Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
The text of this podcast was largely composed in 2016, or should I say, 4 BC. That is, before Covid. It was also at a time when the group, Banter, was experiencing yet another hiatus in it chequered history. Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day and I have not had a single drink for three days now in preparation for the feast. For the first time since it was inaugurated in Sydney, the St Paddy’s Day parade will not be held. The reason? Money. The organisers discovered the debt too late to do much more than pass round the begging bowl in the hopes that next year it will be reinstated.
One would have thought the fact that this year is the Centenary of the Easter Rising in Dublin, a not inconsequential event in Irish history, might have concentrated the minds of the committee. Ah, well. So Irish. And so much for thinking ahead. When I returned from North Queensland to Sydney in 1995, I helped form a group we called Banter, and we landed the gig playing Irish jigs, reels, hornpipes and ballads on a float through the city centre. We repeated the gig in 1999 and then we called it a day. For a while. But what a day. The song celebrates the anarchy and the craic of the gathering in the park near Central station in the mid-to-late 90s. In the years since, the celebration moved to another, enclosed, location and it has gone up-market with the tight security and ballooning expenses that goes with such a move.
Radix malorum est cupiditas, hisses the Pardoner to the congregation in Chaucer’s great tale: the love of money is the root of all evil. When we started, we were a knock-about group playing in small rooms in the back of pubs and clubs. Then we got ideas. What about getting better equipment? Mics, a PA, stands, cables? But to pay for these? Charge the venues. And slowly and inexorably things changed. A mate who was OK in the more relaxed atmosphere of an informal session, found he was not comfortable with the more disciplined requirements of the new regime. So, he left. Those paying the piper felt, increasingly, they could call the tune. Can you play for dancing? Not really, having neither a bass nor a drum-kit. But if you can stomp a hornpipe or reel or double jig- go for your life!
Now, seeing how musicians, however accomplished, have become merely part of the backdrop, little more than a blood-and-guts juke-box over which the audience discuss loudly the minutiae of their lives or consult constantly their digital devices lest they miss out on the latest ephemeral tit-bit chiming through the ether, I am glad that I don’t have to endure the ignominy that is par for the course. Some don’t seem to mind; a duo playing along to backing tracks with vocal enhancers makes more economic sense than having to divvy up the meagre spoils among five or six.
Still, radix malorum est cupiditas, hisses the Pardoner in Chaucer’s tale of three young drunken revellers who set out to murder Death, who had claimed one of their friends that very day, is a masterpiece of storytelling. Encountering an old man, they are directed, to fynde Deeth, turne up this croked wey,/ For in that grove I lafte hym, by my fey,/ Under a tree, and there he wole abyde;/ …Se ye that ook? Right ther ye shal hym fynde. And under the oak tree, instead of their quarry, they find bags of gold. They draw straws to determine who should go back to the tavern to get wine to celebrate their great fortune. The youngest draws the short straw and sets off. His fellows determine to kill him and split his share between them. However, the youngest has a similar mind and soul and so poisons their bottles of wine. He is killed upon returning and his murderers drink the poisoned wine. The drunken revellers are, indeed, successful in their search for Death.
So, I am not going to the city to the parade this weekend, but I am travelling up the Blue Mountains to Katoomba for the 21st music festival held there. I was there for the inaugural event in 1995 and returned for quite a few years but have not been there for a decade or so. On a whim, upon learning that there was no parade, I decided to book my wife and myself into accommodation. I reckon that I must have got just about the last room going in Katoomba and I reckon that I paid about five times the normal tariff. Silly me. Radix malorum est cupiditas is alive and well. The immutable law of supply and demand sounds so much more acceptable, though, doesn’t it? But I like Kurt Vonnegut’s way of putting it: thus the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.”
But it would be wrong to leave the rotten stench of cupidity as the end of this account; instead, let Goethe have the last word, One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words. So, I intend to hear a little song or two and take with me a book of poetry as well. I’ll not bother taking my guitar with me, though. After listening to the talent that will be on display in one of the tents or halls of the venue, I would be sorely tempted to take my instrument to Echo Point and, to the consternation of the many tourists there, heave the fickle instrument over the cliff edge to bounce jangle-ingly off the rocks as it plunges to destruction in the scenic bush below. But listen, now to the song written and set in the anarchic times of a quarter of a century ago in Albert Park next to Central Station in Sydney. [insert song]
Stop 95 on the Quotidian Scenic Trail takes in Rat Park, not intended for us, but a Nirvana for the rodent species for whom its architect found a parallel in the Vietnam War- which will be explained! Anne Sexton provides the relief of poetry to close out this problematic chapter. So, bring along your favourite addiction and join us on the trek through Quotidia.
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.