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Script for audio journal

Rosalita and Jack Campbell

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.

Rosalita and Jack Campbell was written twenty years ago or so by Sean Mone of Keady, Co Armagh about the terror of drive-bys and targeted assassinations in Belfast in the early 1970s. In it he presents us with a couple who live for country music, (then called country-and-western). Anita sings in a bar and Jack just loves to have a pint and listen to her perform. He channels the ethos of the southwest border territory of the US along the Rio Grande. The songs of Anita and the figurings of his imagination evoke dusty, sunlit vistas populated by Cowboys, Indians and heroic one-on-one gunfights.

One night, after Anita’s performance, they set off homewards and call into their local chippy for a takeaway meal where they entertain the queue by dancing around the joint and singing. This mundane scene transmogrifies to nightmare when “street demons come out to dance”; that is, a sectarian assassination squad in a car, looking for a victim, any victim, cruise by and shoot Jack Campbell dead.

Anita never recovers, spending the dwindling years in her room consuming Prozac and Gin. The song posits a more heartening coda where Rosalita (a.k.a. Anita) and Jack Campbell dance off into the sunset along the Rio Grande.

I first heard the song earlier this year from Christy Moore’s singing. It is far from the first song of his that I’ve covered and it won’t be the last, God willing.

It brought me back to my years in Belfast; first, as a teenager, from 1966 to mid-1968 when I spent weekends going to music venues with my girlfriend (later, wife); then, from late 1968- mid 1972 where I attended St Joseph’s College of Education, known colloquially as Trench House, for a teaching degree. I saw Belfast turn from a vibrant, modern city into a bitter, sectarian battleground in those short years. The descent into hell did not take very long at all.

From late 1969 to mid 1970, I lived in a dingy one-room bedsit near Carlisle Circus at the bottom of the Antrim Road. Across the landing lived a boozy journalist from The Belfast Telegraph who would regale me of tales of the dark doings of British special forces and various loyalist and republican groupings. The stuff he knew curdled my blood, even if he did, perhaps, exaggerate for effect.

In July 1971 I got married and, in 1972, moved into a small house in a lane just off the Whiterock Road with my wife and infant daughter. There, we experienced the increasing violence that internment without trial spawned and witnessed (but mostly heard) skirmishes between the IRA and British forces on that road where we could read, from our upstairs bedroom window, the graffito on the cemetery wall, Is There a Life Before Death? In answer to this question, we left the first setting of our married life for Australia in September 1972.

Hearing the song brought it all back, because, not just ourselves, but just about everybody in Belfast and Northern Ireland has been touched by such a shooting or other instance of violence associated with the “Troubles”. Anyway, here’s the song.

By Quentin Bega

I was born in the middle of the 20th Century and have, somewhat to my surprise, found myself in the next one with something more to say and do.

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