Letters From Quotidia Episode 138 The Lark in the Morning, What More Can I Say?

Letters From Quotidia Episode 138 The Lark in the Morning, What More Can I Say?

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 138 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

The Lark in the Morning  is not only the name of the first song of this post, but the first album-length compendium of Irish folk music recorded in Ireland featuring Liam Clancy and Paddy Tunney among other great Irish folk originators. It was recorded by Diane Hamilton and Catherine Wright on portable equipment, between August and December 1955. At the time, Liam Clancy, the youngest member of the Clancy Brothers, had not yet joined with his brothers to form The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

The Lark in the Morning,  sung by Paddy Tunney was the first track. An amusing anecdote about the young Paddy is related in his obituary in The Irish Times dated December 21, 2002: He attended Derryhallow Public Elementary School. During a visit by a school inspector, Mr Doak, the teachers were taken aback when a “song of the people” was requested. The young Paddy Tunney stepped forward and sang “Boolavogue” with all the fire and feeling that he could muster. The teachers were petrified. When he had finished singing the inspector thanked him and gave him half-a-crown. “Tis a pity,” Mr Doak remarked dryly to the teachers, “a great pity. You know we should be teaching history in the schools.

A few points to consider: Derryhallow Public Elementary School is in Co Fermanagh and the partition of Ireland occurred in the same year that Paddy was born! Boolavogue, is a famous rebel song about the Rising of 1798. In Fermanagh, so soon after partition, such a song would be incendiary. Almost certainly a Protestant because of his plum position in the education establishment, I’m not 100% sure where Mr Doak’s political sympathies lay-but I do know that half a crown was a generous sum in those days- worth more than $10 in today’s money. I imagine, also, that Paddy would have been popular upon return to his cash-strapped home.

When I was at school in the mid-sixties the teaching of history was strictly along sectarian lines and the dates and events you learned about depended on whether you went to a Protestant or Catholic school. Part of Paddy Tunney’s  legacy was to pass on to newly emerging generations of singers the songs heard from his mother’s trove of song going back generations. Listen now to what he wrote in The Stone Fiddle about this and thanks to the site Comhaltas for the following: ‘Meadow Mane rippled with corncrakes and scythe steel sang to whetstone. The air ached with the pain and joy of loving. It was the time that turned my mother to songs of love and longing. She put aside the hoops that held the cloth, where her needle and thread had wrought the most exotic rosebuds, open flowers, and intricate patterns, and wove with her voice arabesques of sound that bested the embroidery. She sang me for the first time that exquisitely beautiful song: As I Roved Out.’ Treat yourself and go to YouTube and listen to Andy Irvine from Planxty or the Voice Squad’s 2011 version to get a sense of the quality of the music Paddy Tunney promulgated over a long life.

Widely regarded as one of the titans of folk music, he accepted a long-standing invitation from Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger to make a UK tour in 1967; it was to be the first of many. The site Mainly Norfolk notes that the song, The Lark in the Morning, was: A very well-known song. Most of the major English collectors noted versions, and it was also reported from Scotland and Northern Ireland and once or twice in America. Many of the nineteenth century broadside printers put out versions, but the earliest known printed text is in an Edinburgh chapbook dated 1778 and it could be even earlier. I quake in trepidation as I attempt an essay at the song and can only hope that the shade of Paddy Tunney is not too angry as he listens in from the Isles of the Blest across the wide wastes of the western ocean.[insert song]

In  December, 1985, we were back in Ireland from Australia for as long as we had sojourned in the land down under and I was chafing to get back to the sun and a life not hemmed in by sectarian bloodshed and the constant watching where you are and what you are saying. Of course, it was not all doom and gloom: I was on a roll, creatively, during the 1980s having produced Crime on Goat Island, a play by Ugo Betti, for the Glens of Antrim Drama Society, and, also, written for radio and TV. I worked with a student of mine to produce a Jazz Suite which was broadcast on BBC Radio.

At about this time I decided to try to break away from my usual simple three or four chord regime and came up with a jazz-inflected pop song as a peace offering for my wife after a falling out over- I can’t remember what- but probably something related to my tendency to block out everything else when I am in the throes of composition involving one creative project or another.  We had been married for fourteen years and, at 36 years of age, I had known my wife for over half of my existence- having met her at 16 in the corner café in Cushendall which we kept well-fed with coins as we listened to the immense output of  1960s pop music whenever she came down for the summer holidays or a weekend break.

Anyway, back to the song I had just written and which you will hear at the end of this post. I ran the peace offering by her when had I finished it, and she gave me a look I could not read. Alas, my dyslexia in such matters persists to this day. But reflecting on it now, with 50 years of marriage in the rear-view mirror, I suppose the hyperbole contained in the lyrics were a bit rich! On the weekend of the 30th/31st October just past we finally got to celebrate our COVID-deferred 50th Anniversary bash at Sydney Harbour in a 21st floor suite with views of the Bridge and Opera House. You know, I think that the song may have been written, oh, 36 years or so, prematurely. Rather than describe the sights to be seen from out harbour eyrie, I’ll default to a poem from a man whose output I first read as a 16-year-old. I’ve quoted him before and I may not have finished with him yet! It is, of course, Lord Byron, who wrote these verses in 1814 when he was 26 years of age.

She walks in beauty, like the night/Of cloudless climes and starry skies;/And all that’s best of dark and bright/Meet in her aspect and her eyes:/Thus mellowed to that tender light/Which heaven to gaudy day denies.//One shade the more, one ray the less,/Had half impaired the nameless grace/Which waves in every raven tress,/Or softly lightens o’er her face;/Where thoughts serenely sweet express/How pure, how dear their dwelling place.//And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,/So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,/The smiles that win, the tints that glow,/But tell of days in goodness spent,/A mind at peace with all below,/A heart whose love is innocent!// Our poets keep us humble and keep us sane. [insert song]

The two songs from next week are linked- sort of…I overcame writer’s block-again-only to produce a song called Logoland– I mean, come on, it may have been fashionable back in the day- as young’uns term it- but to be 20% into the 21st Century! However, beggars can’t be choosers, so I guess I’ll have to be content with another joust with the concept. What is the link to the short song it is twinned with- Johnny McEldoo? I first heard it off an LP  by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in 1963. The exuberant, uninhibited gluttony it describes appealed to a young male teenager avid for excess of one sort or another. And that’s what logos do- they promote and celebrate over-consumption. As a baby boomer, I’m complicit, even if only to a minor extent, in the trashing of Mother Earth. What to do? We need to hit pause in our avaricious pursuit of more, more, more and listen to our grandkids who are less and less tolerant of our selfish despoiling of their precarious, threatened, inheritance.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22  also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments

Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021

Letters From Quotidia Episode 137 Take What You Want, Cavan Girl

Letters From Quotidia Episode 137 Take What You Want, Cavan Girl

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 137 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Socrates, facing trial in Athens in 399 BC for impiety and corrupting the youth uttered the famous  statement: the unexamined life is not worth living. Facing death or exile he chose death, as living outside the Athenian polity, unable to enquire about meaning in the only society he could countenance living within was more than he could contemplate. Far be it from me to cast a ballot that Socrates should drink the hemlock, but it is worth pointing out a number of inconvenient truths about the situation:

1. Socrates was no lover of democracy and regarded the ordinary voters as little more than bleating sheep to be herded by their betters. (Free male citizens only, of course! Women were not enfranchised). 2. Socrates, openly disdainful of the mass of voters, spoke approvingly of Sparta’s closed society at a time when Athens had endured and survived two antidemocratic uprisings resulting in mass executions and confiscations of property. 3. He proposed, as a penalty instead of death, that he be granted free meals for life at a communal kitchen. Got to give him credit for bare-faced cheek!

Previously a figure of fun, lampooned by such luminaries as Aristophanes, by the time of his trial the mood of the polis was darker and less open to Socratic thought which posed an existential threat to the state. So, rather than just putting up with an ageing gadfly, for the few years left to him, the voters opted to hear him no more-permanently. As a contrarian of sorts myself, may I cite the Uighurs as proof that the examined life in China’s mass surveillance state, is not worth living either.

When I eventually got around to examining the bases of my life in my usual, procrastinatory, fashion, taking decades of drip, drip, drip, self-interrogation- what did I find? That I had inculcated the tenets of male superiority from the cradle and have only recently accepted the fact that men should identify as feminists if they wish to assert the principle that all people are and should be treated as equals. That’s the noble reason, the other, closer to the truth, is the prospect that such assertions enrage the knuckle-dragging troglodytes who infest and are the audience for those so-called news sites grotesquely masquerading as part of the fourth estate.

As an antidote(or should that be prophylactic?) to the first song you are going to hear, I shall quote a poem by an American I admire for her clarity: Sara Teasdale. This short, matter-of-fact poem is titled, After Love There is no magic any more,//We meet as other people do,/You work no miracle for me/Nor I for you.//You were the wind and I the sea –/ There is no splendour any more,/I have grown listless as the pool/ Beside the shore.//But though the pool is safe from storm/And from the tide has found surcease,/It grows more bitter than the sea,/For all its peace/ The next poet I wish to quote was just one year old when Sara Teasdale died in 1934.

Sylvia Plath’s poetry has shone darkly for me from the mid- 1970s when I first came across her Ariel poems. Here are the opening and closing stanzas from Mad Girl’s Love Song I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;/I lift my lids and all is born again./(I think I made you up inside my head.)//… I should have loved a thunderbird instead;/At least when spring comes they roar back again./I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead./(I think I made you up inside my head.)/I’ll conclude the course of verse to be applied to your sensibility for protection against the song I wrote by roaring up to date with a contemporary poet I discovered recently on that fine site, Poetry Foundation.

Jill Alexander Essbaum is a Texan-born poet and her poem, Parting Song, knocked me out!  Critic Rick Marlatt noted, “Known for their remarkable mix of eroticism and religiosity, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s poems vibrate with well-proportioned rhymes, unforgettable imagery and a unique realization of form. Here it is: First it is one day without you./ Then two. And soon, our point: moot. And our solution, diluted./And our class action (if ever was) is no longer suited./Wherewith I give to looting through/the war chest of our past like a wily Anne Bonny who snatches at plunder or graft./ But the wreck of that ransack, that strongbox, our splintering coffer, the claptrap bastard of the best we had to offer, is sog-soaked and clammy, empty but for sand./Like the knuckle-white cup of my urgent, ghastly hands in which nothing but the ghost of love is held./ Damn it to hell. Here’s Take What You Want To Take:[insert song]

The Irish Times published an obituary on 6 April 2018 for a singer/songwriter I introduced at the end of the last letter as having the CV you generally come across in spy novels. In abridged form it reads: Thom Moore’s contribution to the musical tapestry of this country was substantial. Born in Los Angeles in 1943,  he spent his formative years in Ethiopia and Lebanon. Graduating from the American Community School in Beirut; he entered the US Navy and served three years as a journalist with the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbour. Following this, he enrolled in UCLA and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Slavic languages and literature in 1969 and a master’s in Slavic languages in 1970. His innate musicality and spirit of adventure brought him to live in Sligo in 1971 where, with friends, he formed a couple of bands which had a seminal influence on the nascent Irish folk scene. Thom’s song writing skills were exceptional: he was a musician who could effortlessly marry beautiful melody lines with sublime lyrical content. His music was much sought after by other artists. Thom returned to the US in 1978 where he continued to write and perform. The signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty between the US and USSR in 1988 reignited his interest in Slavic culture and language, and he subsequently moved to Votkinsk in Russia where he worked as an interpreter-inspector at the permanent INF monitoring site. There, he fell in love with and married Lyuba Koroleva, a Russian interpreter. In 1993, he quit his government job and became professor of English at the Udmurt National University in Izhevsk. Thom’s linguistic talents continued to flourish in his translation of seven books by the Russian dissident writer Yuri Druzhnikov. Thom finally moved back to Ireland in November 1995. Sligo had always featured centrally in his spirit and his music.

Wow! Some CV! He died on St Patrick’s day, 2018 and his ashes were scattered from the top of Knocknarea Mountain, in legend, the resting place of Maeve, Queen of Connacht. Which brings me to the second song of this post: In 1979, his song Cavan Girl won the Cavan International Song Contest – it was inspired by the relationship of a Cavan couple, Michael and Rita Woods, who befriended him and gave his group regular gigs at their pub, Coolera House, close to Knocknarea mountain. [insert song]

That song was a favourite of Sam Beggs, who sang it frequently with our wee folk group, Banter. Would I add insult to injury by foreshadowing the theft of another of his songs for the next letter? It’s not a real question- course I would! So then, letter 138 kicks off with The Lark in the Morning a folk song first published in Edinburgh in a broadsheet in 1778. It features a ploughboy and a maiden. If you haven’t heard the song before you can probably guess the rest. The other song dates back to 1982 when I tried to break the mould of habitually writing songs using just three or four simple chords. Did I go overboard? Perhaps, listen in next week to decide for yourself- and, as you may know if you have followed the letters published over this past pandemic year, the sort of chordal complication I attempted in the song, What More Can I Say? was not a practice I adhered to at all in the subsequent decades.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22  also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments

Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021

Letters From Quotidia Episode 136 The Parting Glass, 237 Dollars

Letters From Quotidia Episode 136 The Parting Glass, 237 Dollars

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 136 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

The Clancy Brothers Song Book first published in 1962 and still in print was the book I used to learn the guitar. I bought it in 1967 and started working my way through it. Wikipedia tells us that The Parting Glass is a traditional song, often sung at the end of a gathering of friends. It has long been sung in Ireland, enjoying considerable popularity to this day. The earliest known printed version was as a Scottish broadside in the 1770s. However, it was known at least as early as 1605 as a poem- Armstrong’s Goodnight, by one of the Border Reivers  executed that year for the murder in 1600 of Sir John Carmichael, Warden of the Scottish West March. The Reivers were raiders along the Anglo-Scottish border from the late 13th century to the beginning of the 17th century.

In 1757 Oliver Goldsmith wrote in a letter : “If I go for the opera where Signora Columba [Mattei] pours out all mazes of melody, I sit and sigh for Johnny Armstrong’s Last Good Night. In 1759 in his essay Happiness in a Great Measure Dependent on Constitution he remarked that the “music of Mattei is dissonance to what I felt when our old dairy-maid sung me into tears with Johnny Armstrong’s Last Good Night, P. W. Joyce, in his Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909), gives the tune with a different text under the name Sweet Cootehill Town, noting, “The air seems to have been used indeed as a general farewell tune.” Irish folk song collector Colm Ó Lochlainn has taken note of this identity of melodies between The Parting Glass and Sweet Cootehill Town.

Of course, there are those souls who delight in arguing the toss over whether the song and/or tune originate in Scotland or Ireland. As someone born in the Glens of Antrim, within sight of the Scottish coast, and with Scottish forebears as well as Irish, I can easily imagine, over the centuries, that the tune and words would have travelled back and forth to be sung in both islands by those who care not a whit about true origins, et cetera. The tune appeared, with religious lyrics, in 19th century American tune books and is still widely sung by Sacred Harp singers under the title Clamanda.

The Parting Glass was re-introduced to mid-20th century audiences by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Their rendition featured a solo by Liam Clancy and first appeared on their 1959 Tradition Records LP Come Fill Your Glass with Us.  The rendition by the Clancys and Makem has been described as “by all accounts… the most influential” of the many recorded versions. As I have indicated elsewhere in my Letters, I am a slow study. I didn’t recognise the quality of the song when I was learning the guitar back in the late 1960s. Too slow for me and I didn’t worry one bit, as a 17-year-old, if I were I to part from friends and acquaintances-with pastures new and far horizons beckoning. Of course, with the passage of time and as I learned more about the song’s background, my appreciation of it deepened.

The overlay of mortal sadness, of one facing execution, has seeped into the melody and I am reminded of that amazing poem by the 24-year-old Chidiock Tichbourne who was executed by being hung, drawn and quartered for his role in the Catholic Babington plot to assassinate Elizabeth I in 1586. He sent this moving examination of life and death to his wife on the night before his execution:  My prime of youth is but a froste of cares,/My feaste of joy, is but a dishe of payne,/My cropp of corne, is but a field of tares:/And all my good is but vaine hope of gaine:/The daye is gone, and yet I sawe no sonn:/And nowe I live, and nowe my life is donn.//The springe is past, and yet it hath not sprong/The frute is deade, and yet the leaves are greene/My youth is gone, and yet I am but Yonge/I sawe the woorld, and yet I was not seene/My threed is cutt, and yet it was not sponn/And nowe I lyve, and nowe my life is donn.//I saught my death, and founde it in my wombe/I lookte for life, and sawe it was a shade./I trode the earth and knewe it was my Tombe/And nowe I die, and nowe I am but made/The glasse is full, and nowe the glass is run/And nowe I live, and nowe my life is donn. This is the first time I have ever sung the song but almost two years of the COVID pandemic with its attendant lockdowns here in Sydney and having lost several people close to me has brought a finer understanding of this song, so, now, I present my version of The Parting Glass: [insert song]

Back in 1979, I wrote a song about Major Claude Eatherly, one of the pilots of the Hiroshima bombing raid of August 6, 1945. He piloted the Straight Flush, a weather reconnaissance plane and radioed the Enola Gay, the plane which carried the atomic  bomb, Little Boy, that the weather was perfect for the strike on the unsuspecting city. My first reading about his life left me with the opinion that he was a hero. Later,  I read material that painted him as a derelict husband and father, a crook and opportunist willing, for example, to bomb Havana, Cuba, for $100,000. To this day I remain torn between these readings. So, what to do? The song has been long-written and was unearthed when I fossicked in the front of my garage in September just passed.

I’ll quote a couple of views from the mainstream media. J. Y. Smith, in The Washington Post, just one week after Eatherly’s death from cancer at age 57 in the Veterans Administration hospital in Houston, Texas on July 1st 1978 wrote: His role in ushering in nuclear warfare remained the central episode of his existence until he diedClaude Eatherly was a major in the Army Air Force and a B-29 bomber pilot in World War II… “Every night for 15 years, I have dreamed about it,” Maj. Eatherly told Parade Magazine in the early 1960s. “I see great fires, boiling fires, crimson fires, closing in on me. Buildings fall, children run – living torches with their clothes aflame. ‘Why did you do it?’ they scream. I wake up paralysed with fear, screaming, sweating because I have no answer.”… Eatherly was hospitalised several times for mental disorders and was arrested several times on charges ranging from armed robbery to forging checks. Police officials said he seemed to want to be caught for his crimes.

More recently, Anne I Harrington, in The New York Times magazine of August 6  2020, the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, wrote: Passing judgment on whether he was a hero for speaking out about his suffering, or a malingerer out to capitalise on his wartime experiences became a way to stake a claim within the debate about nuclear weapons. Do we believe what we want to believe, then, regardless of facts? Does it really depend on which side of the nuclear debate we are on? Me? In a world where I’m lied to constantly by a burgeoning variety of clever and manipulative government and non-government actors, all I know is that I’m on the side of music, poetry, compassion and humanity. So, I’ll play you the song and leave you to decide whether Major Claude Eatherly is worthy of this attention: its title is, 237 Dollars, the amount of his monthly government pension. [insert song]

Next week I will present another song from the front of my garage; one written in the mid-seventies. I barely recognise the twenty-something person who wrote this song with the ponderous title: Take What You Want to Take or Take What You Need. It is a testosterone-fuelled swagger which is off-set, I am pleased to report, by the wonderful  song, My Cavan Girl, popular among folksingers in Ireland and far beyond. It was written by a talented American with the sort of C.V you generally come across in spy novels. But I’ll tell you more about this when next you drop into Quotidia for a listen. So, until then, to quote from The Parting Glass-good night and joy be to you all…

Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22  also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments

Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021

Letters From Quotidia Episode 135 Bomber, Standing on the Moon

Letters From Quotidia Episode 135 Bomber, Standing on the Moon

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 135 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

On the 23rd of April, 1965, a vivacious 22-year-old female student, on her way to attend an anti-Vietnam War rally at the University of Oregon in Eugene, wrote, in large letters, on an envelope she attached to her sweater, “Let’s make love, not war.” A photographer with the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper, Wayne Eastburn, remembers taking the shot. He sent the picture to the Associated Press and the rest is history. The original slogan was shortened to the more declarative Make Love Not War. The name of that student: Diane Newell Meyer. I am happy to report that she is, at the time of preparing this podcast, still an activist, environmentalist, writer and photographer with a presence on social media, including Pinterest where you can see a print of Wayne Eastburn’s original photograph.

The feisty-looking 78-year-old woman, staring out from the site warms the cockles of my heart. Her, meme, I suppose you would call it now, reached across continental America and the Atlantic Ocean deep into the glens of Antrim where, in the summer of 1967, I remember walking with a couple of friends along a country road fringed with blooming hedgerows. We were shouting that slogan as we placed flowers in our hair (not quite long enough to pass as hippies but way too long for the likes of our parents- the oldies. Ah well, it has ever been thus.

Now, older baby boomers among us may remember Governor (later, President) Ronald Reagan’s quip when he was confronted by protesters chanting Make Love Not War: they don’t look like they could do either! Good one, Ron. The linguistic nexus between sex and violence, love and war has been around since time immemorial. All’s fair in love and war, anyone? Wikipedia’s dictionary defines it thus: in certain highly charged situations, any method of achieving your objective is justifiable. A definition not likely to commend itself to any reasonable person let alone the hashtag-Me-Too Twittterverse.

Protection against sexual harassment, exploitation and violence is a developing area of legislation and jurisprudence that proceeds apace in many, if not most countries. Even if, in places such as Afghanistan, it has gone backwards-  and not just by one century, but multiples of this. The protocols of the Geneva Conventions to protect the vulnerable in situations of war were drawn up in the first half of the 20th Century to rein in abuses by the military of nation-states. These protocols are frequently ignored by conventional forces  and rarely adhered to by paramilitary groups, alas. Nevertheless, they do form the basis of criminal prosecution of those who can be identified and apprehended for atrocities they commit or condone. It’s a lot better than nothing.

I wrote the song Bomber around the time of the first Gulf War, thirty years ago. Wikipedia informs us: For 42 consecutive days and nights, the coalition forces subjected Iraq to one of the most intensive air bombardments in military history. The coalition flew over 100,000 sorties, dropping 88,500 tonnes of bombs, which widely destroyed military and civilian infrastructure. These figures boggle the imagination but who recalls them now? 2278 Iraqi civilians were reported killed in this phase of the war. Too much for me to get my head around in any meaningful way so, I bring the whole thing down to an imagined and, it must be said, impossible conversational exchange between a young woman in a city apartment in Baghdad and a young male pilot flying sorties from an airbase in Saudi Arabia, perhaps, or it may be from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

The language of love is used to propel the surreal narrative. And the power here is unequal. The woman has one four-line stanza at the beginning of the song- which is repeated-once. The man’s part in this sinister colloquy has five times the content of the woman’s and, far from merely repeating phrases which is her linguistic contribution to this drama, his develops throughout: in other words, it dominates, subjugates and, finally, exterminates. So don’t be fooled by harmonious chord progressions and a soulful melody- this is a deeply unpleasant song. [insert song]

As I said, that song, Bomber, is deeply unpleasant, but, 30 years ago, I had intended it to carry a cautionary message within the toxic twisting and subverting of the phraseology of love; it was to be a warning of the dangers of misusing  the tropes common to romantic language. And now- the Rant begins! As I survey the offerings on prime-time TV which largely consists of dating shows, cop dramas, period bodice-rippers, real estate reno extravaganzas and the like, I am tempted to venture into the digital domain, only to be enticed by proliferating sites offering whatever my loins desire. It seems to me that pornography has become increasingly normalised in our depraved media landscape. Rant over! Now I know, in small measure, how trolls feel after a foray into cyberspace to leave their slimy spoor and to deposit their anonymous, fetid, reeking scat on the websites of their prey. Of course, any reasonably educated and informed person finds it possible to negotiate a way through the malodorous dreck on every side to find oases of quality catering to a wide variety of tastes. For me, music, science, and literature posts on sites such as Flipboard and YouTube ensure that I am not drenched in the aforementioned dreck.

At around the same time as Diane Newell Meyer was scrawling her  soon-to-be iconic slogan on the back of an envelope up in Eugene, Oregon, a 24-year-old  Robert Hunter was writing lyrics for a San Francisco band called The Grateful Dead. His worked mainly with Jerry Garcia over a forty-year period until Garcia’s death in 1995. As a non-performing member of the band, his contribution to the ethos that the band established over the decades can be overlooked. Suffice to say that his lyrics underpinned some of the Dead’s best-known songs- and he wrote more than eighty! I’m going to cover one of them as my second song for this podcast. Here’s a  handful of favourite tracks I have listened over the years: Terrapin Station, Touch of Grey, Franklin’s Tower, Black Muddy River and the oft-twinned Fire on the Mountain/Scarlet Begonias.

To prepare for the song at the end of this podcast, here is a lovely short poem about the moon by imagist poet T.E. Hulme, who was killed in action during World War One on 28th September 1917: Above the quiet dock in mid night/Tangled in the tall mast’s corded height/Hangs the moon/What seemed so far away/Is but a child’s balloon forgotten after play. In 1989 The Grateful Dead released their final studio album which several critics have pretty much dissed- I wonder if they stuffed cloth into their ears when Standing on the Moon was playing? I think it showcases Robert Hunter’s lyrical prowess and Jerry Garcia’s plaintive voice perfectly. Here, I hope to do it justice on my basic equipment. [insert song]

If Bomber was filled with angst and Standing on the Moon filled with pathos, what contrasting themes and emotions will permeate the brace of songs on offer next week? More of the same, I’m afraid. I’ll start with a song of farewell and remembrance that I first came across in my copy of The Clancy Brothers Songbook-first published in 1962 The Parting Glass is the song. My original composition dates back to January 1980: I had been reading an account of the life and death of Major Claude Eatherly- the only member of the Army Air Force team who expressed any regret for the bombing of Hiroshima- the first use of a nuclear weapon. I found it in my garage while searching for inspiration one hot day in September. I was able to retrieve from memory the melody, such as it is, when I found the chords which accompany it. Its title is 237 Dollars and I’ll tell you more about it next week.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22  also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments

Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021

Letters From Quotidia Episode 134 Armistice Day Special

Letters From Quotidia, Episode 134 No Man’s Land, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 134 – a special podcast by Quentin Bega to commemorate the end of World War One in 1918. Quotidia remains, of course, that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Armistice Day marks the end of World War One, where, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, all hostilities were to cease. It would be nice to think that at this precise time all guns stopped firing, all conflict ceased across the war-torn globe and that not another person was killed. A fine and noble thought but truth is: the artillery kept pounding the hapless men on either side until night had fallen over large swathes of the battleground. In Kenya, two weeks passed before the German and British officers got together to stitch up a ceasefire.

Really! Was the telegraph down all that time and were radios inoperable owing to sunspot activity? Did these outages, perhaps, mean that the news was transmitted, instead, by  messengers strolling from London and Berlin to Nairobi taking the scenic route? Armistice Day remains a public holiday of note in France. In Commonwealth countries it became Remembrance Day after World War Two and in America it became Veterans’ Day. Anzac Day on 25th April has become the major date of commemoration in Australia. But this day, whatever it is called, is worth remembering.

The reason? From an Australian population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom 62,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. What may surprise some of the listeners to this podcast, given the history of Ireland, is that 210,000 Irishmen fought in the First World War, in several theatres and either 30,000, or, if one includes those who died serving in armies other than Britain’s, 49,400 men died. And this from a population of four and a quarter million! So, the proportions from both countries are about equal. Many, if not most Australians, have a personal connection to the Great War, as well as other conflicts up to and including the Afghanistan War, through personal involvement or through the involvement of their relatives and forebears.

In my own case, just over four years ago, on September 18th 2017, I watched, over an internet link sent by my nephew, a Mass in Genarriffe, Co Antrim, to mark the centenary of the death of my great-uncle Private John Joseph Mitchell (of the 22nd battalion, A.I.F.) who embarked from Port Melbourne, Victoria, on board the troopship Ayrshire. Now, I didn’t even know my great-uncle existed until my nephew wrote to me about his life and death ten or twelve years ago. Since then, whenever we visit Canberra, we place a poppy next to his name in the Roll of Honour.

He died at the Battle of Passchendaele, where half a million casualties fell in one hundred days for only five miles or eight kilometres of territory. That means fifty men were killed for each step of ground gained.  Can you imagine walking for almost two hours and witnessing fifty men fall around you at each step? It’s horror is beyond my imagining- thank God. A link to my song about him can be found here: (I Wasn’t With The Diggers) Marching Home From That War – Quentin Bega’s Blog Listen now to my version of Eric Bogle’s great song, No Man’s Land  also known as The Green Fields of France or Willie McBride. [insert song]

‘Passchendaele’ was not only an episode in the history of the First World War; it became a concept, an international symbol of the great futility of the violence of war in its most horrific form. Here’s another Irish connection that shows the complexity of the Irish involvement in the First World War. Nationalist poet, Francis Ledwidge, was a Lance Corporal in the 10th (Irish) Division of the Inniskilling Fusiliers. He was killed in action in July 1917 on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele while repairing a road in West Flanders, Belgium. He had joined the Inniskilling Fusiliers in October 1914, believing he was furthering the cause of Irish Independence.

He said that because Britain, and I quote, “stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilisation and I would not have her say she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions”. He is buried near where he fell at Artillery Wood cemetery and, close by, a memorial to him was erected and inscribed with lines from a verse of his poem ‘Lament for Thomas MacDonagh’ his fellow poet and friend who was one of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising: He shall not hear the bittern cry/ in the wild sky where he is lain.

I’ll read the concluding lines to Ledwidge’s poem, Soliloquy: And now I’m drinking wine in France/The Helpless child of circumstance/Tomorrow will be loud with war/How will I be accounted for?//It is too late now to retrieve/A fallen dream, too late to grieve/A name unmade, but not too late/To thank the gods for what is great;/A keen-eyed sword, a soldier’s heart/Is greater than a poet’s art/And greater than a poet’s fame…/A little grave that has no name.

Now to the other side of the religious divide in Ireland. I refer to a short poem which was written in 1918, by  William Butler Yeats, to commemorate the death of Major Robert Gregory, son of Yeats’ patron, Lady Augusta Gregory. Robert Gregory was a multi-talented Renaissance man, a scion of titled Anglo-Irish gentry, athlete, aviator, scholar, and artist who, even though over the age for compulsory military service, enlisted in World War I. He did so, like so many other men, especially in the early months of the war, because they thought that it was a magnificent avenue for adventure.

In An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, Yeats presents his airman as being motivated neither by love of country nor hatred of the enemy but rather, “A lonely impulse of delight/ Drove to this tumult in the clouds; Yeats posits the aviator as weighing up the past and the future, seeing little of value in either, concluding: In balance with this life, this death. In an era long saturated with anti-war sentiment and rhetoric, such gung ho feelings and responses towards war seem alien, and, indeed, I’ll wager that the majority of soldiers fighting on either side felt terror or disgust or repulsion or any range of negative emotions when faced with the realities of trench warfare towards the end of the conflict.

But there is ample evidence in diaries, journals and letters that many young men felt that pleasant anticipatory surge of adrenaline when faced with the prospect of battle, particularly in the newly-fangled arena of aerial combat where some semblance of chivalry still remained in a war where the concept had been butchered wholesale. The concluding song about that first global conflict is also by Eric Bogle, a Scottish-born migrant to Australia, whose songs our group Banter has covered over the decades. The song: And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, written in 1971 when anti-Vietnam protests were at a peak. The song took some time to spread among the folk crowd and I first heard it in the mid-1970s when I attended a folk session at a Hawkesbury River farmhouse near Windsor, New South Wales.[insert song]

Tomorrow, Friday 12, November, will see the publication of my regular Letters From Quotidia podcast. The first song featured is one I wrote in the 1970s about a sinister sort of relationship between someone on an aircraft carrying bombs and a young woman far below. The second is a song written by Robert Hunter in 1989 for The Grateful DeadStanding on the Moon.  I end this podcast with the traditional ode for fallen by Laurence Binyon.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old/Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn/.At the going down of the sun and in the morning/We will remember them/.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22  also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments

Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021

Letters From Quotidia Episode 133 The Rooster Calls, Four Green Fields

Letters From Quotidia Episode 133 The Rooster Calls, Four Green Fields

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 133 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

In 1962 we flew from Aruba to Puerto Rico for a holiday: my mother and father, my two sisters and me. Sixty years later memories are rather hazy: I remember a day at a beach; also, stopping off at a waterfall on our journey up into the mountains of the rainforest and horse-riding with my sisters at the resort we stayed at. But the most vivid memory is of an incident on the flight back to Aruba on the propellor-driven aircraft. Someone noticed black smoke pouring from an engine on the starboard side.

Amid the shouts of alarm and consternation, the salient feature for me was seeing several passengers on their knees in the aisle with their rosary beads in their hands as they prayed, volubly in Spanish, for deliverance while the cabin crew struggled to regain control of the situation- as they did, after a few moments. The propellor was feathered and the pilots cut the supply of fuel to the errant engine: so, we continued on our way with only three propellors, disembarking without further upset.

That memory became incorporated into a song that I wrote, or more accurately, started to write, in Wollongong in 1978. I finished the song by appending a last verse after we had returned to Ireland in 1979. I must have been obsessing about how I had failed to live up to one ideal after another. The more sceptical songwriter I have grown to be over the decades would not write such material now, but the theme of betrayal endures as one of the most potent of tropes.

As Wikipedia notes in its article on the denial of the premier apostle, Peter: All four Canonical Gospels state that during Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, he predicted that Peter would deny knowledge of him, stating that Peter would disown him before the rooster crowed the next morning. Following the arrest of Jesus, Peter denied knowing him three times, but after the third denial, he heard the rooster crow and recalled the prediction as Jesus turned to look at him. Peter then began to cry bitterly. As well he might! I must say, though, that I can’t recall crying at any stage in the various betrayals I portray in the verses of this song,  but, obviously, I felt just bad enough to write about it. Handy, that, don’t you agree?

Nevertheless, the theme of betrayal resonates: remember Et tu, Brute? As the dying Caesar, witnesses his noble friend Brutus wielding the blade delivering the fatal stroke. And William Blake reminds us it is easier to forgive an enemy than a friend. How much harder, then, to forgive ourselves our own trespasses. Listen now to The Rooster Calls. [insert song] Have you noticed how the words meme or memes have entered common usage and seem to have supplanted, what, at first glance, is the perfectly serviceable term, image.But let’s examine this contention more closely. Wikipedia’s dictionary yields the following: Meme

NOUN

  1. an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations.[for example]

“celebrity gossip and memes often originate on the site” · 

  • an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means. [sorry you can’t claim your kids as  memes, no matter how cute they are! Unless they do something weird on Tik Tok, of course ]

VERB

  1. create an internet meme from (an image, video, piece of text, etc.). [for example]

“there’s always one audience reaction shot at the Oscars that gets memed” [Good Lord!]

Three points here: it can be any form of text not just a visual image. It is typically humorous which fits in with one of the main drivers of internet use- entertainment. It can be used as a verb- who knew? But, as we all know, the internet is not all kittens playing piano. There is also vile, exploitative content such as child pornography. The troll farms in Russia churn out disinformation on an industrial scale. QAnon holds in thrall countless thousands of followers who, isolated in their echoing silos, fear the lizard overlords who are plotting their destruction.

I am reminded of one of W H Auden’s poems, Gare du Midi, a short eight-line account of a man getting off a train in the middle of a city. He is anonymous but there is something about the mouth which distracts the stray look with alarm and pity. The last lines are truly ominous, clutching a little case/ He walks out briskly to infect a city/Whose terrible future may just have arrived. At the time of writing, Australia is still on tender hooks. Will the NRL Grand Final in Brisbane go ahead or has someone from interstate walked out briskly recently to infect the city of Brisbane with COVID?

On a personal note, will our once deferred 50th Wedding Anniversary weekend in a swish apartment overlooking Sydney Harbour still go ahead? Both  these questions will be answered by the next post. Whether Auden’s poem, written in 1938, refers to a man carrying a suitcase full of vials containing biological agents or, more metaphorically, pamphlets extolling fascist  or other extremist ideology, doesn’t really matter- either is deadly if it spreads throughout the population. The power of image and metaphor existed long before internet memes. The many  paintings adorning Medieval churches and Renaissance palaces attest to this. But not everyone has the wherewithal to appreciate such glories of art either in person on via those vivid OLED screens.

The rest of us make do with the images held in the art gallery of the mind and imagination. And it is one such image that I wish to explore from the second song of the podcast: Tommy Makem, with the Clancy Brothers, kick-started the resurgence of Irish music in the 1960s. He performed solo and with others throughout his life until shortly before his death in 2007. He wrote the song, Four Green Fields. Wikipedia informs us: The song is about Ireland (personified as an “old woman”) and its four provinces (represented by “green fields”), one of which remains occupied…The song is interpreted as an allegorical political statement regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The four fields are seen as the Provinces of Ireland with Ulster being the “field” that remained part of the United Kingdom after the Irish Free State separated. The old woman is seen as a traditional personification of Ireland herself.

Makem would often preface his song in concert by reciting Requiem For The Croppies, by Seamus Heaney. The poem details the guerrilla tactics of the Irish resistance after the rebellion of 1798. It ends: Until on Vinegar Hill the final conclave/Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon./The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave./They buried us without shroud or coffin/And in August the barley grew up out of our grave.[insert song]

The image, Four Green Fields pre-dates the Makem song which was written in 1967. Irish artist, Evie Hone was commissioned to provide a stained-glass work for the Irish Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. It is presently installed as the main window of the entrance hall to Government Buildings, a large Edwardian structure enclosing a quadrangle on Merrion Street, Dublin.

Next week, there will be two posts: first, for Thursday, 11th November. This is the date of the Armistice which ended the slaughter of World War One. I will feature two songs about this conflict by Eric Bogle, one of Australia’s best-known songwriters. I’ll admit that I had toyed with the idea of shifting this podcast one day forward to Friday- my usual podcast day but decided that to do so would not be…right. What! my better angel sneered, so you’ll have to expend a little more effort for this week? Mmm, not so great a sacrifice, the podcaster decided upon reflection, compared to those made by so many, including relatives I have written about elsewhere in these letters.

The songs commemorating Armistice day are: The Band Played Waltzing Matilda and No Man’s Land a.k.a. The Green Fields of France in Ireland, thanks to Finbar Furey! The regular Friday podcast will feature two songs: first, Bomber, an original composition. The second is one I have yet to  arrange or record but one I had long wanted to cover in public: Standing on the Moon by The Grateful Dead, which featured Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals. But it never happened. Instead, an internet premiere on Friday the 12th.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22  also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments

Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021

Letters From Quotidia Episode 132 The Foggy Dew, Descent

Letters From Quotidia Episode 132 The Foggy Dew, Descent

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 132 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Between September 1968 and June 1972, I was a student at Trench House, more formally known as St Joseph’s College of Education in Andersonstown at the top of the Falls Road, Belfast. For the first couple of years, I engaged in the extra-curricular activities on offer much more diligently than the academic: music, drama, student politics, co-editing the college rag we called TET,  frequent drinking and disputation sessions at The Hunting Lodge, handily, just a short walk away from the half-empty lecture theatres we often absented ourselves from. My tertiary studies coincided, also, with the latest iteration of The Troubles,  which soon put paid to my continuing activism as a student politician and student-journalist.

My penchant for satire, contrarianism and, it must be said, my adherence to the principles of liberal democracy, which I still hold dear, found little favour in the new dispensation and, by the end of my second year, I walked away from all that, got married on 3rd July 1971 and embarked on the much more perplexing role of being a husband, and, later, father- all the while persisting to be, involuntarily,  an habitually penurious student, supported, largely, by my wife, who clambered over barricades, pregnant, to travel to work in the Electricity Department of Belfast City Council from our rented house off the Whiterock Road.  

Fifty-five years before this, in 1916, the Easter Rising in Dublin and the subsequent brutal executions of the leaders of that rebellion engendered the birth of the terrible beauty that Yeats wrote about in his remarkable poem about those history-making events. Over 210,00 Irishmen had enlisted on the allied side in World War One and, initially, the rebels were reviled by the majority of Dubliners and wider Irish society: but the shooting, by the British, of Padraig Pearse and fifteen other leaders of the rebellion, in a space of just  10 days, between the 3rd and 12th of May, provoked waves of revulsion, and the tide of public opinion soon swung behind the Republican cause.

And here’s where the family connection to the first song of this podcast comes in. It was written by Father Charles O’Neill. In 1919. He had attended the first sitting of the new Irish Parliament, the Dáil. The names of the elected members were called out, but many were absent. Their names were answered by the reply: “locked up by the foreigner” in Gaelic. This inspired him to write the words of one of Ireland’s most recognised songs of rebellion, The Foggy Dew. The music and words are from a manuscript that was in the possession of Kathleen Dallat, sister of Father Michael Dallat of Ballycastle, a town on the north of Antrim coast.

Now, Michael Dallat became the Principal of Trench House when I was a student there. A formidable intellect, he was bemused when confronted by a pimply student politician in denims ( that would be me, by the way) who demanded- you know, I can’t remember, at this remove, what urgent matter had me frothing in his office. But he didn’t hold this against me, writing, later, a wonderful and generous reference for me when I applied to the NSW Department of Education for a job before I had actually graduated from Queen’s University as a Bachelor of Education.

My late sister Mary, whose loss to cancer, earlier this year still hurts me deeply, married one of his nephews, John Dallat, a computer wiz who moved with her to Germany and still resides there with their son and daughters and grandchildren. Which just goes to show you, that, everywhere, family connections are powerful and really do resonate down the years. The oft-advertised new world of the metaverse, constructed of zeros and ones and lacking any sinews or blood  or humanity, but beloved by sundry balding billionaires in Silicon Valley’s high-Tech companies, will never get anywhere near to the real world of visceral connection.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the recent history of that benighted, yet, some say, beautiful, country- Afghanistan. This song has been covered by some of the world’s best artists: but will that deter me? If you’ve been following my podcasts- you’ll know, that is no impediment at all! [insert song]

This leaves me very little time to talk about the song that closes this podcast, Descent. And, do you know, this is not really a problem to me. One gift that living longer gives to you is a contextualising perspective of the life you have lived: you get to see that things that once seemed important are- not necessarily so! A confession: I might be closer that I’d like to admit to those balding billionaires of Silicon Valley. Not insofar as filthy lucre is concerned, of course!  (I remain, at my core, a penurious student.) But I have fantasised about what a truly and genuinely authentic, transcendental life might be.

And, fuelled by a rather tasty New Zealand Pinot Noir, I can admit, in the throes of in vino veritas, that I have always failed to really measure up to the ideal, metaphysical standard- whatever that may be. Kevin Baker, poet and folk musician here in Australia, and long-time friend, who also departed earlier this year from this realm, whispered, when he was in his cups out there on Lough Erne with me in 1981, on a fishing trip during his visit to us in Northern Ireland: you know, Bridie (he is talking here about my wife) is the real deal, I have learned more from her about the politics and working class of Belfast, in a few days, than all your pontificating over the  years we’ve known one another in Australia!

Good to know, Kevin, good to know. Not that it came as any surprise to me. I had learned long before that my wife is on a different and superior level to me. Lots of men of my vintage may well chime in- in agreement, about their significant others as well! The song you are about to hear is influenced by Lord Byron, a poet I have revered from my mid-teens; Bob Dylan, likewise; Robert Frost, of course; the Bible, naturally! But really, how can you itemise all the people, all the poems, all the music, and all the  stories and lived experiences that flow into the stuff that you create and claim as yours alone?

Would I write such a song today? Nooo. This fragment of a more feverish past life could have been consigned, again, to oblivion. So why does it make the cut? I think because it utilises images, tropes and themes that have been a part of my creative output for more than fifty years. I still struggle with the need to integrate the various components of my existence: the physical, emotional, spiritual, artistic and…and…yeah, there it is…what else is there? There is more, I know it. So, still, I am on a quest to find what else there is. Listen now to the song, Descent.[insert song]

Guy Fawkes is a villain or a hero. Depends on where you stand. When next you tune in to this podcast, it’ll be November 5th and you will be either making a bonfire to dance around, or, like me, just  picking up the morning newspaper from your front lawn. There can be no other possibility in the Quotidian universe! But the brace of songs that will be on offer next week are instructive, I think. Four Green Fields, composed by Tommy Makem in 1967, stands, to this day, as one of the finest folk songs ever written. The Rooster Calls is one of my first attempts to write about my life and connect it to the history unfolding around me.

How can I presume to set such a composition against a classic?  I don’t really know but vaguely see, outlined in my mind, fools and angels milling about, each group wondering whether to rush in- or not. But can I leave you with this thought by Robert Frost who states at the end of a fine poem: And further still at an unearthly height,/One luminary clock against the sky/Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right./ I have been one acquainted with the night

 Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22  also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments

Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021

Letters From Quotidia Episode 131 No Angel Will Interfere, After All These Years

Letters From Quotidia Episode 131 No Angel Will Interfere, After All These Years

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 131 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Forty-six years ago, we lived in Gwynneville, a suburb of Wollongong, between the botanic gardens and the university. I drove a white Ford Falcon station wagon from that quiet little suburb to Warrawong High School 10 klicks along the Princess Highway for the five years or so we lived here. I was involved with a couple of folk groups and heavily into the pub and club scene, as you do when you’re in your mid-twenties. Ends of a candle and the burning thereof springs to mind. If I spent three evenings a week at home, it was only because I needed to recuperate from the ravages of the other nights and, it may be, that in some dark and narrow crevice of conscience, I conceded that I owed some time to the needs of my wife and two kids.

Husband and father of the year was one title I could not aspire to, even were that honour to be limited only to the dozen or so residences of the short block we lived on. Listening to our collection of LPs while having a drink or two after the kids were in bed was a scene of marital contentment in those intermittent evenings of domesticity. Linda Ronstadt and Kris Kristofferson were on heavy rotation, blasting from our junkyard-purchased record player and we particularly liked his eponymous first album which we had brought out with us from Belfast. That year we were also knocked out by The Carpenter’s album, Horizon. So, with a drip feed of songs such as  Linda Ronstadt’s You’re No Good and I Fall To Pieces, or Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night and Sunday Morning Coming Down or Karen Carpenter’s beautiful rendering of Desperado and Solitaire it was inevitable that, notwithstanding my commitment to folk music, I would write  a country-influenced reflection on where I was at that year when I got around to writing a song about it.

As I said in the last podcast, I changed the title from Three Views of You to No Angel Will Interfere. Should you happen to be as self-absorbed as I was back then, I can recommend song writing as an antidote to that condition. In the song, I was able to look at myself from my wife’s point of view, in three vignettes or snapshots. Did it enable me to amend my behaviour for the better? Yeah, a little bit. And, little by little is an effective long-term strategy, for, I’ve been reliably informed, that after fifty years of marriage, I’m almost house-trained. Almost. [insert song]

The phrase, after all these years, is in common use, one might even say, a cliché. Back in 1975, Paul Simon was crazy, after all these years and as outlined before, I think I was too, at that time. Which is the theme of the second half of this podcast. Shakespeare, in Sonnet 19 tells us, Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,/And make the earth devour her own sweet brood. Robert Herrick, in the 17th Century, advised the virgins to make much of time: Then be not coy, but use your time,/And while ye may, go marry;/For having lost but once your prime,/ You may forever, tarry. Carl Sandburg, another poet I’ve quoted before, in his free verse poem, Clocks, written towards the end of the First World War, observes: Here is a face that says half-past seven the same way whether a murder or a wedding goes on…And of course, there are wristwatches over the pulses of airmen eager to go to France.

Well, I could go on, and on. But time’s passing and- oh, what the heck! I can’t resist quoting Phillip Larkin’s brilliant poem, Days : What are days for?/ Days are where we live./ They come, they wake us/Time and time over./They are to be happy in:/Where can we live but days?// Ah, solving that question/ Brings the priest and the doctor/ In their long coats/ Running over the fields.

You know, once upon a time, I was a zealot, opposed to anything that approached the maudlin, the nostalgic, the rose-tinted survey of the good old days- Happy Days, anyone? Why on earth, I wondered, would anyone living in the 70s wish to look back to the 1950s? Not me. The repertoire of songs I covered were focussed on highwaymen, outlaws, lusty sailors, and suchlike. Well, I’m no longer living in the 70s (incidentally, Australian listeners of a certain age will recognise that phrase as a song and album title of a popular Melbourne group at the time, The Skyhooks.) Now to the present: I’m living through my 70s, if my luck holds out, that is!

But back in the day, as the young’uns express it, my claws were sharp, and I would rip to pieces anything sweet or sentimental. However, devouring time does blunt the lion’s paws, and, gradually, my repertoire of songs has broadened, and, as several people have noticed, my beam also has! I’m as likely to sing a sweet song of remembrance now as one about a bloody battleground. Our 50th wedding anniversary has come and gone, and I am still unable to treat my wife to a relaxing weekend in some posh harbour digs here in Sydney, thanks to continuing COVID lockdowns. My younger self- even one of a just few years ago, would not have believed I would sing this next Foster and Allen hit from a long time ago of a long-married life- After All These Years, but there you are, and here we go! [insert song]

For next week we will leave the gentler and more elegiac world of this podcast for one more in line with themes of war and desolation. The Foggy Dew is a song of war, written by a Catholic priest, in about 1919. And there is a family connection here which I will explain in Letter 132. The original composition is from the nineteen seventies, and I was living between and among the genres of country, folk, rock, and pop as well as more apocalyptic and experimental genres. As I look, now, at the original manuscript page, I see written at the top in black ink-well, it figures- song/poem/fallout/ and under this the word “Descent” with the words “working title” in brackets. Oh, enough said- I’ll see you all next time…

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22  also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments

Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021

Letters From Quotidia Episode 130 Avondale, Another End

Letters From Quotidia Episode 130 Avondale, Another End

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 130 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

In Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin, there is a gravestone of unhewn Wicklow granite. On it, is inscribed one word. Nothing else is needed. Such is the fame, among the Irish, of the person there interred, that anything else would be superfluous. And the word? Parnell. Also known as “the uncrowned king of Ireland,” Charles Stewart Parnell was born into a wealthy Anglo-Irish family which could boast links with American naval  hero Admiral Charles Stewart as well as the British Royal family through his great-grandmother who belonged to the Tudor family. He was a complex mix of conservative inclinations and revolutionary entanglements. Having little detailed knowledge of the Irish tradition of resistance and its luminaries, he would, nevertheless become its figurehead in the imagination of the Irish struggling classes at home and abroad.

So then, what is a toff like Parnell doing in such company? Well, you know, he is not alone. Sir Roger Casement, another scion of the Anglo-Irish establishment and, incidentally, one of the earliest human rights activists in that he revealed the atrocious treatment of native workers at the hands of imperialists in the Belgian Congo. This place was also known as- thanks to Joseph Conrad-  the heart of darkness. He is celebrated in song as a hero of the Easter Rising of 1916. And, if we skip back a couple of centuries, we find a descendent of the French Protestant Huguenots who fled to Britain, one Theobold Wolfe Tone, a founder of the United Irishmen. Not one of these men lived to make old bones:

Tone was dead at 35 under unclear circumstances, Casement was hanged for high treason at age 51 and Parnell died at age 45, after a scandal involving his long-time mistress and mother to his children, Kitty O’Shea. Being a hero is tough in any tradition. But if you’re Irish, and you want to come into the parlour of nationalistic Ireland’s prim regard, you’ll need to be squeaky clean in the eyes of the gatekeepers of traditional sexual morality as well as possessing the usual comprehensive skill set of those who aspire to be leaders of others.

Dominic Behan wrote the  first song of this post, Avondale, a short, melodious tribute to Parnell. Like that headstone in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin, it provides little in the way of information about its subject. But its evocation of the lovely surrounds of Parnell’s birthplace is a feature and he bestows a heroic epithet on the  charismatic and talented leader of the Irish parliamentary party- one better than, adulterer, which cruelled his career and Ireland’s hopes of achieving Home Rule. The heroic epithet?- Avondale’s proud eagle. [insert song]

As a postscript for those who may not have heard my other podcasts where Dominic Behan songs feature: he was born in 1928 into the literary Behan family of Dublin. A prodigious talent as a songwriter and singer, short story writer and novelist, he was also a playwright who wrote in Irish and English. He died in 1989 and I’m sure I will sing one or two more of his marvellous output before I finish my podcasts. A final point: it tickled me to learn, as I was researching the background of Avondale, that he lifted– in the way of folk artists everywhere who often “borrow” from other sources- the tune of a 19th Century loyalist song, “The Orange Maid of Sligo”

But now to the second song of the podcast, Another End. When I came across the original, smudged and fading photocopy of the lyrics- produced using a portable Remington typewriter, one of my prized possessions, I read the note at the bottom of the page where I had appended the following info: “This piece is experimental. The meaning is not only read across the page as usual but also vertically, or down the page.” I cringed with embarrassment and would have chucked it onto the reject pile which was gathering around me but for the fact that I came across another page where I had set out chords for the songs (18 in all) which I had recorded onto cassette tape for a record executive in Paris, where my sister, Monica, assured me, she could get a hearing for them. I don’t know what became of the tape- another of life’s little mysteries- although I can see, in my mind’s eye, an unopened cassette tape arcing through the Parisian office air into the cylindrical filing repository for all such unsolicited items.

But back to the present; before the song joined the winnowing accumulating around me, I played through the chords several times and, in a short time, recovered the simple melody from my memory. So, the song made the cut. Older and wiser now, I will not duplicate the arrangement of words on the page which certainly looks tres artistique. And my reason: I think, for the time being, I have provided quite enough hilarity out there at my expense! The song was written largely towards the end of 1979 when I was wondering if I would ever get a job again and finished in January 1980 when I learned that I had obtained temporary employment at Roger Casement’s old school, Ballymena Academy.

Another End shares DNA with the song, No Surrender, found in  Letters From Quotidia, Episode 72, which was written in a caravan in 1995 from whence I set out on a brutal commute to a teaching job which commenced in the dark from the outer west of Sydney, all the way into Circular Quay and then to Manly across the harbour. It took three hours each way. Again, I wondered if there would be an end to the crushing tedium I endured. There was an end to it, of course, eventually, but until that time arrived, I lived within the following lines of Baudelaire: When a heavy lid of low sky/covers a soul moaning with ennui and fright/and the whole horizon is rounded by/ a black day pouring down sadder than any night:/…Long hearses roll, slow, silent, hypnotic, through my soul. Ah, yes you can always trust the poets of this world to find a match to the inchoate, emotional and spiritual tangle you find yourself in at times- but be aware that you may have to search long and hard to find that match. And, believe me, it’s worth it! [insert song]

Thanks to the discovery of lost songs, mentioned in my last post, I can tell you the name and genre of the next original composition: No Angel Will Interfere. Apart from the original title, Three Views of You, which I junked, substituting instead the last four words of the song, this simple country composition is just as written in Wollongong, New South Wales, in 1975. Three verses with no chorus, bridge or middle eight. The other song is one that, a couple of years ago, I couldn’t imagine myself ever singing. There’ll be more about this next week.

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to, and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22  also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments

Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021

Letters From Quotidia Episode 129 I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day, I Belong

Letters From Quotidia Episode 129 I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day, I Belong

Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 129 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.

Strange how things leak through from post to post. Take line 430 of T. S. Eliot’s, The Waste Land, These fragments I have shored against my ruins, which we encountered only last week.  It has continuing resonance in this post. In my battle against my nemesis, Writers Block, a fearsome foe, who first appeared as the swaggering bully he is in Letter number 123, I have resorted to a variety of stratagems to foil the brute. First, I went through my overstuffed desk drawer where I rifled through folders of yellowing pages to no avail. Nothing sparked. I skimmed a few books of poetry with nothing to show but a rising tide of envy as I was swamped by tsunamis of verse superior to anything I could fabricate. In desperation, I resorted to opening the front of my garage where I had deposited, many, many moons ago, my accumulated literary and musical ephemera.

Now, realising that my filing system leaves something to be desired  (and by something, I mean, of course, everything), I spent one long, hot, September afternoon here in western Sydney rooting through an assortment of boxes, files, and manila folders full of material going back almost half a century, setting aside those pages that held even a meagre promise of something approaching nourishment for my starving muse. So, gathering an armful of discoloured, insect-stained papers, and to the horror of my wife who witnessed my ill-tempered traverse of the kitchen, I returned to my workroom to winnow further the results of  my hopeful harvest.

I surveyed what was there- a  sometimes forlorn testament to  my attempts at songs and writing projects from the nineteen seventies, eighties and early nineties. The faint traces of some of the melodies were uncovered,  slowly and patiently, as I deciphered the chords and musical jottings set down years before. I liken it to an archaeologist putting together a broken vase from an ancient site in Greece, where, perhaps, he inserts an educated guess as to the shape of fragments missing and those ornamental details abraded by time. I favour this analogy over that of the scientist in Mary Shelley’s’ masterpiece, Frankenstein, who labours to create a new but hideous life. You’ll hear the result of my first reclamation at the end of this post.

But first: I’m a man you don’t meet every day. A contested song as so many are. Is it Irish, Scottish, from Norfolk or Somerset or somewhere else? It has variants in 19th Century America and Australia. I use lyrics where the dog in the song does not get shot. In some variants, the pooch perishes. Barney McKenna, of revered memory, usually the non-singing tenor banjo maestro of The Dubliners, presented a compelling version of the song- as he did also for Fiddler’s Green, a song I have covered earlier in Postcards From Quotidia Edition 10. I trust his reading of the song, although I do take it a bit faster than he. [insert song]

The next song also finds us examining a young person, who does not possess any of the braggadocio of the former nor his self-possession, nor his assured place in society. Of course, in folk music, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Jock Stewart, the hero of I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day, emerges from an outsider tradition. One of last century’s best-known singers of the song just heard was Jeannie Robertson of Aberdeen, one of the Travellers, a marginalised group there, as in Ireland. She had a prodigious repertoire and, in an encounter in 1953 with Alan Lomax, the legendary American collector and folklorist, she sang a traditional song, Andrew Lammie, which lasted over 13 minutes. So, when  she had finished singing, she spent some time telling Lomax about those parts of the story not covered in the song!

But now- to the unearthed and reconstructed song, I Belong. And here’s another example of serendipity-defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” I had long resigned myself to having lost the song but my excavation in the front of my garage brought it to light. I remembered it particularly because I was pleased by the shape it took in Townsville in 1991 where I was experimenting with an elaborate electric guitar-and-pedal set-up at a friend’s place. I had been commissioned to write a musical play to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Burdekin Theatre and my protagonists were a couple of homeless teenagers from Sydney. The play also dealt with other outsiders, including aboriginal people and mental patients.

At this time, too, reports of hate crimes against transsexual people were in the news and I crafted a song about a young person (male or female is not specified within the song, and this, I think, is part of the point). However, neither the character nor the song ended up in the final draft for the production and I thought it was lost forever. There are a handful of songs- five to be precise- from that trove, that I will work with to fulfil my intentions of providing a folk song and corresponding original composition over the coming weeks. There were quite a few more but they were consigned to oblivion again as they did not meet the criteria for one reason or another, chief among them was the embarrassment they would cause to even such a thick-skinned individual as me were they ever to see the light of day.

So, here’s the first of that trove I completed: the song tries to explore the situation of someone not at home in their skin. The phrase from the first verse of the song, “sleeping with a stranger” encompasses sleeping with oneself as well as the more obvious reading. I Belong is not a typical composition of mine, but it offers a counterbalance to the first song. See what you think. [insert song]  

Next week will feature a song written by  that fine Irish songsmith Dominic Behan about the great 19th Century parliamentarian, Charles Stewart Parnell. This is followed by a peculiar song I wrote in Ireland in early 1980. More about this in episode 130.    

Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.

Technical Stuff: Microphone- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text

For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22  also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments

Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021