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Book Review: A Guide to Northern Thailand and the Ancient Kingdom of Lanna

by Lang Reid

The haunting photograph on the front cover of a Wat in Lampang drew my attention to this book while perusing the shelves. A glance at the name of the author was enough to make me take it to the sales lady. Michael Freeman is a researcher/writer/photographer almost without peer. To combine someone who can take professional photographs, as well as write lucidly, is rare. Michael Freeman is a ‘rara avis’.

A Guide to Northern Thailand and the Ancient Kingdom of Lanna (ISBN 0-8348-0508 -1, River Books 2001 and printed by Amarin Printing and Publishing in Thailand) is another of Freeman’s books on Thailand. A country of which he obviously enjoys not only the now, but the history as well.

Right from the outset, it should be noted that this is not a glossy picture book with captions, but is a proper book, with photographic illustrations. The vast majority of the photographs are by Freeman himself, though he has included some old archival photographs that I found very interesting. Pictures of old markets in the northern towns could be today up-country, just printed in sepia tint. Some things do not change.

The book commences with a chapter on Lanna Art and Culture and Freeman gives the reader a very detailed, yet succinct account of the origins of the Lanna Kingdom, and the differences between it and its peoples and the ‘southerners’ (anyone south of Phrae I would suggest)! He demonstrates the concept of the Tai ethno-linguistic group, the Tai Yuan, that slowly migrated from Yunnan in a slow movement commencing 4,000 years ago.

Despite the claims of distinct ‘Lanna’ ethnicity, Freeman does show, to my satisfaction at least, that today’s Lanna population is the result of much intermixing of many origins: Tai Yuan, Mon, Khmer and even ‘Siamese’. One should not forget that Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai had to be ‘re-populated’ relatively recently.

The book examines in detail eight valleys (Ping, Wang, Yom, Nan, Kok and Ing, Pai and Yuam) and even has suggested itineraries for visitors. The items and places of interest are graded with an asterisk rating (from zero to three) and much helpful information is given to tourists. In fact many of the ‘tourist’ tour operators in Chiang Mai would benefit from reading this section. Freeman points out that there are many alternatives to the ‘Golden Triangle’ and hill tribe villages with roadside stalls.

Freeman’s research is extensive, and there will be nobody who will not learn something from this detailed book.

The review copy was made available by Bookazine, and should be stocked by all major booksellers. At 5 baht short of 1,000 it is not cheap, but this is an exceptional book. Quality, quality, quality all the way through, from the heavy stock gloss paper, to the well researched information and the excellent photographs. Add in an Index, Bibliography, Chronological table and even Other titles of interest. This is a book to keep, this is a reference book, this is a good buy - even at B. 995 (complete with its typographical error in the frontispiece).


Mott's CD Reviews: Led Zeppelin

Pawed by Mott the Dog
re-mastered by Ella Crew

5 Stars *****

Within eighteen months three members of this band had gone from total obscurity to part of the best known rock band in the world. By the end of 1971 world domination was such that they could release their fourth album without any sleeve notes, no band image or song titles on the sleeve either. On pre-sales, it went to #1 all over the world, being released on November 8th and staying at #1 into the New Year.

Over the years it has probably generated enough sales to run a fairly large country. In the last thirty-two years it has won just about every accolade there is to get. Voted the best rock record ever in such illustrious magazines as ‘Classic Rock Revisited’, ‘Rolling Stone’, ‘Q’, ‘Mojo’, and even the Chiangmai Mail. (We just had a vote: Toto, Ella Crew, Andy, and Led Zeppelin experts Lars Fieste, John Boon, Graham Rudd, Dai Coe, and the Dog - it was unanimous.)

If you had wanted to put together a super group in 1971 all you would have had to do was put together Led Zeppelin. Out of the ashes of the ‘Yardbirds’ founding member Jimmy Page created Led Zeppelin.

Jimmy Page originally joined the ‘Yardbirds’ as bassist, but switched to lead guitar to give the band a duel pronged guitar attack with a certain Jeff Beck on the other axe. Jimmy Page had long been a top session player, playing most famously on the Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ famous guitar riff that almost invented heavy metal music.

Robert Plant had quickly become the template of what a singer in a rock band looked and sounded like. His unique style of whoops, whines, and yells became his trademark. With his clear vocals he could always put across the stories he wanted to tell in his song writing partnership with Jimmy Page.

Bass player John Paul Jones also had a previous successful career as a session player, but was completely unknown outside the inner music circles. His quiet nature, his bass playing skills, keyboard work, and help with the song writing were integral parts in the band and essential to its well being.

Then behind the drums was the man to set standards of rock ‘n’ roll to the present day, even after his tragic death more than twenty years ago, Mr. John Bonham. (I mean even his name sounds like a drummer.) This God of Thunder only got the job because he went down with Robert Plant to keep him company on his journey from Birmingham, England, to audition for the band. The rest - as they say - is history.

Is Led Zeppelin’s fourth album as good as its reputation? Has it stood the test of time?

Stupid questions; of course it does. You get eight tracks, all of which are classic. The opening one-two of the first couple of tracks allay any fears of fans that thought they might delve back further into their folksy roots after the rather laid back ‘Led Zeppelin III’ of the previous year. But the year of constant touring had honed their natural rocking instincts.

As soon as Robert Plant leads the band off with those immortal lines,

‘Hey, Hey Mama, said the way you move,

Gonna make You sweat Gonna make You groove,

My, My Child when You shake that thing,

Gonna make you burn, Gonna make You sting’

...you know you are off into totally politically incorrect rock ‘n’ roll heaven. The band then comes in with Black Dog’s thunderous riff and off they all fly roaring straight the way through until you go without a second to catch your breath into the ‘Rock and Roll’ opening drum intro. What do you expect to get with a title like this? Page just peels off one riff after another, building them up to a shattering crescendo. John Paul Jones backs this up with some of the busiest fret work ever laid down in a studio by a mere mortal of his chosen profession. As for John (Bonzo) Bonham, he is a man at the height of his powers having the time of his life.

Other tracks include the wonderful ‘Four Sticks’, so called because John Bonham gets the sound he wanted for the song drummed with four sticks simultaneously. An acoustic ballad in ‘Going to California’. A keyboard orientated rocker in ‘Misty Mountain Top’, which on any other album, by any other band, would be the centerpiece of any collection. There is also a raging folksy tale told with Robert Plant giving full reign to his Tolkien whims in the wonderful ‘The Battle of Evermore’, with some dexterous mandolin played by Jimmy Page. Robert Plant is able to display his vocal chops in his duet with Sandy Denny (ex-Fairport Convention), who in her illustrious but tragic career had probably never sung so sweet.

The album closes with one of the darkest songs Led zeppelin ever recorded ‘When the Levee Breaks’, a blues as only Led Zeppelin can play, with Robert Plant’s vocals and harmonica play and Jimmy Page’s guitar to the fore as the others lay down a rock solid spine to the song.

This was Led Zeppelin’s finest hour, and therefore rightly holds the claim to #1 album of all time.

Oh by the way it also includes ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Does any body remember laughter?

Musicians
Jimmy Page - Guitars and Mandolins
Robert Plant - Vocals and Harmonica
John Paul Jones - Bass and Keyboards
John Bonham - Drums

Songs

Black Dog
Rock and Roll
The Battle Of Evermore
Stairway To Heaven
Misty Mountain Top
Four Sticks
Going To California

To contact Mott the Dog email: [email protected]