Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 24, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear the narrator singing the songs from the repertoire of Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west. The four songs here are drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. In this edition, like the previous one, I will cover the songs because of COVID restrictions. 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.
Last postcard I told you that I thought I would have to reproduce all of songs here using my Band-in-a-Box and RealBand software, but, again, thanks to my chaotic digital filing system, I came upon this demo version of the first song for the postcard, featuring Banter! Dainty Davie: The song dates to the middle of the 17th Century and it concerns the much-married minister of St Cutbert’s Church in Edinburgh- one David Williamson. At one point he was being hunted by English dragoons and, a guest of landowner-sympathisers, he was put in bed with the 18-year old daughter by her mother in an effort to hide him. The Mum returned downstairs where she plied the soldiers with liquor to deflect their ardour in searching for the minister. Pity she didn’t consider the ardour developing upstairs! Williamson repaid this act hospitality and concealment by becoming intimate with the daughter. This gallant was then required to marry the saucy young woman. The song is popular among both Scottish and Irish folk-singers. I think the lyrics of this version are by Robert Burns. [insert song]
It’s Heaven Around Galway Bay: This song I came upon by accident a couple of years ago. I was on You Tube listening to music of various kinds and came upon a Dublin City Ramblers take on it. I have since, listened to several versions but reckon that the DCRs is the gun version. A couple of us in the band were going through songs one night and I pulled out this song thinking that it might suit Sam the Man. He did sing it once or twice in practice but nothing eventuated. Still in Lockdown (though with restrictions easing here in NSW) I decided to give it a go. I don’t know much about this song. It was written by Eamon O’Shea (who, I found out, was a man called Herman Weight who lived in the west of Ireland) He adopted the name because it sounded more Irish! Apart from that, I found out that he is better known as the composer of the song, Come Down the Mountain, Katy Daly. But this is a good song, and worth keeping alive in the tradition.[insert song]
Missing You: Jimmy McCarthy has written some of the most important songs from the folk revival in Ireland from the late-1970s onward. Our group has featured Ride On for at least 25 years and songs such as Bright Blue Rose, Katie, As I Leave Behind Neidin, and No Frontiers feature as requests in the Irish program Sam the Man and I host every other Sunday for two hours between 10:00 a.m. and noon. I first heard Missing You over twenty-five years ago when Bobby, who used to play with the group, Banter, featured this song as part of his repertoire. He left after a couple of years to return to Belfast. However, I didn’t pick it up until about five years ago. I do like to track down originals, so, today, when I heard Jimmy McCarthy’s version (check it out on You Tube) I realised that his was the best version of all! Originals are usually best. If the band, Banter, ever gets together for public performances in the post-COVID dispensation, I think I’ll re-work the arrangement of the song and use McCarthy’s vision as my template, rather than Bobby’s which leaned heavily on Christy Moore. [insert song]
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down: I first heard the song in 1971- the Joan Baez version. It wasn’t until years later that I came across the original when I watched the documentary by Scorcese, The Last Waltz in the mid-80s when I was living in Ballymena, Co Antrim in Northern Ireland. When Banter was formed in the mid-90s in western Sydney, Big Geordie introduced his take on the song to the band and we performed it, off and on, for the few years he was part of the band. It wasn’t until 2015, when Banter re-formed after a years’ long hiatus that I picked the song up and started to perform it. Levon Helm’s refusal, according to Garth Hudson, to play and sing the song because of his dislike of Baez’s version strikes me as odd. However, we can’t check with the source as, alas, Levon Helm is no longer with us. The version set down here is probably situated somewhere between Baez and Helm. Johnny Cash recorded a version that is worth a listen.
Ralph J. Gleason (in the review in Rolling Stone -U.S. edition only- of October 1969) explains why this song has such an impact on listeners: “Nothing I have read … has brought home the overwhelming human sense of history that this song does. The only thing I can relate it to at all is The Red Badge of Courage. It’s a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy, close harmony of Levon, Richard and Rick in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn’t some traditional material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of 1865 to today. It has that ring of truth and the whole aura of authenticity.” Boy, that’s some heavy load to carry for any singer. But, here I go…where angels fear to tread, perhaps? [insert song]
The 25th Postcard features my version of that great Ewan McCall song, Shoals of Herring. The Old Maid in a Garrett gets an outlaw vibe treatment: and I do hope Sam can look past the theft of two of his favourite songs. I also present an expanded version of McAlpine’s Fulsiliers yet another song from Sam’s repertoire. I have added a verse with some lines from the man Dominic Behan used as a source for his lyrics. I end with a tribute to Kevin Baker, a noted Australian songwriter, who died in March of this year. I cover what is probably the best known of his songs: The Snowy River Men.
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.