Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 10, 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.
The first selection for our tenth postcard combines the folk song, Sam Hall and the tune, The Palmer River (which is a transplant of the British tune ten thousand miles). The song has been in my repertoire for decades and when I discovered that there were chimney sweeps in my ancestry it made sense at a deep, even DNA, level. The song is twinned with a great tune recalling the gold-rush days in Far Northern Queensland. [insert song/tune]
Rhonda Valley Girls– A rousing songs about Welsh miners. We have seen the sad decline of old industries and processes over the past few decades and know all about the fate of workers in once valued occupations who find themselves out of work or offered a paltry alternative in the casualised service sector. The election of Donald Trump is, like Brexit, a manifestation of the anger of the demoralised working class who have been waiting vainly for generations for the elites to offer them something more than promises come election time. Whoa. Getting all soap-boxy here! Sam brought this song to the group. It was written by Frank Hennessy, who was born in Cardiff of Irish parentage. With his family he has written and recorded songs that celebrate Cardiff and the Welsh experience. He has worked in radio for decades and currently presents the program Celtic Heartbeat on BBC Radio Wales. Take it away Sam! [insert song]
William Bloat/Sash– Belfast built the Titanic and was also a centre for the flax industry in the 19th Century. The song is a humorous boast concerning a man having a spot of trouble with his wife. We twin it with a tune beloved of Orange folk. Belfast was one of the great industrial cities of the British Isles in the 19th Century and, like other manufacturing centres, there was a great pride taken in the quality of goods produced in the city. According to Ulster blogger, Mark Thompson, This famous and brutal old black comedy murder ballad is very well known, but its origin less so. It was written by Helen’s Bay man Raymond Calvert. In December, 1926, 20 year old Raymond recited it for the first time at a theatre after-party. His wife Irene later said that “it was conceived as a piece of fun with no political significance whatsoever … the ballad has passed into the folk memory of Ulster people at home and abroad”. [insert song]
I first heard Fiddlers Green from the Dubliner’s album Plain and Simple in the mid-1970s. I do believe that Barney McKenna sang it- a rarity- for he usually just confined himself to being the best tenor banjo player in the known universe. I learned from the Mainly Norfolk website that the song was, according to Danny Spooner, “written by John Conolly in 1966, this song has become so much a part of the folksong culture that it’s often referred to as a traditional song—a great compliment indeed. Fiddler’s Green was a name for areas of docklands and ports frequented by sailors ashore. But over time the sailor’s imagination turned those districts into Utopia or even Heaven. Wouldn’t it be nice?” Herman Melville describes Fiddler’s Green, in his novella Billy Budd, Sailor, as a sailors’ term for the place on land “providentially set apart for dance-houses, doxies, and tapsters”. Also, Fiddler’s Green appears in Frederick Marryat’s novel The Dog Fiend, published in 1856, as lyrics to a sailors’ song: At Fiddler’s Green, where seamen true/When here they’ve done their duty/The bowl of grog shall still renew/And pledge to love and beauty. What I find interesting: Many places associated with the U.S. Military have been named Fiddler’s Green, including:
- The U.S. Marine Corps operated Firebase Fiddler’s Green in the heart of the Helmand River Valley, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
- An artillery Fire Support Base in Military Region III in Vietnam in 1972, occupied principally by elements of 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry.
- The base pub at the Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos, CA
- Former dining facility used by 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Polk, LA
- An artillery only pub for the 10th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, NC The reason for this association is not immediately evident, but may stem from a poem The Cavalrymen’s Poem, also entitled “Fiddlers’ Green” which was published in the U.S. Army’s Cavalry Journal in 1923. Some of the lines are given below: Halfway down the trail to Hell in a shady meadow green,/are the Souls of all dead troopers camped near a good old-time canteen,/and this eternal resting place is known as Fiddlers’ Green… Marching past, straight through to Hell, the Infantry are seen,/accompanied by the Engineers, Artillery and Marine,/for none but the shades of Cavalrymen dismount at Fiddlers’ Green. ( my thanks to Wikipedia for the information given above) [insert song] That’s it! We’ll see ya next week for another dive into the sometimes murky but always fascinating 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.