Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, the Postcards edition, number 30, 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.
I will lead with a song I first heard in 1988 when I had returned to Australia from Northern Ireland. Kevin Baker, an old friend, met me in Wollongong and sang Superstar, a song he had written earlier in the decade. We had last met in Northern Ireland in 1981 when Kevin visited us in Cushendall. We spent a memorable week out on Lough Erne with a fishing group from the school I taught at, Kevin taking photographs and writing in his journal as the hunger strikes unfolded in the province. In Wollongong, he presented me a copy of his CD Harvest and Heartbreak. On the cover he had written an inscription to my wife and me, generously crediting us with the words, who helped shape the beginning. Although he died on 22 March, 2021, his contribution to music, poetry and community lives on in the Illawarra where he lived for most of his life. [insert song]
The John Prine composition, Hello In There, was one of my favourite tracks from Joan Baez’s great album, Diamonds and Rust. In the latter half of 1975 I’d bring it over to Kevin Baker’s place in Mangeton, a leafy suburb in Wollongong, NSW, and we’d drink some wine and play some music. This was one of my tracks for providing inspiration (along with the wine, of course). Kevin favoured James Taylor’s Fire and Rain as his go-to muse, as I recall. Prine, in an interview, said that he thought of hollering the title into a hollow log after hearing the reverb on Lennon’s Across The Universe and that was the starting spark of the song. He had an affinity for old people and said,” I don’t think I’ve done a show without singing it. Nothing in it wears on me.” Almost 50 years after hearing the song and using it frequently in my teaching career, I will echo John Prine- Nothing in it wears on me. [insert song]
Only Our Rivers Run Free is a fine composition, written by Mickey McConnell at age 18 in 1965. It’s a song that captures the state of politics in Northern Ireland at that time. Mickey was born in County Fermanagh in 1947. I first heard this song from Planxty’s eponymous first LP released in 1973. Both main singers from Banter, Sam and Jim, have performed the song in the past, but in the age of COVID, I present it in their absence. [insert song]
The Ryebuck Shearer, is a spirited shout from the Australian bush tradition. First, big Geordie Muir, and then Sam the man, have taken the lead for this shearing song. Although it cries out for live bush instruments, we must content ourselves with a Band-in-the-Box/RealBand combo featuring me on vocals: [insert song]
That concludes the Letters From Quotidia project which commenced on January 11, 2021 and concluded on August 6, 2021- a thirty-week odyssey which comprised 150 posts featuring 240 songs and 150,000 words of text, which totals 35 hours of podcast time. Of course, that last stat could elicit the comment from a worker, say, Rudy from the factory- that’s no more hours that I work in a slack week with no overtime.
Where to from here? For the duration of the project, poetry has been a guide for me, and, although any one of a hundred poems could stand testimony to where this project finds itself, listen to these lines of that magnificent American poet, Walt Whitman, and they will fill this gap effortlessly, As I ebb’d with the ocean of life,/ As I wended the shores I know,/ As I walk’d where the ripples continually wash you Paumanok,/ Where they rustle up hoarse and sibilant,/ Where the fierce old mother endlessly cries for her castaways,/ I musing late in the autumn day, gazing off southward,/ Held by this electric self out of the pride of which I utter poems,/ Was seiz’d by the spirit that trails in the lines underfoot,/ The rim, the sediment that stands for all the water and all the land of the globe./
In a COVID-ravaged world, the Doris Day song title Que Sera, sera suggests itself as a motto. But what this little black duck intends to do…oh, hold on! does anyone outside of Australia know what that phrase actually means? The site, World-Wide-Words, suggests that it references that wonderful Warner Bros cartoon character, Daffy Duck, and that it was taken up by Aboriginal Australians. Presumably they were able to identify with this black underdog (or should that be under-duck)!
Sorry, Quotidians, is my lamentable weakness for lame puns showing? But back to the possible reason for Daffy’s attraction for Aboriginal people, particularly the youth. It is plausible that they would find a rallying cry in his catchphrase- not this little black duck– as an indicator of ethnic pride. “As his personality gained depth at the hands of Warner Bros cartoons’ directors, the little black duck became more self-analytical, competitive, peevish, paranoid, and neurotic”.
Mmm. Do I recognise myself here, I wonder? But World-Wide-Words goes on, more positively: “Daffy, like the Greek hero Sisyphus, is a victim of injustice who continuously protests. And it’s his refusal to surrender his will to the whims of the conspiring universe that makes him heroic”. Well, that clinches it! With my love of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, and my fondness for popular culture memes, I will confess myself content to identify with that admirable cartoon character. In short, what this little black duck will not do is just fade away. And to quote another pop cultural legend: I’ll be back!
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.