Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 127 – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
In 1968, I was still infatuated by the psychedelic ethos and dressed accordingly. I am forever grateful that no images survive of me in my day-glo garb- no phone cameras or social media then, thank God- because I would, no doubt, have been an avid adopter of these technologies. What will also date me is the fact that I can remember when Status Quo burst onto the scene with their psychedelic pop hit, Pictures of Matchstick Men which broke into the top ten in January of 1968. The group are still going- although Francis Rossi is the only continuous member from the sixties- and if you want an earful of what they are up to now you should buy tickets for, say, the Retro C Trop Festival in France on Saturday 25th June 2022.
Me, I’m still in lockdown and coming to believe that Sydney is trapped in a time vortex where it’s groundhog day forever. Anyway, were I, somehow, to escape the vortex I would, in preference, head for Salford, Lancashire where I would visit the Lowry Art Gallery which houses the largest selection of paintings by the rather interesting character, L S Lowry, cited by Wikipedia as holding the record for refusing to accept British honours, including a knighthood, for a total of five knock backs! His instantly recognisable style was the inspiration for the Quo’s first big hit, written by Francis Rossi as he was hiding in the toilet from his wife and mother-in-law.
But it’s not Pictures of Matchstick Men where my interest lies but rather, a one-hit wonder by the duo, Brian and Michael, which cracked the UK charts reaching number 18 in 1978, 10 years after the Quo song and two years after the death of L S Lowry. As I was still in Australia at the time, I didn’t get to know the song, Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs, until about five years ago when I heard it sung by Finbar, off the Fureys album, The Times They Are a Changing, released in 2015. I love their version as I do the original.
The song has an uplifting vibe that many comments attached to the YouTube recording will attest. I only wish that I could write a one-hit wonder such as this. The term, one-hit wonder, is often used pejoratively, mainly by those who haven’t the wherewithal to attempt such a feat. But people like me will give thanks that the gods who rule the music charts have seen fit to reward such great songs as this with the accolade.[insert song]
Towards the end of the American Civil War, a Canadian school teacher named George Washington Johnston walked to the edge of the Niagara escarpment in 1864 and wrote a poem comprising the lyrics of the next song. He had fallen in love with a student of his, Margaret Clark, and they married on 21st October 1864. Their time together was all too brief, as Margaret fell ill and died a little over six months later in 1865. George survived his wife by fifty-two years and died in 1917.
James Austin Butterfield set the poem to music in 1866 and it has been a world-wide hit ever since, covered by many artists, both famous and forgotten across three different centuries. For those who like deep dives into the provenance of such compositions, there is a fascinating discussion about the song on the site Mudcat.org. I will restrict myself to advertising that, as many times before in these letters, I shall declare myself up to the challenge of facing down the legions of more accomplished individuals and groups, across three centuries, no less, who have lent distinction to this composition by presenting my version of the song, Maggie.
I will preface it by giving thanks that I have been blessed by over fifty years of marriage to my wife, Bridie. Although I was tempted to imitate Sean O’Casey who changed the name of the song to Nora, to fit in with his play- a great play it is, too- The Plough and the Stars– I have resisted the change to the name, Bridie. Why? The extent and depth of my hubris has limits! I hope I do not test the listeners patience too greatly by reciting Sonnet 116 by Shakespeare:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ Admit impediments. Love is not love/That alters when it alteration finds/Or bends with the remover to remove./O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark/That looks on tempests and is never shaken;/It is the star to every wand’ring bark,/ Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken./Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks/Within his bending sickle’s compass come;/Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,/But bears it out even to the edge of doom./If this be error and upon me proved,/I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
It’s not for nothing that Shakespeare is credited, by critic Harold Bloom, as being the inventor of the individual sensibility of modern men and women. Modern critical theory regards old Harold as a fossil, but even a fossil can reveal truths that point to matters that need examination- fate of the dinosaurs, anyone? [insert song]
If you are hearing this, I have been unable to write or, perhaps, complete, an original song of sufficient worth to slot in with my weekly podcast schedule. So, forgive the ageing artefact who, with your indulgence, promises to do better, or try, for next time.
Credits: All written text, song lyrics andmusic (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- Shure SM58; (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter); Apogee 76K also used for songs and spoken text
For recording and mixing down: 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used; Rubix 22 also used for mixing of microphone(s) and instruments
Music accompaniment and composition software: Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2021