Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 18, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west, present four 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.
Back Home in Derry: There have been books written on the life and times of Bobby Sands. Among other things, he was a songwriter who, had circumstances been otherwise, might have entered the legions of singer-songwriters of Ireland and fared well (or not-so…) in this avocation. But circumstances saw him elevated to the pantheon of Republican heroes and martyrs. He borrowed the melody for this song from the same Irish source as Gordon Lightfoot did for his song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Sands added a chorus and wrote these well-known lyrics which commemorates the transportation of Irish prisoners to Van Diemen’s land (present-day Tasmania). We had returned to Ireland in 1979 and were living in Cushendall, Co Antrim, when the Republican prisoners in the H-Blocks of the Maze prison started to agitate for political status. We lived through that fraught period in the 1980s. (I tell some of this story in another part of this podcast- Letters From Quotidia Episode 34- This Cold Bed.) I had written the lyrics and music for this song back in the mid-1990s but my wife thought my chords and melody were too-clever-by-half. Of course, she was right, so I asked her if she thought she could do better! Turns out, she could: she hummed a melody as she read the lyrics and within five minutes I had the new, simpler and better chords for the song, This Cold Bed. Anyway, here is the song Bobby Sands wrote, Back Home in Derry, as performed by Jim. A much-requested song when Banter was performing in Sydney’s west. [insert song]
The Irish Rover: A widely-known folk song: The Dubliners and Pogues produced a memorable version in 1987. I first heard it from an LP of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in the early 1960s. The cultural impact is widespread: a character from the song, Slugger O’Toole, (who was drunk, as a rule) is used by a political website in Northern Ireland that provides a lively platform for diverse views on matters local and international. A successful group used the song, pluralised, to give themselves a musical identity. Covers of the song stretch across more than fifty years and, I would imagine, will continue into the future. As part of that musical stream, we offer this version from one of our round-the-table sessions here in Sydney, sung by Jim. [insert song]
Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye: I first heard this sung by Tommy Maken way back and I took it up as part of my repertoire when I was still young and green. Written by English songwriter, Joseph Geoghagen and published in 1867, the anti-war sentiment seemingly embodied in the song may be an aretfact of 20th Century readings of it as some evidence suggests that the song was sung for comic effect in music halls in the 19th Century! But in Ireland it was sung, like Arthur McBride, as a cautionary tale about joining the British army. In any case, these anti-militaristic views were quite widespread, especially among women. We’re trying out another arrangement of the song, now, and it is still a work in progress (even though some-myself included-might quibble a bit about that word progress!) Nevertheless, it may be of interest to those readers and listeners who like to examine process as much as product.[insert song]
The Sea Around Us: Although he died almost 30 year ago, the songs of Dominic Behan continue to be played around the world, especially by Irish bands and performers. Notable songs include, The Patriot Game (which he claimed, with much justification, was plaigarised by Bob Dylan for God On Our Side.), McAlpine’s Fusiliers, of which you’ll find a version elsewhere on the site, and Come Out Ye Black and Tans. He was a committed socialist and republican and he had a wide network of friends and collaborators in the media politics and arts. The verse below, from this song, demonstrates his acerbity and humour: Two foreign old monarchs in battle did join/Each wanting his head on the back of a coin;/If the Irish had sense they’d drowned both in the Boyne/And partition thrown into the ocean. One summer in the mid-sixties, my brother and I hitch-hiked to Bundoran, a holiday town on the Atlantic coast of Donegal. We stopped into a church hall to hear Dominic Behan perform- still a happy memory. [insert song] Our 19th Postcard features Jim singing My Last Farewell, Sammy singing McAlpine’s Fusiliers and Donegal Danny and I sing Follow Me Up to Carlow.
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.