Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 25, a podcast by Quentin Bega where you will hear songs from the repertoire of Banter, a traditional Irish folk group from Sydney’s outer west. The four songs are drawn from the traditions of the English-speaking world. 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 from time to time they encounter the extraordinary.
The Shoals of Herring by Ewan McColl was written specifically to highlight the life-story of Sam Larner, who had spent a long life as a herring fisherman.The song has a special place in my pantheon of folk songs because my father, like Sam Larner, first went to sea as a cabin boy, aged 14. He followed his father and grandfather in this choice of occupation, finally reaching the status of captain of a shallow-bottomed oil-tanker running oil from Lake Maracaibo to Aruba, dodging German U-boats, during the Second World War. This song is another from Banter’s repertoire featuring Sam the Man on vocals. For this lockdown version, I use the Outlaw Country rhythm section from Band-in-a-Box featuring acoustic piano, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass and Nashville outlaw drums. Apart from doubling vocals on the final line of each verse, I don’t bother with any other embellishments.[insert song]
The Old Maid In The Garrett dates to the 17th century but the lyrics here are 19th century by Martin Parker from London. This was one of the first songs I learnt when I was whaling away on my old acoustic and dreaming of fame and fortune- as you do as a young’un. Later, after we moved to Australia, my wife and I sang this song as part of our set as a folk duo in Wollongong at a couple of restaurants that were trialling folk music as part of their offering to the grazing public. When Bridie would sing this song, she would gaze kindly at me when she sang the words, There is nothing in this wide world that would make me half so cheery/ As a wee, fat man who would call me his own deary Not that I minded- I got, by far, the better of the deal! [insert song]
McAlpine’s Fusilier’s (expanded version.) Dominic Behan wrote this song (among many other fine examples from the genre) and it captures the essence of the Irish navvies who, in their thousands and tens of thousands built the rail, the roads the tunnels and canals and a lot more of the infrastructure in Britain and farther afield .For many years it has been an open secret among Irishmen who toiled in the construction trade in England that Dominic Behan did not write the words to McAlpine’s Fusiliers. So, who did write McAlpine’s Fusiliers? Well, according to some sources the originator of most of the words was a labourer by the name of Martin Henry from Rooskey, on the East Mayo/ South Sligo border. There was also another verse in the McAlpine’s Fusiliers song that wasn’t used as part of the “official”release. Old-timers have said that they often used this verse as the second one to last. It refers to the common practice on big jobs of bringing in a Catholic priest on a Sunday to say mass for the men who had to work. As this verse shows, the foremen were not pleased with this practice. And it came to pass we should go to mass/ On the Immaculate Conception/The foreman met us at the gate/ And gave us a terrible reception/ Get down the sewers ye Kerry hoors and never bloody mind your papist prayers/For the only God is a well-filled hod with McAlpine’s Fusiliers/. [insert song]
The Sandy Hollow Line I first heard the song in the mid-1970s from the a capella singing of Kevin Baker, the composer of The Snowy River Men. As a document of what so many people had to endure in the Great Depression, this has few equals. Duke Tritton wrote this from first-hand experience as he was one of the blasters on the Sandy Hollow Line, an initiative of the Australian government to give work to men who had no means to support their families. It began as an unemployment relief scheme of the NSW Government, achieving infamy for having no modern mechanical devices used on it, other than trucks carrying concrete for the 5 tunnels and bridge piers, all other work being done with picks, shovels, hand-drills, horses and carts. Construction continued through World War 2 at a desultory pace, held up by money, labour and especially steel shortages, only to be abandoned unfinished, approximately 92% complete, a few years later in 1951. (source, Wikipedia).Well, well, isn’t it good to see that the stupidity of government initiatives has survived the 20th century and are still alive and kicking in modern Australia? I wonder, are there echoes of this in the present pandemic? [insert song]
The first two songs in Postcard 26 deal with the Great War, first, my rendition of Kevin Baker’s moving account of a letter written by a mate of a slain digger to a grieving mother. Then, a song I wrote about my great-uncle who was killed on the western front in 1917. The third song is Slim Dusty’s version of Three Rivers Hotel about construction work in the searing heat of North Queensland. The piece that brings the postcard to a close is The Old House a short song about a country house in Ireland with a fascinating back story. So, until then, keep clear of wars and heavy work under the heat of a tropical sun!
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.