Sunday, the 4th of December, 2005

'I prefer my history dead. Dead history is writ in ink, the living sort in blood.'
-- from A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

The next biweekly issue will be published on Sunday, the 18th of December, 2005

Book Reviews Featured Reviews Music Reviews Live Reviews & Interviews

Despite what Martin says in A Feast for Crows, no history is ever dead so long as someone, somewhere 'members it and tells others about it. Same's true of trad music as anyone who has listened in on the conversations 'bout tunes that the musicians who play in the Neverending Session have between tunes about what they are playing can note. With that thought in mind, we asked some musicians which pieces of music history they keep alive by performing them...

J. S. Boyce -- I don't really consider myself a musician, but I can play a bit. I like Beethoven for his piano sonatas, and, most predictably, I can play the first movement of No. 14 (Moonlight). I'm a big fan of Tempest, also, but it's probably a bit beyond me.

Emma Bull -- Right now that would be 'Twa Bonnie Maidens.' It's so lovely and hopeful and soaring, exulting over Flora MacDonald helping Prince Charlie escape to the Isle of Skye. Yet it's got a wistful strain, too, at the end, as if the singer knows Charlie won't be coming back from France, whatever the song says: There's a wind in the tree, and a ship on the sea / To me hi, bonnie maidens, me twa bonnie maids / By the sea mullet's nest I will watch o'er the main / And you're dearly welcome to Skye again.

Tim Hoke -- For tunes, I play some Renaissance tunes, because I like that music, and I'm always looking for good contradance tunes, and there are some good dance tunes from that era. For songs, that's harder to say. I'm a ballad geek. I think it's well-nigh impossible to establish even a rough date of origin for many of the great ballads. I tend to introduce them as 'older than anybody I know'.

Larry Kirwan -- Blind Mary - the intro to Dear Old Donegal/Sleep Tight in New York City. it's an old Irish air/lament. It's evokes the memory of emigration which the song is what the song is about. Also, the song is written about a woman by name of Mary.

Zina Lee -- While sessions as we know them today didn't really exist before the 1900's or thereabouts (no one knows for sure when they actually started and arguments are rife as to whether they started in London or the US, though most ethnomusicologists agree that they did not in fact start in Ireland), there are lists of some of the tunes played by Irish musicians in the 1700's in various tutors and such of the time, and some of the names of the tunes are the same. I'm quite sure that there are some tunes still hanging round from the sixteen hundreds, but no one really knows which ones they are. Add to that, even tunes that are completely new can sound very old, and vice versa. There's a jig called The White Petticoat that sounds rather Slavic (and therefore 'modern') -- I've launched it at sessions, had someone rather doubtfully ask about 'that modern sounding jig of yours' and gleefully been able to inform them that it's in O'Neill's, which was published around 1900. Prolly some muso went to Bulgaria or somesuch and came back with it in his head. Which is a really long route round to saying, 'I don't know which one I play is oldest.'

Peter Massey -- I think the oldest / ancient song I sing is one of the many version of John Barleycorn. The one I favour most was collected from Billy Bartle in Bedfordshire around about the time of King James I. I only sing it because nobody else (except Steeleye Span) seems to want to do it! - It does have a good chorus though! On the rare occasions when I pluck up enough courage to sing unaccompanied, I quite like many of the Copper Family songs such as 'Thousands or More', ' Babes in the Wood' or even 'Bold Fisherman' and 'Cheshire May Carol'.

Lars Nilsson -- I sometimes play an old medieval tune called Bransle something which I knicked from John Renbourn's The Lady and the Unicorn-album. I play it because I like the rhythm of it and because it is a good 'warm-up'-tune

Lenora Rose -- Probably the 12th C Ave Maria I'm in the midst of learning. It's simple
and rather pretty.
I'm also learning the Flower Carol, which is the familiar music to good King Wenceslas (which is reputed to be 13th C), but lyrics from the 1600s -- and the English lyrics I favour are a translation, and so more modern than that. It's fun because it's a Spring Carol, not a Christmas one. She went on to add that I don't know most of the secular songs from that far back well enough to sing -- I strongly favour ballads, which, even if the words can be documented to earlier times, are usually set to 18th century or later tunes. And I love those because I'm passionately, rabidly in love with the spare storytelling.

Josepha Sherman -- OK, my dear: I play the folk harp a wee bit (I'm sadly out of practice) and of the older songs, I like 'Sumer is icumen in,' ca. 1260 or so, by our old friend, Anonymous. I like it both for the melody and the words, which are cheerful and alive with the image of animals jumping about for the joy of it. It also makes for a cheerful round for several voices. For the earliest songs, though we don't have the melodies, alas, I love some of the Ancient Egyptian love songs, which are downright modern -- such as the one about the girl who sees her boyfriend and rushes out to meet him with half her hair still undone!. She went on to note The Ancient Egyptians had our concept of romantic love, btw, clear in their songs. There's even a sadly fragmentary one of a wife undressing her husband, who's passed out after what was clearly too much drinking at a party, and how she loves him even so.

Pat Simmonds -- 'The Return From Fingal' is a great march reputed to have been composed after the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 to pipe Brian Boru's soldiers back to Dublin. I teach it to all my students and it's becoming a session standard here in Toronto. It's definitely a warpipes tune and definitely very, very old so I'd like to err on the side of mythology and think that it's one of the oldest tunes I play.

David Kidney like so many staffers here at Green Man considers Jethro Tull one of the finest rock bands that ever graced the stage. So it's no coincidence that he was the staffer who decided to review two review items of a Tullish nature, one rather bad and one most excellent!

Allan Moore's Aqualung, a look at perhaps the best know Tull album, caused him to be somewhat surly: 'Sometimes it feels as though I am too easy on the things I review. Even the stuff I start off not liking, I listen to -- or think about -- long enough to see the good in it. And then I try to present a fair and balanced look in my review. Well, that stops right here! ' How bad was it? Oh, this bad: 'The book is short, only 110 pages, but it seems to go on forever. As I read, my wife said, 'Stop grunting!' as I responded verbally with huffs and puffs on nearly every page.'

On the other hand, Aqualung Live was brilliant as David notes here: 'There's a sense in which re-visiting the past can limit our understanding of a piece of art like Aqualung, turning it into a museum piece. And by breaking down lyrics, and even chord structures and looking for meaning behind every bush, we turn essentially vibrant and dynamic pieces into static objects. If the creator of the piece can find new enthusiasm for a 24-year-old song collection (and he does) then perhaps rather than worrying about interpretation we need to simply crank our record players up to 11 (or at least as high as they will go), and dig the sounds of this classic, must-have recording!'

David also reviews Tull's Christmas EP. No, not the Jethro Tull Christmas Album but yet another delightful treat for those of you who love great music! This CD is 'a nifty little extended player in CD form, which is essentially a musical Christmas card, if you are so inclined.'

You know by now that we get a wide range of printed matter in for review, ranging from chapbooks and zines of varying quality to the most tastefully produced limited edition works of material that is indeed classic. So it won't surprise you at the selection of material reviewed this edition. . . .

Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood are the editors of Slightly Foxed and they sent us the first four volumes which J.J.S. Boyce reviews this edition: 'I got a year's worth of these all at once, but Slightly Foxed seems like a great thing to have a subscription to. You leave the latest copy on your coffee table, and read for 10 or 15 minutes whenever the mood strikes you. As you discover, or rather, as the contributors within share with you their discoveries, you make note of those described gems that really resonate with you, and you make it your mission to track them down, even if they've been out of print for 30 years (there's usually some good advice on how and where to track down some of those more difficult to find). A quarterly publication seems just about right, so that you don't feel inundated with 'to read' memos, but will never lack for good ideas, if you're not the sort to overload yourself with reading materials to begin with. So, if you're looking to explore some lesser-known works that have fallen through the cracks, this might be a good place to start.'

David Kidney also looks at a strange volume that is delightfully odd: 'The main title of this delightful little volume is Wimbledon Green. The sub-title contextualizes it by defining just who Mr. Green is, The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World. And then it goes on in shiny bronze print to explain that what follows is A story from the sketchbook of the cartoonist 'Seth.' It's a sort of apology for putting this book out on the marketplace, and this impression is continued by Seth's Introduction, which he says, 'might be best . . . read . . . as an afterword.' But I read the Introduction in order of appearance.' Go read his review to see why he wholeheartedly recommends this volume!

Robert M. Tilendis looks at a young adult novel which he really found well-crafted: 'Steve Augarde is a well-known British illustrator and author of children's books. The Various, the first in a new series, treats readers to the adventures of twelve-year-old Midge, sent to stay with her Uncle Brian at the old family farm in Somerset while her mother Christine, a professional violinist, is on tour with the orchestra. In spite of her initial resistance, Midge is won over; she finds the farm and Uncle Brian charming, even before she discovers that her bedroom is the room in which she was born. It looks as though she is in for a pleasant idyll for two weeks, which is when her cousins Kate and George will arrive for a visit. Then she discovers Pegs, a miniature winged horse, lying wounded in an old pig barn, trapped under a rotary rake.'

George Alec Effinger's When Gravity Fails is in the same universe as his collection, Budayeen Nights. Robert says of this first novel in a trilogy that 'I can't not recommend this book. This edition is a reissue. Originally published in 1986, When Gravity Fails is fresh and surprisingly timely, in an age when things Arabic are of paramount interest in the West. And best of all, it's an absorbing mystery set in a rich and fabulous world.'

Robert also reviewed 'Silverheart, the latest addition to Michael Moorcock's tales of the multiverse, is a collaboration with Storm Constantine. I admire both authors, and was looking forward to this one. I came away from it, however, with decidedly mixed feelings.' Read Robert's Excellence in Writing Award winning commentary to see why Moorcock collaborating with Constantine was not the best idea.

A bit of ethnographic history is last up for Robert: 'Siberia, that vast tract that covers the Russian North from the Urals to the Pacific, is one of the most inhospitable places that humanity has found to live, equaled only by its North American counterpart (although Siberia does hold the record low temperature for any inhabited part of the earth). In its southern reaches it was the site of one of the most s significant events of animal domestication in human prehistory, and one that is little-known the in the West: the domestication of the reindeer. This phenomenon, and the lives of the people who live with their herds, are the focus of Piers Vitebsky's The Reindeer People.'

It being the Holidays, it must be time for the Grinch to make its appearance. No, not the seven foot sort of pookish being that Dr. Seuss created. This is our Grinch given to writers for a particularly Grinchy review. Susan Sellers' Myth and Fairy Tale in Contemporary Women's Fiction earned Leona Wisoker a well-deserved Grinch: 'A tremendous amount of research and thought went into this book. I give full credit for that; Sellers definitely knows what she's talking about. If she's writing for highly educated scholars, she's likely to be respected and admired for her hard work. For anyone with less than a Professor before their name, however, I wouldn't recommend this book. I'll add it to my shelves of feminist/myth writing on principle, because it has some worthy moments, but overall I found it very disappointing and frustrating. I couldn't even finish the whole book, and that's extremely rare for me; I've read some real stinkers all the way through. This book isn't exactly a stinker, but it was simply too dense a thicket for me to get into.'

Elizabeth Vail looks at two books by Robert Silverberg in a series called the the New Springtime saga, At Winter's End and The Queen of Springtime. She says it wasn't best written fiction she's seen: ' The series of The New Springtime began with a great deal of potential, but was ultimately flawed, and if the outline is any indication, would not have improved with the publication of the last volume. Fans of At Winter's End and The Queen of Springtime, however, may want to pick up these Bison Books editions, because the introductions by Robert Silverberg, as well as the outline for The Summer of Homecoming, are quite comprehensive.'

Gary Whitehouse looks at two books on Lenin, ooops, not that Lenin, but rather another one, John Lennon. Larry Kane's Lennon Revealed and Yoko Ono's Memories of John Lennon. Lennon means a lot to Gary ('As an American Baby Boomer, my life has been bracketed by assassinations. John Kennedy's, when I was 8, was perplexing. Bobby Kennedy's and the Rev. Martin Luther King's, the year I became a teenager, were frightening, coming as they did in a time of race riots, campus demonstrations and nightly body counts from Southeast Asia on the TV news. John Lennon's, on my elder daughter's first birthday, affected me most deeply.') so go read his commentary to see what he thought of these works.

Senior Writer Michael Hunter interviewed the legendary South African musician Johnny Clegg last September when Clegg toured in Australia. Clegg is famous for the formation of multiracial bands Juluka and Savuka during apartheid and for the incorporation of Zulu lyrics into his songs. In his interview, Clegg talks about how he is able to stay relevant in a post-apartheid world. He discusses the difficulties of touring from his home base in South Africa and explains how the ancient beliefs of his people provide a framework for understanding today's problems:

I've actually been watching the environment and if you know from a few lines of songs in the last Savuka album, it was already appearing, where we're talking about snow in the summer and all the seasons are upside down. Referring to the fact that there is some hidden hand which is changing our world but the real problem is that we're the one driving that hand...nature reflects the problems in culture. If we look at the droughts and the pestilences, it happens in countries where there is some kind of social injustice....There's a kind of African idea that 'no rain means no justice' and so we have to reorganise society so that we can bring back the rain. In that very kind of organic way, traditional African sight is: watch very carefully because nature is a barometer of the conduct of people and the maintenance of true social exchange and true social relations.
Our Assistant Music Review Editor, Music Review Production Editor and Master Reviewer, David Kidney, discovered that a man can tire of life while waiting for Garth and Maud Hudson to take the stage. In this review he describes being subjected to a very lengthly 'time out' before the Hudson's chaotic but inspired performance began. Accompanied by his band, 'The Best,' Hudson gave ample proof of his quirky musical genius, playing two keyboard instruments simultaneously while confusing his band totally. Nonetheless, David reports, 'it's also clear that the musicians on-stage also love their bosses. In fact, apart from the one or two people who got up and walked out early on, everybody had a great time. It was chaotic. Spontaneous. Frustratingly loose. Amazingly musical, and virtuosic. But who could disagree with the comment overheard in the foyer later, 'Did you ever hear anything quite like that?' No-sirree-bob! Never did.'

When Lars Nilsson hears London calling, he packs his bag and he goes. On this, his 50-somethingth trip, Lars leads us on a tour of London's musical meccas. This magical mystery tour covers a lot of ground, from Dowland to the Beatles and from Covent Garden to Albert Hall with frequent stops for short reviews of performances by Fairport Acoustic Convention, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Appassionata, Dick Gaughan, and Wizz & Simeon Jones. The great thing about London, Lars says, is that you can find music where you least expect to hear it: lurking in the depths of a tube station, on backstreets and in cafes. Lars aptly paraphrases Dr. Johnson when he says, 'When a man is tired of London he is tired of music, because London has all the music life can afford.' Grab your copy of 'Time Out' and join the tour by clicking here.

Jack Merry 'ere. You find Nordic music in the oddest places these days. We were listening to a new recording, Bone Shaker, from the Scottish group Cantrip, in our flat on a cold, rainy afternoon recently when me dear wife Brigid said that piece sounded familiar from a concert we had attended some years ago. Checking the liner notes, we discovered it was called 'Vittrad' and that it was composed by Garmarna. That's what makes the contemporary Nordic music so interesting -- the way that a band outside of that genre picks up a Nordic tune and gives it a unique feel.

Now for our reviews this edition...

Faith J. Cormier notes that 'Beyond the Pale remind me a bit of the Chieftains in their ability to take songs that don't sound like they should be on a Celtic album and make them fit in and sound good anyway. 'Where To Now, St. Peter?' and 'From Me To You' (which always reminds me of Joni Mitchell's 'Free Man in Paris') and, especially, 'You Can't Break My Heart' (a little faster than I'm used to hearing it), are the outstanding examples of this on Queen of Skye.'

Randy Huston's There's a Hole in Daddy's Rope and Ian Tyson's Songs From the Gravel Road aren't Hee Haw style music according to David Kidney: ' Cowboy music is not country music. It's not even country and western music. It exists all by itself out there in the world of exotic music. And it is exotic, because it describes a lifestyle that is as unique and different to what we city dwellers know as anything you can imagine. The world of the cowboy is a rarified one, that (when I was a boy, at least) held more appeal than anything. Perhaps nowadays little boys grow up wanting to be firemen, or paramedics...but in my day all we wanted to be was a cowboy. Even Ringo Starr had plans to travel west and learn ropin' and ridin'. Tex Beatle? These two CDs show this music at its very best.'

Peter Massey says: 'Every now again if you listen to a lot folk recordings, as I do, it is nice to put on a bit of good old rock 'n' roll - just to blow the cobwebs away. Well this is one album that will do it for you with a vengeance. The Morells have a polished style that is modeled on the rock bands of the late 60's (the sort of sound I grew up with), so I think I can safely say 'I've been there and I've got the Tee shirt.' Now there's a thought -- think about it!' Now go read his review of the Morells' Think About It to see if they kicked it up a bit!

Pat Surface's The Long Goodbye is fitting for these early December days when it's dark and gloomy: 'This album is produced by Pat Surface not only as a dedication to his father-in-law Rocco Michael Passaretti, a victim of Alzheimer's disease, but also as a fundraiser for Alzheimer's Prevention Foundation & Alzheimer's Foundation of America. On the inside of the cover notes are full details of how and where to send your donations. Witnessing his father-in-law die from this disease gave Pat Surface the inspiration not only to produce this album but also write the title song 'The long Goodbye'. In his own words from the sleeve notes, 'Family inspired me to create a piece that not only described the pain, but also the lasting legacy of love, and the promise of eternal life.' I think it is fair to say he has managed to do it.'

Christopher White was very impressed by Mark Lemhouse's new recording: : 'On first hearing The Great American Yard Sale you might think many tracks were originally released in 1955 or 1975. Closer listening reveals the sprinkling of contemporary musical and lyrical references that, along with the excellent sound quality, lets you know otherwise. Recorded mostly in Memphis, the material and musical approach are authentic and timeless.'

Healthy White Baby's self-titled recording caused Gary Whitehouse to wryly note ' You'd think by now that musicians would have figured out that being in a band with one's spouse rarely works for long. The pop music scene is littered with the wreckage of musical couples whose bands and marriages broke up at the same time.' Read his review to see how this couple fared!

A tribute album to the The Beatles' Rubber Soul released on the on the 40th anniversary of its release in 1965? Er . . . is it any good? Or just a really bad idea? Gary says ' This could have been a lot worse. If such a tribute had been released a decade ago, I shudder to think who might've been on it. Silver Chair? Oasis? Smashing Pumpkins? Courtney Love? Sheryl Crow? Hootie? At any rate, we've been spared those bleak possibilities and left, for the most part, with a slate of artists who are by and large much closer to the roots of rock. If This Bird Has Flown piques the interest of their fans to check out the originals, so much the better. As for me, I'm definitely going to give The Donnas, Ted Leo and Low some attention. But first, where's my old vinyl copy of Rubber Soul?'

Cat Eldridge, our Editor, has decided that this is the winter for him to read all of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series -- all nearly three thousand pages in first four fat volumes of the seven volumes planned for publication! So you'll most likely find him most evenings for quite some time to go near the fireplace, Irish coffee in hand, in that overstuffed chair that storytellers here in the Pub often use while telling stories -- appropriate he thought given Martin's storytelling skills! No, he's not reviewing it -- that honour fell to Elizabeth Vail who got the review copy of the latest novel, A Feast of Crows, and who is preparing a look at the first three volumes (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords) which will run shortly. No, he's quite content savouring the series as long as he can!


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Updated CE -- 04.12.05 @ 16.24 GMT
Archived 09_09_2006 10:09 PM PST LLS