Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 28, 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 Irish Rover: is an Irish folk song about a magnificent though improbable sailing ship that reaches an unfortunate end. It has been recorded by numerous artists, some of whom have made changes to the lyrics over time. Burl Ives is the earliest artist I can find who sang the song- his 1959 version, where he accompanies himself on nylon guitar, holds up rather well, over 60 years later. Of course, he was a noted singer with a great voice as well as actor and entertainer. He cruelled his place in history, IMHO, by recanting his socialist links during the McCarthyite blacklist period by appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 and by naming names to preserve his income from various projects in the entertainment industry. This precipitated a bitter rift between Ives and folk singers such as Pete Seeger, which lasted for decades. The first time I heard the song, though, was from a 1962 Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem vinyl disc recorded live in a Chicago night-club. It was the first song on the first side. This group is arguably the catalyst for the explosion of Irish folk music in Ireland and across the world in the decades since this great recording. When The Dubliners teamed with The Pogues in 1987 the song gained a new lease on life. Here’s my take on the song with Band in the Box accompaniment.[ insert song]
Will Ye Go Lassie Go: Will Ye Go Lassie Go? is an Irish/Scottish folk song. The lyrics and melody are a variant of the song “The Braes of Balquhither” by Scottish poet Robert Tannahill (1774–1810) and Scottish composer Robert Archibald Smith (1780–1829), but were adapted by Belfast musician Francis McPeake (1885–1971) into “Wild Mountain Thyme” and first recorded by his family in the 1950s. McPeake is said to have dedicated the song to his first wife, but his son wrote an additional verse in order to celebrate his father’s remarriage. “Wild Mountain Thyme” was first recorded by McPeake’s nephew, also named Francis McPeake, in 1957 for the BBC series As I Roved Out [insert song]
The Shores of Botany Bay: The first fleet under Captain Arthur Phillip landed there on 20 January 1788 and, finding Banks’s account of its suitability much exaggerated, moved on to Port Jackson, landing at Sydney Cove. Nevertheless, the name Botany Bay became synonymous with Australia… as a convict settlement. The song was collected from Duke Tritton by John Meredith. Tritton learned the song while busking in Sydney early in the 20th century. He also wrote the last verse. Second verse is from Therese Radic’s Songs of Australian Working Life. It has long been a favourite in Aussie bush music circles and Banter regularly features it with Sam the Man taking the vocals. This, though, is a lockdown special where I usurp Sam’s role, ably assisted by the Band-in-a-Box/RealBand combo featuring acoustic bass, Nashville drums, nylon guitar, fiddle, electric pickin’ and clean guitars as well as solo bluegrass mandolin and accordion. I have read somewhere that the song originated in 19th Century English music-hall. But what cares I when it has such up-beat energy- not all immigrant songs have to be doleful, after all. [insert song]
A Bunch of Thyme: The Sprig of Thyme, The Seeds of Love, Maiden’s Lament, Garners Gay, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme or Rue (Roud #3) is a traditional British and Irish folk ballad that uses botanical and other symbolism to warn young people of the dangers in taking false lovers. The song was first documented in 1689 and the many variants go by a large number of titles. The metaphor of the garden within which are found, the herb- thyme, and the flower- the rose, are potent symbols in song and literature. One can find such metaphors in the Bible and other texts stretching back millennia. That such a sweet-sounding melody is undercut by the symbolism inherent in the plants mentioned gives the song its peculiar force. I first heard this on Christy Moore’s LP Whatever Tickles Your Fancy which sported a cover photo of a young Christy leaning against a dartboard. No fancy or fanciful artwork at play here at all! I have an idea that Christy collected the version he sings from a woman in England. And, according to an internet source (so it must be true…) he gave it to Foster and Allen, which kick-started their career. Be nice if it were true. This would have been in 1976. I brought it back to Australia from a holiday in Northern Ireland along with a bunch of other great folk albums, and the band I was in then, Seannachie, started to feature it. When Banter formed in the mid-1990s, Jim took up this fine song. Here in lockdown, I present it in an arrangement featuring a couple of guitars, bass, Nashville drums, organ, mandolin and fiddle in a soft folk-rock mode. [insert song]
For postcard 29 we will be travelling to the realm of nostalgia as we search the deserted streets and stores for some scarlet ribbons; perhaps disconsolate after finding none, we will enter a bodega or cantina or wine-bar and ask for a glass of something to assuage the thirst of a little old wine drinker who will, no doubt, after finishing a draught or two of red biddy, wax maudlin and think about the far off, misty and much-missed Mountains of Mourne. But, much emboldened by the potations we will watch as the narrator stumbles out the door in search of a tinker’s band to join as along the road they shall roam. So, join us all, next week as we peruse the penultimate postcard from 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.