'May God keep all good people from such bad company.' -- Steeleye Span


9th of January, 2005

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I recently enjoyed dancing while the Neverending Session played for a Christmastide Ceilidh here in the Great Hall at Green Man. One of the players, a pretty red-headed fiddler dressed all in green, remarked that the building and its inhabitants formed what she called a 'tea cup culture' in that one could learn all one needed to know about what was going on here over a cup of tea and a tatty scone or two while sitting in the kitchen on a winter's afternoon gossiping with the staff. Couldn't disagree with her as I've heard more interesting news over a few pints of Little Sir John Ale than bears 'membering. Some of it is rather mundane -- oh, a musician telling another musician that their band which was  River Gods is now called Grendel's Den as they've added a carnyx player to the band and the sound is really dark now. Or the concertina player with Nobody's Wedding Guests was telling the tale of what she called the 'blood wedding'! where everything went wrong. I'm still not sure the priest could have done that, but Reynard, anti-papist that he is, says anything is possible with a priest. Especially a defrocked one. Maybe that was why it all went wrong!

Another bloke at the Bar was telling the tale of having traded teaching Bela a war carol that is the darkest Christmas song I know that exists-- and no, I'm not saying what it is was! -- for Bela providing the recipe to the Kitchen here for a tasty Hungarian stew that uses venison and root veggies. I must be around when that gets made as Bela promises to provide a most excellent Hungarian wine to drink it down with!

Some of it is just a bit sad... Take the story of the young lordling who had followed the all too typical pursuits of the English aristocracy -- hunting, soldiering, fox hunting, cricket, fencing, and a rather spectacularly unsuccessful run for Parliament. The run for office left him broke and tossed out of his club for being in arrears in his dues; he drifted into the Pub one day looking for a warm place to spend a few hours out of the cold, windy weather. Now given that he had no money and even less manners, it was up to Iain, the afternoon manager, to decide what to do with him. Failed lordlings don't have a lot of skills that we can make use of -- hell, some are proof that evolution is a joke at best -- and he has none. Unfortunately for him, Iain is not a supporter of the aristocracy, so out in his arse the lordling went as Iain muttered 'neither crown nor collar' to him. The moral of this story? Best not put on airs if you've got no scratch as it'll get you nowhere 'tall with the staff of our Pub! On the other hand, a down on their heels musician is welcome to play in the Neverending Session anytime for a warm meal and a drink of their favourite libation. Class matters in this Pub!

Our new Archivist told a tale of looking for a room in the Library here where he was told High Tea was served to the Staff quite a few years ago. He knew where it was, but somehow it had become a Victorian conservatory overseen by a rather fat gent who was very fond of his orchids. After begging his leave, Our Archivist found the door he went came out elsewhere than where he started!

The tea cup culture often centres around our online publication as everyone seems fascinated with it, both staff and visitors. I heard that Ryan, our Webmaster, is working on designing a new search engine which is both Unix and Fey compatible. One that hopefully the digital pixies will leave alone, a hoped for change from the Windows-based search engine which always tempted them to do something to it!

Vonnie Carts-Powell gives us the skinny on a Christmas tradition that won't make you fat or max out your credit card. It's enjoyed all over the United States by people from a wide variety of cultures. Yes! It's the Christmas Revels, back for its 34th year. This year, the Boston Revels had a French Canadian theme. Despite occasional lapses into Anglophilia (Morris Dancing, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance), Vonnie declared it an enchanting performance and avowed that she would 'gladly return next year, for the communal singing, and for a chance to yell, Welcome Yule! in good company.' You can learn more about this year's Boston Revels by clicking here.

It is a new year, and time for strengthening our resolve. David Kidney here and my resolution is to finally get to this Sandy Posey collection that has been haunting me for months now. Entitled Born To Be Hurt and filled with songs like, 'Born a Woman,' 'Single Girl,' 'What a Woman In Love Won't Do,'and 'Can't Get Used To Sleeping Without You' it seems to be somewhat outside the reach of my experience. But, since none of the female writers here in the mansion requested it, I'll just have to buckle down and review it. Call me in a couple of weeks if you don't see it. 

Fortunately the writers of today's reviews didn't have quite the same problem with the discs up for discussion. The music is eclectic, the artists come from all over, and the enthusiasm level is quite high. Reviewer Alistair Brown starts things off with four different CDs, each one featuring a variety of artists, and he seems to like most of what he heard. About Live at the Talbot he proclaims 'The album... subtitled Roots Off The Beaten Track, features thirteen acts who have appeared [at the Talbot Hotel] in the past year and is a good indication of the eclecticism and quality of the programme.' Now didn't I warn you the music was eclectic. We're all about eclectic around here! Next, Alistair listened to McCalman Singular 'a long overdue album of songs by Ian McCalman, performed by a number of his friends, who also happen to be some of Scotland's top singers and performers. Names such as Barbara Dickson, Jim Malcolm, Mike Whellans, Sangsters, Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham, Dick Gaughan, Sheena Wellington, Isla St Clair, and Davy Steele and others, guarantee that this recording should generate plenty of interest. That's before we even get to the songs.' To discover what Alistair says about the songs... read the whole article.

And when you finish there, check out his review of Gentle Giants because it sounds like a winner. 'Many of Scotland's top performers appear, on what is not only an extremely informative document, and a showcase for new writing, but a thoroughly entertaining CD. In that sense it is almost a sampler of current and recent past folk talent. Featured, among others, are the Battlefield Band, Robin Laing, Jack Beck, Ken Campbell, Alan Reid, Christine Kydd, Isla St Clair and Matt Armour.' And from the Glaswegian side there's No.1 Scottish which Mr. Brown introduces thus, 'Given Brian [MacNeil]'s energy and creativity, it comes as no surprise that his recent appointment as Head of Scottish Music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow has quickly raised the profile of the music degree programme there in the wider musical world. No. 1 Scottish is the first recording to be produced on the RSAMD label. It features the students of the Scottish Music Department performing with or under the direction of their tutors.' Och aye! Love that Scottish music!

Rick Stanley and Pamela Polland comprised a group called Gentle Soul, whose self-titled debut is one of those items fetching big bucks on eBay. Peemer has moved to Hawaii and carved out a niche for herself advancing the cause of the hula, and teaching singing, but Rick Stanley all but disappeared for many years. He's back! And Senior Writer Peter Massey looks at his most recent release. Border Lord's Bonny Brave Boys is, well, a bit different. 'Although it's very much a traditional instrument, I am sure some people still think the Harp is a bit limiting as to what you can do with it, - ditto the Cello! But after listening to this album, I think you might very well change your mind. This is a very nice, traditional based album, which should suit the traditional folk purists down to the ground.' Not sure about you, but I'm curious! 

Harps? Cellos? What next? Surely not... the pipes? You guessed it! The Kathryn Tickell Band's Air Dancing is reviewed by Senior Writer Lars Nilsson. He confesses, 'In a far distant past (1986) I saw the then very young Kathryn Tickell charm an audience at Sidmouth Folk Festival with her Northumbrian Pipes and her fiddle. She was named as one of the bright hopes for the future of British folk. The performance I attended made me buy her first LPs (the big black ones in thick paper covers). But somewhere through the years I lost contact with her output. Until now that is.' And wait til you see what Lars thought of this new album! No wonder he receives an Excellence in Writing Award for this one!

GMR Reviewer Robert M. Tilendis writes about a variety of different music that most of us old hippies here in the sub-basement (Oh, sorry SPike) know nothing about. Sure we know all about the blues, and folk music, and Northumbrian pipes and stuff, but Mr. Tilendis is versed in other things. Today he looks at two different CDs which demonstrate the breadth of his knowledge and taste!His review of Spiritual Songs, Traditional Chants & Flute Music of the American Indian begins this way... 'At the risk of sounding like a new age guru, I want to point out something that I found very relevant to understanding American Indian music. There is an overarching unity to the world as the Native North American sees it, and this is reflected as much in their attitude toward music, ritual, performance and community as in any sort of 'ecoconsciousness' or vague longings for spiritual wh oleness. The indigenous peoples of this continent, as so many others, simply did not, in the past at least, analyze and compartmentalize concepts the way Europeans did, and so Dean Fox has no problem making a 'traditional' song out of the Vietnam War because it is part and parcel of the Indian experience, and at least one purpose of this tradition is to acknowledge that experience.' Read it in context to get the whole picture.

Then check out his review of Grex Vocalis's Magnum Mysterium because it sounds interesting too. 'Magnum Mysterium is a collection of choral music around the celebration of the birth of Christ - the Magnum Mysterium that has provided such a rich heritage for Christmas celebrations. Although Grex Vocalis is a Norwegian group, the disc also offers carols from France and England and includes a 'Norwegian' hymn, 'The Infant King,' that originated in the Basque country. The songs themselves range all the way from traditional Norwegian carols and hymns to works by Michael Praetorius (1571-1624) to contemporaries Morten Lauridsen and Javier Busto. With these resources to draw on, it would seem that there is potential for a joyful and compelling offering.'

Last but certainly not least are two reviews from my close personal friend and associate Gary Whitehouse. We share the Neil Young and Bob Dylan collection here at GMR, and a variety of other obsessions too obscure to mention. Today Gary (who carries the title Master Reviewer and Music Review Production Editor) looks at three solo releases from female musicians, and also at a massive box set, but... ladies first. Gary listened carefully to new albums from Jolie Holland (Escondida), Marie Frank (Swimmingly) and Thalia Zedek (Trust Not Those In Whom Without Some Touch of Madness) and had plenty to say about each of them. He sums them up nicely, 'All three of these women have something to say, and they communicate it in ways that are beyond the mainstream. Jazzy acoustic blues, sunny folk-pop or dark indie-rock, the music is an apt vehicle for each artist's vision.' But read the whole thing. Then you just HAVE to read,Gary's Excellence in Writing Award winning review of Goodbye Babylon a huge and lovely six-disc tribute to gospel music and Gary's been raving about it since it arrived! 'The discs are accompanied by an excellent book that gives track-by-track information on the songs, written and researched by some of the top names in roots music, led by Steven Lance Ledbetter and Dick Spottswood. It all comes in a wooden box with a sliding lid (although the CDs themselves are in heavy paper sleeves that won't take up much room on your shelves), complete with a couple of tufts of raw cotton, a reminder of the circumstances under which this music was born. A classy and artistically valid package, excellent documentation, and most of all, superbly chosen and presented music, Goodbye Babylon is a precious jewel among music box sets.' Wow! 

And that's it. I warned you at the top that this was an eclectic mix, and my feeling is, this week's set of reviews virtually defines that word! All of a sudden, Sandy Posey doesn't seem so challenging. Sorry, I have to go... I've got a review to write!


A final note. The Hill of Tara is threatened by Motorway construction. The Irish government is planning to construct a four-lane road through the Tara-Skryne valley, which will pass within a mile of the Hill of Tara. Tara, or Temair as it is known in Gaeilge, is the ancient seat of power of the High Kings of Ireland. It has been inhabited at least since Neolithic times, and the narrow valley in which it lies is one of the most archaeologically significant places in the world, containing many monuments that predate the Egyptian pyramids. In legend it is the sacred place of dwelling for the gods, and the entrance to the otherworld.

There appears to be no reason why the road should be constructed through this ancient and holy place. It is true that there is already a small road running through the valley, but a bypass will be perfectly possible. It is hoped that protests by those outside the British Isles will be especially efective. You can help by spreading this news, by signing the petition set up by the 'Protect Tara International Campaign', and by writing to the relevant members of the Irish government. Advice on how to do this in the most useful way can be found here.


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Updated 9 January 2005, 12:20 GMT (JM)