Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 138 – 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.
The Lark in the Morning is not only the name of the first song of this post, but the first album-length compendium of Irish folk music recorded in Ireland featuring Liam Clancy and Paddy Tunney among other great Irish folk originators. It was recorded by Diane Hamilton and Catherine Wright on portable equipment, between August and December 1955. At the time, Liam Clancy, the youngest member of the Clancy Brothers, had not yet joined with his brothers to form The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.
The Lark in the Morning, sung by Paddy Tunney was the first track. An amusing anecdote about the young Paddy is related in his obituary in The Irish Times dated December 21, 2002: He attended Derryhallow Public Elementary School. During a visit by a school inspector, Mr Doak, the teachers were taken aback when a “song of the people” was requested. The young Paddy Tunney stepped forward and sang “Boolavogue” with all the fire and feeling that he could muster. The teachers were petrified. When he had finished singing the inspector thanked him and gave him half-a-crown. “Tis a pity,” Mr Doak remarked dryly to the teachers, “a great pity. You know we should be teaching history in the schools.
A few points to consider: Derryhallow Public Elementary School is in Co Fermanagh and the partition of Ireland occurred in the same year that Paddy was born! Boolavogue, is a famous rebel song about the Rising of 1798. In Fermanagh, so soon after partition, such a song would be incendiary. Almost certainly a Protestant because of his plum position in the education establishment, I’m not 100% sure where Mr Doak’s political sympathies lay-but I do know that half a crown was a generous sum in those days- worth more than $10 in today’s money. I imagine, also, that Paddy would have been popular upon return to his cash-strapped home.
When I was at school in the mid-sixties the teaching of history was strictly along sectarian lines and the dates and events you learned about depended on whether you went to a Protestant or Catholic school. Part of Paddy Tunney’s legacy was to pass on to newly emerging generations of singers the songs heard from his mother’s trove of song going back generations. Listen now to what he wrote in The Stone Fiddle about this and thanks to the site Comhaltas for the following: ‘Meadow Mane rippled with corncrakes and scythe steel sang to whetstone. The air ached with the pain and joy of loving. It was the time that turned my mother to songs of love and longing. She put aside the hoops that held the cloth, where her needle and thread had wrought the most exotic rosebuds, open flowers, and intricate patterns, and wove with her voice arabesques of sound that bested the embroidery. She sang me for the first time that exquisitely beautiful song: As I Roved Out.’ Treat yourself and go to YouTube and listen to Andy Irvine from Planxty or the Voice Squad’s 2011 version to get a sense of the quality of the music Paddy Tunney promulgated over a long life.
Widely regarded as one of the titans of folk music, he accepted a long-standing invitation from Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger to make a UK tour in 1967; it was to be the first of many. The site Mainly Norfolk notes that the song, The Lark in the Morning, was: A very well-known song. Most of the major English collectors noted versions, and it was also reported from Scotland and Northern Ireland and once or twice in America. Many of the nineteenth century broadside printers put out versions, but the earliest known printed text is in an Edinburgh chapbook dated 1778 and it could be even earlier. I quake in trepidation as I attempt an essay at the song and can only hope that the shade of Paddy Tunney is not too angry as he listens in from the Isles of the Blest across the wide wastes of the western ocean.[insert song]
In December, 1985, we were back in Ireland from Australia for as long as we had sojourned in the land down under and I was chafing to get back to the sun and a life not hemmed in by sectarian bloodshed and the constant watching where you are and what you are saying. Of course, it was not all doom and gloom: I was on a roll, creatively, during the 1980s having produced Crime on Goat Island, a play by Ugo Betti, for the Glens of Antrim Drama Society, and, also, written for radio and TV. I worked with a student of mine to produce a Jazz Suite which was broadcast on BBC Radio.
At about this time I decided to try to break away from my usual simple three or four chord regime and came up with a jazz-inflected pop song as a peace offering for my wife after a falling out over- I can’t remember what- but probably something related to my tendency to block out everything else when I am in the throes of composition involving one creative project or another. We had been married for fourteen years and, at 36 years of age, I had known my wife for over half of my existence- having met her at 16 in the corner café in Cushendall which we kept well-fed with coins as we listened to the immense output of 1960s pop music whenever she came down for the summer holidays or a weekend break.
Anyway, back to the song I had just written and which you will hear at the end of this post. I ran the peace offering by her when had I finished it, and she gave me a look I could not read. Alas, my dyslexia in such matters persists to this day. But reflecting on it now, with 50 years of marriage in the rear-view mirror, I suppose the hyperbole contained in the lyrics were a bit rich! On the weekend of the 30th/31st October just past we finally got to celebrate our COVID-deferred 50th Anniversary bash at Sydney Harbour in a 21st floor suite with views of the Bridge and Opera House. You know, I think that the song may have been written, oh, 36 years or so, prematurely. Rather than describe the sights to be seen from out harbour eyrie, I’ll default to a poem from a man whose output I first read as a 16-year-old. I’ve quoted him before and I may not have finished with him yet! It is, of course, Lord Byron, who wrote these verses in 1814 when he was 26 years of age.
She walks in beauty, like the night/Of cloudless climes and starry skies;/And all that’s best of dark and bright/Meet in her aspect and her eyes:/Thus mellowed to that tender light/Which heaven to gaudy day denies.//One shade the more, one ray the less,/Had half impaired the nameless grace/Which waves in every raven tress,/Or softly lightens o’er her face;/Where thoughts serenely sweet express/How pure, how dear their dwelling place.//And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,/So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,/The smiles that win, the tints that glow,/But tell of days in goodness spent,/A mind at peace with all below,/A heart whose love is innocent!// Our poets keep us humble and keep us sane. [insert song]
The two songs from next week are linked- sort of…I overcame writer’s block-again-only to produce a song called Logoland– I mean, come on, it may have been fashionable back in the day- as young’uns term it- but to be 20% into the 21st Century! However, beggars can’t be choosers, so I guess I’ll have to be content with another joust with the concept. What is the link to the short song it is twinned with- Johnny McEldoo? I first heard it off an LP by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in 1963. The exuberant, uninhibited gluttony it describes appealed to a young male teenager avid for excess of one sort or another. And that’s what logos do- they promote and celebrate over-consumption. As a baby boomer, I’m complicit, even if only to a minor extent, in the trashing of Mother Earth. What to do? We need to hit pause in our avaricious pursuit of more, more, more and listen to our grandkids who are less and less tolerant of our selfish despoiling of their precarious, threatened, inheritance.
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