Welcome to Letters From Quotidia, episode 188 – 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.
Last week I aped the typical politician and abandoned a promise made to give details of what is coming up, in the previous post. However, unlike the typical politician, I felt a twinge of regret about the omission! But on now to the first offering for this week. Come Out, Ye Black and Tans: I first learned and sang this song in the early 1970s and I have admired its energy and defiance from that time. It is often misrepresented as a sectarian rant and I have encountered opposition to it on these grounds which, I hope, the following account which I have abridged from the entry in Wikipedia clears up:
The song was written by Dominic Behan as a tribute to his IRA father Stephen, who had fought in the War of Independence, and is concerned with political divisions in working-class Dublin of the 1920s. The song uses the term “Black and Tans” in the pejorative sense against people living in Dublin, both Catholic and Protestant, who were pro-British. The term, Black and Tans, refers to “special reserve constables” (mainly former World War I army soldiers), recruited in Great Britain and sent to Ireland from 1920, to reinforce the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) during the Irish War of Independence. The setting of the song is the Dublin into which Dominic Behan was born in the late 1920s, and the main character in the song is Behan’s father, Stephen Behan, who was a prominent Irish republican, who had fought in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War.
The melody of the song was adapted by Behan from an old air, Battle-cry of Munster by 18th Century Irish writer, Pierce FitzGerald which, in one of those ironies of Irish history, is also used by the loyalist song The Boyne Water. The song tells the story of a regular dispute between republican and unionist neighbours in inner-city Dublin in the mid-1920s. During this era, Dublin continued to elect unionist pro-British politicians and voluntary service in the British Army was a popular career choice amongst working-class Dubliners, for both Catholics and Protestants. Supporting this tradition was the existence of a relatively large, and now generally forgotten and, indeed, disappeared, Dublin Protestant working class. It is this pro-British working class, of both religions, that the composer lambasts in the song. He asks them to come out and “fight me like a man”, stating that the “IRA had made the Black and Tans “run like hell away” from locations in rural Ireland such as the “green and lovely lanes of Killashandra” (which is in County Cavan, and where, in 1922, ex-RIC and Black and Tan soldiers were forced to flee the town after being given a few days warning to leave by the local IRA).
The lyrics make references to the history of Irish nationalism, and the conflicts of the British Army against opponents with inferior weaponry: “Come tell us how you slew them poor Arabs two by two / Like the Zulus, they had spears and bows and arrows” The lyrics reference the disdain by his neighbours (those “sneers and jeers that you loudly let us hear”), to the execution of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, and to the fall of the Irish nationalist political leader, Charles Stuart Parnell. In January 2020, The Wolfe Tones’ version of “Come Out Ye Black and Tans” reached number 1 on the Ireland and UK iTunes charts, as part of “widespread criticism” of the (Irish) Government’s planned commemoration of the RIC, as part of its “Decade of Commemoration” (commemorating the events of 1912–1922 in Ireland)
Ah, the fools, the fools! Did they really think that a mere century was enough time to quell the fires of dissension in Irish hearts? Of course, musicians are, more often than not, fairly tolerant of music from a tradition adversarial to their own. Case in point: in the first half of the 1990s when we lived in North Queensland, we were friends with a couple from Northern Ireland. Tom played the bass and had a group based in Townsville. They would give a spirited rendition this song with Tom bellowing out the chorus with gusto- even though he was a fairly staunch Protestant.[insert song]
From one controversial writer to another. Just as Dominic Behan has had his detractors who claim he used, unacknowledged sources for some of his songs (including the one you have just heard) so, too, Johann Hari, the British journalist I have favourably referenced in a previous post about the disastrous war on drugs: Letter 85 A Packet of White Powder published on 23rd June 2021. His detractors accuse him of playing fast and loose with the truth and incorporating the observations of others within his own work! You know, maybe he should have been a writer of folksongs, eh?
But listen, in January 2022 he published a book entitled Stolen Focus where he persuasively advances the thesis that humankind is suffering from a debilitating attention deficit disorder brought on by how our mental processes are being adversely manipulated by the social media behemoths such as Facebook- I can’t yet bring myself to call it, what, Meta! But do spare a thought- and a dime perhaps?- for Mark Zuckerberg whose personal worth dropped by US$34 billion recently. I dare say he still has some walking-around money left, mmm? And, of course, Google, which dropped its Don’t Be Evil slogan a while back, perhaps in response to the ironic laughter echoing through the universe. Its parent company Alphabet declared a quarterly profit of 76 billion on 1 February 2022.
So, how have you all been faring in this, the third year of the global pandemic? A media guru here in Australia, the broadcaster Phillip Adams, is the host of a long-running show on public radio, Late Night Live, of which I have been a regular listener since he took over the helm of the show in 1991. Although most listeners and contributors are Australian, he has a world-wide audience and often has important voices from the US, British Isles, Europe- and elsewhere- canvassing a range of diverse and interesting topics. His podcast on the book Stolen Focus where he interviews Johann Hari may be of interest to listeners to the Letters From Quotidia. I know this small but select band do have attention spans greater than that of, say, goldfish, or viewers of the dancing denizens of Tik Tok.
The original song for this podcast is focused on a quintessential citizen of the digital domain. I listened to a bunch of songs from the site but couldn’t really put my heart into a parody of what I had auditioned. After all, a parody has to retain some affection for the form being mocked. So, I ended up with what you are about to hear. The title? Maximise My Clicks which seems to me to sum up what this stuff is all about. I shake my head in wonder and admiration at independent bands who keep on playing but whose members only end up with a fistful of dollars each for, say, one hundred thousand downloads on any of the streaming platforms. [insert song]
Far too many of us live in the splintered world depicted in the song. If you, too, are fractured into pieces under the relentless hammer-blows delivered by the devices we all seem to need- well, I have nothing to recommend but poetry to change the dynamic. Instead of trailing the songs for the next podcast, I will leave you with, The Crystal Gazer, by that wonderful American poet, Sara Teasdale: I shall gather myself into myself again,/I shall take my scattered selves and make them one,/Fusing them into a polished crystal ball/Where I can see the moon and the flashing sun.//I shall sit like a sybil, hour after hour intent,/ Watching the future come and the present go,/And the little shifting pictures of people rushing/In restless self-importance to and fro// Amazing, isn’t it, this insight from a poet who died in 1933, before TV, before the internet, before the enslaving devices we peer into anxiously for most of our waking hours.
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. I use the Band in a Box/RealBand 2022 combo for music composition.