Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 2, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four tunes and songs drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. And, as always, Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
For our first item, Mark, our fiddler, pulled this out of the ether as we were thinking about what to record next in our sessions for Noel, our friend who was returning to Ireland. I vaguely remembered the chords that went along with these tunes (not rocket science really, we’re talking about folk music, after all.) And so we struck up the band!- no, not really, just Mark- and me noodling away while the rest of the company enjoyed yet another refreshing ale! But here I’d like to present King of the Fairies/Queen of the Fairies– Another pair of fine tunes from the Irish instrumental tradition. The fiddle is central to the sound of Banter and it is given due prominence in this brace of melodies.
For me, Michael Hoffman’s 1999 film of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream with Rupert Everett as Oberon and Michelle Pheiffer as Titania springs to mind when I hear the titles of the tunes now. I have always disliked the greeting-card imagery of fairies and angels as cute-as-buttons homoculi cavorting around petal-strewn gardens or fluffy white cotton-wool clouds. Fairies really are much more fearsome creatures. Cross them at your peril. [insert King of the Fairies/Queen of the Fairies]
Viva la Quinta Brigada (listed as Viva la Quince Brigada in later recordings) is a Christy Moore song about the Irishmen who fought in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. The title was inspired by a Spanish song about the war,Viva la Quince Brigada. Moore wrote this song choosing to focus on the Irish socialist volunteers (who in later years became known as the Connolly Column) who were a small contingent within the 15th International Brigade. The tune which he used was similar to the version of Viva la Quince Brigada recorded by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers in the early 1940s.
The song was inspired by Spanish Civil War veteran Michael O’Riordan’s book Connolly Column.Moore’s original song title – which translates as “Long live the Fifth Brigade” – was a slip due to the similarity in Spanish between “quinta” (fifth) and “quince” (fifteen). Both titles are correct however, originally there were ten brigades in the Spanish army, the five international brigades were then added to the list making the 5th International Brigade the 15th Brigade of the Spanish republic. Name-checked were men from all parts of Ireland, Catholic, Protestant and of no faith, including, a Church of Ireland pastor, Bob Hilliard later became an atheist. In later versions of the song, Christy amended locales of a couple of the people name-checked but I have stuck here to the version I learned a quarter of a century ago. [insert Viva La Quinta Brigada]
Songs of the sea are a staple of the group. We like the stories and the tunes and the rollicking pace so many of them possess (such as the case with this example). A belief, common among sailors, was that spotting a mermaid was an omen of impending storm and shipwreck. I have read, somewhere, that Boy Scouts in America sing this song around their campfires (which is no stranger than, say, a bunch of superannuated musos singing it around their grog-laden table…) Here Jim leads the group in a rendition of The Mermaid. [insert song]
Stephen Foster wrote this in 1856- based on an Irish melody. The song went to England, then, later, to Australia where it acquired these lyrics by Lame Jack Cousens of Springhurst, Victoria, who was a travelling thresher. I first heard this sung by Johnny McEvoy c. 1971 in Co. Cork at my brother Jim’s place.
Stephen Foster liked a drink as so many of us do. He died early, of a fever, at the age of 37. The wowsers of the time were quick with the label, drunkard, but somehow managed to overlook the quality and quantity of his song-writing. Thirty years after his death, one reporter described him as paying “the penalty of an irregular life.” So, you see, he had a lot of detractors, of a mind like that anonymous reporter. And, like that reporter, I would imagine that they are also now unknown nobodies while Stephen Foster lives on in his songs that we, and so many people of good heart, around this wonderful world, sing!
That has been the second postcard from Quotidia. And, again, isn’t it peculiarly Irish that the postcards are longer than the Letters From Quotidia. Ah well! Our next edition of postcards will feature yet more tunes, another song of the sea, a great union song and a cautionary tale for all men . So, join me, then, for another foray into the fabulous arena that is, folk music.
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- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter
Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58
For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used
Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studio. Approximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.