Interview from Bree - Elbren Catches Up with Steve Babb of Glass Hammer
March, 7th Age, Bree
The journey from Imladris to Bree is still not an easy one, even in these days after the downfall of Sauron, and especially during the unpredictable months of late winter. There's still the Trollshaws to traverse, even though Weathertop usually affords some shelter, and then there is always the risk of bandits and thieves.
But, word had reached Imladris that something exciting was brewing in Bree: The Prancing Pony was having a special appearance by some very special guests. The invitation came from Barliman himself, so how could I refuse?
Bree in early March was still brisk with chill winds and the roads within the town walls were muddy from recent rains. The Gatekeeper was welcoming enough, even if he did insist that I listen to his tales of all of the interesting characters who had recently come to Bree. Barliman, it seems, has invited quite the array of guests for his event.
Finding The Prancing Pony was easy enough, but I was very disappointed to find no private rooms available.
"You can room with another guest," Barliman told me.
"I prefer a private room, Sir," I replied in my best snooty Elvish tone. "I can pay more, if needed."
Barliman smiled, though it looked to be forced, and I am sure that I heard him mutter something about snooty Elves.
Nevertheless, I got my private room, settled in, and then went in search of the reason I had come: Ask a few questions of Glass Hammer, the scheduled entertainment for the evening.
Elbren: How did you manage to get the gig here at The Prancing Pony? There has to be a good tale in there somewhere, right?
Steve: Where we're from, we have things called websites. The Glass Hammer website (www.glasshammer.com) has a Tolkien link on the main page. You can follow that link to read the entire tale, but I'll condense it for you since you probably don't have web access here in Bree.
In brief, the Fred and I took some of the band members to a local nature preserve, thinking that we'd get in the Middle-earth 'mood' before we began to work on the "The Middle-earth Album". A very mysterious old fellow - garbed in grey and carrying a staff - happened upon us on the trail. He seemed to know all about the band; and claimed that we must follow him to Bree where our instruments were tuned and ready, and our audience clamoring for the show to begin.
Now I know it sounds rather odd, and some have even accused us of making up the whole adventure just to promote the album, but it really happened just that way!
Where was I? Oh yes! We followed the old man round a few turns on the trail, through some thickly wooded areas, a few briar patches, down a dry stream bed, over some rocks and a couple of sinister looking 'mounds'. That's where the weather turned foggy, and we actually thought we'd lost our way. In fact, the old man seemed to vanish in the mist, but we continued on in the same direction for another half hour or so. At last, we came upon a dirt road which we followed into Bree.
I'm not making this up mind you!
Elbren: What shall we hear this evening? Bardic tales of love and romance, war, battle....?
Steve: Oh yes, all of that and more. We're quite fond of singing about Dwarven heroes, wicked Trolls, foolish damsels in distress, magic swords, and mysterious Rangers.
Our big Middle-earth 'hit' is The Ballad of Balin Longbeard, and there are several other songs about this particular Dwarven legend. There were rumors he had died, squashed by a Dragon while questing for a magic pearl no less! But he's actually here in person tonight. You'll see him drift in here around midnight, and the crowd will go nuts. He's a regular celebrity in these parts, thanks in no small part to all of the songs we have dedicated to him. I'd be surpised if you hadn't heard of him in Rivendell. He's quite famous now.
But we will play our 'standards'. "The Old Troll", "The Old Troll and the Maiden", "Mirkwood" ... in other words, most of what is included on our Middle-earth Album. And, there are a few new songs in the works. "King Balin", "The Blade of the Ages", and "The Fall Of The Witch-King" to name but a few.
Now we aren't a "Renaissance" sort of group. That's a word they use back home that might describe the sound you'd expect of Glass Hammer. You see, Glass Hammer is actually a progressive-rock band.
I see you shaking your head, but fear not! Because when we break it down to do our "Tolkien-inspired songs" (as we like to call them), we don't really sound like anyone else. I suppose you'd call it 'folk music', but its got some classical and Celtic influences as well. Regardless, its fun music to dance to and mighty fun to sing along with.
Elbren: Do you encourage the audience to drink while you play? Or, does it concern you that they might become a little rowdy and unmanageable?
Steve: Well, this (Steve looks around room) is a party crowd. Lots of Dwarves, Halflings, and some other odd folk - and when they all get together they sing, they dance, they go wild.
Also, Butterbur makes a mighty fine brew, and people travel a long way just to sample it.
The locals are all a hard working bunch, but on the weekends they really let loose. For the sake of those folk who happen to be from our neck of the woods and might read this interview one day, allow me to say that this isn't Peter Jackson's Prancing Pony. This is the real deal. Its not a 'pirate' tavern down by the wharf. That's the Prancing Pony Inn as it was portrayed in the movie. The actual Bree folk are mostly decent people, and Barliman's patrons are a friendly group for the most part. But when the music is good and the ale is flowing - well, they dance on the tables, they get rowdy and occasional fists fly.
Yet, on the whole they are all very friendly and well behaved.
This place has a lot of atmosphere as you can see. And, it's rather noisy when the band strikes up. That's the sound we actually captured on our album - an assortment of Bree-folk and traveling Dwarves, mostly behaving, and all having a merry time singing along with Glass Hammer.
There have been some down moments here I guess. We did lose a couple of instruments during one heated brawl. And two or three of the Halflings have barged onto the stage on more than one occasion, demanding to sing their own renditions of our songs, but they didn't really mean any harm.
Elbren: Who is this Dwalin fellow and why does he continue to hover around our table? Do you know him? (Elbren tries to push Dwalin out of her lap)
Steve: Dwalin here has been written of in our Glass Hammer tale "Rangers, Dwarves, Trolls and Maidens", and he actually does a cameo vocal performance on "The Middle-earth Album". He's a cousin of Balin, and the oldest member of the Ironfist family. They make finely crafted musical instruments (which they charge a king's ransom for!), and when not doing that, they spend their time adventuring around the wilds of Middle-earth. Dwalin's slain at least one Troll that I know of, and a few Goblins as well. In fact, I've actually seen the Troll myself, or the stone remnants of it. They aren't far from here actually.
Dwalin: I did have some help from Balin with that Troll mind you! But I am rather handy with an axe if I must say so myself!
Elbren: Have you played at the Pony before?
Steve: This is our fifth time back!
Elbren: As you say, you aren't from around these parts; do you find the folks of Bree are welcoming to you or...not?
Steve: Most of them have really been great to us. The Whitfoots are a different matter. Bill Whitfoot actually accused us of being in "league with Elves and Wizards". I think he was refering to musicians in general, but it was still intended as an insult - though we took it as a compliment! There's a streaming audio interview on our website that actually features a Whitfoot and a Longfoot arguing over Glass Hammer's music. Once again, you can't access that here in Bree, but the folks back home might want to check it out. You'll find it at the 'sounds' link on our main page.
But back to the locals... We've made friends with at least one of the Rangers, and several of the Dwarves that travel through here frequently. Halflings are a little less trusting, but that's not as true of the Bree Halflings as it is of their cousins in the Shire. We've played many inn's and taverns in the Shire, sometimes with less-than-hoped-for results.
But on the whole - yes, we are treated very well.
Elbren: Will you be playing at other Middle Earth taverns?
Steve: There's a really big event happening late this year in a part of northern Middle-earth called "Toronto". It's called "The Tournament of the Mark." I gather it is being thrown by some of the horse-lords from the south. However, I suppose they must have relations in "Toronto." Its not on the map though, so don't bother looking.
We'll do a few shows in the Shire, hit Bree once more, then maybe spend a few weeks at Elrond's house. There were a couple of really big paying gigs scheduled in Dale, but those were cancelled. Too many Trolls lurking in the mountians these days! I wouldn't travel to Dale unless I had a few axe-weilding heroes along for company! *looks at Dwalin, who pretends not to hear*
Well, uh - I guess for now the biggest show we have planned is the one in Toronto.
Elbren: You are going to be playing at King Eomer's Tournament of the Mark!? How in Middle Earth did you land THAT gig? Wow! Tell us more!
Steve: Well, this may not make any sense to you (being from Middle-earth and all), but this Toronto / Riddermark gig happened because we sold a lot of albums back home and suddenly found ourselves in demand. How these 'blendings' of Middle-earth and our own 'land' keep occuring, well that's the sort of stuff that only a Wizard could answer. We're just greatful for the chance to play for a willing audience - no matter where they're from - Morder being the obvious exception of course.
We're still hoping to do those shows in Dale though, and we've always wanted to see The Lonely Mountain! (Steve looks over at Dwalin again)
Dwalin: (grumbling) You ain't got the coin to afford my bunch, and you ain't got the stomach to drag your 'little band' through Mirkwood! We'll not hold your hands all the way across Middle-earth!
Steve: (kicks Dwalin beneath the table)
Elbren: Well, for those not fortunate enough to see you here at the Pony and later in the year in Rohan, how can they, too, enjoy your tunes?
Steve: This is hard to explain, but we have recorded the music. You don't actually have to attend a concert in order to hear Glass Hammer.
Elbren: Recorded music, eh? Elven magic *wink* How does one go about getting this recorded music?
Steve: Once more, this only applies to our own folk back home. They can 'order' a copy of the CD "The Middle-earth Album" on The Gathering of the Fellowship homepage at http://www.tolkiengathering.com. You can also get a copy at our own website, and Amazon.com. For all of those attending the King's Tournament next December, you simply have to have a copy of this album! Everyone will be singing along and dancing to the tunes, and they can't really do that if they don't know the music!
If you are from Middle-earth however, you'll have to make your way to the Shire if you want to catch us this summer. We're usually found at The Golden Pearch in Stock, or The Green Dragon in Bywater. And maybe we'll make it east to Dale and Esgaroth one day. But we'll have to find some brave hero types willing to escort us there. (Steve looks hopefully at Dwalin again)
Dwalin: Isn't your break over yet? I'm ready for another song! Butterbur! Get these lazy musician's back to work! And bring me another ale!