Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 27, 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.
Whiskey in the Jar, one of the best known traditional Irish vocal ballads, probably originated in the mid-17th century, according to folklorist Alan Lomax, and it has been found in dozens of forms on both sides of the Atlantic. The song is, as one might guess from the title, a favourite drinking and pub song among fans of Irish music all over the world. I learned the song early in 1972 from one of the booklets from the series, Irish Folk Songs. With Seannachie in Wollongong, Tony Fitzgerald sang it and later, with Banter in Sydney in the 1990s, Sam the Man sang it. However, down the years, when I was singing on my own in pubs or clubs or as a duo with my wife, I would regularly ride out upon the old warhorse. The virus allows this virtual version, so, I’ll Ride On![ insert song]
I wrote about Spancil Hill in an earlier version of Postcards featuring our singer, Sam. Now, I’ll put a bit more info around this composition. Spancil Hill is in County Clare…its fair is one of the oldest horse fairs in Ireland, held annually on 23 June. Spancil refers to the practice of “spancilling,” which was to use a short rope to tie an animal’s left fore-leg to its right hind leg, thereby hobbling the animal and stopping it from wandering too far. Michael Considine emigrated to the United States of America around 1870. He left intending to make enough money to send for his sweetheart so they could be married. Considine worked in Boston for two years or so before moving to California. In failing health, he wrote the poem in memory of the hometown he would not live to see again. Michael Considine died in California in 1873 at the age of twenty-three. I first learned the song from a Johnny McEvoy record in 1972 and I sang it around Wollongong when we moved there. At present, Sam the Man sings it with our group Banter (now in suspended animation thanks to the virus). This is my lockdown version. [insert song]
The basis of One of the Has-Beens is Polly Perkins…a famous English song, composed by the London music hall and broadside songwriter Harry Clifton (1832-1872), and first published in 1864. A.L. Lloyd sang One of the Has-Beens in 1958 on his Wattle album, Across the Western Plains. He commented in the album’s sleeve notes: I first heard this one New Year’s Day, in the late 1920’s, in hospital in Cowra, N.S.W. I now learn from [Douglas] Stewart and [Nancy] Keesing’s Old Bush Songs [Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1957] that One of the Has-Beens is the work of a former horse-breaker, shearer and gold-digger named Robert Stewart, born 1833 in N.S.W. I reckon that the Australian lyrics that you hear on this post perfectly capture the loss of vitality, strength and skill that even the gun shearers would suffer should they live long enough to experience the inevitable effects of ageing. I first heard this song in Wollongong in the 1970s, sung a capella by the late Kevin Baker, a noted Illawarra poet and songwriter with whom I had a long association.[insert song]
The Old Bog Road: Teresa Brayton, who wrote the lyrics to this song, knew most of the leaders of the 1916 rising and around her neck she wore a chain, a piece of the flagstaff which flew the flag of the Irish Republic from the G.P.O. in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916. The chain was given to her by Countess Markievicz. Many Irish people, of a certain age, know of an old bog road from their own youth or that of their parents. Just a few yards up the road from where I lived in Cushendall was the start of The Old Road which led from the Barrack Brae across the foot of Lurigethan onto the Ballyeamon Road which connected the village to Ballymena. It was unpaved and passable only on foot or by tractor and I quite often used it as a short-cut to my cousin John’s farm. It made for an idyllic wandering in Spring or Summer. The song is much excoriated by woke folk- but where do I stand in this minor skirmish on one of the battlefronts of the culture wars that engulf our hapless planet in the 21st Century? Somewhere in between, initially. But, then, a few years ago, my wife suggested the song to me for our band, Banter, as it was the favourite song of her father’s and one he used to sing many years ago. The song grew on me as I started to research its origins and as I worked on the music. So, I guess I’m now on the side of the song’s protagonists. At the time of recording this, we are still in lockdown and I present my Band-in-a-Box version. It features the twin fingerpicking guitar wizardry of Brent Mason and Jason Rolling. With Nashville drums, acoustic bass, and piano, it provides a suitable accompaniment, IMHO, for this emigrant song of longing. [insert song]
Postcard 28 features lockdown versions of The Irish Rover and A Bunch of Thyme– songs covered in earlier postcards by Jim. It also features Will Ye Go Lassie Go and The Shores of Botany Bay which are from the repertoire of Sam the Man.
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.