Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 29, 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.
Scarlet Ribbons: The ballad that was perhaps Mr. Segal’s greatest hit, “Scarlet Ribbons,” flowed, he said, onto paper in a mere 15 minutes in 1949. It happened when he was invited to the Port Washington, N.Y., home of concert pianist Evelyn Danzig Levine to hear some of her formal compositions, according to the LA Times of February 2005. The first person I remember hearing sing this song was Jim Reeves He toured Ireland in 1963 and was immediately taken up by Irish audiences. A few years ago, with Banter, I gathered up the courage to subject myself to unflattering comparisons with Reeves, Belafonte, et. al. and sang Scarlet Ribbons in the Penrith Gaels Club. It’s long been a favourite of mine. For this lockdown version, I follow the less-is-more ideal. The 80 bpm slow ballad Band-in-a-Box combo with acoustic piano, guitars, bass and drums is used throughout the song with no added embellishments from fiddles, flutes etc. [insert song]
Little Old Wine Drinker, Me: was first released by Charlie Walker in 1966, on the album Wine, Woman & Walker. The song became a hit when it was released by Robert Mitchum in early 1967, and then by Dean Martin later the same year on his album Welcome to My World. I’ve loved the song from the moment I heard Dino’s suave delivery. This country-blues gem has a broken heart, a train, a bar, rain, and a jukebox. What more could you ask for, apart from a dog and a pick-up truck? (And who’s to say the narrator didn’t drive his beat-up old Ford from Nashville to Chicago with his best friend hanging his muzzle out of the passenger window?) The lockdown is still preventing live music gigs, so, here I use a basic Band-in-a-Box country ballad setting with Nashville drums, strummed and finger-picked guitars and bass. I bring up the fiddle in the second section and add the vocal.[insert song]
The Mountains of Mourne: Like so many high places, the Mournes have a mystical aura when you ascend one of the peaks. I did this, in the mid-1980s, with a group of students from The Ballymena Academy, in the company of Roger, a gentle but very fit R.E. teacher from the school. Before we were half-way up, I was struggling, regretting a lifetime of being unfit and rather fat. As the group ascended out of sight, I rested on a stone wall to recuperate. Then, vaulting over the wall came a trio of British soldiers who asked if I was part of their training team! Breathless, I assured them that I was not- and they loped away across the side of the mountain. I did finally get to the summit, and yes, as the cliché goes- it was worth it. Banter started to perform this song a couple of years ago as we were expanding the group’s repertoire. We remain in lockdown, so I use the virus, shamelessly, to purloin yet another of Sam the Man’s songs. I use Band-in-a-Box’s Medium Waltz setting featuring acclaimed session musos- Byron House on acoustic bass, Jeff Taylor on acoustic piano, Jason Roller on strummed acoustic guitar and Brent Mason on finger-picked guitar. What more do you need? The solo vocal (with a touch of chorus on the last line of each verse) relates this artfully crafted story. [insert song]
O’Sullivan’s John: Patrick “Pecker” Dunne (1 April 1933 – 19 December 2012) was an Irish musician and seanchaí. Dunne was born in Castlebar, County Mayo, “in the old county home”. His family were Irish Travellers originally from County Wexford, where his father was a fiddle player. He was one of Ireland’s most noted banjo players and was also proficient on the fiddle, melodeon and guitar, and was among an elite of Traveller musicians. I first heard this song in Wollongong in 1974 when Joe Brown, Bertie McKnight, Tony Fitzgerald and I formed the group, Seannachie. Bertie told me he heard it from the writer, Pecker Dunne. Tony, a Londoner of Irish descent and our main singer, would belt this out at venues around the Illawarra. But I liked the song from first I heard it and would sing it- almost as a party piece- at informal gatherings in various places down the decades. I sing another version with Banter earlier in the Postcards but here I restore it to a more comfortable range for my voice. I only use two chords for this song, say, C and Bb, which swings along in 3/4 time. [insert song]
This leaves us with only one more postcard to audition- the last in the series. And, at this point, a month before you will hear it, I do not have any songs to preview for you as I am trying to transfer a cassette tape of Banter recorded some years back, to digital format. But first I have to fossick about for a device I remember buying many moons ago, which can perform this operation. It may prove to be our last hurrah, as it is a moot point whether Banter will even get back on stage. But failing that, I will resort to my faithful Band in a Box/RealBand combo and trot out some old favourites for the finale, stealing, with impunity from the repertoire of Jim and 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.