14th of August, 2005

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. . . the best fiddling I ever heard was a reel, slashed off one day by a tramp player in William Street, Portlaw. For, though I have heard much music since, the indescribable dash and call of that reel are dancing in my ears yet.

Rev. Richard Henebry

Fiddles. They're everywhere.

The fairies may very well have brought the harp and pipes to Ireland and gifted the population with them, but sometimes it seems that, if they brought the fiddle to anyone, it was to get rid of the pesky things -- they seem to proliferate with nary a thought. Or perhaps it was the elves, living up to their reputations as nasty dudes with rather cruel senses of humor.

I can say these things, seeing as how I'm a fiddler myself; it's me, Zina Lee, popping in from nowhere to say hello to the lads at the Neverending Session at the Pub at The Edge, soon to pop back out again, but hopefully not absenting myself so long this time. I've missed the session and the craic of it all.

The Pub at The Edge -- more usually known as The Green Man Pub, but that's how I first was told of the thing, so that's the way I refer to it -- is home to our motley crew of players in a session that never ends--one tune begins, ends, turns around into another, and the players change as you look up and out and in and around. But one thing remains constant almost always -- fiddlers.

When I open my eyes to find myself in the Pub's shadows, watching the session and listening to the tunes go round, sometimes playing myself, the music plan gently the same yet always different and alive, there's always fiddlers. Possibly it's because no other instrument quite embodies all the different moods of the music as does the fiddle.

Wait -- they're playing 'The Baltimore Salute', a reel I've just been learning to play from my friend Jason, a lovely, rambly, flowing tune from Josie McDermott of County Sligo. You can tell Josie is a flutist, the thing doesn't sit easily on the fiddle, but it's worth the struggle for the tune. Here, go scoot along for a bit while I have a listen! There's some excellent reviews this issue for you to see.

J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince gets a Excellence in Writing Award winning look-see by Denise Dutton who, bless her, did not stay up to the Witching Hour for her copy: 'The wait for Book Six is over. Most die-hard fans waited in the dark for the first copies to hit bookstores at 12:01am on July 16th -- I know I did. We all scrambled home, crawled into our beds, and read until we turned the last page. Okay, so maybe I didn't stay up reading all night. But to paraphrase Danny Glover's popular line in Lethal Weapon, I'm too old for that . . . well, let's just say I decided a good night's sleep would give me a clear, fresh-faced look a book I'd been waiting two long years to get my hands on. As a fan of the series, I loved this latest installment. But I couldn't help but notice that this book is missing a bit the craftsmanship that Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire benefited from.'

Puppets! Yes, puppets! Can you think of a more folk motif-ish part of our culture? I can't. So it's a natural that we review these delectable creatures when they come our way. Maria Nutick says in her review of a bonnie batch of Folkmanis creations that 'If you've been in a children's bookstore or toy store recently, chances are you've seen Folkmanis Puppets. They are, simply, the best puppets out there. Though they make fabulous, imagination-stimulating toys for kids, amusingly, most of the people I know who have or collect Folkmanis are adults. Folkmanis puppets come in all sizes, from tiny finger puppets to huge dragons.' Read her review to see why she liked the Pirate, the Princess, the Knight, and the Witch, but found the Jack-in-the Box rather creepy.

Donna Bird looks in an Excellence in Writing Award winning review at not one, but two, works titled The Edwardians, one by Roy Hattersley, and another by Paul Thompson. As she notes, it was an interesting affair reading both: 'You know, I wasn't sure what to do when I found Roy Hattersley's handsome book The Edwardians in my mailbox at the Green Man offices earlier this summer. Sometimes it's really hard to write anything fresh and interesting about a conventional history book. Then, as luck would have it, I spent some time helping the brownies dust in the library one Saturday afternoon when it was too hot to do anything else. And what should I find on a shelf but another book with the same name, written by a different author using a completely different approach! Now that's a good challenge!'

Donna also looks at an historical fiction which apparently got misplaced in the Green Man Mail Room. (As bad as the Mail Room is, don't even think of asking what condition the Vault is in these days...) It was a light read for her: 'What Casanova Told Me strikes me as the kind of novel a reader might carry around in her shoulder bag while traveling or commuting. It's relatively short and would lend itself to reading in short pieces punctuated with life's various interruptions.' Read her entertaining review for all the details on Casanova and his antics.

Denise Dutton also reviews the previous volume in the Potter series, The Order of the Phoenix. She says: 'Though readers will certainly cry out in anguish at the end of Order of the Phoenix, I'm sure the latest tragedy won't stop readers from picking up the final two books of the series. Because the characters keep you interested. The plot keeps things interesting. And . . . well, you've gotta find out what happens at the end. If Order of the Phoenix is any indication, we won't see it coming. But we'll love it, whatever it is.'

Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple's Pay the Piper: A Rock N' Roll Fairy Tale was a bit of a disappointment for Gili Bar-Hillel as she notes in her Excellence in Writing Award winning review: 'Here's a book I was really looking forward to. I haven't read many of Jane Yolen's books, but I mostly liked what I read, and the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin has always been one of my favorites. Yolen wrote this particular book in collaboration with her son, Adam Stemple, who is a professional rock 'n roll musician. Everything I read about this book in advance, appealed to me. When I saw that the dust jacket bore recommendations by Holly Black, Tamora Pierce, and my favorite author Diana Wynne Jones, it all just seemed to good to be true. And perhaps it was. Maybe my expectations were simply too high, but the book left me a little flat and unexcited.'

David Kidney looks at Terry Jones' Medieval Lives: 'Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a different time and place? Of course you have. And most of us, when we seek to imagine this, choose to read some fictional work which allows us the freedom to drift off in a reverie and see ourselves as the character in the novel faced with the same decisions, and situations which surround him (or her). Then there's always a history book to choose! But history books can be so dry. And our fantasies are so hard to apply when faced with page after page of political discussion. Terry Jones, ex-Monty Python's Flying Circus, has just the solution! Jones studied history at St. Edmund Hall College, Oxford University, and he directed the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail so he is eminently qualified to write a guide book to the Middle Ages. Remember his film taught us how to identify the king ('He's the one who 'asn't got shit all over 'im!') Jones is joined by Alan Ereira, a writer and producer of historical films for the BBC, and author of other books of history. Plus...they have a sense of humour about the whole thing . . . which makes reading enjoyable.'

Lars Nilsson has a look at Maartin Allcock's The Complete Sandy Denny Songbook, a work he says is long overdue: 'There has been a well researched biography, a number of CD collections and now the artefact we all have been waiting for, the songbook, is here. The book was transcribed by Maartin Allcock, a former Fairport member (though he joined seven years after Sandy's death, he has two Fairport songbooks to his name, and is working on three Richard Thompson songbooks). With the successes of the Fairport books hopes were high for this one. After all the last Sandy Denny songbook but this was released in the early 1970s and has been out of print for more than 30 years.'

James Gunn and Matthew Candelaria have edited a collection Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction that gave Robert M. Tilendis a fit: 'There are at least two obvious responses to the statement that Speculations on Speculation, a group of essays on science fiction criticism, is one of the two or three most exciting books, fiction or nonfiction, that I have read recently: first, I've lost my mind, which, given that I have at one point or another lost track of nearly everything else, is a distinct possibility; second, this book must be very stimulating indeed, which I happen to think is the correct answer.' Read his review to see why.

Summertime, and the livin' is easy. There are barn dances to attend, picnics to savor, and Faires galore. Even a devoted filmgoer like myself has to step away from a dark theater when summer skies beckon (and I'm never one to miss my local Renaissance Festival). But here at Green Man, there's one reviewer lingering in the film library. Gary Whitehouse takes time from the sun and fun to turn in a review of Giant Sand's documentary DVD, Drunken Bees. And it sure sounds like something that could lure me back inside! to Gary says, 'Drunken Bees is an entertaining diversion that fans are sure to enjoy.' Read his review for an explanation.

Wendy Donahue is one of our newest writers, but her review of a recent concert by the Chieftains in downtown Cleveland, Ohio shows that she's already hit her stride. After 42 years of performing, recording and touring, have the Chieftains kept their mojo (or 'blarney' to be more precise)? Read Wendy's review to find out.

Cleveland's Irish Cultural Festival which was held this year on July 22rd, 23th, and 24th, features a wide array of Celtic entertainment. Cleveland fans of the Celtic band Seven Nations were treated to an entire weekend of music this month, with the band playing a long set every day of the Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival. The Festival also gave Wendy Donahue a chance to interview Seven Nations' founder, Kirk McLeod, regarding the release of the band's new CD, Thanks for Waiting, and his thoughts on music making in general. Click here to read the interview.

Master Reviewer David Kidney shares his tips on how to get a good seat at Hugh's Room in Toronto, Canada. He also eloquently describes the virtuosity of David Lindley, 'Lindley is able to create the illusion that he is not alone on stage, you hear bass, rhythm, and lead, all coming from one player, and he plays so rhythmically that he doesn't need a drummer! He's amazing to watch, and if you're a guitar player yourself (as more than half the audience was) you'll be staring with your mouth open at the feats of agility performed with a metal bar on steel strings!' If the blistering and brilliant guitar solo on Warren Zevon's 'Play It All Night Long' leaves you spellbound and breathless, you owe it to yourself to read David's review.

Keeping up with the English folk scene can be difficult for those of us living on the wrong side of the pond. Therefore, I was overjoyed to read Senior Writer Lars Nilsson's report on England's Saddleworth Folk Festival. The Festival, which takes place in July, tends to focus on new, emerging talent and solid, underappreciated performers rather than stars. Lars' description made me aware of a whole universe of good performers I'd never heard of (and I read Folk Roots!). Better still, Lars also provides a report on the the best new artists at the Festival. To see Lars' list of favorites, click here.

--- Rescued From Oblivion: More Live Reviews! --

We're facing dire times here in The Perilous Realm. To enhance our safety and to insure that we are fully compliant with the surreal security act, our noble leader, Cat, has had numerous oubliettes and mantraps installed in Green Man Towers. This, in addition to our State-of-the-Art Will o' the Wisp Mis-Guidance System and our army of Gremlins, insures that we are safe from hackers and ghosties and things that go bump in the night. Walking through one of the sub-sub basements the other day, however, a pixie discovered the remains of our old letter carrier. Several Live reviews were still clutched in his charred and skeletal hand. 'Better late than never,' Live Editor, Liz, declared. Read on to discover the gems of reportage that narrowly escaped oblivion.

Great Scott! A Green Man Senior Writer, Scott Gianelli, spent Valentine's Day checking out a little down-home S&M with Niko Case and the Sadies. Case, who is also a member of The New Pornographers, blends alternative country-rock with spell-binding vocals and a puckish, somewhat edgy sense of humor. Of the Sadies, Scott writes, 'this quartet currently bears the standard for the straightforward, two guitars, bass and drums, no frills whatsoever approach to making rock and roll . . . However, the Sadies suffer from a lack of a powerful stage presence; guitarists Dallas and Travis Good seemed to be more comfortable hiding behind their hair than engaging the audience . . . The Sadies certainly perform with enough competence to do the old styles justice, but Neko Case's special voice and endearingly nutty charm put her own distinct, revitalizing stamp on them.' Scott's enthralling description of Case's on-stage antics and 'lethal voice' made me laugh and earned him an Excellence In Writing Award. To read about more about Neko Case's performance, click here.

Barbara Truex, Senior Writer, has found a sure-fire way to keep off the chill of a New England spring night -- the Gypsy music of Les Yeux Noirs! Take one fiddler who's intent on being the Romany Elvis, add 6 tremendously talented musicians on a mix of traditional and electric instruments (including a drum machine), combine rock rhythms with traditional melodies, and you have Gypsy music on speed! Barb says, 'these players live up to the standards one expects: lightning-speed melodies backed by an incredibly tight rhythm section, all running through time signature and mood changes faster than you could take your next breath . . . Put on your dancing shoes, lightweight clothing and be prepared to swoon and shout!' To learn more about the Eulogist, click here.

Master Reviewer Gary Whitehouse reports on his time among the trendoids at an Andrew Bird concert at the hipper-than-hip Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon. The concert was anything but dull. Gary writes that '. . . Bird occasionally seemed to be teetering on the verge of disaster, sometimes staggering melodramatically around the stage as he moved from guitar to violin to xylophone and back again, and punctuating his hyper-intelligent lyrics with howls, stutters and operatic whistling.' Despite these eccentricities, Gary confesses that Bird has become 'an essential component of my daily music listening.' To learn more about this strange and wonderful gig, click here.

David Kidney says 'Jeff Black's fourth CD Tin Lily begins with a sort of retro-folk song, acoustic guitar and harmonica with Black's rough-hewn vocals singing, 'take it easy on me, take it easy on me now.' You might get the idea that he's aiming for the next 'New Bob Dylan' badge, but by the time the second song comes up, with its steady drumbeat, electric guitars and his more forceful voice stating with authority, 'love has thrown a light across the shadows of this land living in the hollow of your hand,' you realize there more to this guy than that!'

David goes on to write in another review that 'Every Wednesday night at the Edgewater Pub and Bistro in Comox, B.C., Doug Cox and Sam Hurrie take the stage to play some old blues and regale the audience with tales about the songs and singers they pay tribute to. I've only been to B.C. once, and it was only as a stopover in the Vancouver Airport, so it hardly counts, but if I ever get out there on a Wednesday night, I know where I'll be.' Read his review of their Hungry Ghosts recording to see if they are as good this way as they are live!

Peter Massey has a look at a band which I believe Shane MacGowan would be proud of: 'I suppose if you want to go from the sublime to the ridiculous, this album Live on St. Patrick's Day might just do it for you. I had heard some good reports about this band from my youngest son, who has seen them live at the Leeds Festival. You have to face up to it, you either like punk / thrash rock music or you don't. Dropkick Murphys take on from where the Pogues or The Family Mahone leave off.'

Lars Nilsson was very happy to review a second recording from a well-known English band: 'Whapweasel are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, and what better way of celebrating than releasing a new album, their fourth I gather after a check on the band's Web site. For those of you who does not know, Whapweasel is an English eight-man electric ceilidh band, with a melodeon player playing band-written tunes, backed by keyboards, bass, electric guitars, cittern, drums and two saxophones. The latter, together with the lack of fiddles, is something of the trademark of the band.' Read his review of Pack of Jokers for why he loved this album.

John O'Regan is a damn fine Irish music journo and he proves it quite well in tackling more recordings of Celtic (and some recordings outside that genre) than one would like to think about without a properly poured pint of Guinness, a decently prepared shepherd's pie, and a good bit of craic with the Neverending Session. This edition sees him looking at two Singer-songwriters, four concept albums (in an Excellence in Writing Award winning review in which he notes 'the beast known as the 'Concept Album' may be considered a remnant of the distant 'progressive rock' era of the 1970s . . . however, in roots music circles the concept album still exists . . . ), three Scottish Celtic bands, two singing fiddlers (!), four Scottish female singers, and two Scottish pipe bands. Where the 'ell is that partridge in a pear tree?

Ah, a lovely thing, that tune, good on Josie himself. You know, one of the things that I love the most about traditional music is that here's the Neverending Session playing a tune I was just learning while in Baltimore. It never fails to amaze me how far the tunes travel.

Um, sorry. Got a bit carried away. Now, where was I?

Oh yes, fiddles.

Fiddlers are the rock 'n' roll guitar gods of Irish music, of old time, of bluegrass, of almost every traditional music out there on the green earth. Seven times out of ten, the fiddler is the leader of the music, even if someone else is leading the band. The uilleann pipes might be the cry of the soul given a voice, the harp the graceful national instrument of Ireland, the flute the breath of the stuff, even the humble bodhran the very heartbeat of the music, but fiddlers are always with us.

And that's just as well. The fiddle, with her graceful curves, is often touted as the instrument whose voice is most like the human voice. The range of expression is huge. And -- oh, listen! That fiddler is playing 'A Stoir Mo Chroi', one of my favorite airs. Hush now, and give it a listen, if you don't mind. We'll talk more later!


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Updated 11 August 2005, 13:05 GMT (CE)