promising singer in the church choir, and sings with the true love of one born to it. Soon though, he reaches the age where he must make a decision: to become a castrati and continue with the choir for his whole life, or to take his chances and hope his singing voice after puberty is as good as it had been before. As he weighs his decision, tragedy strikes. He is soon introduced to his Uncle Giorgio, a man whom he has never known and whom his father hated. Alfredo is whisked away to Sicily, where his uncle is the Master of the Mountain, a powerful man with the fire and fury of the mountain at his control.'

In reviewing the latest Merry Gentry novel from Laurell K. Hamilton, Cat Eldridge was impressed: 'I am not giving away anything crucial by tell you that A Stroke of Midnight is a murder mystery, one which takes place inside the Unseelie Court's immense and somewhat mutable hollow hill, where they moved after being exiled from Europe nearly three centuries ago. A human reporter and a lesser member of the Unseelie Court have been murdered. Merry convinces her aunt, The Queen of Air and Darkness, that she must allow the mortal police to assist, as otherwise the killer will go unpunished. (And punishment in both the Courts is indeed a fate much worse than death.) And because it is a murder mystery, I am not going to discuss the plot at all. All you need to know is that it works specifically as a murder mystery and, in general, as the next novel in this series, it's logical, it's fun, and Hamilton knows how to write well-crafted, interesting dialogue.'

China Miéville's King Rat has just been released in a limited edition by Earthling Publication which our Editor has been reading this past week. He says in his review that 'The copy sent for review was one of four hundred numbered copies, signed by Miéville, bound in bonded leather and slipcased, which is retailing for a very reasonable price of eighty-five dollars. Yes, reasonable. The slipcase -- one of the more rugged ones I've encountered -- is unadorned, but the book has China's signature on the cover and the words China Miéville KING RAT Earthling (the latter boxed) on the spine. Simple and elegant. When you get your copy, do stroke the leather -- it's a very sensual feel! It also looks very cool. But it gets even better when you open the book up, as there's an introduction by Clive Barker which is worth savoring. And it's worth stressing that Kirk's illustrations are the perfect counterpoint to Miéville's text, as both combine to create one of the best experiences I've had in reading a novel in quite some time.'

The title character in David Kidney's review sounds like someone I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley: 'The cover portrait of Chuck Dugan is a bit creepy. His curly red hair sits atop his rather large head, one eye is covered by a patch (rather SPike-like), his jug-ears display a regal look (read 'Prince Charles') and his toothy grin renders a skull-like appearance to Chuck's countenance. Add all this to the fact that he is peering through a porthole, from outside! And this is the protagonist of Mr. Anderson's 'novel...with maps.' Well, Chuck is AWOL after all.' Now read his review of Chuck Dugan Is AWOL to see if indeed creepy really is a good description for this novel!

In his other review this edition, he looks at Mark Brend's biography of a late and very much missed rock 'n' roller: 'Mark Brend has written the first biography of Lowell George, described in the sub-title as guitarist, songwriter and founder of Little Feat, but known by his fans (and that includes many of the musicians who worked with him) as "a real musician." Yeah, he was the Rock and Roll Doctor but the self medication got to him and he passed away far too early, but he left behind a legacy of songs and music that live long afterward.  Brend has spoken to many of George's contemporaries, he tries to place George's compositions into the rock continuum drawing influences in and out to Robert Plant, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. He traces the development of George's signature slide guitar sound, back to the blues and forward into the sound of modern day Little Feat. You couldn't call it bottleneck, George used a heavy metal socket wrench. He traces the growth of Little Feat, their development into jazz territory and beyond. He follows George into his short solo career, and his rapid decline and death.'

Jacqueline Simpson's Icelandic Folktales and Legends was released this year again, nearly 35 years after it was first printed. Patrick O'Donnell took a break from reading the Robert E. Howard material we sent him to review this important work: '... this is a fine book and a fine addition to any collection of folktales and mythology. Simpson's work is as important and inspiring now as it was when it was first released...' and he further notes 'Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien will recognize some of the themes he drew from for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.'

In the Featured Review notes this edition, our Editor lashed out at singer-songwriters who put out merde. In the publishing world, the same thing happens with the assistance of vanity presses like the one which printed the novel, Joe Herrington's Tekoa, being reviewed by Lenora Rose -- PublishAmerica. (I refuse to say published as that would suggest a competency which is sorely lacking on their part!) She has a long and detailed look which, as she put it, the 'pity is that with a good editing from a publisher who cared, Tekoa stood a chance of being a damn good adventure.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review for all the gory details.

In Search of Scotland (which was edited by Gordon Menzies) gave Robert M. Tilendis some problems: 'I have had occasion recently to confront the phenomenon of 'translations' between different media and to find new aspects of the inherent difficulties in such while reading In Search of Scotland, the print version of a television documentary aired originally in Britain.' Read his review to see why this was so!

Patricia A. McKillip's Od Magic offers ample evidence that even the best of writers can pen a less than sterling novel. As Elizabeth Vail puts it, 'If sufficiently pared-down, it might have made a passable short story, but as it is, this novel is really rather odd. And not in the good way.' Now you really should read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review to see why she thinks McKillip's novel is less that sterling.

Led Zeppelin fan Craig Clarke has been watching the new DVD release of No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded. Read Craig's review to see why, despite the improved sound and picture, he says, 'As far as the Led Zep canon goes, this barely places, but it's definitely one of the most consistently entertaining things either of them has done since the breakup.'

'Just about everyone knows the basic story,' says Denise Dutton, referring to The Amityville Horror. Denise caught the new remake not long ago, and in her review she observes, '...it's a popcorn movie; the kind of film that needs a large bucket of popcorn and a seat that tilts back just a little bit to really enjoy the experience.'

Gary Whitehouse was thrilled to be able to savor some old-time music film footage. He says, '[T]he Shady Grove DVD presents rare and wonderful performances by four of the most influential players of old-time music in the 20th Century: Kilby Snow, Dock Boggs, Tommy Jarrell and Roscoe Holcomb. In fact it purports to contain the only known filmed footage of Boggs, whose playing helped shape the music of a couple of generations of musicians, from Bob Dylan to Kelly Joe Phelps.' Gary picks up an Excellence In Writing Award for his review.


Now come join us in the Green Man Great Hall for the late night feast I mentioned previously. The Kitchen staff has decided that they'll go French this year -- ragoût de lapin avec de nouveaux pommes de terre et pois de coquille tout épicés avec l'estragon, frais cuit au four baguette, and for dessert, fraises fraîches avec de la crème. All washed down with a particularly fine Champagne. the Grand Siècle Alexandra Rosé 1997. Bon festoiement!


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Updated 24 April 2005, 05:00 GMT (RN)