September 10th – The Festival of the Big Chicken Dinner

Up until today life was very good for Dulsy the chicken. She’d had pretty much full reign of the pub’s big garden, and there were always plenty of worms and feed and nuts and things that the patrons threw out for her. She had a pretty good perch in the old pear tree, and for the last year she’d been chief chicken, first in the pecking order with the other, younger fowl. Occasionally the cat next door would come in trying to cause trouble, but pretty soon she was big enough to give it a nasty scratch if it pushed its luck. This is all set to ended this morning at about 10am when Keith Lorastor, the owner of the Imprudent Canticle, will snap her neck and start pulling all her feathers out. It probably wouldn’t be much of a consolation for Dulsy to know that her body will be the primary part of what some call Buentoille’s best chicken stew, but she will. Folk get pretty excited about it.

The Imprudent Canticle is a pub in Druether’s Mark, a district on the western edge of the City. Apparently it got its name after worshippers who should have been in church turned up and sang in the pub garden instead, and then were harangued by the priest later. This isn’t really what the Canticle is known for, though. The Canticle is known for its good food and music that both continue well into the night, and not normally the kind of music that happens in a church either; the Canticle is the place to be if you want to hear some traditional Buentoilliçan drudge.

Drudge isn’t as bad as it sounds, or rather, it sounds better than the name would imply. The name actually refers to the drudgery of the poor working classes, around which most songs are based. There are usually two singers who perform songs in a call and response style, cataloguing the problems that life has beset them with in a self-effacing manner which can sometimes broach into comedy or tragedy. Each singer usually plays some kind of stringed instrument, either a fiddle, arched bass, or twelve-stringed guitar, and with these they make mournful, crooning melodies that accompany their singing.

The genre is thought to have originally come out of traditional working songs, sung to get through a hard task of manual labour and to provoke a sense of solidarity with your fellow labourers, which were then modified into other forms. Whilst fiddles and guitars might create the wailing higher notes to accompany these songs, the bassline is usually a plodding, two-note thing, which frequently shifts key. Whilst more famous bassists have used these bones to build more complex musical expressions, the basic nature of the bassline has led to a (probably unfounded) stereotype of drudge bass players as simpletons.

The Big Chicken Dinner, that is, today’s festival, is said to have started in 1820, when a gang of workers who’d just finished laying a new underground rail line, rolled into the pub, demanding ‘drink, music and a big chicken dinner.’ Douglas Newberry, the then owner of the establishment, was only too happy to oblige, knowing that the labourers would have just been given a nice pay packet. At the end of the night, when the workers started filtering home, they declared that they’d had an excellent time, and looked forwards to doing the same thing again soon. Newberry told them they’d have to wait until the next chicken fattened up enough, and that would be about in a year. So it was that the festival became an annual celebration.

Since then the celebration of good food and music has become very popular, and whilst a limited amount of people can fit in the pub itself, the windows onto the street are left ajar and there are tables and chairs set out next to them for latecomers who can’t fit inside, through which food and drink are handed. The stew is a fiery sort of thing, made with plenty of chilli and smoked paprika, though things are tempered somewhat by the large quantity of potatoes therein. Apparently it goes really well with wine, although beer and cider are more usual accompaniments. Perhaps part of the reason why so many people applaud the food is because of the round-bottomed bowls it’s served in; you can’t simply leave it on the table whilst you chat and listen to the music; you have to devote your whole attention or risk spilling it everywhere.

A peculiar tradition is observed at midnight, about half-way through proceedings, which usually continue on until about four in the morning, when the pub owner comes out and presents the players with the chicken’s wishbone. They each hold an end and snap it in two, and then each place their piece of bone inside their instrument, where it rattles around to the music, creating a kind of resonant buzz which suits the genre well. Apparently this practice began on that first night, when the bones were dropped into the bass by accident, and could not be extricated without unstringing the instrument. Whilst the bones are taken out when the instruments (which are normally kept at the pub above the bar) are restrung, and then placed in a large glass jar under the counter, this happens rarely and there are usually four or five bones jumping around inside at any given moment. According to Lorastor, by putting half of the bone into both the bass and the guitar, the musicians are harmonised with each other, and also the audience, whose bellies contain the chicken from whence the bone came.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Saint Buchanbar
  • The Daring Heist of Dibber Howe Day
  • The Festival of Ugly Necklaces and Hairpins