Sunday, the 7th of May, 2006

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Jack Merryhere. I once saw Eric Burdon say, just before singing 'The House of the Rising Sun', 'I hate this fucking song.' So I asked a few of me fellow musicians what what was their least favourite piece of music to perform, and why so. Most found excuses to avoid answering the question -- even free pints of Guinness didn't tempt them! -- but enough were forthcoming. Me least favourite piece is, most often, 'Music for a Found Harmonium'. The late Simon Jeffes was a brilliant composer, but it ain't a fuckin' piece of Celtic music no matter how many bleedin' Celtic bands play it!

Scott M Gianelli said 'There's a hambo our spelmanslag plays that was one of the first Swedish tunes I learned to accompany, but it's not all that interesting and familiarity brings contempt. There's another dance that the dancers like, but we only know one tune for it and the melody is so simple and unimaginative it gets very grating very quickly.' He went on to add that ' Oh and while I was in the mixed chorus in college we had a melody of Irving Berlin songs we had in our repertoire all four years, but please don't get me started on that. . . .'

David Kidney said simply, and rather wisely, that: 'I tend not to play songs I don't like to play. Eric Burdon hates the song because he's been playing it non-stop since 1964. It probably also ticks Eric off that Alan Price gets all the credit (and cash) for doing the arrangement' Indeed he has. He was playing to a very small audience, mostly fairly blitzed, at a dive of a roadhouse. At this early '90s gig, he was playing mostly Animals material with Brian Auger and (I believe) Brian's son Ali. Must have been a royal bitch to do that night in and night out.

Zina Lee answered with a non-answer: ' I'm going to refuse to answer this one on the grounds that it will incriminate me! [She grinned widely at this point.] Thing is, for session musicians, it just means tunes that you personally hate, and if you talk about which ones they are, you're sure to get someone else's knickers in a twist when it's their favorite. . . !'

Pete Massey, who jokingly said he's a musical prostitute, stated, 'Fortunately the Marrowbones don't have an attitude problem. We only sing songs 'we' particularly like and enjoy. This one fact probably accounts for the reason we are neither famous or rich! :) But, if I had to pick one song as a least favourite it might be 'The Wild Rover '. It's one of the most requested songs, but we never do it unless they buy us a couple of pints!!'

Zina followed up on Peter's comments with this: 'Oh yes, all those old songs -- I love the parodies, they make me laugh. My favorite parody has to be the one for the much-groaned-at 'Fields of Athenry':

(M. Austen, 1993)

By a lonely prison wall / I heard a young girl calling / Michael they are singing it again / And it just goes on and on / And I hate that blooming (bloody) song / I'm so fed-up with the fields of Athenry


Oh no not the fields of Athenry / If I hear it one more time I'm going to cry / They should ban the flaming (bloody) thing / There are far better songs to sing / I'm so fed-up with the fields of Athenry

By a lonely prison wall / I heard a young man calling / Mary why do you think that I'm in here / I hit the singer with my shillelagh / Now I'm bound for old Australie / But no more I'll hear the fields of Athenry


By a lonely harbour wall / I heard a young girl calling / To a prison ship and saying wait for me / Won't you let me come along / Before they start that blooming (bloody) song / I'm so fed up with the fields of Athenry


(To which Kelly Sedinger exclaimed loudly, ''Groaned at'? Geez, I just discovered that song a year ago!')

Moira Russel had an interesting reply: ' Yeah, as the daughter of a musician, that's the interpretation I have -- altho' my mom's a classical pianist, so she doesn't get asked for too many warhorses (Beethoven sonatas, Chopin preludes). But I remember hearing Lou Reed play at Bumbershoot here a few years ago, and man, the people in the audience were yelling 'Play 'Sweet Jane'! Play 'Walk on the Wild Side'! Play 'Sister Ray'!' as if he were this Lou Reed-sized jukebox. And apart from wanting to publicize your new songs or even whether or not you're in the mood to play something, the poor guy wrote those songs in, what? 1970? You have to try something new, otherwise you wind up like Eugene O'Neill's father performing the 'Count of Monte Cristo' over a thousand times and having to get hit in the face when you come offstage to snap out of it.'

Kelly Sedinger did take me up on that pint of Guinness: 'I'm no longer a performing musician, but when I was, I played trumpet in a community symphony orchestra. I will yield to no one in my love for the music of Mozart and Beethoven, as a music-listener, but as a symphonic trumpet player, there was nothing I hated more than to see a Mozart or early Beethoven symphony or concerto on the program. The trumpets of Mozart's and Beethoven's day were very limited instruments, and they mainly only played tonic and dominant in the louder passages of the works, which meant that the trumpet players would have to count hundreds of rests before playing three or four notes, and then have the conductor admonish them for playing those three or four notes too loudly.'

Kathleen Bartholomew exclaims: 'His Majesty's Dragon is a great book. Naomi Novik is technically a first-time writer, since this is her first published novel -- but with a background in game design, and with her next two books appearing practically as we speak, she barely had time to be a novice before becoming a pro. This, her first book, is worthy of the first rank in modern fantasy. Historical fantasy is a hot genre right now, and at its best combines dedicated scholarship with genuine imagination. The success of any individual effort depends on the depth of each of these components. Novik has delved deep and then soared high. She has clearly read both her Patrick O'Brien and her Jane Austen. She has studied Napoleonic politics and the details of the British Royal Navy. She has perused the lore of dragons, not just European but the entire global tradition. And with all this at her disposal, she has synthesized a unique view of the 18th century where a desperate Britain is fighting France not only with the traditional British Navy, but with an air force composed of dragons'. Now I want to read it! Go read her Excellence in Writing Award-winning review for a look at this first novel in what should be a cool series!

'In 1997 I recorded 'We Shall Overcome' for Where Have All the Flowers Gone: the Songs of Pete Seeger. Growing up a rock'n'roll kid I didn't know a lot about Pete's music or the depth of his influence. So I headed to the record store and came back with an armful of Pete Seeger records. Over the next few days of listening, the wealth of songs, their richness and power changed what I thought I knew about 'folk music.' Hearing this music and our original '97 session for Pete's record sent me off, casually at first, on a quest.' David Kidney says this 'is Bruce Springsteen writing in the liner notes about the beginnings of a journey that would lead him to the release of We Shall Overcome: the Seeger Sessions, a new CD (or DualDisc) of classic folk songs. The early months of 2006 have been filled with Springsteen releases: a deluxe box set reissue of Born To Run, at least three different DVDs and the well-received Devils & Dust. Through all of this material there is a sense of the past. Even the songs on Devils & Dust were written over the last few years. The Boss may be suffering from a little writer's block, but he's looking for answers in all the right places.' Now go read David's Excellence in Writing Award winning look at a recording which is deservedly getting rave reviews!

Hamish, our resident hedgehog here in the Green Man building, has decided that sleeping near the fireplace in the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room is a great idea. Iain MacKenzie, our Librarian, doesn't mind, as the wee hedgehog doesn't chew on anything so long as Iain provides a small bowl of warm milk mixed with raw egg and whatever berries are available. And he loves havin' his wee head scratched!

Kathleen Bartholomew found a great read in an urban fantasy: 'Rob Thurman's first novel, Nightlife, has a beautiful and revealing cover. In the foreground, a dark youth crouches on a girder; behind him the skyline of New York rises at a vertiginous and unnatural angle. And no matter how you turn your head or the cover, you can't quite make the city painted there come out straight and true. Everything is twisted, and despite the fact that the brooding kid ought to be the crooked one, he persists in staying level in a slanted world. That is the spirit in which the story unfolds.' See how her review unfolds here!

Horror from Robert Silverberg? So says Craig Clarke: 'The Book of Skulls is a stunning piece of work. It is inspired, fully of its time (dig the post-hippie slang!), and filled with four remarkable characterizations (by the end, you will know more about Eli, Ned, Timothy, and Oliver than you do about your own grandmother). It also offers a completely plausible and surprisingly organic answer to the suspenseful question of who will be chosen for what. All of this combines to make an experience destined to stick with me long after the upcoming movie (which is utterly misguided, since there is no way that it can capture what makes this novel great and still be entertaining cinema) has been forgotten.' Read his review for a look at one of Silverberg's better efforts.

Faith J. Cormier asks: 'What would happen if the Island of Avalon, having accidentally crashed into Scotland in the 17th century, was cut off from the mainland again? Would the fey come out of hiding? Would wishes come true? Would a whole community's luck change? Most of all, would these consequences be positive or negative? These are some of the questions that The Silver Bough sets out to answer, through the intertwined stories of three American women in Scotland.' Read her review for some possible answers.

Cat Eldridge found a choice bit of entertainment: 'Remember my definition of popcorn reading? (The popcorn here is the stuff you make at home with real melted butter and just a hint of salt. Not the stuff they sell at the megaplex that would've killed the Toxic Avenger in seconds.) If we strip [Gary Westfal's] Science fiction quotations: from the inner mind to the outer limits of all the baggage that has been hung on it by critics, it is, to paraphrase Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks, a damn fine read. Read by yourself and you'll end making lists of reading which you should do; read aloud from it with a group of friends into SF and it'll provoke conversations well into the night. With the quotations being arranged by subject, I could (with some amusement) see what what a number of writers had to say on food and drink -- the quote on caffeine from Greg Egan's Distress was particularly amusing, as was the bit on hangovers from Zelazny's 'The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth' story. There's many an hour of entertainment here.' Read his review for the rest of the story!

Lory Hess says that Judith Heide's Strange Birds 'is a pleasant, innocuous read [but] nothing particularly memorable about it'. Read her review to see why this particular novel was, errrr, bland.

Tam Lin is a recurring theme in fantasy literature so it's not surprising that we received yet another novel with that theme to review: Sally M. Keehn's Gnat Stokes And The Foggy Bottom Swamp Queen. Tim Hoke notes: 'Ballad aficionados will recognize the story of Tam Lin here, or something like it. A handsome man, held for seven years, to be given as a tithe to Hell on All Hallow's Eve, unless rescued. Gnat's tale deviates somewhat from the classic ballad, however.' Read his review to see how this tellings differs from the classic rendition.

David Kidney says 'If you are a fan of graphic novels, illustrated story-telling, or comic book art at all, two names you need to know are those of Jaime and Gilbert (called Beto) Hernandez. These two Californian brothers virtually defined the best of 'underground comix' during the '80s and are doing it again with the new series of their classic Love and Rockets series. Each brother has his own take on Latino culture, each has his own distinctive drawing and writing style, each has his own sense of humour, and yet there are many similarities in their work. These two new books are collections of stories which first appeared in L&R during the late '90s and into the current century.' So go read his review of The Book of Ofelia and Ghost of Hoppers for a look at this fascinating series!

Karen Joy Fowler and the Motherboard have now edited two volumes of The James Tiptree Award Anthology which the good folks at Tachyon Publications have published. Robert M. Tilendis read both of these anthologies and passes judgment on them: 'There is not one story, excerpt, letter, essay, what-have-you, in either volume that I disliked. True, there were some that I liked more than others (and cheers to LeGuin for her in-your-face speech about genre fiction and the increasingly tenuous boundaries that hold the genres separate ['Genre: A Word Only the French Could Love']), but there is not one bad offering in the lot.' Read his review for all the juicy details!

Once upon a time, Patricia A. McKillip wrote a novel called Winter Rose, which has a sequel in the guise of Solstice Wood. (The quote at the begging of the latter novel is from Winter Rose -- 'And every turn led me here. Back into these small rooms.') Robert read Solstice Wood before he read he delved into its prequel, so what did he think of it? Let's ask him: 'This is another novel concerned with place, although not in the same way as Solstice Wood, a story set later in the history of the Lynns and Lynn Hall. The well and Lynn Hall are portals, but even these places, as physical locations, become fluid and insubstantial. Winter is the place in this story, a hard, cold place, a place in which people can be lost, as Laurel, Rois' sister, begins to give up any desire to live waiting for Corbet's return as the season grows colder and colder, while the threat to Rois and Corbet is that that pitiless woman will hold them in her realm forever.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review for a look at this fascinating novel!


Summer's almost here, and with it comes a slew of movies hoping for summer blockbuster status. Many of the films this summer promises to deliver are sequels (Mission: Impossible III, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, X-Men III) or remakes (Poseidon, Day of the Dead). So why not check out some originals while you wait for the Solstice? To get things started, April Gutierrez turns in a review of the Japanese horror flick Pulse. Though she says she didn't find the film particularly frightening, 'the perpetual greyness that comes over the city, the muted tones of every scene and the decidedly creepy ghosts (usually lacking a face or mouth) all lend themselves to a suspenseful atmosphere. But the heart of the movie is far more disturbing than any ghost, no matter how scary, could ever be.' This movie is already getting the Hollywood treatment; an American version is slated for July. Read her Excellence In Writing Award winning review to see if the original Japanese film should be on your pre-summer viewing list!


Robert here, with letters -- our usual collections of plaudits, brickbats (a very polite and well presented brickbat, with a quandary enclosed), and questions. (No, we don't know everything, but we do try.) Catch up what our readers are commenting on here.

You know, sometimes the term 'Gig' just doesn't seem to cover all the types of reviews here in this section. For example, this time around we've got a trip to the theater for a look at a hotly anticipated musical, as well as a trek down to the local cafe to hear a '70s musical legend. Sounds like opposite corners of the world, you say? Don't worry, it's all good stuff!

Scott Gianelli decided to head to the theater, rather than the music hall, to see the Lord of the Rings musical. 'People throughout the world have adored The Lord of the Rings ever since J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy epic trilogy was first published over half a century ago. The popularity of the story about a hobbit named Frodo Baggins and his quest to rid Middle Earth of the One Ring expanded even further when Peter Jackson's enormously successful film adaptation came out in three installments earlier in this decade. Now The Lord of the Rings has been produced for the stage, premiering at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre in March.' This production has been greatly anticipated by many here at GMR, but is it worth turning off your special edition movie versions and heading out to the theater for? Scott tells you in his Excellence In Writing Award-winning review.

David Kidney caught Maria Muldaur live in concert in a local cafe. 'Maria Muldaur! Remember? She sang 'Midnight at the Oasis!' And before that she was in Jim Kweskin's Jug Band. She was oh so drop dead gorgeous. I still go to look at those old LP covers . . . where she never ages.' I remember those covers, and how I longed to be someone like her when I grew up. Alas, that didn't happen, but luckily she's still around to strut her stuff. David's Excellence In Writing Award-winning review gives you a taste of what it was like to listen to her live and in person, oasis and all.

Denise Dutton has a proposition for you to consider: 'Sinking into a good book can take you away from your life for a moment or two, transporting you to a place and time often far different from your own. Music can do that too; in some cases music's power to transport is even stronger than the printed page. Because music affects the listener differently than the written word affects the reader. Think about it, when was the last time you wanted to get up and boogaloo in the middle of a paragraph? The good stuff can get your toes tapping, your head nodding and may even send you someplace wonderful, if only just for a moment.' Read her review of four (!) recordings from K.C. & the Sunshine Band, KC & the Sunshine Band, The Sound of Sunshine, Part 3, and, Who Do Ya Love) in which she explains how disco (!!!) actually draws upon Latin, Caribbean and Rhythm and Blues!

Michael Hunter, Editor and Publisher of F'Stix, the finest online Fairport newsletter you'll have the pleasure to read, reviews Fairport Convention's latest recording, Off The Desk, which comes from their label, Matty Grooves: 'A common quote by Simon Nicol, Fairport Convention's guitarist, co-lead singer and co-founder, runs along the lines of, 'This is very much a live band, only as good as its last gig.' CDs are seen as adjuncts to that, as opposed to the sole reason for the group's existence. Therefore, the live experience is essential to hear Fairport as they prefer to be heard. This is not always possible, however, perhaps for reasons of geography, or the various acoustic variations that frequently tour in place of the full five-member electric line-up featured here. So a permanent record of the current line-up in full flight is certainly to be welcomed and Off The Desk fulfils that purpose admirably.' Our thanks to Simon Nicol, 'Singer and Office Drudge', as he signs his emails, for sending this along for review!

Peter Massey says of the Florida Heat recording: 'Inside the cover of the album is a note from Alex Kash that reads: 'When I first arrived in South Florida, in interviews and conversation, people always asked me what my impressions of Florida were. This compilation album of 13 songs is my way of answering that question.' Alex sings in a very expressive almost pop style, with a smooth laid back feel, with just Kash singing the 12 songs he has written, accompanied strumming on his acoustic 12 string guitar and mouth organ. He put me in mind of Labie Sifrie, and Jose Feliciano, so if you are a fan of these, you might want to lend an ear to Alex Kash.'

Yet more Cash? Surely they've mined that vein out by now? Not according to Gary Whitehouse as regards Personal File, the latest compilation of Cash recordings: 'The music just keeps pouring forth from the Johnny Cash archives. Cash apparently kept every bit of tape recorded music that he ever made or that passed through his hands, and the folks at the House of Cash turned up a box marked 'personal file.' What it contained was a trove of demos that Johnny recorded, alone with his guitar, in his home studio in the 1970s. The cream of those sessions is presented in this two-disc set of 49 tracks.' Read his review to see why this is a true treasure trove!

Austin pop roots rock is next up for Gary: 'I'm a late-comer to the Centro-Matic party. Fort Recovery is my first exposure to this Austin, Texas-based quartet, although it marks 10 years since their 1996 debut Redo the Stacks. Fans of guitar-centric roots rock have found a lot to like in Centro-Matic (named after a pawn-shop accordion), as well as frontman Will Johnson's side projects as a solo artist and the quieter, darker South San Gabriel. Denizens of the Austin music scene and visitors to that city's annual South By Southwest conclave consider Centro-Matic one of the best live rock bands in the Lone Star State.' See if their new recording, Fort Recovery, appealed to his refined tastes.

Gary found some psychedelic folk rock he approves of: 'The Court & Spark made a big splash in the indie music press with their 2000 debut Ventura Whites, but I somehow never got around to listening to that or any of their subsequent albums or EPs, even though they've worked with some of my favorite artists, including musicians as disparate as Linda Thompson, M. Ward and Gene Parsons. Hearts intimates that I may have missed something good.'

Gary notes of the Elliot Brood that 'This Canadian trio was a big hit with certain roots-rock fans who heard them play at the 2006 South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, and it's easy to see why. The music on Ambassador combines elements of the gothic country-rock of Sixteen Horsepower (without all the angst) and the exuberant banjo-driven rock of Marah (without the rockstar pretensions). And I'd have to say it fulfills the promise better than either of those groups has so far.'

Next up for Gary is Jolie Holland's Springtime Can Kill You: 'Two of the most stunningly original female singer-songwriters in today's field of American music are both recording for Los Angeles' independent label Anti-: Neko Case and Jolie Holland. And both redheads have new albums out this year, which makes it already a great year by my reckoning, and it's only May. But where Case is known for her powerful pipes and harmony-drenched country-rock performances, Holland's joys are quieter and more subtle. Her music is as unclassifiable as if it were some new species from outer space.' Read his review of this 12-song cycle about love to see why Jolie captivated him the very first time he heard her!

Gary notes that 'Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been making joyous vocal music in South Africa since the 1960s. The group, headed by Joseph Shabalala, cut its first single in that country in 1973 and became the most popular vocal group there. They came to the world stage in 1986 when they appeared on a couple of tracks of Paul Simon's huge hit album Graceland which they followed up with an album produced by Simon and several others that effectively made them the first stars of what's now called world music.' Now go read his review to see why their latest recording, Long Walk To Freedom, 'is a disappointment.'

I needn't say who John Fahey is. The late and very much missed musician and writer gets his deserved due in a recording just out according to Gary: ' Another musician who [like Fahey did] has made Oregon his adopted home, M. Ward, co-executive produced I Am The Resurrection: A Tribute to John Fahey with Stephen Brower. It's a superb tribute, that rarity among tributes in which not one track stands out as superfluous or substandard. The 13 tracks were contributed by some of the biggest names in alternative music today.' Cool. Go read Gary's Excellence in Writing Award review for a look at a tribute album which didn't suck!

Mike Wilson says of Seth Lakeman's Freedom Fields recording that 'It is heartening to hear an album of this originality and quality so firmly rooted in English traditional music. If the tradition is to be passed down to future generations then we rely on work such as this to reach out beyond the conventional boundaries of the genre, to evoke interest in listeners who may not otherwise have been attracted.' Go read his review for a look at a most excellent recording!

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archived 18.15 GMT -- 20 May 2006 (LLS)