Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 130 – 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 Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin, there is a gravestone of unhewn Wicklow granite. On it, is inscribed one word. Nothing else is needed. Such is the fame, among the Irish, of the person there interred, that anything else would be superfluous. And the word? Parnell. Also known as “the uncrowned king of Ireland,” Charles Stewart Parnell was born into a wealthy Anglo-Irish family which could boast links with American naval hero Admiral Charles Stewart as well as the British Royal family through his great-grandmother who belonged to the Tudor family. He was a complex mix of conservative inclinations and revolutionary entanglements. Having little detailed knowledge of the Irish tradition of resistance and its luminaries, he would, nevertheless become its figurehead in the imagination of the Irish struggling classes at home and abroad.
So then, what is a toff like Parnell doing in such company? Well, you know, he is not alone. Sir Roger Casement, another scion of the Anglo-Irish establishment and, incidentally, one of the earliest human rights activists in that he revealed the atrocious treatment of native workers at the hands of imperialists in the Belgian Congo. This place was also known as- thanks to Joseph Conrad- the heart of darkness. He is celebrated in song as a hero of the Easter Rising of 1916. And, if we skip back a couple of centuries, we find a descendent of the French Protestant Huguenots who fled to Britain, one Theobold Wolfe Tone, a founder of the United Irishmen. Not one of these men lived to make old bones:
Tone was dead at 35 under unclear circumstances, Casement was hanged for high treason at age 51 and Parnell died at age 45, after a scandal involving his long-time mistress and mother to his children, Kitty O’Shea. Being a hero is tough in any tradition. But if you’re Irish, and you want to come into the parlour of nationalistic Ireland’s prim regard, you’ll need to be squeaky clean in the eyes of the gatekeepers of traditional sexual morality as well as possessing the usual comprehensive skill set of those who aspire to be leaders of others.
Dominic Behan wrote the first song of this post, Avondale, a short, melodious tribute to Parnell. Like that headstone in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin, it provides little in the way of information about its subject. But its evocation of the lovely surrounds of Parnell’s birthplace is a feature and he bestows a heroic epithet on the charismatic and talented leader of the Irish parliamentary party- one better than, adulterer, which cruelled his career and Ireland’s hopes of achieving Home Rule. The heroic epithet?- Avondale’s proud eagle. [insert song]
As a postscript for those who may not have heard my other podcasts where Dominic Behan songs feature: he was born in 1928 into the literary Behan family of Dublin. A prodigious talent as a songwriter and singer, short story writer and novelist, he was also a playwright who wrote in Irish and English. He died in 1989 and I’m sure I will sing one or two more of his marvellous output before I finish my podcasts. A final point: it tickled me to learn, as I was researching the background of Avondale, that he lifted– in the way of folk artists everywhere who often “borrow” from other sources- the tune of a 19th Century loyalist song, “The Orange Maid of Sligo”!
But now to the second song of the podcast, Another End. When I came across the original, smudged and fading photocopy of the lyrics- produced using a portable Remington typewriter, one of my prized possessions, I read the note at the bottom of the page where I had appended the following info: “This piece is experimental. The meaning is not only read across the page as usual but also vertically, or down the page.” I cringed with embarrassment and would have chucked it onto the reject pile which was gathering around me but for the fact that I came across another page where I had set out chords for the songs (18 in all) which I had recorded onto cassette tape for a record executive in Paris, where my sister, Monica, assured me, she could get a hearing for them. I don’t know what became of the tape- another of life’s little mysteries- although I can see, in my mind’s eye, an unopened cassette tape arcing through the Parisian office air into the cylindrical filing repository for all such unsolicited items.
But back to the present; before the song joined the winnowing accumulating around me, I played through the chords several times and, in a short time, recovered the simple melody from my memory. So, the song made the cut. Older and wiser now, I will not duplicate the arrangement of words on the page which certainly looks tres artistique. And my reason: I think, for the time being, I have provided quite enough hilarity out there at my expense! The song was written largely towards the end of 1979 when I was wondering if I would ever get a job again and finished in January 1980 when I learned that I had obtained temporary employment at Roger Casement’s old school, Ballymena Academy.
Another End shares DNA with the song, No Surrender, found in Letters From Quotidia, Episode 72, which was written in a caravan in 1995 from whence I set out on a brutal commute to a teaching job which commenced in the dark from the outer west of Sydney, all the way into Circular Quay and then to Manly across the harbour. It took three hours each way. Again, I wondered if there would be an end to the crushing tedium I endured. There was an end to it, of course, eventually, but until that time arrived, I lived within the following lines of Baudelaire: When a heavy lid of low sky/covers a soul moaning with ennui and fright/and the whole horizon is rounded by/ a black day pouring down sadder than any night:/…Long hearses roll, slow, silent, hypnotic, through my soul. Ah, yes you can always trust the poets of this world to find a match to the inchoate, emotional and spiritual tangle you find yourself in at times- but be aware that you may have to search long and hard to find that match. And, believe me, it’s worth it! [insert song]
Thanks to the discovery of lost songs, mentioned in my last post, I can tell you the name and genre of the next original composition: No Angel Will Interfere. Apart from the original title, Three Views of You, which I junked, substituting instead the last four words of the song, this simple country composition is just as written in Wollongong, New South Wales, in 1975. Three verses with no chorus, bridge or middle eight. The other song is one that, a couple of years ago, I couldn’t imagine myself ever singing. There’ll be more about this next week.
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