Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 4, 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.
We kick off with the instrumental set-dance entitled, The Three Sea Captains–My father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all captains of sea-going vessels at one time or another in their lives. This graceful Irish set dance reminds me of this part of my heritage. The Dubliners played this on an LP decades ago at which time I determined to learn the accompaniment chords- not too complicated- it’s folk music after all- but there are lots of chord changes so I like to do this early in the gig when the quantity of grog consumed has not had time to affect fine motor skills, if you follow my drift. Mark and Jim are tightly but effortlessly in step as they play this tune. [insert tune]
North and South of the River is a metaphor for the sectarian divide in Ireland which is over 400 years deep and still a factor in the life of that small island washed by the Atlantic waves. The divisions splitting our planet are various: religious, ideological, political, ecological, economic. You, too, can assuredly add to the tally. Christy Moore wrote this with assistance from Bono and the Edge from U2. I first heard this sung at The Penrith Gaels, a club in Western Sydney in 1997. The group took it up at about the same time and, a quarter of a century later, in lockdown, I present it here with my musical software accompaniment instead of with Banter. [insert song]
The Hills of Kerry– This song may be known by another name. Indeed, when we can’t recall the names of songs and tunes we are very likely to make up a title that seems to fit the song or the tune. The waltz time and tempo here are very popular as vehicles for songs and tunes that have a nostalgic cast to them. Of course, when we were younger and full of (supply here your own metaphor or idiom that characterises the energy and folly of youth) back in the paleolithic era, when we were young, we tended not to feature so many of this type of song. Jim sings it now as he does in our live gigs for all the Kerrymen and women listening. [insert song]
Across the Western Plains will be familiar to listeners in Britain, Ireland and perhaps North America. But they may scratch their noggins over the tempo and the lyrics. In the Irish tradition this is known as “All For Me Grog” and is sung with gusto. In Australia, having moved across the sea and moved inland, it slows down and becomes more wry and sombre. Here we find a swaggie, who has just sold his moke (a broken-down horse) for drinking money.
It was a feature of the various gold diggings in Australia for luckless scroungers to supplement their incomes by illegal fossicking on another’s claim. This was known as “plundering”. Our narrator is in an outback shanty bar where he has just spent all his money- or “plunder”. The subject of our song resolves to head back to the diggings and peg out a claim and settle down to some hard yakka (hard work).
The Dubliners’ 1967 version, is faster and jollier and features women. Alas, in 19th Century Australia, women were in short supply out in the bush, hence the difference in the penultimate line of the chorus where, instead of…I’ve spent all me tin with the ladies drinking gin, we get…I’ve spent all me tin in a shanty drinking gin. This may explain why the Aussie version is a lot more doleful, what, with the heat, dust, distance, shonky grog, flies, isolation- with nary a shapely ankle in view. You’ll also hear a reference to the Darling Pea. This addictive plant is poisonous to livestock. A vet from that time describes the effects of Darling Pea on livestock, They lose the ability to judge where their feet are. They become wonky, fall over, appear to be blind, walking into things. Now what does that remind you of? [insert song]
That has been the fourth postcard from Quotidia, in which things nautical and riverine have featured. For the next postcards edition, we will start with The Lark in the Morning, not the well-known song which will feature in a later postcard, but a rollicking instrumental. A Dominic Behan composition, The Patriot Game, follows. Some American listeners may think this is a rip off of Dylan’s With God on Our Side. A bit of research may amend that opinion. Sammy sings Luka Bloom’s City of Chicago and we finish with a wonderful Ewan McColl composition, Sweet Thames, Flow Softly. So, until our next encounter, a week or so hence, may your life be sweet and flow softly.
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.