Song of the Week: “Honey, Honey” by Tom Jones & Imelda May

The distinctive voice of Welsh legend Tom Jones works well in duet with Irish vocalist Imelda May on this bluegrass/rockabilly cover of “Honey, Honey” by The Milk Carton Kids.  The song comes from Jones’ album The Lost Suitcase, a collection of tunes to accompany his recent autobiography.

What are you listening to in 2016?

The Christmas Revels: A Welsh Celebration of the Winter Solstice

It’s warm and overcast out, and looking to only get warmer as the week goes.  We’re more likely to have a wet Christmas than a white Christmas, but I know the holiday is coming soon.  Today my family and I celebrated the solstice with a matinée of The Christmas Revels.  This is our (mostly) annual tradition going back to 2001.  The Revels this year is set in Wales, a land of beautiful singing traditions, poetry, and mythology.  I’ve never been to Wales but this show gave me a nostalgic longing for the place.

It should be noted that while Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones are famed Welsh singers, their was music was not represented in the show.  There were familiar tunes for the sing-a-longs – “Cwm Rhondda” and “Hydrofol” – which as song leader David Coffin pointed out, “you know these songs just not with these words.”  The familiar Christmas carol “Deck the Hall” was also sung by a choir of children, but in the original Welsh.  The children – who were excellent as always – also performed scenes from Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

There’s a beautiful scene near the end of Part 1 where Coffin sings “Daffydd y Garregg Wen (David of the White Rock)” accompanied by Haley Hewitt, while Emma Crane Jaster performing as the legendary bard Taliesen.  Jaster is lit from below and moves her arms like a harpist, casting large shadows on the roll-top desk ceiling of Sanders Theatre.  My daughter imitated the gesture, waving her arms by her own imaginary harp.  (And I was right in my memory that Taliesen is also the name of Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate in Wisconsin). Other highlights include a group of rugby supporter singing a rousing victory song, some fine clogging, and a retelling of “Froggy Went A-Courtin'” with the children.

No matter where in the world the Revels is set, there are the Revel’s traditions.  There was a rowdy morris dance and “The Lord of the Dance” where we all spill out into the lobby singing and dancing (I can never get enough of doing that), there’s the haunting Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and there’s the mummer’s play, this year with the Red Dragon playing the role of the hero vanquishing the White Dragon of England for the Welsh.   We sing rounds, we shout “Welcome Yule!,”  we finish on “The Sussex Mummers’ Carol,” I weep.  Tradition.

I was entranced as – for me – the Revels never fail to please.  My kids were more antsy.  Welsh-language songs make no sense, and my son said even the English was hard to follow.  My daughter wanted to see a dragon and had to wait a looooong time for a four-year-old, but I think the dragon’s eventual arrival satisfied.  They soldiered through and I think they enjoyed themselves, although they wanted cookies too.

Performances continue through December 27, so get your tickets and go if you haven’t already.

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Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Author: Ransom Riggs
Title:Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Narrator:  Jesse Bernstein
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2011

16-year-old Jacob travels to a remote Welsh island to learn more about the shelter that took in his grandfather during World War II.  Through some mysterious encounters and time travel he learns that the children at this home were not just refugees, but have magical powers.  It’s entertaining fluff and I’m mildly interested in finding out what happens next in the sequels, but I’m not sure if I’m going to invest the time.
Recommended booksThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, and Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies

Our Boston Chapter of the William & Mary Alumni Society book club selected The Welsh Girl (2007) by Peter Ho Davies for our April reading. From the dust jacket summary, I gathered this was a romance between a German POW and a local girl and figured this was a remake of Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene, required reading in Junior High School.

Luckily, it’s a bit more complex than that.  The Welsh Girl basically intertwines the stories of three people in WWII Wales.  First, there’s Rotherham a refugee from Germany, not Jewish himself but with Jewish ancestry, who becomes an interogator for the British and comes to Wales to take a crack at Rudolf Hess.  Then, there’s Esther a teenage girl who lives on her fathers sheep farm and pulls pints at the local pub.  Finally, there’s Karsten, a handsome German soldier who to his shame is among the first to surrender on D-Day.  The three characters do not actually interact with one another for the majority of the book, so what we have three stories wound together around similar themes: a sense of belonging, identity (both personal and national), and feeling caged-in (both literally and metaphorically).

Unfortunately, The Welsh Girl is a rather dull book.  The Welsh scenery and cast of supporting characters lend a great texture to the story, but Davies appears to reserved to really let us into the minds of his characters.  Thus things just seem to turn out too pat and convenient for the plot.  The conclusion is particularly disappointing as it has Rotherham basically providing a distant epilogue for Esther and Kartsen.  A nice read for its place and time, but definitely a novel that could use some re-writing.