Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 26, 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 Snowy River Men: this is one of the finest songs ever written about the Great War and Australia’s involvement in it from the point of view of the soldiers actually doing the fighting. Kevin Baker, the writer of this fine song was a long-time friend of mine. Sadly, Kevin passed away in March of this year. I first met Kevin in 1973 or 1974- I at Warrawong High School. We played music together on Friday nights where Kevin played a fine mouth organ, flute or piccolo (accompanied by a goblet or three of wine…) We also played in various groups until I left Wollongong to return to Northern Ireland at the end of 1978. Kevin joined me there in 1981 and we shared a memorable week cruising on Lough Erne. When I returned to Australia in 1988, I re-established contact with Kevin in Wollongong where he told me of his song- collecting in the Snowy Mountain area and the letter written to Mrs Allen by Hal Archer. In the early 1990s he toured up the east coast of Australia to play at folk venues and I met him again in Ayr, N. Queensland when he was passing through to Townsville and Cairns. We met several more times in the late 1990s and early ‘noughties at festivals such as Gulgong, a 19th-century gold rush town in the Central Tablelands and folk clubs, such as the temperance venue in the western Sydney suburb of Toongabbie (we had a drink afterwards!) Vale Kevin. [insert song]
Marching Home From That War: Much is made of statements such as, the first casualty of war is the truth which some claim dates back to the ancient Athenian playwright Aeschylus – a proud veteran of Marathon and Salamis –in the fifth century BC, or the metaphor the fog of war which some have attributed to the 19th Century Prussian general and military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz. So, when I began to write a song about my great-uncle, John Joseph Mitchell, who was killed in action at Passchendaele on the 18th of September, 1917, I came to realise the sad truth of these aphorisms. JJ was one of more than 62,000 Australian men killed in that awful conflict- and those numbers from population of less than five million people! Is it any wonder that there are memorials in just about every Aussie city, suburb, town, and hamlet to mark the sacrifice? I struggled to find a way to write the song. And then the idea came: why not have John Joseph Mitchell, my great uncle narrate a portion of his life, after a brief mention of his birth in Belfast, from his meeting with his wife, Hannah in 1903 in Liverpool to his death next to a captured German blockhouse near Hell Fire Corner and Polygon Wood in Belgium in 1917? [insert song]
Three Rivers Hotel was written by Stan Coster. We, the band Banter, have performed the song for twenty-five years. Stan is another one of those larger than life Aussies that this land seems to produce in prodigious numbers. His “Three Rivers Hotel”, which tells the story of building a train line into a remote nickel mine, from Townsville was based on his own life experiences and brought to popular attention through performances and recordings by Slim Dusty and other artists.[insert song]
The Old House had always brought to my mind the ruins of Irish cottages you can find scattered throughout the island, redolent of failed lives and suffused with emigrant longing. And then I started to research. What did I find? Not what I expected! I envisioned a humble schoolmaster, perhaps, setting down these lines to an old half-remembered Irish air as he dwelt on his impoverished beginnings. The truth was diametrically opposed to my former imaginings! The writer of the song was a scion of an ancient Irish family: Lieutenant-Colonel Sir William Frederick Travers O’Connor (30 July 1870 – 14 December 1943) was an Irish diplomat and officer in the British and British Indian armies. He is remembered for his travels in Asia, cartography, study and publication of local cultures and language, his actions on the Younghusband expedition to Tibet, Royal Geographic Society council member, member of the Royal Automobile Club and for his work negotiating and signing the Nepal–Britain Treaty of 1923. O’Connor was born in 1870, Longford, Ireland, son of land agent Matthew Weld O’Connor, and Harriet Georgina, daughter of Anthony O’Reilly, of Baltrasna, County Meath.(source,Wikipedia) O’Connor noted in his book, Things Mortal, that the famous Irish tenor, John McCormack, sang The Old House at The Royal Albert Hall in London on November 27, 1938. He was an exemplar of the British Imperial administrative elite- resourceful, multi-talented, showered with medals and widely travelled. After a long, distinguished military career, ending in 1925, he travelled to the Americas where, in 1931 he was reported as inviting five men, with deep pockets, to accompany him on a tiger hunt to India for an eye-watering sum of money! Whether this transpired or not is problematical because two days later a bankruptcy petition was filed against him. Will I sing the song, anyway? Well, yes, of course I will! I use an orchestral ¾ time Band-in-a-Box setting and, as this is such a short song, I play mandolin over a penultimate instrumental verse. The song has no chorus, just three verses, so I follow some other artists in rising a semitone in the final verse. [insert song]
Lockdown versions of Whiskey in the Jar and Spancil Hill feature as the first songs of Postcard 27. Song three is an Australian shearing song, One of the Has-beens, I first heard from the singing of Kevin Baker in the 1970s.The final song, The Old Bog Road, is usually derided as sentimental slush by woke folk but has more going for it than a superficial glance would have you believe. Listen in, and decide for yourselves, next time.
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.