If you have read the reviews of both of Alex Beecroft’s Trowchester novels, you will know that I am deeply in love with this small village and its inhabitants. In Blue-Eyed Stranger, the music and musical instruments that Alex Beecroft makes sing through the many passages of this story were old in origin but new to me in sound and shape. I had to go looking through the web for the pictures of the instruments themselves and the sounds they bring forth. If only I had this post before hand! Morris dancing, the kantele, and other folk tunes have become my latest obsessions thanks to these stories and their author. Read on and let them become yours as well.
A Musical Interlude – a Blue Eyed Stranger Guest post
It occurs to me that there’s a lot of music in BES, and it’s music of a kind with which most readers may not be familiar. ‘Folk’ in general conjures up different things on either side of the pond, and then there’s the Viking music which scarcely anyone has heard. So, come with me on a whistle-stop tour around the music in Blue Eyed Stranger.
Let’s start with the title. In fact the blue eyed stranger the title refers to is Billy Wright himself, champion dancer of the Stomping Griffins, but this is the dance and the tune that morris aficionados will think of if you ever say ‘Blue Eyed Stranger’ to them.
It’s also a good example of the Cotswold style of morris, which the Boy prefers because of its technical difficulty, (lots of tricky footwork) but which tends to leave audiences cold.
This, on the other hand, is a good example of the Border style of morris, which the Griffins find themselves doing more often because it’s what the people like to watch.
Quite honestly I largely agree with the people on this one.
Somewhere around the middle of the book, Billy takes an unsuspecting Martin to a session at his local pub. If, like Martin, you’ve never wandered into anything like that before and are a bit bemused, it goes a bit like this:
Anyone can turn up. If you know the tunes you break out your instrument and start playing along with everyone else. If you don’t know them, you listen hard and try to pick them up by ear, or you go and buy another beer. If no one’s playing and you can think of a tune, start it and everyone who knows it will join in with you. If you don’t know the tunes it’s trickier, so it’s a good idea to go on somewhere like Folk Tune Finder and learn a few things before you go. Most folk music is in the key of D or G. Stick to those and you should be fine.
The world of folk music and dance is still a very vibrant and lively part of most English towns and villages. There’s little difficulty in coming across it if you’re looking. Indeed, sometimes when we break out the instruments people leave the pub, going ‘oh, blimey, we don’t want that!’ So sometimes you can even find it when you’re not looking.
The world of Ancient music is a different story, but it too is out there.
Here is an example of the five stringed kantele that Annette plays. I think if you listen closely you can just about pick up the sound of it singing to itself underneath the tune. It’s clearly something which is difficult to capture on a recording.
Technically, the kantele is a Finnish instrument rather than a Viking one, but as I’ve said elsewhere, the Vikings had trade routes just about everywhere. And speaking about things that are found just about everywhere, this next instrument – the Anglo Saxon hearpe (also known as a lyre) – is ancient and ubiquitous and found everywhere. You can evidently do a lot more on it than it initially seems. A lovely thing!
this is what Martin lends to Billy and Billy – who is a violinist – picks up immediately.
Later, after the book closes, they start researching the music of ancient Meroe, from which Martin’s ancestors come, but I found when I started looking into it that it was a huge subject about which I was not yet equipped to have an informed opinion. But interestingly, look
that lyre is not a far cry from the Saxon one, is it? I like to think the musical traditions would fit well together, since their players obviously have.
Billy Wright has a problem: he’s only visible when he’s wearing a mask. That’s fine when he’s performing at country fairs with the rest of his morris dancing troupe. But when he takes the paint off, his life is lonely and empty, and he struggles with crippling depression.
Martin Deng stands out from the crowd. After all, there aren’t that many black Vikings on the living history circuit. But as the founder of a fledgling historical re-enactment society, he’s lonely and harried. His boss doesn’t like his weekend activities, his warriors seem to expect him to run everything single-handedly, and it’s stressful enough being one minority without telling the hard men of his group he’s also gay.
When Billy’s and Martin’s societies are double-booked at a packed county show, they know at once they are kindred spirits, united by a deep feeling of connectedness to their history and culture. But they’re also both hiding in their different ways, and they need each other to be brave enough to take their masks off and still be seen.
Link to STRW Review: Find it Here
Buy It Here: Riptide Publishing
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62649-212-7
eBook release: Apr 6, 2015
eBook Formats: pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 978-1-62649-213-4
Print release: Apr 6, 2015
Word count: 67,000,Page count: 246
Cover by: Lou Harper
This title is part of the Trowchester Blues universe.
Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.
Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance’s (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel,Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in theCharleston City Paper, LA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association of the UK and an occasional reviewer for the blog Speak Its Name, which highlights historical gay fiction.
Alex was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.
Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has led a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800-year-old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.
She is represented by Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Literary Agency.
Connect with Alex:
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