I walk the streets of Dublin town, It's 1842
It's snowing on this Christmas Eve
Think I'll beg another bob or two
I'll huddle in this doorway here
Till someone comes along

Loreena McKennitt,'Dicken's Dublin'
(Live in Paris and Toronto)

 

 

21st of November, 2004

 

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Jack Merry here. It's that time of year when the air is crisper, the days are shorter, and the list of things to do gets -- shorter, too. Why so, you ask? Because the city Brigid and I call home, and where the Green Man offices straddle the Border, is bloody cold and damp come late Fall. What that means is that I stop busking altogether until the weather gets much warmer. Oh, I know that you think the holiday shopping crowds bent on buying as much as possible in the next six weeks or so would be be generous with that lucre for the wee cold fiddler all dressed in green, on the corner with his fingerless gloves and greatcoat playing tunes to cheer them up. Indeed they might be if I could bring meself to actually play tunes of a cheerful nature when it's bleedin' cold and all I'm thinking of it is a spiced ale near the fire in the Green Man Pub, but I can't! So what do I play? Oh, there's Blowzabella's instrumental version of 'Lyke Wake Dirge', and I'm rather fond of 'The Druid's Ring' off John Garden's Lost Dances Of Earthly Delights album, as well as a sprightly if somber 'Cold Haily Windy Night'. I suppose David DiGiuseppe's 'The Midwinter Reel' could be considered somewhat upbeat... Still it's hard to play the fiddle when your fingers are so cold they go blue and you can't feel the strings.

So what do I do in the winter beside drink ale, read fiction, and snuggle with me darling wife? A series of all-night dances is what mainly pays the bills as the good folks at Toad Hall have an all-night contradance which has musicians, callers and dancers coming from all over to be in it. Danse Macabre, the band I'm the lead fiddler in, is the featured band, playing four sets over the course of the night for a fair price. Lots of other local bands take part -- Sparrowhawk, The More The Merrier Dance Band, Tree and Leaf, Nine Standing Stones, Huddled Masses -- even a group called The Norns (all female fiddlers of Scandinavian heritage) plays at some point during the winter-long series of dances. Of course, the catering is done by an all Scandinavian collective who obviously read the description of the buffet in Jennifer Stevenson's Solstice chapbook:

'What amazing bounty. Ribs, roast beef, roast piglet, roast lamb, an astounding goose with a chicken in her cavity, and a grouse inside of her, and a quail inside of her, and far in the fragrant center a hard boiled egg with a gem in the middle like a pomegranate seed, perfectly divided just this minute by a grinning chef waving a whacking great cleaver. Glazed fish, their scales picked out in jelly. Fish in cream, fish in wine, red-fleshed fish shaved thin, smothered in capers and heaped with grainy caviar. Hot vats of noodles Swedish style, noodles with sauerbraten, noodles layered between pork chops, noodles tossed in sesame paste and ginger and red hot peppers. Fruits in and out of season: musk melon, honeydew, pears and alligator pears, mangos, pineapple, a dozen kinds of apples: golden green orange crimson scarlet blueblack and white and their piebald miscegenations. Breads shaped like suns, breads studded with raisins. Doubled buns steaming indecently, with butter running in their crevices. Dawn isn't hungry yet but she clutches her mug of glogg, grinning mistily.'

Good music, tasty food, plenty of drink for a thirsty throat, lively dances, and excellent company -- What more could one old fiddler want on a midwinter's night?

If you haven't visited it yet, Toad Hall's a old stone church built like a Viking long boat so the acoustics are bleedin' near perfect -- as long as you keep moving -- and everyone here does as the caller, a red-headed lass who prefers to be called simply Freya, keeps everything lively. Last night, she called a set of tunes as requested by Emma Bull that she described thus to our caller: 'So, I don't know if these dances still exist in modern contradance, but in the Regency I like 'Black Nag', 'Hole in the Wall' and 'Trip to Paris', and 'Mr. Beveridge's Maggot' (when I can remember the figures) and some others I can't remember the names of. And in Victorian ballrooms, I'm nuts about 'Portland Fancy', which I like so much I mention it in the book presently under construction.'

'I am here today', says Chief Cat Eldridge, to speak of Rodents of an Unusual Size. No, not the ones that the hero battles in the Swamp in William Goldman's The Princess Bride, but rather the far more adorable ones that came in recently to Green Man. There are two new additions to the household here, Portsmouth and Kittery. They are in fact two very large grey mice that are among the latest releases from the fine folks at Folkmanis. They are named after the two two towns that lie on either side of the New Hampshire (Portsmouth) and Maine (Kittery) borders. Portsmouth now wears a lovely Portsmouth First Night button to distinguish him from Kittery.' Read more in Cat's review of Folkmanis Puppets new Mouse in Vest.

Anton Strout reviews a game set in a universe dear to the heart of many a GMR reader: 'The deep socio-political implications of whether stereotypes hold any truth in them has no place in a venue such as this. Suffice it to say that, as gross exaggerations go, there is one solid maxim that does hold some truth to it: video games based on films or television shows have a non-vampirical tendency to suck. And while Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) sucks vampirically, the game is amazingly good for those unfamiliar to the series as well as those fan boys and girls loyal to the Whedonverse. . . .The game takes place as a 'lost episode' mid Season Three of the series, and there are a million and one references that are pleasantly consistent with the facts of the Whedonverse (so dubbed by fans of BtVS creator Joss Whedon). Spike is angry with Buffy, Angel broods in his mansion (the idea of going all gumshoe in L.A. has yet to become a gleam in his eye), Cordy and Xander throw sexual innuendoes back and forth as they awkwardly cover up their recent ribald rompings.' Read Anton's superb review of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for more.

Arty McGlynn and coffee too! Green Man Senior Writer, Lars Nilsson stumbled into Celtic music's version of hog heaven at a sparsely attended concert by Alan and John Kelly with Arty McGlynn, deep in the forests of Western Sweden. The Kelly's piano accordion and whistles and McGlynn's guitar produced sets that 'increased in tempo and power with each tune.' For more on the Kellys and McGlynn, read Lars' review.

Whew! Kim Bates here, with a bumper crop of music reviews. Our staff has been hard at work -- I suspect it's because many are going to be receiving fat packages of new discs for review in the post some time soon. But perhaps it's just native enthusiasm for music! Or maybe it's the bribes -- chocolate works wonders, at least with most of our staff -- for the others, I'd better not say. As well, keep your eyes peeled for our all-omnibus review edition prior to the holidays, because we're clearing our collective plates before the New Year here in the GMR music offices, and there are lots of tasty reviews coming your way.

First up Alistair Brown reports on a Waterson: Carthy album released in 1997, but received recently by Green Man Review: Common Tongue. Although he cringes to call them the 'royal family' of English folk music, he tells us that, 'There hasn't been a bad [album] so far, and what is notable is that the latest ones are as interesting as the first, and the earlier ones are as good as their latest. Waterson: Carthy have a unique sound that works.' Read his review for more on this offering.

I'm delegated to welcome Vonnie Carts-Powell back to these pages. This week she provides us with two lovely reviews. On Such and Such she tells us that 'Steve Tilston sounds lonely. Not bitter or depressed, but he's definitely contemplating the darker side of life. And, as with previously released songs (most notably 'Slipjigs and Reels'), this undeniably English songwriter chooses American Western and Southwestern topics for several songs.' Tim O'Brien, on the other has created a surprisingly fresh and original album with songs about a well traveled topic: life on the road. See her review of Traveler.

Did Scott Gianelli approve of the high risk strategy taken by well-known traditional Finnish songstress Anna-Kaisa Liedes? '...the simpler, easier-to-digest songs are overshadowed by two songs in which Liedes abruptly elevates the intensity of her vocals, boldly daring her audience to go along with her... but these songs will generate very strong and very different reactions from different listeners, regardless of how they like the rest of the disc.' He definitely admires her nerve! His review of Utua clears up the mystery.

Ah David... Kidney that is. As you can read in his review, sometimes it's a good thing that the kindly music editor is looking out for her reviewers. He almost let this one slip by! And it's impressive. Ruthie Foster, he tells us '...sounds like Odetta's li'l sister! And I mean that in the nicest possible way.' Read his review of Stages to find out why. He also pays tribute to bluegrass great Sam Bush in a review of his solo album King of My World: 'Once a member of New Grass Revival, the band that pioneered the bluegrass crossover, he has been a solo artist for several years now, and done many sessions too. You've heard him behind Bela Fleck, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett among others. But it's on his own CDs that he really shines.'

Jack Merry remembers busking in Sweden fondly -- or so he says now. He also notes in this review that that 'Equally tasty is Svarta jordens sång which arrived here at Green Man. Now regular readers of GMR will know that many of us here appreciate Nordic music of the neo-traditional persuasion quite a bit. If you go to our indexes, you'll find a fine selection of CDs that have been reviewed by us including Steindór Andersen, Frifot, Hedningarna, Garmarna, Peter Puma Hedlund, Karelian Folk Music Ensemble, and far more than I can list here. Not all have good -- I personally find the more jazzy of the Nordic neo-traditional persuasion to be boring at best and downright awful at worst. So I'm always relieved when a CD comes in that really kicks ass as this one does.'

Meanwhile, Lars Nilsson envies the Danes, and Sussie B. Nielsen's After Rain may have something to do with it. Read his review of this Danish, traditional-Irish musician for his reasons.

Kelly Sedinger appreciates instrumental music when it provides a glimpse of what the masters of past ages sounded like when they played. Of Sturla Eide & Andreas Aase's Glimmer he says, 'This is one of the best sounding discs I've heard in some time: closing my eyes, I could almost believe that I was in that church with these two musicians.' Meanwhile, he waited until after the U.S. election to listen to George Scherer's Election Year Waltz. Was that a mistake? Read his review to find out!

Robert Tilendis wanted to like Agnus Dei's Gaia because the album was a tribute to a lost member of the partnership that formed the group. Sadly, although he lauds the effort, the album failed to move him. Details are in the review. Boban Markovic Orkestar's Boban i Marko was much more to his liking, with it's jazz-infused collection of Serbian Gypsy music -- even though his expectations for Gypsy music were tossed out the door!

Barb Truex tells us that 'The list of ingredients Daniele Sepe uses on Anime Candide is fascinating, long, electronic, acoustic, angry, beautiful, political, absurd, ....' Read her review to see why she thanks this Italian musician for his take on love and war.

There's going to be a sing-along with Chris White -- somewhere in the near future! He may not be able to understand all of the words on Davie Robertson's CD Star o' the bar, but it's inspired him to take action. Details are in the review.

Gary Whitehouse has uncovered a few gems this week -- both by female artists. 'The Tigers Have Spoken, at only about 35 minutes, just whets the appetite for more of Neko Case's delights,' he opines about the Canadian alt-country singer's live offering, while Apres Faire le Boogie Woogie by the Magnolia Sisters also gets his feet moving!

That's it for this week -- but watch this space for some exciting reviews coming in the next few weeks. We've got a long-overdue review of the Oysterband's 25th anniversary release of some early songs -- the mate to their instrumental album Twenty Golden Tied Slackeners, by yours truly, as well as reviews of collections of gospel and bluegrass music, and more than a couple of Celtic albums, all coming in the near future.

You'll notice no book reviews this week. . . Book Editor Maria Nutick has come down with some sort of hideous bronchial infection. She's barricaded herself into her office, occasionally ringing for more hot buttered rum from the Kitchen.

We'll not be publishing next week as our American editors and staff will be off gorging themselves on various Thanksgiving food. Our next issue will be Sunday, the 5th of December. If you're feeling like hearing the Neverending Session play what they think is holiday tunes and having a pint of Midwinter Ale with me, drop by the Green Man Pub. First pint's on the House!

Finally, related to our Editor-in-Chief's ongoing slow reading of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. . . . Cheryl Morgan, publisher of the Emerald City zine, had this choice note concerning ravens on her blog this week: 'An historian who has studied the records of the Tower of London has discovered that there are no records of ravens residing there prior to 1865. The first report of raven activity details how the Tower's pet cat was being tormented by the birds. Explanations for the lack of raven reportage abound. Some commentators believe that this is evidence that the British monarchy fell hundreds of years ago and has been undead ever since. Others suggest that the whole ravens at the Tower myth is a cunning plan developed by the notorious Geordie pretender known as The Raven King to further his ambition to conquer England. Susanna Clarke was unavailable for comment.'

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Updated 21 November 2004, 04:20 GMT (MN)