Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 11, 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 boys from Western Sydney kick off with a spirited set of tunes called Begleys, which Mark learned when he first picked up the fiddle as a schoolboy and went along for a session with his father in the 90s. As we look back, as 2020 draws to a close here in Sydney, we all wonder if the latest outbreak of the virus will send us all ducking again into our lockdown habitations.
Strange to think that tonight as I write this, I see that the US has recorded almost 180,000 cases as opposed to the 8 new cases in NSW which has caused the other states of Australia to slam shut their borders. But, I guess, that’s why we are a lot better off than most of the other nations of this earth. We actually believe that the virus is serious and life-threatening to ourselves and those we love. All we can offer (and I hope by the time you hear this, that COVID will be a horror quickly vanishing in the rear-view mirror), all we can offer, is the life-affirming music that is part of the Irish tradition. Try to keep from tapping your foot in time to the great set of tunes that make up, Begleys [insert tune]
How’s yer foot! Jim first won a prize for singing when he was a boy. He entered a competition with a friend when he holidayed in Cushendall from his home in Belfast- this was in the mid-1960s. I first heard him as a singer in the 1970s when our paths crossed again in Australia. He is a great exponent of storytelling ballads and one of the songs that has been requested most from audiences here in Sydney, is the one he is going to sing now. As I write this intro, I am aware that we, as the group Banter, have not been playing for an audience for over ten months!
You know, there is something that happens between a singer (or group) and an audience that cannot be easily explained: even at the lowest level- there is an energising connection. And when it is at its highest- it is transcendental. Jim has often, in performance, reached this level with the audiences we have played for. Eric Bogle wrote this song in 1980, I think. Anyway, we have loved the song for decades. Writers like Eric Bogle can reach into a country’s history, tap into the psyche of the folk who live and die there and set it out in memorable words and music for us all to appreciate.
The song that Jim is going to sing is called Now I’m Easy. Also known as The Cocky Farmer, this great song of Aussie endurance and stoicism was one of our most requested songs when we were playing on a semi-regular basis in the late 1990s. Back in the mid- 1970s, we began to listen to a great new writer named Eric Bogle. In the 80s, back in Ireland, my hair stood on end when I heard, for the first time, No Man’s Land. In the early 1990s, in North Queensland, I attended a memorable concert by Bogle at the Burdekin Theatre. Long may he continue to write and sing. And people like Jim can tap into the truth of the song and set it out for us to appreciate anew. Listen now to a fine rendition of Eric Bogle’s, Now I’m Easy. [insert song]
Time now to hear from the other main singer in Banter, Sam the man. He was neighbours to Jim in the Belfast docks area, so they have been friends from childhood. I first met Sam when we emigrated to Australia in 1972. Sam introduced the song, When the Boys Come Rolling Home, to Banter about 15 years ago. It is rather more light-hearted about homecoming than, say, Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye. Or, indeed, that magnificent Bruce Dawe poem about the Vietnam War entitled, Homecoming. Not that the writer of the song, one Tommy Sands, is incapable of writing poignantly- I urge you to listen to There Were Roses, a moving and much covered song about the sectarian killings that blighted Northern Ireland for far too long. And there are fears that the dark times may come back again as a part of the unintended consequences that will result from Brexit. Listen now, as Sam sings this song of longing. [insert song]
We close this session with an Aussie staple, The Lachlan Tigers. When Big Geordie Muir was singing with the band, this was one from his repertoire. Sheep shearing is probably the most iconic activity in rural Australia. At the start of the wool industry in the early 19th century, sheep were shorn with blade shears, similar to garden clippers. The first authenticated daily tally (i.e.the number of sheep shorn in a single day) was 30 sheep by Tome Merely in 1835. By 1892, the legendary Jackie Howe managed a tally of 321 sheep at Alice Downs in Queensland- that is, more than ten times what Merely managed. Here is my lockdown version which I present to you, without too much blushing: [insert song]
Our 12th Postcard from Quotidia features a couple of Irish Marches, a cautionary tale concerning maids and sailors, whiskey in the jar, and a song about the leaving of Liverpool. So, until next week, when we will sample some of the fine drops of folk brew available in the pubs, clubs, bars, taverns, shanties and shebeens of Quotidia- Cheers! Prost! Slainte! Or… whatever your toast is.
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.