Letters from Quotidia Postcards Edition 13
Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 13, 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.
Two Irish Tunes. In 1974 , my wife bought me a small round-backed mandolin I lusted after from the music shop at the top of Crown Street, Wollongong. I started plinking on it and after a time found that I could string the notes of these hornpipes together fairly accurately. Of course, I slavishly followed the example of The Dubliners from a record of theirs which I played repeatedly to get the gist of the tunes. When Seannachie formed, I duetted with the gun mando player from that group- one Bertie McKnight- and for the next few years it became a staple of our performances. When the group, Banter, re-formed (again) just a few months ago, I re-introduced the hornpipes to the group. Why we hadn’t played them before remains one of life’s little mysteries because they are great tunes. Anyway, in this formation, I play guitar while the tunes are carried aloft by father and son on mandolin and fiddle respectively as the group’s main singer batters away on bodhran to mark the tempo. [insert tunes]
A Nation Once Again. Thomas Davis, one of the main shapers of Irish identity, wrote this stirring ballad in the 1840s, making it one of the early Irish folk songs. He believed that songs were more effective than political harangues. It is notable for its classical references: for example, the 300 men of the song’s first verse recalls the valiant Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC who, while losing their lives in defence of ancient Greece, laid the foundations of the classical period and all its glories- of which we are the fortunate beneficiaries. While some of the references may be alien to listeners in the 21st Century, the meaning (and emotion) of the song contained in the choruses is unmistakable. [insert song]
Three Score and Ten. The events depicted in the song date to 1889 when fifteen fishing vessels and seventy or more men and boys were lost in storms off the Yorkshire coast. No one knows, definitively, who wrote the original song, but I agree with the sentiments I read somewhere that the song belongs to the people of the fishing ports and the families who suffered losses to the North Sea gales that have taken so many. Three score and ten, of course, is a trope for the length of human life. The magnificent King James Version expresses in Psalm 90, The days of our years are threescore years and ten;/ and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,/ yet is their strength labour and sorrow;/ for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. [insert song]
Liverpool Lou. The Liverpool folk/poetry band The Scaffold produced a version of Behan’s song “Liverpool Lou” in 1974 which became a top 10 hit in the UK and spawned covers in various languages across Europe. On the original Scaffold pressing, the writing credits were incorrectly attributed to Paul McCartney who had produced the record on behalf of his brother Mike McGear.
Behan advised the relevant authorities and had his rights to the song reinstated quickly, receiving an apology from McCartney; Behan accepted McCartney’s explanation that his mother had sung the song and he thought it was a traditional work. Later pressings of the song were then correctly credited to Behan; the early McCartney-labelled pressings are particularly rare and collectible.
In a well-publicised interview, John Lennon dismissed the 1960s folk scene in his own country, describing it as “College students with pints of beer going hay-nonny nonny” but in the same breath, he praised Behan, from neighbouring Ireland, whom he said he liked. On Desert Island Discs in 2007, Yoko Ono selected Behan’s “Liverpool Lou” as her husband had sung it to their son as a lullaby. [notes above taken from that wonderful site, Wikipedia- donate, if you can.]One of Banter’s main singers, Jim, usually fields this one, but, because of COVID restrictions in force here in Sydney, guess who ends up singing it on this release? By the way, I’ve recorded, more than one of the songs that are rightfully Jim’s or Sam the Man’s but I don’t know if I want to give them back now…[insert song]
The 14th Postcard will start with a reel to kick off an exploration in song of three port cities of the British Isles on the Irish Sea: Belfast, Dublin and Liverpool via the fine compositions, McClory featuring Sam, Cross Me Heart, featuring Jim, and Whiskey on a Sunday, featuring me.
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.