Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 7, 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 selection, I depart from the usual practice for one of the postcards because it is not just an instrumental item. Banter will often pair a song with a tune, a practice common for decades among Irish groups, and here is an example of that. In my 20s, I played with a group in Wollongong called Seannachie. Our singer, Tony Fitzgerald, was the first person I heard singing this fine song. Written by Ian Campbell, a Scottish-born folksinger and left-wing activist, it was popular among the anti-nuclear Aldermaston protesters in the 1960s. Campbell was an influential force in music in his native Britain from the early sixties right up to his death in 2012. In Banter, from the mid-1990s, I took it up and twinned it with the instrumental you hear at its end. I forget what the instrumental is called now- but it’s OK to make up your own name, if you like- something along the lines of “The Hedge-jumping Ram” perhaps. [Insert song]
Next is the song, Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore– The songs of Irish emigration are legion. But long before the Great Famine of the mid-19th Century, the inhabitants of Ireland had a penchant for travel from Neolithic folk trading porcellanite axes across Britain to the fabled Brendan voyage and the travels of Irish monks across Europe in the Dark Ages spreading learning and the Gospels. However, the famine forced millions off the land to starve in ditches or seek refuge in America or Australia. The first memorable version of this song, for me, was sung by Paul Brady, in 1978. This emigrant ballad exerts a strange but compelling pull on the listener when sung by a good singer. I would assert that this is the case here with Jim on vocals, Mark on fiddle and me, quietly in the background, on guitar. [Insert song]
Sammy will now sing The Shoals of Herring. The late, great Ewan McColl wrote this one. I was privileged to hear him sing in the Wollongong Town Hall in the mid-1970s with his wife, Peggy Seeger. He wrote lots of fine songs about workers and the alienated. In 1971 Philip Donnellan adapted the Radio Ballad ‘Singing the Fishing’ into a TV documentary called ‘Shoals of Herring’ which was televised on BBC 2 in 1972. Donnellan wanted to to show the fishermen’s struggle and how they were being exploited, he felt the original Radio Ballad lacked political edge…something Ewan MacColl would never have taken kindly to. Whilst many Scots families owned their fishing boats Donnellan saw the English fishermen as wage slaves to the big fishing industrial groups (source, folkradio.co.uk) Perhaps the greatest exponent of this song was Luke Kelly of the Dubliners, but hey now, Sam does a pretty good job of it. This is from one of our sessions around the table. [Insert song]
We finish with The Massacre at Glencoe. At the heart of Celtic beliefs is the sacred notion of hospitality. In Shakespeare’s Scottish Play, (I am not really superstitious but why take chances!) the protagonist ponders the breach of hospitality he is considering: He’s here in double trust:/First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,/Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,/Who should against his murderer shut the door,/Not bear the knife myself.
But we now travel back in time to the circumstances of the massacre. On the 13th of February, 1692, following the Jacobite uprising an estimated thirty-eight members and associates of Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were killed by government forces billeted with them on the grounds that they had not been prompt enough in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William of Orange and his queen, Mary. Others are alleged to have died of exposure- estimates ranging from forty to one hundred. Many people think that this is a traditional song, including John McDermott, whose version I first heard, in the mid-1990s, on his double-platinum disc Danny Boy. It was written, however, by Jim McClean in 1963. [insert song]
Our next foray into the world of Quotidia will witness a lady throwing off fine silks to run off with gypsies; next, a fine horse galloping across the landscape; then, a working man lamenting his lot in life and we finish with a convict strapped to a triangle and receiving fifty lashes as punishment. So, farewell, until next we meet to explore the varied and wonderful world of 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.