There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.
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. There is a different song of the same name by Tommy Makem which is also worth a listen.
Stephen Foster wrote over 200 songs. Among his best known are Oh! Susanna, Hard Times, Campdown Races, Old Folks at Home, My Old Kentucky Home, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair, Old Black Joe, and Beautiful Dreamer.
He died early, of fever, at the age of 37. The wowsers of the time were quick with the label, drunkard, but somehow overlooked 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, being “weak-willed”, and writing songs about people of “a pathetic character”.
So, you see, he had a lot of detractors, of a mind like that anonymous reporter. And, like that reporter, 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!
The ways that music and words travel across continents from culture to culture and change to suit the circumstances of the place and time attest to the strength of folk music as a genre. It took fifty years from the time I first heard the song in Co Cork to when I took it up as a part of our repertoire.
Again, this rendering is just a shadow of what a live performance with guitar, fiddle, bodhran, mandolin and voices in chorus can deliver. I am looking forward to the time when, along with the rest of the world, we can meet in convivial groupings in bars and pubs and clubs to enjoy the fellowship of others’ company