Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 8, 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.
Our first selection is another song and tune combo. The Raggle Taggle Gypsy/ The Battle of Aughrim– I first sang this song in the folk group Seannachie over forty years ago and I’ve sung it off and on in various venues. When Banter formed in the mid- 1990s, we thought the stirring march, The Battle of Aughrim, would complement it nicely. I do wonder, though, how many fine ladies in history have ever left the money, fine clothes and privileges of wealth and rank in order to follow a gypsy into the privations of a traveller’s life…. [insert song]
Our second selection for this postcard is Ride On. Written by Jimmy McCarthy, noted Irish songwriter, this song has been a favourite of the band since we first heard Christy Moore sing it. Although it is short, it is memorable and is often requested when we make one of our appearances in public out here on the fringes of Western Sydney To be continued after COVID, God Willing!. Sammy sings this song and Mark stars on fiddle, ably assisted by his father Jim on Mandolin while I pluck away on guitar. [insert Song]
Working Man– Another song from another era. First heard this sung in the 1990s by a singer from the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, NSW, who looked and sounded like the writer and populariser of the song, Rita McNeil. It’s power is undeniable and, do you know something?: I can’t see any significant singer-songwriter penning a ballad about the trials and travails of ping-pong playing employees of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs as they struggle with code that will displace yet more workers and line the pockets of another generation of industrialists. But who knows? As someone once observed, prediction is very difficult, especially with regard to the future. Jim sings this song now. [insert song]
Patrick Logan became Commandant of the Moreton Bay penal settlement in 1826. He was hated by the convicts for his harsh methods. He did some exploring and was surveying the Upper Brisbane river when he was killed by Aborigines in 1830. Logan was a relentless flogger as shown in a sample record of his floggings that were noted in the diary of one of the prison clerks. This records that from February to October in 1828 Logan ordered 200 floggings with over 11,000 lashes.
When Logan’s body was brought back to Moreton Bay, the convicts “manifested insane joy at the news of his murder, and sang and hoorayed all night, in defiance of the warders.” Bushranger Ned Kelly used lines from the ballad in his “Jerilderie Letter” in 1879 (“Port McQuarrie Toweringabbie Norfolk island and Emu plains and in those places of tyranny and condemnation many a blooming Irish man rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke were flogged to death and bravely died in servile chains.”)
In 1911, Bushranger Jack Bradshaw printed a version in his True History of the Australian Bushrangers . Bradshaw printed the song again in Twenty Years of Prison Life in the Gaols of NSW attributing it to “poor old Frank McNamara”. Francis MacNamara (Frank the Poet) recited it as he stepped off his convict ship in 1832 at Sydney Cove. MacNamara was subjected to all the brutality of the convict system in Australia, and was to spend years in various penal settlements. He served time in Port Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land concurrently with John Kelly, Ned Kelly’s father.
No doubt it was there that Kelly learnt MacNamara’s ‘The Convict’s Arrival’ or ‘The Convict’s Lament on the Death of Captain Logan’ which we now know as ‘Moreton Bay’. Francis MacNamara wrote many fine poems including ‘The Convict’s Tour of Hell’, ‘The Cyprus Brig’ and one of the many versions of ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’. He used to begin his recitals with the following verse: My name is Frank McNamara\ A native of Cashell Co Tipperary\ Sworn to be a tyrant’s foe\ And while I’ve life I’ll crow! My thanks to folkstream- Australian Folk Songs for the info above.
Moreton Bay borrows the tune of an old Irish air, Eochaill. As Frank the Poet wrote about his convict experience in or shortly after 1830, it precedes by seventy years or so, P. J. McCall’s borrowing of it for his well-known song Boolavogue, which commemorates the campaign of Father John Murphy and his army in County Wexford during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. It was composed in 1898, the centenary of the Rebellion. The singer in our group, Sam the Man, will probably be irate that I am singing his song, here. However, he’s in lockdown miles away and I’m at a loose end, so… [insert song]
The 9th postcard will feature a goose in a bog mistaken for a hag at the churn, a farmer’s son who never left home, a group of deportees who don’t make it back to Mexico and a jolly beggarman who may or may not be the king of Scotland. So strap yourself in for another flight to Quotidia where we will explore another four songs that form part of the great tradition.
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.