(I Wasn’t With The Diggers) Marching Home From That War

John Joseph Mitchell
Aeschylus
Claus von Clausewitz

Much is made of statements such as, the first casualty of war is the truth which some claim dates back to the ancient Athenian playwright Aeschylus – a proud veteran of Marathon and Salamis –in the fifth century BC, or the metaphor the fog of war which some have attributed to the 19th Century Prussian general and military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz. So, when I began to write a song about my great-uncle, John Joseph Mitchell, who was killed in action at Passchendaele on the 18th of September, 1917, I came to realise the sad truth of these aphorisms. 

Courtyard of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra

There is a wealth of information to be gleaned on websites, such as those connected to the Australian War Memorial, and, also, from family members, which is helpful in trying to piece together what transpired more than 100 years ago. But so much was still tantalisingly out of my grasp. I was confronted with a sprawling puzzle, the pieces from which I could not form a coherent picture, no matter how I tried.

I was on the verge of giving up on the idea of writing a song to commemorate the sacrifice made by J. J. Mitchell, when a thought… (I think that’s what it was)… flashed into my mind: Remember way back when you attended Eng Lit lectures in Belfast 50 years ago, and the sad old bloke at the front of the room burbled on about the concept of the unreliable narrator? You know, that time before you walked out, intent on sinking a few pints of Harp at The Hunting Lodge in Andersonstown before dinner? Yeah, so what? Well, sunshine, why not apply this to your predicament now? Better late than never, right?

And so it clicked! Of course, we live now in the era of fake news and post-truth. Who cares any more about what is real? Ah, sorry, I do. 

Polygon Wood
Captured German Blockhouse

But still, still, something lodged in my brain. Why not have John Joseph Mitchell, my great uncle (or JJ as I shall refer to him henceforth) narrate a portion of his life, after a brief mention of his birth in Belfast, from his meeting with his wife, Hannah in 1903 to his death next to a captured German blockhouse near Hell Fire Corner and Polygon Wood in Belgium in 1917?

And this was the key that provided me with the audacity to write a song about his life and death. JJ was one of more than 62,000 Australian men killed in that awful conflict- and those numbers from population of less than five million people! Is it any wonder that there are memorials in just about every Aussie city, suburb, town, and hamlet to mark the sacrifice?

https://i0.wp.com/penrithhistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/000610.jpg?ssl=1
St Marys War Memorial, New South Wales, Australia: over one hundred men enlisted from this small settlement in 1914. Twenty-two of those who enlisted did not return.

I usually don’t include lyrics; but here, because of the need (IMHO) for explanatory footnotes, I set them out- with thanks to my nephew in Glenariffe, Joe Mitchell, who, apart from supplying me with a wealth of information about JJ, ran a professional sub-editor’s eye over my drafts and steered me away from errors of one kind or another (that is, both egregious and just plain dumb). Any remaining lacunae, anachronisms, or solecisms, of course, are not down to Joe Mitchell- but me, your honour!

View looking down Glenariffe glen over Red Bay towards Scotland in the distance
Rising Sun insignia

(I Wasn’t With The Diggers) Marching Home From That War (dedicated to the memory of Pte J.J. Mitchell, K.I.A. 18th September 1917)

HMAS Ayrshire transported JJ from Port Melbourne to Plymouth

They gave me a number: 5-1-4-1; on my slouch hat pinned the Rising Sun1 From Port Melbourne to Plymouth Sound with the 22nd we were Europe bound2 Belfast born but I didn’t stay long; these itchy feet keep moving me along In Liverpool I met fiery Hannah, fell for her although she had a child

Skibbereen by James Mahony, 1847.JPG
Irish famine scene

Hitched up after I agreed to take the soup3,  we set up shop in Melbourne town She’s a nurse, I’m an engine-fitter, there is nothing here will ever get me down! But four kids on, completely worn through, life has given this for free

Codford 1 - C01288.JPG
Rollestone Camp in Wiltshire, England
Black and white photo of six men wearing military uniform seated on a muddy slope in France, December 1916. Unidentified members of the Australian 5th Division, enjoying a "smoko" near Mametz, on the Somme. Some are wearing slouch hats, steel helmets, sheepskin jackets and woollen gloves, demonstrating both the variety of official battledress, and how it was modified and augmented, for local conditions.
A.I.F. infantry World War I

22 Church Street feels like a coffin, A. I. F.4 enlistment now for me

Billeted in Rollestone5 Camp in Wiltshire, bleak and under canvas – what care I? Went walkabout against the regs6 as Aussies often do- six days docked I paid, all told

NAA: B2455, MITCHELL JOHN JOSEPH
JJ’s charge sheet detailing 2 days AWL

Bed-ridden for two weeks with rheumatism, isn’t it a bugger getting old? Off to France tomorrow, will I return upon another tide?

Statue of an Australian Digger at Bullecourt
Passchendaele scene

I don’t take it well when told what I should do – a problem I’ve had all my life It’s why I call myself a Digger7 now: instead of bullshit, we would rather fight A good bloke would write on my conduct sheet: ‘This man served at Bullecourt’8 That’s a boast it’s true but what came next was the hell you know as Passchendaele9

Scapulars worn around the neck

It ended thus: a midnight blitz on a German blockhouse- then the fatal shell Hannah got her Dead Man’s Penny10 and the scapulars11 that hung around my neck Now with my pals Twist, Kunin, Kelly, Carey, Bragg, Baker, Kennedy, Northcott and Ray12 Side by side in Hooge Crater Cemetery13 as we await the judgement day

Dead Man’s Penny
JJs gravestone at Hooge Crater Cemetery, Belgium
The Bay Chapel now
The Bay Chapel- JJs boyhood

Old Father White said a Requiem for me one hundred years after I was killed14 The chapel in Glenariffe overlooks the beach15 where I paddled when I was a boy Place a poppy by my name16 on the bronze tablets they set up in Canberra for all Those, for any reason, who served, who fought, who sacrificed and fell

Drawing of Westhoek Ridge where JJ was killed

And I’m still marching through your mind as you try to work out just who I am There’s nothing I can share that will help you write this song But one thing I can tell you that is true: I wasn’t with the Diggers Marching home from that war…

Hooge Crater Cemetery
  1. The Rising Sun badge, also known as the General Service Badge or the Australian Army Badge, is the official insignia of the Australian Army and is mostly worn on the brim of a slouch hat. Here is the badge JJ would have worn, in use from 1904 to 1949.
  2. we were Europe bound The HMAS Ayrshire transported JJ along with thousands of Australian soldiers from Port Melbourne to the war zones of Europe and the Middle East. The men of the 22nd Battalion of the A.I.F. were involved in major conflicts from Gallipoli to the Western Front.
  3. To take the soup sounds rather quaint- but harmless. However, in the Irish Catholic oral tradition it has a sinister meaning. Souperism was a phenomenon of the Irish Famine. Protestant Bible societies set up schools in which starving children were fed, on the condition of receiving Protestant religious instruction at the same time. Its practitioners were reviled by the Catholic families who had to choose between Protestantism and starvation. By extension, even into the 20th Century, Catholics who converted to Protestantism, for any reason, were said to have taken the soup.
  4. The Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) By the end of the war the A.I.F. had gained a reputation as being a well-trained and highly effective military force, playing a significant role in the final Allied victory. However, this reputation came at a heavy cost with a casualty rate among the highest of any belligerent for the war.
  5. Rollestone Camp: Situated in an upland area of Wiltshire, it was described by one soldier stationed there as a bit bleak, especially for Australians used to a warmer climate. The water froze around Christmas time, and one night the troops’ corrugated iron cinema was blown away.
  6. walkabout against the regs The Australian soldiers were not much inclined to obey what they would have seen as onerous and restrictive regulations. JJ, like many others, had his pay docked. In his case it was for being AWL for two days. The term walkabout is properly associated with the initiation ceremonies of Australian first nations’ young boys who prove their capacity for the transition to manhood by foraging in the Australian bush. As the estimable Wikipedia puts it Walkabout is a rite of passage in Australian Aboriginal society, during which males undergo a journey during adolescence, typically ages 10 to 16, and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months to make the spiritual and traditional transition into manhood. I would hope I am not disrespecting our aboriginal traditions and lore by using this term to characterise the ways in which our Diggers struck out, in the ghastly reality that was the battlegrounds of the First World War, to assert their Australian manhood and identity. I know that there is a long and honourable tradition of Aboriginal service in conflicts in which Australia has been involved, yet to be fully acknowledged.
  7. Digger as a usage has been traced back to early 19th Century but its current usage in a military context did not become prominent until World War I, when Australian and New Zealand troops began using it on the Western Front around 1916–17. Evolving out of its usage during the war, the term has been linked to the concept of the Anzac legend, but within a wider social context, it is linked to the concept of egalitarian mateship. I imagine that JJ would have latched on to the term Digger as a matter of pride!
  8. Bullecourt more than any other battle, shook the confidence of Australian soldiers in the capacity of the British command; the errors, especially on April 10th and 11th, were obvious to almost everyone. Charles Bean, Official Historian.
  9. Passchendaele. The battle took place on the Western Front, from July to November 1917, for control of the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders. In his Memoirs of 1938, Lloyd George wrote, Passchendaele was indeed one of the greatest disasters of the war … No soldier of any intelligence now defends this senseless campaign. 
  10. Dead Man’s Penny. This was a round bronze Memorial Plaque, 120 mm in diameter. It shows Britannia and a lion on the front and bears the inscription: He died for freedom and honour. The full name of the dead soldier is engraved on the right hand side of the plaque. No rank, unit or decorations are shown, befitting the equality of the sacrifice made by all casualties. The shape and appearance of the plaque earned it nicknames such as the Dead Man’s Penny, the Death Penny, and the Widow’s Penny.
  11. Scapulars. A small necklace of sorts constructed from two wool patches of cloth. The most common scapular in Ireland in JJ’s time was the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel upon which the words, Whosoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire are stitched. I can remember wearing one like it when I was a boy, and, I think, it was the brown scapular…
  12. Twist, Kunin, Kelly, Carey, Bragg, Baker, Kennedy, Northcott and Ray. These are some of the men killed in the H.E. blast that took JJ’s life. They are included in the lyric line as a litany to stand for the multitudes who perished in the conflict. May they rest in peace.
  13. Hooge Crater Cemetery was begun by the 7th Division Burial Officer early in October 1917. [ shortly after JJ was killed] It contained originally 76 graves, in Rows A to D of Plot I, but was greatly increased after the Armistice. There are now 5,916 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery. 3,563 of the burials are unidentified, but special memorials record the names of a number of casualties either known or believed to be buried among them, or whose graves in other cemeteries were destroyed by shell fire.
  14. one hundred years after I was killed My nephew, Joe Mitchell, arranged with the parish priest of Glenariffe, Father White, to have a Requiem Mass said on the centenary of JJ’s death. This was streamed online and I was honoured and deeply moved to be able to watch this event in real time from my home in Sydney, Australia.
  15. The chapel in Glenariffe overlooks the beach The chapel JJ would have known as a boy was burned down in 1915. Red Bay beach which stretches from the chapel site to the river at Waterfoot a mile or so away has been popular with holiday crowds for a long, long time.
  16. Place a poppy by my name A quarter of a century ago, when Joe Mitchell wrote to me about JJ, I made a point of travelling to the War Memorial in Canberra where I placed a poppy next to his name, which I found on the rows of bronze tablets where, listed in alphabetical order, are the names of the fallen. On every visit since, I have placed a poppy next to his name, and, COVID restrictions allowing, our family will soon re-visit the site and continue the tradition of honouring his memory.

I wasn’t with the diggers marching home from that war. Some might think this is an incredibly stupid and self-evident statement as an ending for the song.

But I think (to set aside, for one moment, the traditional and eschatological Christian view) that any fallen warrior would regret the descent into Hades rather than returning to the sunlit meadows of our own fair Earth.

JJ’s anguished final cry in the song, is the one I would feel in his position, as I sank Lethe-wards and, reluctantly, crossed the Styx.

As I look at the grainy photograph of that handsome, mustachioed, face of my relative from over a century ago (of a man who is much younger than I am now) I hope that JJ will forgive me for any inadvertent misrepresentation that is embedded in the lyrics and accept that all I was trying to do was to honour his memory.

I felt a similar twinge about a quarter of a century ago when I wrote a song about my paternal grandmother, Rose, which can be accessed at https://quentinbega.com/2016/08/13/sq-41-rose/. My nephew, Joe Mitchell, was instrumental in my writing this song, too! Rose was another casualty of that war- not that she was a combatant. She was interned in Germany and returned to Ireland where she perished in an asylum, her mind broken by the trauma of imprisonment and separation from her husband- another Mitchell, who was captain of a ship en route to Hamburg as the clouds of war gathered.

[The author’s grandmother, Rose Henry Mitchell, was an officially unacknowledged casualty of WWI (at least her name is not inscribed on a monument) for reasons set out above but she is still remembered by her kin. Rose has a simple marker in the Bay cemetery, Glenariffe, and flowers are still being placed on her grave. Rose, married to John Joseph’s brother James, died of pulmonary phthisis in Antrim Area Asylum on November 19, 1915 nearly two years before JJ’s death in action . The site of the old Mitchell farm in the townland of Foriffe in Glenariffe – which would have been known well by both JJ and Rose – is still in the family.] additional notes by Joe Mitchell

Take This Frame Away

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

In my first journal entry for the sequence The Summa Quotidian way back in 2015, I mentioned the fact that it had been fifty years since I had written my first song. For this concluding entry to the sequence, A Bit of Banter, I wish to record the fact that the song included here took me fifty years to complete!

I wrote the first part as a 17-year-old, pimply, schoolboy on the inside cover of a Clancy Brothers songbook that I had been working my way through. I added to it over the years, putting a final touch to it three years ago, when I was 67. A couple of other examples from the 120 songs in The Summa Quotidian, also underwent a similarly, leisurely (some might aver, slothfully) compositional process. By comparison, the 56 songs recorded over the past two months (61 days,) in lockdown, for the sequence, A Bit of Banter, achieved warp-speed! Of course, they are all, with the exception of the song at the end of this entry, covers, and not original compositions. So, what was happening just two days before I began recording for this project? Read on-

Just before dawn on Anzac day, April 25th, I stood in my driveway and listened to the broadcast from the Australian War Memorial. I set a candle on my letterbox and, glancing up and down the street saw men and women, at the end of their driveways, paying silent tribute to the fallen. A 70-something veteran with a chest full of medals walked slowly past and we nodded a greeting. After the ceremony, I returned to my home, where we are in lockdown, and thought, this was good– nothing like it before or, perhaps, after, the usual gatherings at war memorials throughout Australia cancelled because of the threat the virus posed, particularly to the aged. The thousands of Australians, like me, who shared in this experience will remember it, I would think, for the rest of their lives- long or short. 

Some Millennial commentators have welcomed the advent of SARS-CoV-2 as an efficient Boomer Remover. Unfortunately for them, it does not so finely discriminate. While those of retirement age are more heavily afflicted, the virus does strike down many of those in other demographics as well. Careful what you wish for, eh?

Have you noticed that the crisis engendered by the pandemic has brought people of real worth to the fore? Not the vain-glorious bloviating buffoons who, hitherto, pranced across the (inter)national stage. I’m thinking about media-hungry politicians and the gross (and grossly overpaid) shock jocks.

But now, quietly spoken experts in epidemiology, nurses, doctors, check-out operators and shelf-stackers in supermarkets, paramedics, truck drivers and public transport employees-to name but a few- have engaged the respect of the public by their willingness to step forward in these strange times and do their duty, fully mindful of the potential consequences for themselves and their families. Meanwhile, the self-absorbed, those self-serving politicians and god-alone-knows how many vacuous celebrities infesting the media (social and mainstream) all continue to flout the regulations as if they don’t apply. Dante would have found a special circle of hell to accommodate them…

I’m now north of seventy years old with a handful of co-morbidities. My wife’s sister-in-law has died from coronavirus (on April 6, 2020, in Northern Ireland) and will be buried next to her mother in a small country graveyard in Rasharkin, County Antrim. She is the first person in our family circle to have been taken from us by the pandemic (May she rest in peace). Because her husband had pre-arranged their funeral-and-burial details some years previously, there have been no problems with the internment. Hitherto, some had felt that he was just too…what? Fastidious? Careful? Over-scrupulous?

What about, perspicacious! How many in the world today will follow her to a grave that will not be marked by the usual obsequies because of the overwhelming wave of deaths that will accompany the savagery of SARS-CoV-2 as it sweeps across the planet. When I viewed the mass graves in New York City on April 10, it was with horror I asked, Are we living in the 21st Century? And then I reflected: this has been happening in all too many countries, without respite, for every year of this century (and the one before) while most of us were looking away, or at fatuous reality shows on TV… 

I do not know if I will survive this event. I may hope. I certainly will pray. I intend to persevere and, Deo Volente, endure. I had intended to update the posts to The Summa Quotidian which occupied 14 months from 27 April 2015 to the following 14 June 2016. Or 414 days. But I got side-tracked on the A Bit of Banter, sequence. Consequently, instead of Take This Frame Away being the start of something, I have decided that it might, more appropriately, put a full stop to the A Bit of Banter sequence.

Take This Frame Away

The Old House

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Old House had always brought to my mind the ruins of Irish cottages you can find scattered throughout the island, redolent of failed lives and suffused with emigrant longing. And then I started to research (online, of course, especially but not only during the exigencies of the present pandemic). What did I find? Not what I expected! I envisioned a humble schoolmaster, perhaps, setting down these lines to an old half-remembered Irish air as he dwelt on his impoverished beginnings. The truth was diametrically opposed to my former imaginings! The writer of the song was a scion of an ancient Irish family: read on.

For many years, Baltrasna House was the ancestral home of the O’Reilly family…Baltrasna House and Estate were in the control of the O’Reilly family and later through marriage the O’Connor’s until the early 20th century … In the early 19th century the O’Reilly’s of Baltrasna House fell into financial difficulties… When the O’Reilly’s failed to keep up with the repayments they were dispossessed… However, the new owners were despised by their tenants and were terrorised by the Ribbon Men, a secret society that was active in pre-Famine times, that specialised in making life difficult for notorious landlords. The upshot of all this was that Anthony O’Reilly was reinstated at Baltrasna and continued to reside there until his death aged 62 in 1874…Anthony planted a tree for each of his seven daughters along the main avenue to the house. With the death of his only son, James, the family name at Baltrasna died with him. Anthony’s eldest daughter, Harriet Georgina (born 1841) married Matthew Richard Weld O’Connor in 1865 (source, irishidentity.com)

 Lieutenant-Colonel Sir William Frederick Travers O’Connor  (30 July 1870 – 14 December 1943) was an Irish diplomat and officer in the British and British Indian armies. He is remembered for his travels in Asia, cartography, study and publication of local cultures and language, his actions on the Younghusband expedition to Tibet, Royal Geographic Society council member,  member of the Royal Automobile Club and for his work negotiating and signing the Nepal–Britain Treaty of 1923. O’Connor was born in 1870, Longford, Ireland, son of land agent Matthew Weld O’Connor, and Harriet Georgina, daughter of Anthony O’Reilly, of Baltrasna, County Meath. (source, Wikipedia)

O’Connor noted in his book, Things Mortal, that the famous Irish tenor, John McCormack, sang The Old House at The Royal Albert Hall in London on November 27, 1938. He was an exemplar of the British Imperial administrative elite- resourceful, multi-talented, showered with medals and widely travelled. Educated at Charterhouse, he attended the Royal Military Academy and was gazetted into the Royal Artillery. After a long, distinguished military career, ending in 1925, he travelled to the Americas where, in 1931 he was reported as inviting five men, with deep pockets, to accompany him on a tiger hunt to India for $100,00 apiece! Whether this transpired or not is problematical because two days later a bankruptcy petition was filed against him. Will I sing the song, anyway? Hell yes!

I use an orchestral ¾ time Band-in-a-Box setting and, as this is such a short song, I play mandolin over a penultimate instrumental verse. The song has no chorus, just three verses, so I follow some other artists in rising a semitone in the final verse. Compared to John MCormack and my favourite rendition by John McDermott- and I know I don’t compare-this version fairly lopes along at 100 bpm.

The Old House

Nancy Spain

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

In 1969, Christy Moore played a gig at a club in St Helier on the island of Jersey. The resident singer at the club was a man… called Barney Rushe, and that night he played some songs that he had written, two of which in particular caught Christy’s attention – The Crack Was Ninety and Nancy Spain…”We hooked up after the gig and we swapped songs late into the night,” Christy recalls. “When I heard him sing Nancy Spain, I was instantly smitten by this beautiful song. People are not aware that Nancy Spain was the name of a real woman, of a very different kind to the one that we might have in mind when we hear the ballad.”

“Barney explained it to me,” Christy recalls. “When he was writing this love song, he needed a name to tie it all together. Nancy Spain was a famous English journalist back in the 1960s, and Barney really liked the sound of her name. That was the name he chose for the subject of his song.”

Nancy Spain was no ordinary journalist, but one promoted as a free-roaming controversialist by the Daily Express which declared proudly, if somewhat feverishly: “They call her vulgar. . . they call her the worst dressed woman in Britain. . .”And the reason “they” found her badly dressed may have had more to do with the repressions of the 1950s than with Nancy Spain’s own sense of style. In her public appearances on TV shows such as What’s My Line? she tended to favour “natty gents sportswear” and what they called “mannish” clothes. Nancy Spain was, in fact, a lesbian. 

And it is said that she had many affairs with other women, including Marlene Dietrich. All of which was apparently accepted in good spirit by her soulmate Laurie. The two women even died together when the light aircraft in which they were travelling to the 1964 Grand National crashed into a cabbage field near Aintree racecourse. Noel Coward wrote that “it is cruel that all that gaiety, intelligence and vitality should be snuffed out, when so many bores and horrors are left living.”

Barney Rushe, who loved that name, had an interesting life too. His friend Mick Curry, himself a fine musician whose song Lawless has also been covered by Christy Moore, describes Barney as essentially a troubadour. Born in 1946, he played in bands – mainly blues bands – in the early 1960s. On a holiday in Jersey he found that he could make a living there, playing at the Royal Hotel, a period during which he had that crucial encounter with Christy Moore.

From Jersey he had moved to Ibiza, then Germany, where he ran a pub near Nuremburg… He moved to Spain, where he played in bars in Malaga…On a recent visit back to Dun Laoghaire, Barney Rush suffered an aneurysm, and died. At his funeral Christy Moore sang Nancy Spain – whoever she may be. (abridged from an article by Declan Lynch writing in The Irish Independent, October 4, 2014) 

Read the whole article for a fuller account and, of course, her Wikipedia entry, which goes into detail about a marvellously talented woman who lived life to the full. I think she would have been mightily amused to think that her name is used as the title of this love song.

Another lockdown special: we’ve never performed this in public; however, we were planning to- the singer yet to be determined. I’ll throw my hat in the ring with this: although, with acoustic-electric guitar, bodhran, mandolin and fiddle only as backing,  it won’t be very much like this version which has Nashville drums, electric bass, acoustic fingerpicked guitar, acoustic strummed guitar, electric guitar and organ/harmonica filling out the choruses. The vocal is just a straight-through solo.

Nancy Spain

The Mountains of Mourne

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Like so many high places, the Mournes have a mystical aura when you ascend one of the peaks. I did this, in the mid-1980s, with a group of students from The Ballymena Academy, in the company of Roger, a gentle but very fit R.E. teacher from the school. Before we were half-way up, I was struggling, regretting a lifetime of being unfit and rather fat. As the group ascended out of sight, I rested on a stone wall to recuperate. Then, vaulting over the wall came a trio of British soldiers who asked if I was part of their training team! Breathless, I assured them that I was not- and they loped away across the side of the mountain. I did finally get to the summit, and yes, as the cliché goes- it was worth it. At about the same time, I was involved as in a cabaret-style,  A night with Percy French, involving songs, stories, and skits at Cushendall Golf Club- a social and sometime performance venue for our local drama group.  Thirty-five years later, I hope that such activities still exist and haven’t been entirely submerged by the world of Tik Tok etc. The estimable Wikipedia now takes up the account:

William Percy French (1 May 1854 – 24 January 1920) became known as one of Ireland’s foremost songwriters and entertainers. Thanks to the late Oliver Nulty, French has become recognised for his watercolour paintings as well. William Percy French was a gifted polymath who had a number of artistic talents at his command. He could work very quickly, and his output is prodigious across many genres.

The lyrics to the song The Mountains of Mourne (originally spelt The Mountains o’ Mourne) were written by Irish musician Percy French (1854–1920), the music was composed by Houston Collisson (1865–1920)… The song is representative of French’s many works concerning the Irish diaspora. The Mourne Mountains of the title are located in County Down in Northern Ireland.

The song is a whimsical look at the styles, attitudes and fashions of late nineteenth-century London as seen from the point of view of an emigrant labourer from a village near the Mourne Mountains… It contrasts the artificial attractions of the city with the more natural beauty of his homeland. [An example of French’s satirical wit is set out below]

Are Ye Right There Michael, a song ridiculing the state of the rail system in rural County Clare caused such embarrassment to the rail company that – according to a persistent local legend – it led to a libel action against French. According to the story, French arrived late at the court, and when questioned by the judge he responded, “Your honour, I travelled by the West Clare Railway”, resulting in the case being thrown out…[source, Wikipediadonate if you can]  

French is also known as the author of a famous poem called, Abdul Abulbul Amir (1877) which  in the century and a half following its composition, has spawned quite a few risqué parodies- beloved by students with a sophomoric sense of humour and countless rugby teams. Here is a verse extracted from the original followed by an extract of one of the tamer parodies:

There are heroes in plenty, and well known to fame/In the ranks that were led by the Czar,/But the bravest of all was a man by the name/Of Ivan Potschjinski Skidar. /He could imitate Toole, play Euchre and Pool/And perform on the Spanish guitar./In fact quite the cream of the Muscovite team/Was Ivan Potschjinski Skidar. [Toole was a famous contemporary actor and entrepreneur]

The harems of Egypt are fine to behold/And the harlots are lovely and fair/But the fairest, a Greek, was wed to a sheikh/Called Abdul Abulbul Amir./A travelling brothel came into the town/
‘Twas run privately by the Tsar/Who wagered a hundred that no-one could out-shag/Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

Banter started to perform this song a couple of years ago as we were expanding the group’s repertoire. As we are still in lockdown, I use the virus, shamelessly, to purloin yet another of Sam the Man’s songs. I use Band-in-a-Box’s Medium Waltz setting featuring acclaimed session musos- Byron House on acoustic bass, Jeff Taylor on acoustic piano, Jason Roller on  strummed acoustic guitar and Brent Mason on finger-picked guitar. What more do you need? The solo vocal (with a touch of chorus on the last line of each verse) relates the artfully crafted story.

The Mountains of Mourne

Little Old Wine Drinker, Me

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

I can remember visiting my brother, who was a Vet in West Cork, Ireland, where we always made sure we had an adequate supply of Sherry from the Wood. (Does anyone remember that concoction?) A group of us would play cards, chat, drink wine and listen to records into the early hours of the morning. As was exceedingly common for that era (late 60s-early 70s) the room was wreathed also, in tobacco smoke from the cigarettes, pipes and cheroots on the go. One of our favourite 45s (the single vinyl discs rather than those heavy handguns) was Dean Martin singing this song. Now for some info courtesy of my favourite site for research, Wikipedia:

Little Old Wine Drinker Me” is a song that was first released by Charlie Walker in 1966, on the album Wine, Woman & Walker. The song became a hit when it was released by Robert Mitchum in early 1967, and by Dean Martin later the same year on his album Welcome to My World. The Dean Martin version is a hit with Scottish football club Clydebank and can often be heard being chanted on the terraces with ‘Tennessee’ being replaced with ‘Kilbowie’ in homage to the club’s former ground in the town…The song’s title parodies a catchphrase used in contemporary TV advertising by the Italian Swiss Colony wine company: “The little old winemaker, me!”…  In 2015 the descendant of the company, now operating under the name Asti Winery and selling wine under the Souverain brand, and owning America’s sixth-largest wine production facility, was purchased by E & J Gallo Winery from its owner, Australia-based Treasury Wine Estates. (source, Wikipedia)

So, there’s an Aussie connection, too! Like many others, I misunderstood part of section B because I mis-heard it. I rendered I matched the man behind the bar…as I asked the man behind the bar… which makes no sense when you think about it. Jukeboxes are kept out in the general bar area with lights flashing to entice punters- not behind the bar with the bar-tender! I guess I misheard it because I was not familiar with the verb matched in this context. I imagine the scene: early evening, the heart-broken narrator is having a few in a bar near where he is staying. Nothing much is going on- certainly, no-one is putting coins into the jukebox, and the barman holds up two bits and offers to match the guy. This involves each person holding a 25-cent coin and slamming it down on the counter. The punter gets to call match or no match. If he wins the match, he gets to put the won coin into the jukebox and play three songs (or, if he’s heart-broken he might want to double the number of sad song and put his two bits in, too…) Today, in Oz you would play with a two-dollar coin, I suppose. Of course, the house always wins- that sly ol’ bar-tender was going to put a coin into the jukebox, anyway, to liven up the joint!

I’ve loved the song from the moment I heard Dino’s suave delivery. This country-blues gem (clocking in at two and a half minutes) references those part of the US that are part of the country tradition: it also has a broken heart, a train, a bar, rain and a jukebox. What more could you ask for, apart from a dog and a pick-up truck? (And who’s to say the narrator didn’t drive his beat up old truck from Nashville to Chicago with his best friend hanging his muzzle out of the passenger window?)

I’ve sung this song for gigs during the past couple of years. The lockdown is still preventing live music gigs, so, here I use a basic Band-in-a-Box country ballad setting with Nashville drums, strummed and finger-picked guitars and bass. I bring up the fiddle in the second sections and add the vocal. With songs like this- less is more, IMHO.

Little Old Wine Drinker, Me

The Irish Rover

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Irish Rover is an Irish folk song about a magnificent though improbable sailing ship that reaches an unfortunate end. It has been recorded by numerous artists, some of whom have made changes to the lyrics over time.

The song describes a gigantic ship with “twenty-seven masts”, a colourful crew and varied types of cargo in enormous amounts. The verses grow successively more extravagant about the wonders of the great ship. The seven-year voyage comes to a disastrous end when the ship sinks. The narrator becomes the only survivor, the last of the Irish Rover, leaving no one else alive to contradict the tale.

According to the 1966 publication Walton’s New Treasury of Irish Songs and Ballads 2, the song is attributed to songwriter/arranger J. M. Crofts. (source, Wikipedia)

However, I have not been able to verify this after an internet search where this song is most often said to be traditional. I know if I had written it, I wouldn’t be hiding my light under a bushel- everyone would know about it!

Burl Ives is the earliest artist I can find who sang the song- his 1959 version, where he accompanies himself on nylon guitar, holds up rather well, over 60 years later. Of course, he was a noted singer with a great voice as well as actor and entertainer. He cruelled his place in history, IMHO, by recanting his socialist links during the McCarthyite blacklist period by appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1952 and by naming names to preserve his income from various projects in the entertainment industry. This precipitated a bitter rift between Ives and folk singers such as Pete Seeger, which lasted for decades.

The first time I heard the song, though, was from a 1962 Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem vinyl disc recorded live in a Chicago night-club. It was the first song on the first side. This group is arguably the catalyst for the explosion of Irish folk music in Ireland and across the world in the decades since this great recording. When The Dubliners teamed with The Pogues in 1987 the song gained a new lease on life.

Now, while the three oldest members of the band had been singing the song since the 1960s, when Banter formed in the mid-1990s, the fiddler, Mark, son of mandolinist Jim, was hesitant of playing the song with just guitar, fiddle, and bodhran as it couldn’t compete, sonically, with the racy and raucous rendition of the Dubs/Pogues!

So, here in lockdown, with the assistance of the Band-in-a-Box/RealBand combo and n-Track 9 mastering, I present something that approaches the density of that 1987 recording. The rhythm section is labelled Factory Industrial Rock comprising RockHard LA drums, metal electric guitar, and three House-Techno Trance loops. To keep within a light-year or two of the Irish influence, I use bluegrass mandolin, fiddle, banjo and accordion successively as acoustic embellishment of the verses. In the instrumental verse, I introduce the accordion and bring up the rest of the instruments which saw, blow and pick up a storm through the final verse. I sing the verses without doubling- there isn’t a chorus, alas, to use as a pretext…

The Irish Rover

Three Rivers Hotel

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Three Rivers Hotel was written by Stan Coster. We, the band Banter, have performed the song for twenty-five years. Stan is another one of those larger than life Aussies that this land seems to produce in prodigious numbers. Below I give a potted biography of his life that demonstrates this. I also wish to pay tribute to a performer and songwriter that didn’t make it to the biblical span of three score and ten- but didn’t he cram a lot of living and a lot of songs into the time he had!

Stan Coster was born at Casino on the north coast of New South Wales, Australia in 1930. He left school at the age of 14 and worked for a local butcher in Woolgoolga, NSW. By the age of 16, he was cutting sleepers for train tracks and at 18 years of age he went to work as a station hand before moving to Sydney and in 1948 moved to Cooma, New South Wales, to work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme. While on the land Coster worked as a ringer, fencer, slaughterman, horse-breaker, kangaroo shooter, and shed hand and was able to draw these experiences into his bush ballads. In 1950, at age 20, Coster joined a travelling rodeo as a rough rider.

In 1956, Coster began writing songs and met Slim Dusty in 1960 at Longreach, Queensland. Dusty recorded his first Coster song, “Return of the Stockman” in 1962. Dusty went on to record another 70 of Stan Coster tracks. Popular compositions such as his “Three Rivers Hotel”, which tells the story of building a train line into a remote nickel mine, were based on his own life experiences and brought to popular attention through performances and recordings by Slim Dusty and other artists. In 1977, Coster won the Golden Guitar for APRA Song of the Year with his composition “Three Rivers Hotel”, recorded by Slim Dusty.

In the 1980s Coster started his Stan Coster Show at the Tenthill Hotel in Tenthill, Queensland in the 1980s to crowds too large to be accommodated in the hotel.  In 1987, Coster won another Golden Guitar for APRA Song of the Year for “He’s a Good Bloke When He’s Sober”. In 1989 he was awarded an OAM for “Services to Country Music” and was in 1990 inducted into the Australian Roll of Renown at Tamworth. He won the 1995 Golden Guitar (Heritage Award) for Bush Ballad Song of the Year with “Lawson’s Loaded Dog” and in 1996 released his last album Come Back to the Bush. (adapted from source, Wikipedia)

Sam the Man sings John Williamson’s take on the song on this site: Banter IV  Song 45. For the lockdown redux version I have added three verses that are in Slim Dusty’s version. I also slowed it down a bit to 165 bpm in waltz time using the Band-in-a-Box/RealBand combo comprising acoustic bass, fingerpicked and strummed guitars with Nashville waltz drums for the rhythm section. I use vintage electric piano, pedal steel guitar and gritty electric guitar variously in the verses and use a B3 organ in the chorus with doubled voices.

Three Rivers Hotel (Slim’s version)

Will Ye Go Lassie Go?

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Will Ye Go Lassie Go? is an Irish/Scottish folk song. The lyrics and melody are a variant of the song “The Braes of Balquhither” by Scottish poet Robert Tannahill (1774–1810) and Scottish composer Robert Archibald Smith (1780–1829), but were adapted by Belfast musician Francis McPeake (1885–1971) into “Wild Mountain Thyme” and first recorded by his family in the 1950s.

McPeake is said to have dedicated the song to his first wife, but his son wrote an additional verse in order to celebrate his father’s remarriage. “Wild Mountain Thyme” was first recorded by McPeake’s nephew, also named Francis McPeake, in 1957 for the BBC series As I Roved Out

While Francis McPeake holds the copyright to the song, it is generally believed that rather than writing the song, he arranged an existing travelling folk version and popularised the song as his father’s.(source, Wikipedia)

And there it is! Again! Once more! The perennial tug-of-war about authorship among a varying number of contenders. Something similar goes on with Ewan McColl’s songs which are derivative also of sources that did not originate solely within his brain. Another folk colossus who used various sources for his songs is Dominic Behan. My nephew, Joe, pointed out that songs such as McAlpine’s Fusiliers would not exist were it not for Behan’s genius at putting together words and melody. To say nothing of his constant touring and promulgating of his oeuvre.

The same may be said for the song posted here- were it not for Francie McPeake sitting down at his kitchen table at 5 Springfield Road, Belfast sometime in the mid-1950s, and writing the song out- it would not exist. Care for a little thought experiment? Suppose that McPeake had never set this song down. It’s conceivable that someone else may have been able to put together the pieces and come up with something analogous- but would it have been this song? The what-might-have-been industry, churns out a substantial range of poems, novels, plays and songs to satisfy the appetite for such things among its various niche audiences.

And what about me? (Could this work as part of a song-lyric?) I do take an interest in identifying sources and I do take pains to acknowledge anything I use that is the product of someone else’s industry. But the final determinant of whether I spend any time on a song and its sources is simple- does it appeal? If it does, then I care not a jot whether it is purebred or mongrel- or even if it is neither fish nor fowl…

This lockdown version uses the Band-in-a-Box/RealBand combo with mastering by n-Track 9 featuring as a 160 bpm waltz-time rhythm section comprising Nashville drums, acoustic bass, a brace of guitars: fingerpicked and strummed, fiddle and harp (cliché, I know, but still…) with an organ added on choruses, with doubled vocal. We were, as the band Banter, developing this song with Sam the Man as main vocal, but SARS-CoV-2, shuttered him in at his place and ushered in an opportunity for… moi!

Will Ye Go Lassie Go?

The Shoals of Herring

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Shoals of Herring was written for the third of the eight BBC radio ballads by Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger, Singing the Fishing (first broadcast on 16 August 1960, released on an Argo LP in 1966 and now available on a Topic CD). It was about the herring fishery and fishermen, and the song was designed specifically to highlight the life-story of Sam Larner, who had spent a long life as a herring fisherman, but was retired at the time of the recording. He first went to sea, he said, in 1892, when he was just a boy. (source, mainlynorfolk.info)

 The Radio Ballads…was put together by folk singers Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and ex-submarine commander turned recording pioneer Charles Parker. The first ballad ‘The Ballad of John Axon’ was aired on radio in 1958. It was the first musical documentary of its kind, it was revolutionary in that it combined music with the speech of working people. Whilst this may sound strange today documentaries were usually scripted and read by actors…you’d be lucky to hear any regional accent. This was all just before radio made way for television.

Peter Cox’s brilliant book ‘Set into Song’ which tells the story the Radio Ballads explained how those ballads had a huge impact upon documentary makers in the 60’s in both radio and television and were even used in BBC training courses. In 1971 Philip Donnellan adapted the Radio Ballad ‘Singing the Fishing’ into a TV documentary called ‘Shoals of Herring’ which was televised on BBC 2 in 1972. Donnellan wanted to to show the fishermen’s struggle and how they were being exploited, he felt the original Radio Ballad lacked political edge…something Ewan MacColl would never have taken kindly to. Whilst many Scots families owned their fishing boats Donnellan saw the English fishermen as wage slaves to the big fishing industrial groups (source, folkradio.co.uk)

When I finished writing [this], we sang it to Sam Larner on our next trip up. He was delighted that I knew it for, as he declared, ‘I known that song all my life’. […] A song about fishermen must please fishermen, a song about miners must be convincing to miners, or there is something wrong with it. (MacColl, Journeyman 323) For The Shoals of Herring I tried out and rejected more than a score of tune models and, in the course of a fortnight, sang hundreds of first-line variants before I found one that pleased me. After that, it was a matter of seeing whether the rest of the tune soared naturally out of that first line or whether it had to be coaxed into the open. (MacColl, Journeyman 365) (source, mudcat.org)

If you have an hour or two to spare, you might want to visit Mudcat and follow the various threads that detail the nit-picking that surrounds the authorship of the song. I’m content to go along with the McColl hypothesis (Spoiler alert for conspiracy theorists– I also think that Shakespeare, rather than the Earl of Somethingorother, wrote the plays and sonnets.)

The song has a special place in my pantheon of folk songs because my father, like Sam Larner, first went to sea as a cabin boy, aged 14. He followed his father and grandfather in this choice of occupation, finally reaching the status of captain of a shallow-bottomed oil-tanker running oil from Lake Maracaibo to Aruba, dodging German U-boats, during the Second World War.

This song is another from Banter’s repertoire featuring Sam the Man on vocals. And yet again I substitute on vocals. For this lockdown version, I use the Outlaw Country rhythm section from Band-in-a-Box featuring acoustic piano, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass and Nashville outlaw drums. Apart from doubling vocals on the final line of each verse, I don’t bother with any other embellishments.

The Shoals of Herring

The Shores of Botany Bay

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Botany Bay, discovered on 29 April 1770 by Captain Cook, who first named it Stingray Bay, later Botanists’ (Harbour and Bay), and finally Botany Bay in his journal, probably to honour the botanists aboard HMS Endeavour led by Sir Joseph Banks as well as to mark its floral novelties. Banks later (1786) advocated Botany Bay as an ideal place for a penal colony on account of its supposed fertility. The first fleet under Captain Arthur Phillip landed there on 20 January 1788 and, finding Banks’s account much exaggerated, moved on to Port Jackson, landing there at Sydney Cove. Nevertheless, the name Botany Bay became synonymous with Australia… as a convict settlement. Botany Bay is also the site of Sydney’s (Kingsford-Smith) international airport. (source, Martyn Webb in encyclopedia.com)

The Gweagal Aborigines made first visual contact with Cook and other Europeans on the 29 April 1770 in the area which is now known as “Captain Cook’s Landing Place”,…It was the first attempt made, on Cook’s first voyage, in the Endeavour, to make contact with the Aboriginal people of Australia… In sailing into the bay they had noted two Gweagal men posted on the rocks, brandishing spears and fighting sticks…After an hour and a half, Cook…with 30 of the crew, made for the beach, only to be threatened by two warriors. They threw some gifts on shore, trying to get over the idea they had come to seek fresh water, but the Gweagal men reacted with hostile diffidence. Cook felt it necessary to encourage a change of attitude [!!] by shooting one of the men in the leg with light shot. … The sailors then proceeded to walk onto the beach and up to an encampment. Both Cook and Banks tried, with great difficulty, to make contact with the local people but without success due to the Aborigines avoiding contact after the first encounter. [Do you have to wonder why, really?] (source, Wikipedia)

[The song, The Shores of Botany Bay, was] collected from Duke Tritton by John Meredith. Tritton learned the song while busking in Sydney early this [20th] century. He also wrote the last verse. Second verse is from Therese Radic’s Songs of Australian Working Life. (source, folkstream.com)

Note: listen to Duke Tritton’s The Sandy Hollow Line, on A Bit of Banter: Banter X, song 110, a true classic of life in the Great Depression for Aussie battlers.

The French king, Louis XVI, who was inspired by Captain James Cook’s Pacific voyages…ordered the French expedition[ led by La Perouse ] to show the world that France could also dominate in ocean exploration…On 20 January 1788, the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay. The British believed they were completely isloated from any other European presence. Just four days later however, Philip Gidley King recorded in his journal: ‘…two Strange Ships were seen standing in the Bay … we judged them to be the two Ships under the orders of Monsieur de la perouse.’…La Perouse’s ships sailed out of Botany Bay in March 1788. The British lookout on South Head saw them leave. This was probably the last time the French expedition was seen by Europeans…It was not until 1964 that the wreck of La Boussole was finally discovered on Vanikoro’s reefs. At last the fate of La Perouse and his crew was known. (source, State Library of New South Wales)

The song has long been a favourite in Aussie bush music circles and Banter regularly features it with Sam the Man taking the vocals. This, though, is a lockdown special where I usurp Sam’s role, ably assisted by the Band-in-a-Box/RealBand combo featuring acoustic bass, Nashville drums, nylon guitar, fiddle, electric pickin’ and clean guitars as well as solo bluegrass mandolin and accordion. I have read somewhere that the song originated in 19th Century English music-hall. But what cares I when it has such up-beat energy- not all immigrant songs have to be doleful, after all.

The Shores of Botany Bay

The Sandy Hollow Line

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

I thought I had put up a post about this song, earlier in the year. But I can’t find it so I’ll put this one up. I first heard the song in the mid-1970s from the a capella singing of Kevin Baker, the composer of The Snowy River Men. As a document of what so many people had to endure in the Great Depression, this has few equals. Duke Tritton wrote this from first hand experience as he was one of the blasters on the Sandy Hollow Line, an initiative of the Australian government to give work to men who had no means to support their families. It began as an unemployment relief scheme of the NSW Government, achieving infamy for having no modern mechanical devices used on it, other than trucks carrying concrete for the 5 tunnels and bridge piers, all other work being done with picks, shovels, hand drills, horses and carts. Construction continued through World War 2 at a desultory pace, held up by money, labour and especially steel shortages, only to be abandoned unfinished, approximately 92% complete, a few years later in 1951. (source, Wikipedia).Well, well, isn’t it good to see that the stupidity of government initiatives have survived the 20th century and are still alive and kicking in modern Australia? I wonder, are there echoes of this in the present pandemic? I give the lyrics below because it is a primary document of the suffering of those who worked on this scheme. It is also a primer on how to write long-form lyrics that punch through from beginning to end. It comprises 10 quatrains rhyming aabb with a concluding couplet. I know I had indicated in an earlier post that, as a rule, I did not publish lyrics on the grounds that if they were not comprehensible on listening, then they were not worth setting down. Here, though, is another exception that proves the rule.

The sun was blazing in the sky and waves of shimmering heat/Glared down on the railway cutting, we were half dead on our feet,/And the ganger stood on the bank of the cut and snarled at the men below,/’You’d better keep them shovels full or all of you cows will go.”// I never saw such a useless mob, You’d make a feller sick./As shovel men you’re hopeless and you’re no good with the pick.’/There were men in the gang who could belt him with a hand tied at their back/But he had the power behind him and we daren’t risk the sack.// So we took his insults in silence, for this was the period when/We lived in the great depression and nothing was cheaper than men,/And we drove the shovels and swung the picks and cursed the choking dust;/We’d wives and hungry kids to feed, so toil in the heat we must,//And as the sun rose higher the heat grew more intense,/The flies were in their millions, the air was thick and dense./We found it very hard to breathe, our lungs were hot and tight/With the stink of sweating horses and the fumes of gelignite.//But still the ganger drove us on, we couldn’t take much more,/We prayed for the day we’d get a chance to even up the score./A man collapsed in the heat and dust, he was carried away to the side;/It didn’t seem to matter a damn if the poor chap lived or died.// ‘He’s only a loafer’, the ganger said, ‘A lazy useless cow./I was going to sack him anyway, he’s saved me the trouble now.’/He had no thoughts of the hungry kids, no thought of a woman’s tears/As she struggled and fought to feed her brood all down the weary years.//But one of the Government horses fell down and died in the dray;/They hitched two horses to him and dragged his corpse away./The ganger was a worried man and he said with a heavy sigh,/’It’s a bloody terrible thing to see a good horse die.’//You chaps get back to your work, don’t stand loafing there./Get in and trim the batter down, I’ll get the engineer.’/The engineer came and looked around and said as he scratched his head,/’No horse could work in this dreadful heat or all of them will be dead.’//’They’re much too valuable to lose, they cost us quite a lot,/And I think it’s a wicked shame to work then while it’s hot./So we will take them to the creek and spell then in the shade./You men must all knock off at once. Of course you’ll not be paid.’//And so we plodded to our camps and it seemed to our weary brains/We were no better than convicts, though we didn’t wear the chains./And in those drear depression days we were unwanted men,/But we knew that when a war broke out we’d all be heroes then.//And we’d be handed a rifle and forced to fight for the swine/Who tortured us and starved us on the Sandy Hollow Line.///

Another Aussie folk legend, John Dengate, set Duke Tritton’s words to music (I think, derived from an Irish air). Both men typify, for me, several admirable Australian character traits- fairness, humour, grit and determination under duress, summed up by these lines from John Dengate: We won’t surrender, won’t give in, although our hair is graying;/We come from tough rebellious kin…/Sometimes we lose, sometimes we win…We go on disobeying.

I have only sung this song once at The Penrith Gaels, about nine months ago. At that time, the feedback I got from most of the punters was along the lines of- It was a bit dirgy- stick to the faster stuff. I wonder, after we emerge, blinking into the new normal of the post-pandemic era, if there will be as much feedback along the “dirgy” line? Or if there will be such a thing as an audience?

This lockdown version features the Band-in-a-Box/RealBand combo of acoustic piano, strummed and fingerpicked guitars featuring Jason Roller, bass and Nashville drums as the rhythm section and fiddle, harmonica and synth electro flutes as embellishment, with n-Track 9 mastering.

The Sandy Hollow Line (backing track)
The Sandy Hollow Line (with vocals)

Scarlet Ribbons (for her hair)

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

LOS ANGELES — Jack Segal, lyricist for such standards as “Scarlet Ribbons,” “When Sunny Gets Blue,” and “When Joanna Loved Me,” died Thursday in Tarzana. He was 86.

The songwriter’s hits, which have sold an estimated 65 million records, have been recorded by such artists as Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, and Perry Como.

The ballad that was perhaps Mr. Segal’s greatest hit, “Scarlet Ribbons,” flowed, he said, onto paper in a mere 15 minutes in 1949. It happened when he was invited to the Port Washington, N.Y., home of concert pianist Evelyn Danzig Levine to hear some of her formal compositions. (Source, Myrna Oliver, Los Angeles Times  |  February 18, 2005)

Evelyn Danzig born Waco, Texas 16 January 1902; died Los Angeles 26 July 1996.: “Scarlet Ribbons” was written in only 15 minutes in 1949 at Danzig’s home in Port Washington, New York after she invited lyricist Jack Segal to hear her music (Source, Wikipedia)

In the annals of Tin Pan Alley, there are many examples of “One- Hit Wonders” – songwriters who only ever managed a single enduring success… Evelyn Danzig’s was the affecting folk-style ballad “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)”.

In 1949 Danzig co-wrote “Scarlet Ribbons” with Jack Segal, the future lyricist of “When Sunny Gets Blue”. Their ballad was first recorded by Juanita Hall, who was then appearing on Broadway as the original “Bloody Mary” in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific

Although her [many other songs] failed to achieve popularity, more than 40 years of royalties from “Scarlet Ribbons” were sufficient to keep Evelyn Danzig comfortably until the age of 94.

(source, Dick Vosburgh writing in the Independent)

Both she and Jack lived long lives. Maybe not so rare in today’s world, but for people born back early in the 20th Century, this was exceptional. The moral may be: write a smash hit early in your career and live long off the proceeds…

The first person I remember hearing sing this song was Jim Reeves. Known as gentleman Jim and, with Chet Atkins, his producer, one of the originators of the Nashville Sound which is characterised by lush sounds. He toured Ireland in 1963 and was immediately taken up by Irish audiences. Reeves returned the compliment, although he did not rate, at all,  the quality of the pianos in those many draughty country halls in which he and his band performed. He charted many times in Ireland both before and after his tragic death in July, 1964 at the controls of his own single-engine aircraft at age 40. His silky, trademark, baritone voice is still popular 56 year later. Head on over to YouTube and listen to him sing this gem accompanied only by acoustic guitar.

A couple of years ago, with Banter, I gathered up the courage to subject myself to unflattering comparisons with Reeves, Belafonte, et. al. and sang Scarlet Ribbons in the Penrith Gaels Club. It’s long been a favourite of mine, even though, in my rebellious, rock-infused, teenage years, I hid this almost blasphemous affection. It is amazing how many people of all ages and conditions love this product of Tin Pan Alley, cobbled together in a quarter of an hour over 70 years ago.

For this lockdown version, I follow the less-is-more ideal (although not quite so pared back as YouTube’s Jim Reeves and solo guitar). The 80 bpm slow ballad Band-in-a-Box combo with acoustic piano, guitars, bass and drums is used throughout the song with no added embellishments from fiddles, flutes etc. I did experiment, briefly, with a more embellished version, but decided to junk it.

Scarlet Ribbons

The Snowy River Men

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

I do not, as a rule, post the lyrics of songs I have recorded. If they are not comprehensible on listening then there is no point in printing them. It’s a bit like having to explain a joke after the punch-line. But I will make an exception in this case- and here are the reasons why: first, this is one of the finest songs ever written about the Great War and Australia’s involvement in it from the point of view of the soldiers actually doing the fighting. Second, my great-uncle, Private John Joseph Mitchell (5141) of the 22nd Battalion, Australian Infantry, A.I.F., died on 18 September, 1917, near Polygon Wood. This was the day before Hal Archer, the subject of the song, was killed (also by an artillery round). This killing ground was where one of the Snowy River Men, Private Ernest Albert Corey, a decorated Military Medal and three bars recipient, was a stretcher bearer during that horrific period of time.Third, Kevin Baker, the writer of this fine song has been a long-time friend of mine. And, finally, it is a much longer song than those I generally present in these posts. It is AAB in form, with ten separate verse quatrains and five identical chorus quatrains ( / = line divisions; // = verse divisions )

Dear Mrs Allen, I write to you today, / To say that I was with your son just before he passed away / I trained with him at Goulburn and we travelled on to France / And I was there when he got hit in the German advance.// It seems so long ago now since we marched into your town / and all the young men heard the call and signed their names straight down / and the girls and the children proudly cheered us all along / Ah, Bibbenluke that day was a feast of speech and song.

Chorus But The Snowy River Men just couldn’t march today / There’s far too many of them dead for the rest to feel that way / The cold ground of Europe has been watered with their blood /There’s a strange new crop of crosses rising in this foreign mud

From Goulburn to Sydney then a ship from Circular Quay, / A spirit of adventure stood and filled both Les and me / It was great to be with comrades true and travelling abroad / For a while the war seemed far away, and the world was to be toured // In Durban, the natives took us travelling in style / In rickshaws that they pulled along at a shilling a mile / In Cape Town we watch the black boys diving in the bay / The Snowies had a good time there and would have liked to stay Chorus

When we landed at Plymouth, we’d spent eight weeks at sea / And entrained straight way for Wilton where our camp turned out to be / They treated us well there so we really can’t complain / That the sky was grey the weather bleak and it always seemed to rain // When we set sail for France the weather had turned fine / And it wasn’t long before the call to reinforce the line / Then a shell whined above us and we were raked with stones and mud / And I turned and saw Les sitting there in a pool of his own blood  Chorus

He stared as the blood poured out of his legless thigh / And I carried him back to the aid post close nearby / His blood soaked my uniform, but he never breathed a sigh / And I had no idea then that he was going to die // When I left him he spoke of a pain inside his chest / I suppose that’s what killed him I just don’t know the rest / But I know that we all miss him and can’t help but wonder why / So many Snowy men so quickly had to die Chorus

We hear the king’s grateful for all the men who’ve died / And is sending home a photo of the graves in which they lie / Well I still think the cause is right but it’s not clear anymore / Why so many Australian men should die in Europe’s war / We hope with our hearts that time will ease the pain / Of never once to see his face or hear his voice again / But I’ve seen so much death now since that day on which he died / That I can’t now be the Snowy Man that once I was inside. Chorus

Have you ever heard of the “SNOWY RIVER MEN” Recruitment march? This was one of many recruitment drives which took place around Australia circa 1916 to boost the number of enlistments into the AIF during World War One. The march was organised by a Captain by the name of F.R. WEDD and started on the 6th of January, 1916. A small group of 14 men proceeded to walk from the small country town of Delegate in southern New South Wales. Their route would take them through many other localities within the Monaro District – to conclude at the AIF Training Depot in Goulburn. A distance of roughly 350 kilometres. It was hoped that at least 200 men would join up as a result, but to the dismay of Captain WEDD, this number fell well short.

The route took the marchers through many small towns and localities:- from Delegate through to Craigie, Mila, Bombala, Bibbenluke, Holt’s Flat, Nimmitabel, Summer Hill, Rock’s Flat, Cooma, Bunyan, Numerella, Billylingera, Bredbo, Colinton, Michelago, Williamsdale, Queanbeyan, Bungendore, Deep Creek, Tarago, Inveralochy, Tiranna and finally through to Goulburn after 23 days of marching.

They marched under a banner, made by the women of Delegate. By the time they reached Goulburn on the 29th of January, 1916 – one hundred and forty-four (144) men had joined the procession. The majority were then enlisted into the 55th Infantry Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces and sadly – many would later lose their lives in the bloody battles which occurred between 1916 to 1918.

Perhaps the most famous of the marchers, was Private Ernest Albert COREY who, as a stretcher bearer – was to be awarded the Military Medal a total of 4 times. He was born and bred in the small town of Numerella but he is said to have enlisted from Nimmitabel. It was from this town, that the war would take him to the other side of the world. His first award of the M.M. was for his actions in rescuing wounded comrades at Queant near Bullecourt during the horrific fighting on the 15th of May of 1917. He would be awarded his first ‘bar’ to the Military Medal for similar actions on the 26th of September, 1917 at Polygon Wood. The second ‘bar’ would be won at Peronne roughly twelve months later, for his work as a stretcher bearer on the 1st & 2nd of September, 1918. His third ‘bar’ being awarded for his actions at the Hindenburg Line north of Bellicourt on the 30th of September 1918. One may consider it unique – that all of his awards were given as a result of “saving life” and not “taking life”.

The song by Kevin BAKER is in my opinion – one of the most moving songs to be composed with regards to the First World War. His voice is very ‘Australian’ and lends itself to the subject matter. It is hard not to feel the emotion that would have been behind the letter written by Private Hal ARCHER (2121 Private Halloran ‘Hal’ ARCHER from Tarcutta). His mate, 2124 Private Samuel Leslie ‘Les’ ALLEN of Bibbenluke had been fatally wounded by artillery fire on the 19th of May 1917. Les had been a school teacher and was 27 years of age. During the actual march; when the volunteers approached the town of Bibbenluke, Les and the school children had travelled out to meet them. When the two groups met, the children “fell in” behind the marchers and joined the procession into the village. Les later accompanied the group when he joined them at Holt’s Flat. So after his mate’s death, Hal Archer takes it upon himself to write the letter to Mrs Elizabeth ALLEN – the mother of Les. I believe that Kevin BAKER was inspired to write this song, so many years later after reading this letter – which would lead one to believe that this letter still survives. I have made numerous attempts to contact Kevin, with a negative result. If any reader may be able to assist – I would like to ascertain from Kevin his motivation and sentiment in composing this song which I believe, is exceptional. (source, from medalsgonemissing.com administrator, Gary Traynor)

Yes, Gary, Kevin did have the letter. (I have tried to contact Gary through the site above) Kevin had gone on a song-collecting journey to the Snowy Mountain area. It must have been after he returned to Australia from Germany and Ireland (where he stayed with us for several weeks in 1981 during the Republican Prisoners Hunger Strikes).

I first met Kevin in 1973 or 1974- I was sent to Warrawong High School by the NSW Department of Education after being recruited from Northern Ireland where I had graduated the year before from Queen’s University, Belfast. Kevin transferred to Warrawong High from Berkeley High School in the adjacent suburb in 1974, as I recall. We generally played music together on Friday nights where Kevin played a fine mouth organ, flute or piccolo (accompanied by a goblet or three of wine…) We also played in various groups until I left Wollongong to return to Northern Ireland at the end of 1978.

When I returned to Australia in 1988, I re-established contact with Kevin in Wollongong where he told me of his song- collecting in the Snowy Mountain area and the letter written to Mrs Allen by Hal Archer. In the early 1990s he toured up the east coast of Australia to play at folk venues and I met him again in Ayr, N. Queensland when he was passing through to Townsville and Cairns. We met several more times in the late 1990s and early ‘noughties at festivals such as Gulgong, a 19th-century gold rush town in the Central Tablelands and folk clubs, such as the temperance venue in the western Sydney suburb of Toongabbie (we had a drink afterwards!)

My lockdown version features Band-in-a-Box/RealBand with n-Track 9. The slow ballad combo of drums, bass, acoustic piano and dual guitars drives the song along with verse/chorus roles respectively for mandolin, accordion, fiddle and organ. The vocals are doubled in the choruses. But, search out and listen to Kevin’s classic 1982 original for the authentic take.

The Snowy River Men

One of the Has-beens

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Notes to One of the Has-beens (tune, “Pretty Polly Perkins of Paddington Green”)

…Polly Perkins…is the title of a famous English song, composed by the London music hall and broadside songwriter Harry Clifton (1832-1872), and first published in 1864. It was almost universally known in England until around the mid-1980s and was commonly taught to school children. The title refers to the district of Paddington in London. The song gained a place in the canonical Oxford Book of Comic Verse, and the original manuscript of “Polly” is now held in the Bodleian Library.


It was adapted for the USA by Clifton during the American Civil War, re-titled “Polly Perkins of Abington Green”. Presumably the new title referred to Abington Green, Georgia, in the USA.
Most of Clifton’s songs adapted their tunes from old folk songs, and it is possible that a folk tune is also the origin of the tune for Polly. A folk song in the English county of Northumberland, called Cushie Butterfield, is sung to the same tune as “Polly” – although the “Cushie” tune was always claimed by one Geordie Ridley (1834-1864), a Tyneside comedian and miner. Ridley and Clifton’s death dates mean that both the song and its tune are now firmly in the public domain.

[Below are three verses from Polly Perkins to give a sense of the comic song from the 19th Century]


POLLY PERKINS OF ABINGTON GREEN written by Harry Clifton, 1864.
1. I am a broken-hearted milkman; in grief I’m arrayed/Through keeping of the company of a young servant maid/Who lived on board wages, the house to keep clean,/In a gentleman’s family near Abington Green.

CHORUS: Oh! She was as beautiful as a butterfly and as proud as a queen,/Was pretty little Polly Perkins of Abington Green.

4. When I asked her to marry me, she said, “Oh what stuff!”/And told me to drop it, for she’d had quite enough/Of my nonsense. At the same time, I’d been very kind/But to marry a milkman she didn’t feel inclined. CHORUS

7. In six months, she married, this hard-hearted girl,/But it was not a ‘Wicount’ and it was not a ‘Nearl’./It was not a ‘Baronite’, but a shade or two wuss./’Twas a bow-legged conductor of a twopenny ‘bus. CHORUS

The tune, with new lyrics, found its way into the Australian bush culture, among outback farmers and sheep shearers, in the song “One of the Has-beens”

A.L. Lloyd sang One of the Has-Beens in 1958 on his Wattle album, Across the Western Plains. He commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

I first heard this one New Year’s Day, in the late 1920’s, in hospital in Cowra, N.S.W. The matron was away, and the patients had a party in the ward. A teamster from Grenfell sang the song, and one or two of the old bushwhackers took umbrage, because they thought the stranger was getting at them. I now learn from [Douglas] Stewart and [Nancy] Keesing’s Old Bush Songs [Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1957] that One of the Has-Beens is the work of a former horse-breaker, shearer and gold-digger named Robert Stewart, born 1833 in N.S.W. The tune is that of the familiar early nineteenth century stage song, Pretty Polly Perkins [of Paddington Green]. (source, mainlynorfolk.info)

Parody below composed by Don Henderson, folk-singer, composer, poet, and musical-instrument maker. [Aficionados of Aussie folk music will be able to relate to the lines below.]

I’m one of the has-beens/A folksong I mean. In oral tradition/I once was serene.
Illiterate agrarians my worth would avow, but you may not believe me/ ’cause they don’t do it now./Chorus
I’m as awkward as a new one,/much more cap and gown/than a blithe air of arcadia;/I’ve been written down

Eluding the Banjo,/Vance Palmer, Bert Lloyd,/Jones, Durst and O’Connor/I did likewise avoid./Manifold, Meredith, Tate, de Hugard,/both Scotts, all found/ finding me was too hard./ Chorus (Source, Mudcat.org)

I reckon that the Australian lyrics that you hear on this post are superior: they perfectly capture the loss of vitality, strength and skill that even the gun shearers would suffer should they live long enough to experience the inevitable effects of ageing. Of course, as a septuagenarian, conscious of my own decline, the verses may reflect where I’m at in- (What is that cliché, again?)- my journey.

I first heard this song in Wollongong in the 1970s, sung a capella by Kevin Baker, a noted Illawarra poet and songwriter with whom I had a long association.

This lockdown version uses the Band-in-a-Box/RealBand combo and N-Track 9 mixing software.

Again, the backing uses the virtuoso finger-picked guitars of Brett Mason and Jason Roller, and rhythm section of acoustic piano, and acoustic bass: with accordion and fiddle alternating verse accompaniment roles. I use a solo voice for the verse and doubled voices chorus. The arrangement is one of my lock-down preferences- not too simplistic nor overly produced.

One of the Has-beens

The Old Bog Road

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Teresa Brayton was born in Kilbrook, County, Kildare, in 1868 and also died there in 1943 having returned from New York, Her father was Hugh Boylan and her republican family were associated with the rising of 1798. She knew most of the leaders of the 1916 rising and around her neck she wore a chain, a piece of the flagstaff which flew the flag of the Irish Republic from the G.P.O. in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916. The chain was given to her by Countess Markievicz. The air of the song is an original air by Madeline O’Farrelly. Thanks to Johnny McEvoy for keeping the song alive. (from irish-folk-songs.com)

Teresa Brayton was born on the 29th of June 1868 as Teresa Cora Boylan at Kilbrook, County Kildare. Teresa attended Newtown National School where, by all accounts, she excelled in her studies. 

In 1895 Teresa followed the emigrants trail across the broad Atlantic where she ended up becoming a vital cog in the workings of Irish nationalist organizations in New York and Boston. 

Teresa was renowned in Irish American circles for her organizations of fund raisers to aid the war effort against British rule in her native land. Nationalism ran through Teresa’s blood; her great grandfather had taken part in the Battle of Prosperous  in 1798 and she wrote a number of pieces to celebrate the centenary of the United Irishmen rebellion in 1898.

In 1932 Teresa returned to Ireland after the death of her husband and first lived in Bray with her sister before finally settling back in her beloved Kildare where she would live out the rest of her days. 

Among those who held Teresa in high regard were Arthur Griffith, Eammon de Valera and Michael Collins. Among the many fundraisers  Teresa organized in the United States was one to keep St Enda’s school open after the executions of Padraig and Willie Pearse in 1916. Teresa organized a big ceilidh in New York to aid Mrs Pearse who was trying to maintain the school after her sons’ deaths. 

Teresa died, where she was born, at Kilbrook on the 19th of August 1943. She was buried in Cloncurry cemetery and Enfield Muintir na Tire erected a fine stone Celtic cross over her resting place which was then officially unveiled by [Irish President] Eammon de Valera in 1959.  (source, irishcentral.com)

Many Irish people, of a certain age, identify with this song. Just about all of them, urban or rural, know of an old bog road from their own youth or that of their parents. Just a few yards up the road from where I lived in Cushendall was the start of The Old Road which led from the Barrack Brae across the foot of Lurigethan onto the Ballyeamon Road which connected the village to Ballymena. It was unpaved and passable only on foot or by tractor and I quite often used it as a short-cut to my cousin John’s farm. It made for an idyllic wandering in Spring or Summer.

Teresa Brayton 1913

The above extracts extol Teresa Brayton and her song. But there is another view; one that sees such compositions as sentimental sludge. The following extract from an Irish Times article will stand in for all the nay-sayers:

The Old Bog Road is still a very popular song in midland lounges, where three-piece bands, usually consisting of drums, keyboards and accordion, play genteel ballads discreetly, so as not to disturb elderly couples drinking lemonade…

When I got home I lit the fire and sat there all morning, dozing, as if I too was an elderly doddering man, like the ones that in my youth always sat in the corner of every kitchen. Back then old people wore black, and passed their days rolling up newspapers into firelighters, or dangling string in front of cats, or minding grandchildren from falling into the fire…

…Nor do I know what’s in store for anyone who gets the airport bus from Rochfortbridge. Maybe they too will make fortunes, or just end up carrying sandwich boards, on the sidewalks of the world, advertising exotic boutiques, with earplugs shielding them from some city’s din. And I don’t know what they’ll be listening to, on their iPods, but it certainly won’t be The Old Bog Road. (From The Irish Times article, God be with you Ireland and the Old Bog Road by Michael Harding,18th February, 2011)

And where do I stand in this minor skirmish in one of the battlefronts of the culture wars that engulf the planet in the 21st Century? Somewhere in between, initially. But, then, about a year ago, my wife suggested the song to me for our band, Banter, as it was the favourite song of her father’s and one he used to sing many years ago. Jim, her brother, sang it once or twice before the virus closed Banter’s performances  down.The song grew on me as I started to research its origins and as I worked on the music. So, I guess I’m now on the side of the song’s protagonists.

We are still in lockdown and I present my Band-in-a-Box version. It features the twin fingerpicking guitar wizardry of Brent Mason and Jason Rolling. With Nashville drums, acoustic bass, and piano, it provides a suitable accompaniment, IMHO, for this emigrant song of longing.

The Old Bog Road

McAlpine’s Fusiliers (expanded)

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

 McAlpine’s Fusilier’s/Instrumental– Over the years this has proved to be one of the most popular items in our repertoire. Obviously, we enjoy playing whatever song or instrumental we happen to be performing. We play for enjoyment and not for pay. All we ask is a reasonable sound system. While we won’t make money doing this, we will make craic- and isn’t that all that matters. Dominic Behan wrote this song [see notes below for an update on this assertion.] (among many other fine examples from the genre) and it captures the essence of the Irish navvies who, in their thousands and tens of thousands built the rail, the roads the tunnels and canals and a lot more of the infrastructure in Britain and farther afield. (Listen to our version, from which these notes are taken, at Song 57- a field recording of almost a decade past) For a deep dive into the origins of the song, read on. If this is not to your taste, just go to the song itself, which you will discover has an extra verse. The reason? Ah, if you really want to know that, then you’ll just have to read on!

McAlpine’s Fusiliers is an Irish ballad set to a traditional air, popularised in the early 1960s by Dominic Behan.

The song relates to the migration of Irish labourers from Ireland to Britain during the 20th century. The ballad’s title refers to the eponymous construction company of Sir Robert McAlpine, a major employer of Irish workmen at the time. John Laing and Wimpey (also referred to in the opening monologue; an integral part of the ballad although not included in some cover versions of the song) were other major construction companies employing Irish ‘navvies’ (a British term referring to building labourers and originally coined for the labourers who built the British canals or ‘navigations’)

The colloquial and local terms in the song’s monologue and lyrics include references to a ‘spike’ (a hostel or ‘reception centre’ sometimes used by Irish navvies who could not find or afford lodgings) and to ‘shuttering’ (a rapidly constructed wooden casing made to hold concrete while it sets). Holyhead, also referred to in the monologue, is a port on Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in Wales where the main ferry service across the Irish Sea from Dún Laoghaire used to dock. 

Cricklewood is a district of North West London which had a relatively large Irish population. The Isle of Grain is an area in Kent where the River Medway joins the Thames Estuary east of London which was a large construction site for several years while a large power station was built there The song offers a satirical view of the life and work of the Irish labourers of the times and as such proved popular.

While some sources suggest that the words of the song were derived from an earlier poem or poems, the song’s arrangement was attributed to Dominic Behan. Along with a number of other songs, Behan provided the song to The Dubliners for use in a new set-structure In its original form, the song was performed in two parts, a spoken monologue (originally spoken by Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners self-accompanied by his flamenco guitar) followed by the sung verses supported by the full band. [Below is the spoken monologue]

Twas in the year of 39 and the sky was filled with lead
Hitler was heading for Poland and Paddy for Holyhead.
Come all you Pincher Laddies and you long distance men
Never work for McAlpine, or Wimpey or John Laing
For he’ll stick you behind the mixer ‘til your skin is turned to tan
And shout come on you Paddy with your passport in your hand.
The craic was good in Cricklewood but they wouldn’t leave The Crown
There was bottles flying and Biddy’s crying, sure, Paddy was going to town.
Oh mother dear I’m over here and I’m never going back
What keeps me here is the rake of beer the women and the craic.

[Source above, adapted from Wikipedia]

For many years it has been an open secret among Irishmen who toiled in the construction trade in England that Dominic Behan did not write the words to McAlpine’s Fusiliers.

When the song was released by the Dubliners in 1965, Dominic was given credit for writing the words, and Essex Music International got the copyright.

But the reality according to many people who were around that environment in that era is that what Dominic did was to use his undoubted writing skills to tidy up and make presentable the rhymes that had been passed around construction sites all over Britain since the start of the second World War.

Even his own brother Brian accused him on a national television talk show of stealing the words and then went on to say that the nearest that Dominic had ever came to working on a building site was when he posed as a hod-carrier with a straw hat on his head.

So, who did write McAlpine’s Fusiliers? Well according to numerous sources the originator of most of the words was a labourer by the name of Martin Henry from Rooskey, on the East Mayo/ South Sligo border.

He was the youngest member of the well-known Henry family who were famed for their fiddle playing.

As often happens, Henry’s words would have been passed around from job to job on scraps of paper, where aspiring site poets would add a line here and there and pub laureates would recite verses of it when sufficient ale was taken on a Saturday night. It seems likely that by the mid-1950’s the words were fairly well known among Irish navvies.

There’s other evidence that back up the case for Martin Henry. He wrote a poem, The Men of 39, which is like the monologue that Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners uses to introduce McAlpine’s Fusiliers. Also, Martin Henry was a near neighbour and good friend of the legendary ‘Darkie Finn’ who was from Cloonlarin, just inside the Mayo border and they worked together in Kent, England, on the massive Isle of Grain, Power Station that was being built by McAlpine’s in the 1950s.

This project hired thousands of Irish workers and was also the scene of some violent incidents between Connemara men and Dublin men that stemmed from a card game and carried on sporadically for years.

The second verse of the song attributed to Behan starts, “I stripped to the skin with the Darkie Finn down by the Isle of Grain.”Pat ‘the Darkie’ Finn’, was regarded as a highly skilled and sought-after shuttering carpenter who is also mentioned in a verse of a different song.

“I watched the frame take the strain, but the concrete all caved in
And George Wimpey searched all Manchester ‘til he found the Darkie Finn.”

Now here are the words of the poem The Men O’ 39 which many people credit with being the penmanship and poetry of Martin Henry. It was quite a lengthy poem so I’ll just show [lines below from it] but I think you will be able to see the similarities.

Come all you Pincher Kiddies and all long distance men,
You may be over in this land, nine years or maybe ten,
You may have tramped this country o’er from Plymouth to the Tyne,
But there’s not a word about the boys sir came in ‘39.
There’s not a word about the lads from old Kinsale,
And took the road to Dublin; from Dun Laoghaire they did sail.
The man up in the Globe Hotel, he gave them the ‘o’grand’,
Saying, good luck upon you Paddy, with the passport in your hand.
Some of those Pincher Kiddies came when England needed men,
His catchword was to catch for the famous Darky Finn.
To slave behind a mixer until your skin turned tanned,
And to say, good on you Paddy, with the passport in your hand.
Now all of you who stayed at home and never crossed the pond,
And didn’t work for Wimpey, McAlpine or John Laing,
Or slave behind a mixer until your skin is tanned,
And to say goodbye to you Paddy, with your passport in your hand.

[We’ll let the jury decide that one…]

There was also another verse in the McAlpine’s Fusiliers song that wasn’t used as part of the release. Old-timers have said that they often used this verse as the second one to last. It refers to the common practice on big jobs of bringing in a Catholic priest on a Sunday to say mass for the men who had to work. As this verse shows the foremen and ganger men were not always too pleased with this practice.

And it came to pass, we should go to mass
On the Immaculate Conception
The foreman met us at the gate
And gave us a terrible reception
“Get down the sewers, ye Kerry hoors
And never mind your prayers
For the only God is a well filled hod
With McAlpine’s Fusiliers

So, it seems that Dominic Behan had a huge amount of material to work with and in fairness to him he was a prolific songwriter and he did rearrange the words, tidy things up and compose a very good, rousing song. The melody he used was a speeded-up version of the haunting tune that accompanied the song The Foggy Dew.

Ronnie Drew, Dominic Behan, Martin Henry and very few of those men who worked on those huge construction projects are still alive, so the question will probably always remain a mystery regarding who wrote the words to ‘McAlpine’s Fusiliers?’ But does it really matter? It’s a great song. My wife, Bridie, (a traditionalist if ever there was one!) is opposed to the extended version I have cobbled together (that is, the inclusion of the extra verse) saying that it is not in keeping with the rest of the song

But if any of you readers ever venture around the south Sligo-east Mayo border and pop into towns with names like Rooskey, Cloontia or Sheskeen and ask the locals who wrote the words to McAlpine’s Fusiliers the answer will be a resounding – Martin Henry. If you mention the name Dominic Behan, they will say, “The man from Dublin popularised it, but our own Martin Henry wrote it!” (source above, irelandsown.ie)

So, now that we have explored the disputed origins of McAlpine’s Fusiliers, where does that leave this  version of the song? I will forego the spoken intro to the song, but, I’m going to adapt and incorporate the old-timers’ penultimate verse which is italicised and underlined above-  I guess because, now, as a septuagenarian, I’m an old-timer, too.

And, because I have incorporated the penultimate verse that, almost undeniably, Martin Henry wrote, which expands the song from four to five verses, I will be so bold as to credit the song lyrics jointly to Martin Henry and Dominic Behan. It seems only fair, after reviewing the evidence above. After all, it’s been fifty-five years since The Dubliners record credited Dominic Behan alone…

McAlpine’s Fusiliers (expanded)
McAlpine’s Fusiliers (Expanded version)

Whiskey in the Jar (redux)

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

“Whiskey in a Jar,” one of the best known traditional Irish vocal ballads, probably originated in the mid-17th century, according to folklorist Alan Lomax, and it has been found in dozens of forms on both sides of the Atlantic. It tells the story of a highwayman (robber) who robs a military officer and who is subsequently betrayed by his woman. “Whiskey in a Jar” has been recorded by dozens upon dozens of traditional artists, but has also been taken in a rock and roll direction, first by Thin Lizzy (who recorded a version learned from Irish trad sources), and then by the Grateful Dead (who recorded a version learned from American trad sources), and then most successfully by Metallica, who won a 2000 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance for their version, which was likely learned directly from Thin Lizzy, rather than a traditional source. The song is, as one might guess from the title, a favourite drinking and pub song among fans of Irish music all over the world. “Whiskey in a Jar,” like “Danny Boy,” is a favourite on St. Patrick’s Day. (source Megan Romer, liveabout.com)

The song’s exact origins are unknown. Several of its lines and the general plot resemble those of a contemporary broadside ballad “Patrick Fleming” (also called “Patrick Flemmen he was a Valiant Soldier”) about Irish highwayman Patrick Fleming, who was executed in 1650.

In the book The Folk Songs of North America, folk music historian Alan Lomax suggests that the song originated in the 17th century, and (based on plot similarities) that John Gay’s 1728 The Beggar’s Opera was inspired by Gay hearing an Irish ballad-monger singing “Whiskey in the Jar”. In regard to the history of the song, Lomax states, “The folk of seventeenth century Britain liked and admired their local highwaymen; and in Ireland (or Scotland) where the gentlemen of the roads robbed English landlords, they were regarded as national patriots. Such feelings inspired this rollicking ballad.”

At some point, the song came to the United States and was a favourite in Colonial America because of its irreverent attitude toward British officials. The American versions are sometimes set in America and deal with American characters. One such version, from Massachusetts, is about Alan McCollister, an Irish-American soldier who is sentenced to death by hanging for robbing British officials.

The song appeared in a form close to its modern version in a precursor called “The Sporting Hero, or, Whiskey in the Bar” in a mid-1850s broadsheet.

The song collector Colm Ó Lochlainn, in his book Irish Street Ballads, described how his mother learnt “Whiskey in the Jar” in Limerick in 1870 from a man called Buckley who came from Cork. When Ó Lochlainn included the song in Irish Street Ballads, he wrote down the lyrics from memory as he had learnt them from his mother. He called the song “There’s Whiskey in the Jar”, and the lyrics are virtually identical to the version that was used by Irish bands in the 1960s such as the Dubliners. The O Lochlainn version refers to the “far fam’d Kerry mountain” rather than the Cork and Kerry mountains, as appears in some versions.

The song also appears under the title “There’s Whiskey in the Jar” in the Joyce collection, but that only includes the melody line without any lyrics. Versions of the song were collected in the 1920s in Northern Ireland by song collector Sam Henry. (Source above, the excellent Wikipedia- do donate)

I learned the song early in 1972 from one of the booklets from the series, Irish Folk Songs. With Seannachie in Wollongong, Tony Fitzgerald sang it and later, with Banter in Sydney in the 1990s, Sam the Man sang it. However, down the years, when I was singing on my own in pubs or clubs or as a duo with my wife, I would regularly wheel out the old warhorse. The virus allows this virtual version.

The version here is a Band-in-a-Box/Real Band folk-rock rendition featuring bass guitar, drums, organ, finger-picked 12-string guitar and strummed guitar. Bluegrass fiddle and bluegrass mandolin share alternating verse accompaniment roles until the final chorus when everything is firing. I like to think that this arrangement celebrates the transatlantic aspects of the song.

Whiskey in the Jar (redux)

Spancil Hill (redux)

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

In Song 44: Spancil Hill, I wrote: “Another much loved and requested song from the 70s onwards, in my experience. It was originally a poem written by Michael Considine, who left for America in the wake of the Great Famine. He hoped to make enough money to return home and marry his sweetheart. He died at age 23 in 1873, without ever having fulfilled his dreams. But he sent a poem to his nephew on which the song is based. The punch and power of the ballad, even in its popular, abbreviated form is a testament to his feeling for “my first and only love”.” Now, almost a decade on, I’ll put a bit more info around this.

Spancil Hill is in County Clare…its fair is one of the oldest horse fairs in Ireland…held annually on 23 June. Spancil refers to the practice of “spancilling,” which was to use a short rope to tie an animal’s left fore-leg to its right hind leg, thereby hobbling the animal and stopping it from wandering too far.

Michael Considine… emigrated to the United States of America around 1870. He left intending to make enough money to send for his sweetheart so they could be married. Her name was Mary MacNamara, and she is mentioned in the original song as ‘Mack the Ranger’s daughter’.

Considine worked in Boston for two years or so before moving to California. In failing health, he wrote the poem in memory of the hometown he would not live to see again and posted it to his young nephew in Ireland. Michael Considine died in California in 1873 at the age of twenty-three.

The rendition of the late singer/songwriter Robbie McMahon, who died in 2012 at the age of eighty-six, is widely regarded as the definitive version of Spancil Hill. [There is an external link in the Wikipedia article, from which the information above is taken, on Spancil Hill of Robbie singing the song in Dublin in 1993- it’s worth checking out.]

A lilter, he was renowned for his performance of the Mason’s Apron, in which he simulated the sound of both the fiddle and accompanying banjo.

Possessed of a store of jokes, ranging from the hilarious to the unprintable, he was as much a character as a singer and was more comfortable with the craic and banter of casual sessions than with formal concerts.

He was the subject of a film documentary Last Night As I Lay Dreaming. Clare County Council hosted a civic reception in his honour in 2010, and he was the recipient of the Fleadh Nua Gradam Ceoil in 2011.

The best known version of the song is that sung by the Dubliners and Christy Moore, which is highly abbreviated and makes a number of changes to the lyrics – for example renaming the protagonist “Johnny” instead of “Mike”, and describing his love as daughter of a farmer instead of the local ranger. (Notes above from The Irish Times obituary of 29 December 2012.)

I first learned the song from a Johnny McEvoy record in 1972 and I sang it around Wollongong when we moved there. At present, Sam the Man sings it with our group Banter (now in suspended animation thanks to the virus).

Here I use Band-in-a-Box/Real Band and n-Track 9 to present a folk-pop version with drums, bass, piano, two guitars, mandolin, fiddle and harmonica (not all playing at once!) If you want to check out the version that is closer to the Banter sound go to Song 44 and compare.

If I ever get around to re-recording the song, I will sing the Robbie McMahon version as truer to the original poem.

Spancil Hill (redux)

The Old Maid in the Garret

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Old Maid In The Garrett was recorded by The Clancys , The Flying Column , Steeleye Span, The Dublin City Ramblers. This song dates to the 17th century but the lyrics here are 19th century[sic?] by Martin Parker from London- Not a song you would hear a lot of women sing. A garret is a habitable attic ( loft) or small and often dismal or cramped living space at the top of a house. This was the least prestigious position in a building, and often had sloping ceilings.(notes above by Martin Dardis from his great site, irish-folk-songs.com)

However, when I went looking for Martin Parker, songwriter of 19th Century London I was thrown back a couple of hundred years to:

Parker, Martin (fl. 1624–1647), ballad writer, is an obscure figure. He was probably a Londoner, as his writings were most closely associated with metropolitan culture, though his stories are populated by northern lasses, and were read throughout England. (The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.)

Martin Parker (c. 1600 – c. 1656) was an English ballad writer, and probably a London tavern-keeper. About 1625 he seems to have begun publishing ballads… John Dryden considered him the best ballad writer of his time. His sympathies were with the Royalist cause during the Civil War, and it was in support of the declining fortunes of Charles I of England that he wrote the best known of his ballads, When the king enjoys his own again, which he first published in 1643, and which, after enjoying great popularity at the Restoration, became a favourite Jacobite song in the 18th century. Parker also wrote a nautical ballad, Sailors for my Money, which in a revised version survives as When the stormy winds do blow. It is not known when he died, but the appearance in 1656 of a funeral elegy, in which the ballad writer was satirically celebrated is perhaps a correct indication of the date of his death. A couple of quotations attributed to Martin Parker are given below:

Ye gentlemen of England/That live at home at ease,/Ah! little do you think upon/The dangers of the seas. This taken from Ye Gentlemen of England, (c. 1630), reported in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Also: In ancient times all things were cheape/’Tis good to look before you leape/When come is ripe ’tis time to reape. From The Roxburghe Ballads (c. 1630), reported in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. 

(Notes above from the wonderful Wikipedia and Wikiquotes. If you use this resource, as I frequently do, donate something, when you can, to keep this free resource available to all)

This was one of the first songs I learnt when I was whaling away on my old acoustic and dreaming of fame and fortune- as you do as a young’un. Later, after we moved to Australia, (me, my wife and daughter), we sang this song as part of our set as a folk duo in Wollongong at a couple of restaurants that were trialling folk music as part of their offering to the grazing public (though not our young daughter- we left her with a baby-sitter whenever we went out for such occasions).

When Bridie would sing this song she would gaze kindly at me when she sang the words, There is nothing in this wide world that would make me half so cheery/ As a wee, fat man who would call me his own deary Not that I minded- I got, by far, the better of the deal!

Now, almost fifty years down the track, Banter features this song with Sam the Man taking the vocal credits: but, were you there, you could hear me bellowing the two-line chorus with him- this was when there was such a thing as singing in pubs and clubs. Our coronavirus experts tell us that such singing  is really a virus firehose. So, even, the singing of hymns in church is strictly verboten!

I use a Country Outlaw vibe for the instrumentation behind this version, which is sort of out there in left-field, (to use a term from baseball). And because we are still in lockdown, I get to sing the song.

The Old Maid in the Garrett

A Bunch of Thyme

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Sprig of Thyme, The Seeds of Love, Maiden’s Lament, Garners Gay, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme or Rue (Roud #3) is a traditional British and Irish folk ballad that uses botanical and other symbolism to warn young people of the dangers in taking false lovers. The song was first documented in 1689 and the many variants go by a large number of titles.(from Wikipedia)

The metaphor of the garden within which are found, the herb- thyme, and the flower- the rose, are potent symbols in song and literature. One can find such metaphors in the Bible and other texts stretching back millennia. If you want to know more about the meaning of flowers, google Floriography; or just check it out on Wikipedia. You will sink into a thicket of references bewildering in number, scope and meaning. The scents will send your head spinning.

That such a sweet-sounding melody is undercut by the symbolism inherent in the plants mentioned gives the song its peculiar force. Thyme and time are obvious homophones and  the warning in the first verse is telling. Tending your garden- chastity, and keeping it fair- preserving your virginity, leads to the admonition to “Let no man steal away your thyme”.

Verse two is a wistful remembrance of how precious and unrecoverable is that which brings all things to her mind- thyme.

Enters a lusty sailor in verse three and what follows, hot on the heels of the warned-against deed, is the consequence in verse four. Some say that consequence is the canker or sore on the skin- the rose which never would decay which is a manifestation of the dire underlying condition: syphilis- an untreatable and sometimes fatal venereal disease typically carried by those sailors who were frequenters of low establishments in far-flung exotic ports.

I have an idea that Christy collected the version he sings from a woman in England. And, according to an internet source (so it must be true…) he gave it to Foster and Allen which kick-started their career. Be nice if it were true.

I first heard this on Christy Moore’s LP Whatever Tickles Your Fancy which sported a cover photo of a young Christy leaning against a dart-board. No fancy or fanciful artwork at play here at all! This would have been in 1976. I brought it back from a holiday in Northern Ireland to Australia along with a bunch of other great folk albums, and the band I was in then, Seannachie, started to feature it.

In the 1990s, our mandolin player, Jim, featured this song as part of Banter’s repertoire. We haven’t performed it in the latest iteration of the group in the past few years, but I think it’s worth a re-visit and I’ll sing it if Jim doesn’t feel the urge. And if the virus gives us peace (and I’m not referring to the REST IN sort!) You can find Banter’s recording of it, featuring Jim’s singing, on Banter I- song 2 which was done around the table and not in public performance.

This arrangement features a couple of guitars, bass, Nashville drums, organ, mandolin and fiddle in a soft folk-rock mode.

A Bunch of Thyme

O’Sullivan’s John

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Patrick “Pecker” Dunne (1 April 1933 – 19 December 2012]) was an Irish musician and seanchaí. [storyteller]

Dunne was born in Castlebar, County Mayo, “in the old county home”. His family were Irish Travellers originally from County Wexford, where his father was a fiddle player. He was one of Ireland’s most noted banjo players and was also proficient on the fiddle, melodeon and guitar, and was among an elite of Traveller musicians.

Dunne became known to a wide Irish audience from his regular busking at GAA sporting fixtures, particularly in Munster. Later he played in England, France, Australia and New York City, where he appeared with The Dubliners. He also performed alongside Richard Harris and Stephen Rea in the 1996 feature film Trojan Eddie.

He lived in Killimer, County Clare with his wife and four children. He died there, aged 79, and is buried in Burrane, near Killimer. (Thanks to Wikipedia for the notes above.)

Gifted musician, storyteller and activist Paddy Pecker Dunne has died.

In a statement, the Temple Bar Company said it regretted to announce his death at the age of 80.

“We were honoured to work with Farcry productions to facilitate a gala benefit concert for Pecker Dunne during the 2012 Temple Bar Tradfestival,” it said. “Our thoughts are now with his wife and family at this sad time.”

Artistic director of the Tradfestival Kieran Hanrahan praised Dunne’s musical abilities.

“The Pecker mastered the art and craft of many an instrument, the mandolin, the fiddle and the banjo,” he said.

“He was distinctively known for his most precious of gifts, his voice, and what that voice could deliver. It was the envy of some of the world’s most renowned rock, pop, folk and traditional singers.”

Dunne, a traveller, wrote songs and music to describe injustices and prejudices he and his community faced.

He busked nationwide and played with The Dubliners, who covered his song Sullivans John, and he also played with Christy Moore and The Fureys.

Some of the exploits and anecdotes he was renowned for telling were his meeting Woody Guthrie in Boston, his friendship and work with Richard Harris and playing New York’s Carnegie Hall.

His music career was marked with a gala benefit night at Dublin City Hall last January. (The above is taken from an obituary published by the Belfast Telegraph on December 20, 2012.)

I first heard this song in Wollongong in 1974 when Joe Brown, Bertie McKnight, Tony Fitzgerald and I formed the group, Seannachie. Bertie told me he heard it from the writer, Pecker Dunne. Tony, a Londoner of Irish descent and our main singer,would belt this out at venues around the Illawarra.

But I like the song from first I heard it and would sing it- almost as a party piece- at informal gatherings in various places down the decades. I brought the song to Banter and look forward to being able to sing it at a pub or club in front of an audience-remember that phenomenon from pre-COVID times?

I only use two chords for this song, say, C and Bb, which swings along in 3/4 time. Quite a few Irish songs can be rendered with just two chords. I guess some of us might look at all those three-chord trickers as virtual demi-gods!

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is a song written by Robbie Robertson and originally recorded by the Canadian-American roots rock group The Band in 1969 and released on their eponymous second album. Levon Helm provided the lead vocals. The song is a first-person narrative relating the economic and social distress experienced by the protagonist, a poor white Southerner, during the last year of the American Civil War, when George Stoneman was raiding southwest Virginia. The song appeared at number 245 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Joan Baez recorded a version of the song that became a top-five chart hit in late 1971.

Then the concept came to him and he researched the subject with help from the Band’s drummer Levon Helm, a native of Arkansas. In his 1993 autobiography, This Wheel’s on Fire, Helm wrote, “Robbie and I worked on ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ up in Woodstock. I remember taking him to the library so he could research the history and geography of the era and make General Robert E. Lee come out with all due respect.”

The last time the song was performed by Helm was in The Last Waltz. Helm refused to play the song afterwards. Although it has long been believed that the reason for Helm’s refusal to play the song was a dispute with Robertson over songwriting credits; according to Garth Hudson, the refusal was due to Helm’s dislike for Joan Baez’s version.

Ralph J. Gleason (in the review in Rolling Stone (U.S. edition only) of October 1969) explains why this song has such an impact on listeners:

Nothing I have read … has brought home the overwhelming human sense of history that this song does. The only thing I can relate it to at all is The Red Badge of Courage. It’s a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy close harmony of Levon, Richard and Rick in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn’t some traditional material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of 1865 to today. It has that ring of truth and the whole aura of authenticity. (notes from Wikipedia- donate if you can)

I first heard the song in 1971- the Joan Baez version. It wasn’t until years later that I came across the original when I watched the documentary by Scorcese, The Last Waltz in the mid-80s when I was living in Ballymena, Co Antrim in Northern Ireland. When Banter was formed in the mid-90s in western Sydney, Big Geordie introduced his take on the song to the band and we performed it, off and on, for the few years he was part of the band. It wasn’t until 2015, when Banter re-formed after a decade+ hiatus that I picked the song up and started to perform it.

Levon Helm’s refusal, according to Garth Hudson, to play and sing the song because of his dislike of Baez’s version strikes me as odd. However, we can’t check with the source as, alas, Levon Helm is no longer with us.

The version set down here is probably situated somewhere between Baez and Helm. Johnny Cash recorded a version that is worth a listen.

The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down

I’m Missing You


There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Jimmy McCarthy, born in Macroom, Co. Cork, in 1953 wrote this song. Others may claim the honours, (and I have come across an imposter or two on the internet) but it is clear to me that he is the guy!

MacCarthy left school at 15 where he was unhappy and became a stable boy at Vincent O’Brien‘s place in Ballydoyle, but after five years between Tipperary and Newmarket, Jimmy returned home to help his father whose bad heart had led to the end of the business. He then made a living out of singing at pubs and was later busking in the streets of London and doing occasional concerts, opening for other singers’ gigs in Ireland.

MacCarthy is best known as a songwriter. Composing since the late 1970s, his songs have been recorded by many Irish artists including Christy Moore, Mary Black, Finbar Wright, Maura O’Connell, the Corrs and Westlife. “Ride On”, recorded by Christy Moore, is one of his best-known compositions. Moore also recorded MacCarthy’s songs “Missing You”, “Bright Blue Rose” and “Mystic Lipstick”. Mary Black, Maura O’Connell and The Corrs have recorded MacCarthy’s “No Frontiers”, while Black has also recorded his songs “Katie”, “Adam at the Window”, “Diamond Days”, “As I Leave Behind Neidín”, “Shuffle of the Buckled” and “Another Day” (Thank you Wikipedia for the notes above.)

I first heard Missing You  over twenty-five years ago when Bobby, who used to play with the group, Banter, featured this song as part of his repertoire. He left after a couple of years to return to Belfast. However, I didn’t pick it up until about five years ago. The song, as performed by Christy Moore, was the template for Bobby’s version all those years ago, and I guess I kept to that template here.

Jimmy McCarthy has written some of the most important songs from the folk revival in Ireland from the late-1970s onward. Our group has featured Ride On for at least 25 years and songs such as Bright Blue Rose, Katie, As I Leave Behind Neidin, and No Frontiers feature regularly in the Irish program Sam the Man, Ann King and I host every other Sunday for two hours between 10:00 a.m. and noon. It’s called A Touch of Ireland, and is broadcast on WOW FM 100.7, discoverable on the internet, if you want to check it out. At the moment, COVID has us locked out- but I anticipate we’ll be back in action from end June, 2020, God willing.

 I do like to track down originals, so, today, when I heard Jimmy McCarthy’s version (check it out on You Tube) I realised that his was the best version of all! Originals are usually best. If the band, Banter, ever gets together for public performances in the post-COVID dispensation, I think I’ll re-work the arrangement of the song and use  McCarthy’s vision as my template. P.S. Wikipedia spells Jimmy’s surname Mac, but I see it mostly as Mc. Take your pick (or shovel, should you prefer…)

I’m Missing You

It’s Heaven Around Galway Bay

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

This song I came upon by accident a couple of years ago. I was on You Tube listening to music of various kinds and came upon a Dublin City Ramblers take on it. I have since, listened to several versions but reckon that the DCRs is the gun version. A couple of us in the band were going through songs one night and I pulled out this song thinking that it might suit Sam the Man. He did sing it once or twice in practice but nothing eventuated.

Still in Lockdown (though with restrictions easing here in NSW) I decided to give it a go as the first song on Banter’s ninth collection. I am still so stuck in the 20th Century that I think in terms of LPs or CDs with 12 songs per disc. Actually, Banter, as a group has only featured on the first five collections.

And this only happened because several years ago we were putting together a set of songs and tunes for a good friend and former member of the group who was returning to Ireland for a last look before Parkinson’s claimed him. He wanted to share with friends and relations the music scene he had been involved in out here in western Sydney. Since then I have put down demos thinking that I’ll get the group to record the songs. But, as they say, it’s like herding cats or folding smoke. And, don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the cats, too!

I don’t know much about this song. It was written by Eamon O’Shea (who, I found out, was a man called Herman Weight who lived in the west of Ireland) He adopted the name because it sounded more Irish! Apart from that, I found out that he is better known as the composer of the song, Come Down the Mountain, Katy Daly. This was after a lengthy and fruitless search for the history of the “Galway” song. In no time at all I came up with oodles of stuff on “Katy Daley” but very little authoritative stuff about Herman Weight himself and the provenance of this song.

However, on Mudcat.org there are threads that may interest those who might want to carry on where, clearly, I have given up- see references to herding cats etc, above. Some were surprised that the song was not an American home-grown product and questioned its Irish origins. Below I include some text that may clear this up.

Last year, Richard Hawkins of bluegrassireland.blogspot.com wrote, after nearly sixty years ‘Come down the mountain Katie Daly’ continues to be widely known and sung here; and at “Bluegrass Omagh” this coming weekend, audiences will be able to see a living link with the song’s continuing endurance as a bluegrass classic, when Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers come on stage.

The song, with that title, was written and recorded by ‘Eamon O’Shea’ (real name Herman Weight) on Walton’s Dublin-based Glenside label and issued in November 1961.

In 1962 the first American recording of the song was made by the Bluegrass Playboys from Kentucky, with Joe Mullins’s father, Paul (Moon) Mullins on fiddle and vocals. It was later released on the Playboys’ album The world of bluegrass (Briar M-108). The song was a hit for them, became a bluegrass favourite, and was later recorded on the Rebel label (as ‘Katy Daley’) by Ralf Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys., adding the word ‘on’ (‘come on down the mountain’).

Unfortunately, I can shed very little light on It’s Heaven Around Galway Bay, which does not seem to attract the same amount of critical attention as its sibling. Not that it matters all that much. If I like a song, I’ll sing it. In this arrangement, I pay tribute to transatlantic musical cross-fertilisation by including, courtesy of PG Music’s Band-in-a-Box, bluegrass mandolin fills and the swinging American waltz guitars. Cead mile failte!

It’s Heaven Around Galway Bay

Joe Hill






There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Joe Hill (October 7, 1879 – November 19, 1915),  songwriter, and member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, familiarly called the “Wobblies”). Hill, an immigrant worker frequently facing unemployment and underemployment, became a popular songwriter and cartoonist for the union. His most famous songs include “The Preacher and the Slave” (in which he coined the phrase “pie in the sky”), You will eat, bye and bye/In that glorious land above the sky;/Work and pray, live on hay,/You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

In 1914, John G. Morrison, a Salt Lake City area grocer and former policeman, and his son were shot and killed by two men. Hill was convicted of the murders in a controversial trial. An appeal to the Utah Supreme Court was unsuccessful. Orrin N. Hilton, the lawyer representing Hill during the appeal, declared: “The main thing the state had on Hill was that he was an IWW and therefore sure to be guilty. In an article for the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason, Hill wrote: “Owing to the prominence of Mr. Morrison, there had to be a ‘goat’ [scapegoat] and the undersigned being, as they thought, a friendless tramp, a Swede, and worst of all, an IWW, had no right to live anyway, and was therefore duly selected to be ‘the goat’.” Joe Hill was executed by firing squad on November 19, 1915 at Utah’s Sugar House Prison. When Deputy Shettler, who led the firing squad, called out the sequence of commands preparatory to firing (“Ready, aim,”) Hill shouted, “Fire — go on and fire!”

Just prior to his execution, Hill had written to Bill Haywood, an IWW leader, saying, “Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize … Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”

It generated international union attention, and critics charged that the trial and conviction were unfair. More recently, Utah Phillips considers Joe Hill to have been a political prisoner who was executed for his political agitation through song-writing.

In a biography published in 2011, William M. Adler concludes that Hill was probably innocent of murder, but also suggests that Hill came to see himself as worth more to the labor movement as a dead martyr than he was alive, and that this understanding may have influenced his decisions not to testify at the trial and subsequently to spurn all chances of a pardon.

His last will requested a cremation and reads: My will is easy to decide/For there is nothing to divide/My kin don’t need to fuss and moan/”Moss does not cling to rolling stone”//My body? Oh, if I could choose/I would to ashes it reduce/And let the merry breezes blow/My dust to where some flowers grow//Perhaps some fading flower then/Would come to life and bloom again./This is my Last and final Will./Good Luck to All of you/Joe Hill

Hill’s body was sent to Chicago, where it was cremated; in accordance with his wishes, his ashes were placed into 600 small envelopes and sent around the world to be released to the winds. Delegates attending the Tenth Convention of the IWW in Chicago received envelopes November 19, 1916, one year to the day of Hill’s execution (and not on May Day 1916 as Wobbly lore claims). The rest of the 600 envelopes were sent to IWW locals, Wobblies and sympathizers around the world on January 3, 1917.

One small packet of ashes was scattered at a 1989 ceremony which unveiled a monument to six unarmed IWW coal miners buried in Lafayette, Colorado, who had been machine-gunned by Colorado state police in 1927 in the Columbine Mine massacre. Until 1989 the graves of five of these men were unmarked. Another famous Wobbly, Carlos Cortez, scattered Joe Hill’s ashes on the graves at the commemoration.

Hill was memorialized in a tribute poem written about him c. 1930 by Alfred Hayes titled “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night,” sometimes referred to simply as “Joe Hill”. The lyrics were turned into a song in 1936 by Earl Robinson, who wrote in 1986, “‘Joe Hill’ was written in Camp Unity in the summer of 1936 in New York State, for a campfire program celebrating him and his songs …” Hayes gave a copy of his poem to fellow camp staffer Robinson, who wrote the tune in 40 minutes. Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger performed this song and are associated with it, along with Irish folk group The Dubliners and Joan Baez. (The notes above taken from a lengthy Wikipedia article-donate!)

I first heard the song, sung by Joan Baez in 1970.  Banter, since its formation over 25 years ago, has been performing this great song. This is another song fronted by Sam the Man and which I have purloined for this post. But then  again- it’s impossible to steal a great song which belongs to the wider world.

Joe Hill

The Galway Races

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Galway Races” is a traditional Irish song. The song’s narrator is attending the eponymous annual event in Galway, a city in the west of Ireland. The song was made famous in the UK in 1967 by The Dubliners. It has been recorded by many artists since that time. This Irish horse-racing starts on the last Monday of July every year. Held at Ballybrit Racecourse in Galway, Ireland over seven days, it is one of the longest of all the race meets that occur in Ireland. The busiest days of the festival are Wednesday, when the Galway Plate is held, and Thursday, when the Galway Hurdle and Ladies’ Day take place. The summer festival is the highlight of the business year for most local businesses as crowds and horses flock from all over the world to attend one of the world’s biggest race meetings.

The pub underneath the Corrib Stand, built in 1955, was for many years the longest bar in the world. It was replaced by the Millennium Stand which opened in 1999. Thursday is traditionally the busiest and most stylish day of the week-long Galway Racing Festival. Ladies compete for the coveted title of Best Dressed Lady or Most Elegant Hat. (notes above adapted from Wikipedia- great resource-donate)

Throughout Ireland people of all ages and occupations prepare for the Galway Races with a fervour that is almost religious in its intensity ‘The apparel oft proclaims the man’, wrote the Bard of Avon. Shakespeare would surely have loved the Galway Races where ‘all the men and women are truly players’.

Galway is about voices past and present; those of the late Michael O’Hehir, and the late Luke Kelly singing “As I roved out through Galway to seek for recreation…”  Galway is about horses. Horses with nodding heads and swishing tails, contentedly circling the crowded parade ring before the shrewdly appraising eyes of gamblers and horse-lovers alike.

It is about men with caps pushed back off their foreheads to betoken astonishment at the peculiarities of racing form. Imperturbable men who, minutes after losing heavily on an odds-on certainty, will endeavour once more to prise reluctant secrets from the same specious form book that deceived them in the first place.

Galway race-goers will queue good-naturedly for smoked salmon, hamburgers or baked potatoes. Aromas of freshly mown grass, leather saddles and pipe tobacco will commingle agreeably with the bouquets of brandy and fine wines. Irish dancers will jig to a lone banjo player or the combined strains of fiddle, flute and accordion.  (notes above taken from irishcultureandcustoms.com)

The Galway Races are the subject of At Galway Races, a poem by W. B. YeatsThere where the racecourse is/Delight makes all of the one mind/The riders upon the swift horses/The field that closes in behind./We too had good attendance once,/Hearers, hearteners of the work,/Aye, horsemen for companions/Before the merchant and the clerk/Breathed on the world with timid breath;/But some day and at some new moon/We’ll learn that sleeping is not death/Hearing the whole earth change its tune,/Flesh being wild again, and it again/Crying aloud as the racecourse is;/And find hearteners among men/That ride upon horses. Yeats, with his aristocratic bent, loved the ideal of “the horse”

 Notice from the organisers: The 2020 Galway Races will no longer go ahead as originally planned due to government intervention. Michael Moloney described the Galway Race Committee’s decision as ‘unavoidable’. It read: ‘In light of the evolving situation regarding Covid-19, for public health and safety reasons Galway Race Committee has reached the difficult but unavoidable decision that the 2020 Galway Races Summer Festival, due to be held from Monday 27th July to Sunday 2nd August will not be able to take place.

That bloody virus gets in everywhere and stuffs everything! Is nothing sacred? In our group, Sam the Man usually sings this but, as I have said before, “Lockdown Rules!” So, I have put together this Band-in-a-Box version featuring guitar, drums, bass, mandolin, bouzouki and accordion. ( I couldn’t find a fiddle that sounded right, sorry Mark.) I supply a lone vocal (but I do double the chorus) over the 127- bpm swung instrumentation.

The Galway Races

The Curragh of Kildare

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Curragh of Kildare, also known as The Winter, it is Past, is a folk song particularly associated with the Irish tradition. Elements of some versions of the song suggest that it dates from at least the mid-18th century. In the 19th Century the Curragh was used to rally the British Army and then, in 1922 onwards, the Irish Army.

The 5,000-acre plain in County Kildare had, since the earliest times when the legendary men of the Fianna were believed to have trained there, been a welcoming sward to military men. From the end of the sixteenth century onwards there are records of encampment there.

The camp attracted thousands of spectators and camp followers; that is, prostitutes, who soon earned for themselves the sobriquet of wrens. This term was applied to the women as many of them lived all the year round in the furze bushes which are the only ground cover on the plain.

The Curragh was the place chosen by Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyreconnell to prepare his Army for the cause of James II. Wellington passed through here on his way to the peninsular wars. It was the Crimean War (1855-1856) which led to the construction of the first permanent camp at the Curragh. Queen Victoria visited in 1861 to visit her son the Prince of Wales (Edward VII), who was serving in the Curragh, and to inspect troops. 

The history of the text is rather complicated. Versions were taken down at different times in Ireland by  various collectors. The song has also been collected  in Scotland and England; the singer Frank Purslow collected a version (The Winter’s Gone and Past) in Dorset. Petrie thought that it was an “old Anglo-Irish song” and argued that the Scottish versions were most likely developed from it.

Several printed ballad versions exist, under titles such as The Lamenting Maid. The most well-known version of the text, usually referred to by the title The Winter it is Past, is attributed to Robert Burns. He appears to have developed it from a popular stall-ballad, The Lovesick Maid, which referred to a highwayman called Johnson, who was hanged in 1750 for robbery in the Curragh. Burns polished the original text considerably and removed two stanzas referring directly to Johnson. The resulting ballad was published in the collection of the Scots Musical Museum.

Different airs have been used for the song. Petrie suspected that one had been composed expressly for the stall-ballad, probably in Scotland around 1750, but expressed an opinion that “the same song united to a melody unquestionably Irish has been […] known in Ireland […] for an equal or much longer period”. The tune used for Burns’ version has been identified as a (distant) relative of that used for the American ballad Fare You Well, My Own True Love.

The song as currently performed was popularised by The Johnstons, who are said to have received it from Christy Moore, who uncovered a version in a Dublin library in 1961. (notes above taken from Wikipedia and historyireland.com )

Did I know anything of the tangled history of the song before indulging in a bit of online research? Not a bit of it. But I do remember clearly The Johnstons singing this in the late 1960s. In my view, no one has come close to their version of this song in the half century since they recorded their take on it.

IMHO, the song has in it that indefinable “something” that all great songs possess. I don’t attempt to compete with the luminaries who have recorded this song down the decades, but merely offer my interpretation of this classic. No chorusing, just a straight ballad.

The Curragh of Kildare

Deportees

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” is a protest song with lyrics by Woody Guthrie and music by Martin Hoffman detailing the January 28, 1948 crash of a plane near Los Gatos Canyon…Guthrie was inspired to write the song by what he considered the racist mistreatment of the passengers before and after the accident. The crash resulted in the deaths of 32 people, 4 Americans and 28 migrant farm workers who were being deported from California back to Mexico…

A decade later, Guthrie’s poem was set to music and given a haunting melody by a schoolteacher named Martin Hoffman. Shortly after, folk singer Pete Seeger, a friend of Woody Guthrie, began performing the song at concerts, and it was Seeger’s rendition that popularized the song…

“Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” has been described by journalist Joe Klein as “the last great song he [Guthrie] would write, a memorial to the nameless migrants ‘all scattered like dry leaves’ in Los Gatos Canyon.” The song has been recorded many times, often under a variety of other titles, including “Deportees”, “Ballad of the Deportees”, “Deportee Song”, “Plane Crash at Los Gatos” and “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)”.  (from Wikipedia- a great online resource-donate!)

I remember when I first sang this song: it was 1969 and a group of long-haired students from the college I was attending (after a fashion) carted their guitars from Belfast to the beach at Bangor, County Down. We had been asked to provide the “entertainment” for the occasion. This was my contribution. I knew the chords and remembered almost all of the lyrics- which I made up for by repeating the chorus more times than strictly necessary. Hey ho.

In our wee group, Sam the Man sings the verses and I chime in on the choruses. With Jim on mandolin and Mark weaving harmony magic on fiddle, this is one of our better arrangements.

But Lockdown Rules specify ( yes, I wrote the rules) that since Sam ain’t here, I get to do the vocal. This is nothing like the way we do it. Courtesy of Band-in-a-Box, this version features two session guitarist big guns, Brent Mason and Jason Roller, who take pride of place in the arrangement. I don’t double up in the chorus as I want to give full access to the great playing of these guys. I hope my rendition here is a bit better than the effort on Bangor beach fifty years ago…

Deportees

Murisheen Durkin

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Irish folk song “Murisheen Durkin” tells the story of an emigrant from Ireland who goes to mine for gold in California during the California Gold Rush, 1849. The song is about emigration, although atypically optimistic for the genre. The name “Muirsheen” is a good phonetic approximation to the pronunciation of “Máirtín” (Martin) in Connacht Irish; it could alternatively be construed as a diminutive of “Muiris” (Maurice). A pratie is a potato, the historical staple crop of Ireland. “America” is pronounced “Americay”, as was common among Gaelic peoples around Ireland

The air to which it is sung is “Cailíní deasa Mhuigheo” (pretty girls of Mayo), which is a popular reel dating from the 19th century. The song reached prominence when Johnny McEvoy’s recording reached no. 1 in Ireland in 1966. (notes above from Wikipedia, my favourite online resource, to which I donate periodically.) Johnny McEvoy’s version, which was on our turntables soon after its release, also spurred the showbands to make the song a staple of the music venues throughout Ireland.

It has been recorded by lots of artists since this time, including, Christy Moore, The Pogues, The Dubliners and The Wolfe Tones. Into that august company, the group Banter intends to venture (if I have anything to do with it!) A couple of years ago when Jim was off to Belfast to visit relatives, Sam, Mark and I had a couple of practices where we canvassed a few songs that were blasts from the past. We never got round to including the song in any of our sets after Jim’s return; however, it might well make an appearance, if and when the venues for music re-open here in western Sydney.

Murisheen Durkin

I Was Only Nineteen

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Only 19“, “I Was Only 19” or “A Walk in the Light Green” is the most widely recognised song by Australian folk group Redgum. The song was released in March 1983. Royalties for the song go to the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia

The song is a first-person account of a typical Australian soldier’s experience in the Vietnam War, from training at a military academy in Australia to first hand exposure to military operations and combat and ultimately his return home disillusioned and suffering from both PTSD and, it is implied, the harmful effects of Agent Orange.

Contrary to popular belief, the subject of this song volunteered for service in the Australian Army and was not conscripted. During the Vietnam War, Australian men did not become eligible for conscription until the age of 20.

Redgum’s lead vocalist-guitarist, John Schumann, wrote the song based on experiences he heard from veterans, particularly Mick Storen (his brother in-law) and Frankie Hunt. Schumann has said that “the power derives from the detail, provided by my mate and brother-in-law, Mick Storen, who was brave and trusting enough to share his story with me.”

For the live version, Schumann explained the title, “A Walk in the Light Green”, as referring to operational patrols in areas marked light green on topographical maps, where dark green indicated thick jungle, plenty of cover and few land mines and light green indicated thinly wooded areas, little cover and a high likelihood of land mines.

The lyrics include words, terms and place names particular to Australia and Vietnam:

  • ANZAC: Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in the world wars.
  • Canungra jungle warfare training centre in Queensland
  • Channel Seven: Australian television network.
  • Chinook: Military helicopter.
  • Contact!: Military term indicating an encounter with the enemy.
  • Dustoff: Casualty evacuation by helicopter.
  • Greens: Jungle Green Working Dress, the field uniform worn by the Australian Army between the early 1960s and 1989.
  • The Grand Hotel: A hotel in Vung Tau that had been converted for Army use.
  • Light green: parts on a map which indicated supposedly more dangerous areas for soldiers to patrol as there was little dense foliage and cover and an area which was more likely to be mined.
  • Nui Dat: Village in Southern Vietnam, and the main base of the 1st Australian Task Force from 1965 to 1972.
  • Puckapunyal: Former Army enlisted soldier recruit training centre in Victoria.
  • Shoalwater: Military exercise area in Queensland.
  • Sixth Battalion:: (aka 6RAR) Australian army battalion, whose D Company had been involved in the Battle of Long Tan during a tour three years earlier.
  • Slouch hat:: Parade head-dress for the Australian army.
  • SLR:: Standard 7.62 mm semi-automatic rifle issued to Australian infantrymen during the Vietnam War.
  • Tinnies: Cans of beer.
  • Townsville: City in Queensland, home of the Australian Army’s 3rd Brigade & RAAF Base Townsville. Also at the time the embarkation point for troops shipping to Vietnam from all around Australia, because it was the biggest port in Northern Australia.
  • VB: Victoria Bitter (beer). Was also used as a reference to one’s comrades in arms aka “Venerable Brethren.” e.g: “We made our tents a home VB with pin-ups on the lockers, and an Asian orange sunset through the scrub.” (A reference to the defoliant, “Agent Orange” used prolifically in Vietnam).
  • Vung Tau:: Coastal city in Southern Vietnam which was the 1st Australian Logistics Support Group base and a rest area for troops based at Nui Dat.

( Thanks to Wikipedia for the notes above- I’ve included the glossary of terms to help non-Aussie listeners understand the lyrics)

Five years ago, in post on this site (SQ 6- A Touch of Ireland) I recorded the following about the small township of St Marys, as it then was, on the banks of South Creek, on the Cumberland Plain at the foot of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales: Lines of a local poet, George Sullivan, recall those idyllic days:

DC-1914-27-d-Sarajevo-cropped

If only Victoria Park could speak/ What wondrous tales from it you’d share, /About those careless, happy days/ When it was called ‘The Square’./ It could tell of all the bullocks/That were roasted on its green;/Of the glorious games of football/By sportsmen strong and clean./ It could tell of games of cricket,/ Of how the wickets soon did fall/When demon bowlers, Royal and Tolhurst,/Did send down the ball.

The names of all too many of those sportsmen strong and clean would be inscribed in bronze on tablets marking the fallen in the Great War, and subsequent wars, on the octagonal Rotunda. The phrase, strong and clean emerges 60 years later when  Redgum sang, This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean/ And there’s me in me slouch hat and me SLR and greens/ God help me, I was only 19.

VietnamVung-Tauhelicopter_w

So, the tropes that helped describe the ANZACs of the Great War in 1914-1918, strong and clean, were also used fifty years later in Vietnam. And I’m sure they filtered down the decades into Iraq and Afghanistan

I first heard the song when I was teaching at a High School south of Townsville in 1989. The VP put the song on cassette as part of the ANZAC Day commemoration. The students just shuffled around a bit in the tropical heat- not their sort of music, I guess. But I was captivated by the detail in the lyrics as well as the melody.

When I got back to Sydney in the mid-1990s the group I helped form, Banter, made the song part of the repertoire. Big Geordie sang the song with real bite. Our interpretation speeded up the song, and with acoustic folk instrumentation supported by thumping bodhran, was quite distinct from Redgum’s more sombre, funereal original.

In 1997, during a performance of the song, at The Henry Lawson Club in western Sydney, I noticed a guy of fifty-something, bearded and with greying long hair, watching the group intently. In passing (on the way to the bar for a beer after the song) I casually asked him how he was enjoying the set. He looked at me for a while and said, “I thought at first you were taking the piss- but decided there was no disrespect intended.” He was a Vietnam Vet. I assured him that, far from dissing anyone, we were honouring the soldiers who served.

Big Geordie is no longer with the group and we have discussed, from time to time, restoring the song to our sets, but no one yet has volunteered to step up and take it on. Maybe…..

I Was Only Nineteen

The Green Glens of Antrim

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Who wrote the damned thing? I thought I would just do a bit of an internet search, or, refer to my good mate Wikipedia, and be able to get out of here in a para or two!

Guess what? I discovered next to bugger-all. Now, I really don’t care if the tune and/or lyrics come from Timbuktu or Ulan Bator. My test is simple: if I like it, I sing it. If this makes me less than a purist- so be it, and, as and one of my Aussie mates might say, if you don’t like it: Go bury your head in a dead bear’s bum.

 I did get some somewhere by going to Mudcat.org, which is a great site that I have zoned into over the decades, in pursuit of various snippets: I discovered this: ‘The Green Glens of Antrim’ is a song I grew up with hearing regularly, in the heart of the Glens – Cushendall… The Green Glens of Antrim was written by Archie Montgomery (under the pseudonym of Kenneth North) and published in 1950. 

Now, Archie Montgomery sounds Scottish. From living in the Glens from 1964 to 1972 (off and on), I can attest that the Glens were a magnet for Scottish visitors in the 20th Century, right up until the time that the latest iteration of the  “Troubles” put paid to casual tourism.

For me, there is no problem about the provenance of a song: if there is a connection made, then it must be right! There is no doubt that this song resonates with many people down the years. It matters not a whit to me whether on not the composer was a native of the Glens of Antrim, or indeed, Ireland.

Maybe I can illustrate the point by reference to my own history and involvement in the Glens: I can remember that my father took his treasured AKAI reel-to-reel tape recorder down to a hotel where there would be a recital featuring the song. This would have been in the mid-1960s. He was proud as punch to be able to memorialise the event, as no one else in the village (Cushendall) has such equipment back then. I can remember him playing the tape for me in the front room of our home.

Now to me: in the early 1980s, after I had returned from Australia, I had the honour to direct a play by the local drama society which had been going for over 60 years- and for which my mother had been an early thespian in the 1920s. Obviously, I was good to go as director! It’s in the blood!

She tread the boards“, as one member said! “OK!” I said, “I’ll do it.” This, in spite of my having little to no experience of directing a bunch of headstrong actors. I learned later, that no one else was foolhardy enough to take on the challenge, and, a few had been approached! So, guess who was the bunny?

The play was Crime on Goat Island by Ugo Betti. Such outré choices are not unusual in Irish amateur dramatic circles, and I loved the play. I love literature and I recognised the quality of this play. I got a talented artist, Jimmy Crabbe, to design a fabulous poster. After heaps of rehearsals and competition, we got through to the All-Ireland Finals (confined section).

In other words, we didn’t have to compete against the big companies from Belfast, Dublin or Cork. But we were up against a lot of quality opposition from the rest of non-metropolitan Ireland: just ask around to see what the quality of Irish provincial amateur drama is (or was at that time). 

Anyway, we loaded up our sets and props and travelled south-west into the west of Ireland. We put on our dark, Italian drama. We got placed! Hey, did we want to celebrate? Of course. We chafed through the speeches and presentations and then…

We adjourned to the hotel in which a few of the travelling acts were billeted, and we started to drink to our successes (and near-successes). As the evening wore on, the Cushendall contingent grew more and more raucous. (We were, after all, from the Glens of Antrim…)

Someone, (it was not me, alas) started to sing: Far across yonder blue… within seconds, the actors, stage-hands, make-up artists, lighting and sound people, supporters,  and everyone else (including myself) associated with the Cushendall performance, began to sing, a capella, the quintessential song of the Glens, which is given below.

I have never heard a better rendition! What you hear here (do you like the homophone?) is a mild version, only. In my memory, the real thing would shatter your speakers and take the roof off your abode. Not Lying! Not Kidding! So, please, imagine the scene, and sing along.

The Green Glens of Antrim

The Augathella Drovers (Brisbane Ladies)

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

“The Long Paddock” is the colloquial name given to the historical travelling stock routes of Australia. “The Augathella Drovers”, also known as “Augathella Station”, “Farewell Brisbane Ladies”, or simply “The Drover’s Song” is an Australian folk song based on a well-known English original called “Ladies of Spain. The song bids farewell to the Ladies of Brisbane on the drovers’ departure and follows their journey along the stock route to the Augathella Station (nearly 800 kilometres inland) in much the same way that the English sailors bid farewell to the ladies of Spain. (notes above by Brett Thompson/fourandtwentymusic.com)

The lyric dates back to at least the 1880s and is credited to a jackaroo turned shopkeeper, named Saul Mendelsohn, who lived near Nanango. The place names used in the song were part of the route that cattle drovers used when returning from Brisbane to the cattle station at Augathella, which is located in west-central Queensland. 

Banter has gone over the song a few times in practice; however, we haven’t yet got the vocal and instrumental parts sufficiently together for public performance. I reckon it would go well with another great droving song, The Overlander, which is a staple of the group (have a listen to A Bit of Banter 41). If and when we emerge from lockdown to something approximating  the previously normal pub/club milieu, we may well rant and roar the song out…after a few soothing ales.  

The Augathella Drovers

The Sea Around Us

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Sea Around Us– Although he died over 30 year ago, the songs of Dominic Behan continue to be played around the world, especially by Irish bands and performers. Notable songs include, The Patriot Game (which he claimed, with much justification, was plaigarised by Bob Dylan for God On Our Side.), McAlpine’s Fusiliers, of which you’ll find a version elsewhere on the site, and Come Out Ye Black and Tans. He was a committed socialist and republican and he had a wide network of friends and collaborators in the media politics and arts. The verse below, from this song, demonstrates his acerbity and humour: Two foreign old monarchs in battle did join/Each wanting his head on the back of a coin;/If the Irish had sense they’d drowned both in the Boyne/And partition thrown into the ocean. One summer in the mid-sixties, my brother and I hitch-hiked to Bundoran, a holiday town on the Atlantic coast of Donegal. We stopped into a church hall to hear Dominic Behan perform: still a happy memory.

The notes above are taken from another version of the song on this site. A Bit of Banter- 63 features Sam the Man singing for a session we had almost a decade ago. Here, still in lockdown, I felt the urge to set it down again, and I think it can bear the repetition.

The Sea Around Us

Waltzing Matilda (Qld version)


There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Waltzing Matilda” is Australia’s best-known bush ballad, and has been described as the country’s “unofficial national anthem”.

The title was Australian slang for travelling on foot (waltzing) with one’s belongings in a “matilda” (swag) slung over one’s back. The song narrates the story of an itinerant worker, or “swagman”, making a drink of billy tea at a bush camp and capturing a stray jumbuck (sheep) to eat. When the jumbuck’s owner, a squatter (landowner), and three troopers (mounted policemen) pursue the swagman for theft, he declares “You’ll never catch me alive!” and commits suicide by drowning himself in a nearby billabong (watering hole), after which his ghost haunts the site.

The original lyrics were written in 1895 by Australian poet Banjo Paterson, and were first published as sheet music in 1903

The Australian poet Banjo Paterson wrote the words to “Waltzing Matilda” in August 1895 while staying at Dagworth Station, near Winton owned by the Macpherson family.

It has been widely accepted that “Waltzing Matilda” is probably based on the following story:

In Queensland in 1891 the Great Shearers’ Strike brought the colony close to civil war and was broken only after the military were called in. In September 1894, some shearers at Dagworth Station were again on strike. The situation turned violent with the striking shearers firing their rifles and pistols in the air and setting fire to the woolshed at Dagworth, killing dozens of sheep. The owner of Dagworth Station and three policemen gave chase to a man named Samuel Hoffmeister, an immigrant said to have been born in Batavia also known as “Frenchy” Rather than be captured, Hoffmeister shot and killed himself at the 4 Mile Creek south of Kynuna at 12.30pm on 2 September, 1894.

In February 2010, ABC News reported an investigation by barrister Trevor Monti that the death of Hoffmeister was more akin to a gangland assassination than to suicide. The same report asserts, “Writer Matthew Richardson says the song was most likely written as a carefully worded political allegory to record and comment on the events of the shearers’ strike.” (Thanks to that great resource, Wikipedia for the notes above- donate if you can.)

On arriving in Australia, in 1972, this was one of the first Aussie songs I learned. In the mid-70s I played in a group called Currency and here’s where I learned the alternative music to the well-known lyrics. From lockdown, I present a version that has more than a trace of Country music in its iteration.

Waltzing Matilda (Qld version)

The Wild Rover


There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Historically, the song has been referred to in Irish folklore and, since the late sixteenth century, it has been noted in written records—although it is likely that some northern Atlantic fishing crews knew the song before these historical accounts were made. The song is a staple for artists performing live music in Irish pubs. It is often considered to be a drinking song rather than a temperance song. For many people, the Wild Rover is the stereotypical Irish drinking song

“The Wild Rover” is the most widely performed Irish song, although its exact origins are unknown. The song tells the story of a young man who has been away from his hometown for many years. Returning to his former alehouse the landlady refuses him credit, until he presents the gold which he has gained while he has been away. He sings of how his days of roving are over and he intends to return to his home and settle down.

According to Professor T. M. Devine in his book The Scottish Nation 1700 – 2000 (Penguin, 2001) the song was written as a temperance song. The song is found printed in a book, The American Songster, printed in the USA by W.A. Leary in 1845, and spread from Scotland to America from the Temperance movement. There is another USA printed version in the “Forget-Me-Not Songster” (c 1850), published by Locke. An alternative history of the song is suggested by the fact that a collection of ballads, dated between 1813 and 1838, is held in the Bodleian Library

Raymond Daly and Derek Warfield of The Wolfe Tones describe how the fans of Celtic Football Club in Scotland  sing The Wild Rover at away matches. The chorus is well known throughout most English-speaking cultures, even among people who have no knowledge of the rest of the song. (Thanks to Wikipedia for the notes above. Do donate to a great site, if you can afford to.)

I first came across this song off the Dubliners 1964 LP and the song was a staple of the dance-halls in rural and metro Northern Ireland. The showbands of the time were nothing if not versatile: able to keep the punters entertained with songs from the Top of the Pops as well as Country staples from the USA. Add to the mix,  Irish folk songs and Ceili dance-tunes and you get the idea of what a night out was like in the mid-1960s in Ireland. It was a great time that has, alas, faded into the past.

Sam the Man helms the song in our wee group, Banter, but because the virus has us in lockdown, and, anyway, there are no venues open for live music yet, I get to sing it and share it!

The Wild Rover

Will You Come to the Bower

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

This patriotic song dates to the early 19th Century and thus is one of the earliest of the genre in English. On the surface it appears to be a love song. A bower is a seat found in leafy surrounds often used for romantic trysts or meetings- although this arrangement was usually found among the wealthy!

However, in the song, the bower is a symbol for Ireland herself, and the call in the song is for the Irish who have scattered to Europe and America as a result of British retribution during the rebellions in 1798 of the United Irishmen and the Emmet rebellion of 1803 to return to aid Ireland in her need- will you come to the bower.

This aid, according to some, would encompass armed insurrection as well as political agitation, which obviously had to be couched in code to escape the attention of the authorities. (Although, really, were the authorities so thick that they could not spot sedition in the lyrics!)

The song reached America by the 1830s because the tune was played as the Texan army, under General Sam Houston, marched against the Mexican forces led by Santa Anna, at the battle of San Jacinto on April 21st, 1836 which established the independence of Texas.  Remember the Alamo! the charging Texans yelled.

Over the years the song may have gained some overlays of reference as successive waves of Nationalists had to escape over the next fifty years. Nevertheless, it remains an early example in both its diction and melody of the patriotic impulse of the Irish and their love of Erin the Green.

The song references great Celtic heroes such as Brian Boru, who successfully repelled the Vikings; powerful clans, such as the O’Neills and O’Donnells as well as political figures such as Daniel O’Connell. It name- checks settlements throughout Ireland such as Dublin, Wexford and New Ross as well as bodies of water such as the lakes of Killarney and Lough Neagh; the rivers also get a mention, the Bann, the Boyne, the Liffey and the broad, majestic Shannon. And what broad-brush Irish song would fail to mention Ireland’s patron, St Patrick. (I am indebted to the website irishmusicdaily.com for some of the info above.)

The group Banter has yet to perform the song in public although it has had an outing in a couple of practices. When the virus thing is a pestilence past, we may well perform it, as it has great words and a rousing melody. I first heard this song from an early Dubliners LP in the late 1960s featuring the incomparable Luke Kelly on vocals. So, again, I here present a lockdown version featuring Band-in-a-Box etc.- which is great to have, but I would prefer having living, breathing musos behind me rather than the digital devices.

Will You Come To The Bower

Whiskey on a Sunday

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Seth Davy with his dancing dolls,1900 A.D.

The song, written by Glyn Hughes around 1960, is also known as The Lament for Seth Davy, who died in 1902. Seth Davy was a Jamaican who performed in the square near the Bevington Bush Hotel. In the photograph above he can be seen with his dancing dolls entertaining a bunch of kids. The dolls were attached to a plank which he controlled by striking the plank with his hands.

I first heard the song in 1968, by Danny Doyle, who had a hit with it in Ireland. At that time, I was living between Belfast and the Glens of Antrim. I thought it was about Ireland, what with the mention of buttermilk and whiskey. But, when I started to sing the song a few years back I did a bit of research and discovered the true origin and context of the song. You are never to old to learn the truth about something!

The last three posts all cover songs about Liverpool but this is the only one that is native to Liverpool itself. The Leaving of Liverpool probably originates in America and Liverpool Lou was written by noted Irish songwriter, Dominic Behan.

Again, this is a lockdown version of the song. While I really rate the Band-in-a-Box and Real Band software as well as the n-Track recording app, I still prefer standing with my guitar onstage with Jim, my brother-in-law playing the mandolin, Mark, my nephew playing the fiddle and good friend Sam the Man, playing the bodhran. Our appearing in front of a pub or club crowd is still months in the future, I fear. In the meantime…

Whiskey On A Sunday

Liverpool Lou

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Liverpool folk/poetry band The Scaffold produced a version of Behan’s song “Liverpool Lou” in 1974 which became a top 10 hit in the UK and spawned covers in various languages across Europe. On the original Scaffold pressing, the writing credits were incorrectly attributed to Paul McCartney who had produced the record on behalf of his brother Mike McGear.

Behan advised the relevant authorities and had his rights to the song reinstated quickly receiving an apology from McCartney; Behan accepted McCartney’s explanation that his mother had sung the song and he thought it was a traditional work. Later pressings of the song were then correctly credited to Behan; the early McCartney-labelled pressings are particularly rare and collectible.

In a well-publicised interview, John Lennon dismissed the 1960s folk scene in his own country, describing it as “College students with pints of beer going hay-nonny nonny” but in the same breath, he praised Behan, from neighbouring Ireland, whom he said he liked. On Desert Island Discs in 2007, Yoko Ono selected Behan’s “Liverpool Lou” as her husband had sung it to their son as a lullaby. (notes above taken from that wonderful site, Wikipedia- donate, if you can.)

One of Banter’s main singers, Jim, usually fields this one, but, because of lockdown in force still here in Sydney, guess who ends up singing it on this release? By the way, I’ve recorded, more than one of the songs that are rightfully Jim’s or Sam the Man’s but I don’t know if I want to give them back now…

Liverpool Lou

The Leaving of Liverpool

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

“(The) Leaving of Liverpool” (Roud 9435), also known as “Fare Thee Well, My Own True Love”, is a folk song. Folklorists classify it as a lyrical lament and it was also used as a sea shanty, especially at the capstan.

It is very well known in Britain, Ireland, and America, despite the fact that it was collected only twice, from the Americans Richard Maitland and Captain Patrick Tayluer. It was collected from both singers by William Main Doerflinger, an American folk song collector particularly associated with sea songs in New York.

Maitland said he learned “The Leaving of Liverpool” from a Liverpudlian on board the General Knox around 1885. His version has the narrator leave Liverpool to be a professional sailor aboard a historical clipper ship, the David Crockett, under a real-life captain, Captain Burgess. This would date his version to between 1863, when John A. Burgess first sailed the David Crockett out of Liverpool, and 1874, when Burgess died at sea. 

Tayluer did not say exactly when he learned the song, but he was at sea by 1870, and Doerflinger generally thought his songs were older than Maitland’s. Tayluer did say that he believed the song originated during the Gold Rush, in 1849, and that it concerned a person leaving Liverpool to strike it rich in California and then return. 

“The Leaving of Liverpool” has been recorded by many popular folk singers and groups since the 1950s. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem had a top 10 hit with the song in Ireland in 1964. The song has also been adapted by several artists, most notably The Dubliners and The Pogues. (The above info from the wonderful trove of stuff in Wikipedia. Donate to it, as I do, because it is worth preserving as one of the saner sources of knowledge among what you get on other free sites.)

I first heard the song in the mid-1960s from a Clancy Brothers record belonging to my parents. I have had a handwritten version of the lyrics in my song folder for over a quarter of a century and in all that time I have not sung it in public, nor has any of the group, Banter. Don’t ask me why, as it’s a great song. Maybe it is because it got over-sung and over-played in the folk revival in the British Isles in the 60s and 70s?

In any event, I was sitting in lockdown and happened across it as I was going through my folder. I think it deserves another airing- even though dozens of examples of the song are extant out there. I treat it as a lament, rather than the lustier versions that have been favoured by some artists.

The Leaving of Liverpool

The Lachlan Tigers

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Lachlan river runs through some of the best sheep raising areas of western NSW. To this region came the tigers of the shearing trade, the big gun shearers. This song pays tribute to their skill. Calling “tar” was not something you shouted out too loudly, according to Duke Tritton [the writer of The Sandy Hollow Line which I have recorded elsewhere on this site.] The tar was to stop the bleeding when a sheep was cut while being shorn. The same tune is used for ‘The Station Cook’ and ‘The Great Northern Line’ one of Sally Sloane’s songs. The tune is from the Scottish song ‘Musselburgh Fair’. From the singing of A.L. Lloyd. (notes taken from website folkstream.com)

Sheep shearing is probably the most iconic activity in rural Australia. At the start of the wool industry in the early 19th century, sheep were shorn with blade shears, similar to garden clippers. The first authenticated daily tally (amount of sheep shorn in a single day) was 30 sheep by Tome Merely in 1835. By 1892, Jack Howe managed a tally of 321 sheep at Alice Downs in Queensland.

In the intervening period, however, the rise of the wool industry meant that new inventions and processes were introduced to make shearing more time and cost efficient. Patents for shearing machines started to be granted from the 1860s and in 1882, a shearer called Jack Gray became the first man to completely shear a sheep using mechanical shears.

The method that most woolgrowers adopt was the Wolseley stand. Frederick Wolseley was an Irish-born pastoralist who had a sheep station near Sydney. His invention was a handpiece connected to a power source – originally driven by horse power, but later connected to an external engine. The handpiece relieved strain on the shearer’s hand and allowed the wool to be clipped up to three times closer to the skin than blade shearing. The new invention horrified thousands of shearers, who feared that the new efficient method would put many of them out of work. Powerful shearers’ unions were formed and a resolution forbidding union members to work in sheds with non-union workers led to a six-month shearers’ strike which crippled the wool industry in the eastern states of Australia. The woolgrowers held firm and eventually the shearers were forced to return to work, but the action laid the groundwork for the labour movement in Australia.

By 1900, machine shearing was the norm, although it was as late as 1949 when Jack Howe’s blade shearing tally was broken by a machine shearer when Dan Cooper achieved a total of 325 sheep by machine. (from the archives of The State Library of New South Wales)

My first encounter with Australian folk music was back in the mid-1970s when I was a part of a folk trio  named Currency Folk, with John Broomhall and Kevin Baker. We played a selection of Aussie folk songs here and there in the Wollongong area. On one notable occasion we played for an audience of wharfies at Port Kembla. They were a tolerant and somewhat amused audience as they watched three twenty-something middle-class teachers sing and emote about the struggles of the Australian worker!

From that time, I have grown to love Australian folk song and have sung a number from this vast repertoire in the decades since. At first, in my more ignorant phase as a twenty-something teacher, I thought that Australian folk music was derivative and inferior to the burgeoning Irish Folk revival that was headlined in the late 1950s with The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, continued with The Dubliners in the 1960s, then Planxty and The Fureys in the 1970s.

But, as I like to say, life is a learning process, or you are merely a dead man walking about and taking up valuable space. I have, over the decades, learned something of the subtleties and ingenious adaptations as words and music from other lands have made their way to Australia and been transformed into an authentic homegrown genre.

And talking about authenticity, this song was best performed, IMHO, by an Aussie called Big Geordie Muir, who sang with us in the mid-1990s at The Henry Lawson Club, in Werrington in western Sydney, of which he was the general manager. He hailed from out by Warragamba Dam, and his roots were proudly Scottish.  Here is my lockdown version which I present to you, without too much blushing, and only because of the exigencies caused by that bloody virus…

The Lachlan Tigers

The Jolly Beggarman

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Jolly Beggarman is believed to be King James V of Scotland, father of Mary, Queen of Scots. He was in the habit of wandering the countryside dressed as a beggar. There are lots of stories about various royals and members of the nobility roaming the roads, streets and lanes of their domain for a bit of excitement.

King James V actually wrote a poem in the 16th Century called The Jolly Beggar on which the verse of the song here is based. The chorus is inspired by the 19th Century Romantic poet, Lord Byron who was mad, bad and dangerous to know! He was one of my favourite poets when I was a teenager- and I still rate him highly today. Here is his exquisite and regretful lyric, We’ll Go No More a-Roving.

SO, we’ll go no more a-roving/So late into the night,/Though the heart be still as loving, And the moon be still as bright/.For the sword outwears its sheath,/And the soul wears out the breast,/And the heart must pause to breathe,/And love itself have rest./Though the night was made for loving,/And the day returns too soon,/Yet we’ll go no more a-roving/By the light of the moon. 

Jim, along with Sam the Man, are the main singers in Banter. I am content to be the Bronze Medallist, insofar as singing is concerned, within our group. But, here in lockdown, there is no competition! So, I have taken one of the songs that Jim habitually sings and unashamedly present it here.

There is an interesting contrast between the lusty verses inspired by King James V and the regretful chorus inspired by Lord Byron. I have sought to underpin this by having the vigorous instrumentation of the verse being undercut by the romantic strings in the chorus- see what you think.

The Jolly Beggarman

Her Father Didn’t Like Me, Anyway

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

I first heard this song from the singing of Eddie Furey and piping by Finbar, from, their Transatlantic LP The Dawning of the Day, released in 1972. Written by Gerry Rafferty (he wrote 1978s smash hit Baker Street from his LP City to City and Stuck in the Middle with You, later used in the film Reservoir Dogs.)

Rafferty was born on 16 April 1947 into a working-class family of Irish Catholic origin in Paisley, Scotland. He was a member of a folk-pop group, The Humblebums, along with comedian Billy Connolly who has often recalled this period, telling how Rafferty made him laugh and describing the crazy things they did while on tour. Once Rafferty decided to look in the Berlin telephone directory to see if any Hitlers were listed.

Rafferty went on to have a career that encompassed Britain, Europe, and America. He was widely admired  with many friends in the music industry. He died in 2011 after a varied and jam-packed career and, as happens to so many talented musos, after a long struggle with alcohol.

Speaking after the funeral, Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers said: “I think Gerry Rafferty was one of the few people who really successfully straddled the worlds of both folk and popular music. He did it really well and he was respected in both camps.” Barbara Dickson also paid tribute to her friend, whom she described as a “luminous, glorious Scottish musician”. 

Finbar Furey, who knew Rafferty for over 40 years, said he “was in a different league completely. He didn’t know how good he was. He was one of the most talented musicians and singers I ever knew but he completely underestimated his own talent. He was a very humble man.” I include the above, gleaned from Wikipedia as a tribute to a truly great talent. I have long sung this song as part of my repertoire.

Her father Didn’t Like Me Anyway

The Massacre at Glencoe

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

At the heart of Celtic beliefs is the sacred notion of hospitality. In Shakespeare’s Scottish Play,(I am not really superstitious but why take chances!) the protagonist ponders the breach of hospitality he is considering: He’s here in double trust:/First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,/Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,/Who should against his murderer shut the door,/Not bear the knife myself.

“The reigns of mythic kings were judged on their hospitality (or lack thereof). Once, when Bres, a warrior of the Fomorian people — the “bad guys” of Celtic myth — became king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, he quickly became renowned for his parsimony. Bards complained that visitors to his house could count on leaving with no smell of beer on their breath! Finally, a bard named Cairbre was fed up enough to write a satire about the ungenerous king—the first satire ever composed in Ireland. Its effect was blistering—literally—as it caused sores to burst forth on Bres’ face, blemishing him and making him unfit to rule.

Celtic hospitality is not just a matter of folklore and legend. One time I was in Banbridge, Co. Down, and couldn’t find lodging; I mentioned this to the owner of a pub and he spent the next half hour driving me around until I found a room for the night. An even better tale comes from a former student of mine, who had a flat tire once while traveling in rural Ireland. Stopping in front of a farmhouse and hoping to use the phone, he met the farmer who insisted on fixing the tire himself—and then the farmer’s wife invited my student and his family in for dinner. And of course, talk of payment was quickly squelched. “No need for that,” the farmer said simply.” (from a post by Carl McColman)

But we now travel back in time to the circumstances of the massacre. On the 13th of February, 1692, following the Jacobite uprising an estimated thirty-eight members and associates of Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were killed by government forces billeted with them on the grounds that they had not been prompt enough in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William of Orange and his queen, Mary.

Others are alleged to have died of exposure- estimates ranging from forty to one hundred. Many people think that this is a traditional song, including John McDermott, whose version I first heard, in the mid-1990s, on his double-platinum disc Danny Boy. Like so many mistaken claims made for songs being from the anonymous folk tradition, this song has, in fact, a known writer, Jim McClean, who wrote this moving ballad in 1963. I have performed this song at clubs in western Sydney over the years. Who knows when the virus will allow such gatherings to go ahead?

The Massacre at Glencoe

Fiddler’s Green

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

I first heard this song from the Dubliner’s album Plain and Simple in the mid-1970s. I do believe that Barney McKenna sang it- a rarity- for he usually just confined himself to being the best tenor banjo player in the known universe.

I learned from the Mainly Norfolk website that the song was, according to Danny Spooner, written by John Conolly in 1966, this song has become so much a part of the folksong culture that it’s often referred to as a traditional song—a great compliment indeed. Fiddler’s Green was a name for areas of docklands and ports frequented by sailors ashore. But over time the sailor’s imagination turned those districts into Utopia or even Heaven. Wouldn’t it be nice?”

Herman Melville describes Fiddler’s Green as a sailors’ term for the place on land “providentially set apart for dance-houses, doxies, and tapsters” in his novella Billy Budd, Sailor, in 1924.

Fiddler’s Green appears in Frederick Marryat’s novel The Dog Fiend,  published in 1856, as lyrics to a sailors’ song: At Fiddler’s Green, where seamen true/When here they’ve done their duty/The bowl of grog shall still renew/And pledge to love and beauty.

Many places associated with the U.S. Military have been named Fiddler’s Green, including:

  • The U.S. Marine Corps operated Firebase Fiddler’s Green  in the heart of the Helmand River Valley, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
  • An artillery Fire Support Base in Military Region III in Vietnam  in 1972, occupied principally by elements of 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry.
  • The base pub at the Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos, CA
  • Former dining facility used by 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Polk, LA
  • An artillery only pub for the 10th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, NC

The reason for this association is not immediately evident, but may stem from a poem The Cavalrymen’s Poem, also entitled “Fiddlers’ Green” which was published in the U.S. Army’s Cavalry Journal in 1923. Some of the lines are given below:

Halfway down the trail to Hell in a shady meadow green,/are the Souls of all dead troopers camped near a good old-time canteen,/and this eternal resting place is known as Fiddlers’ Green… Marching past, straight through to Hell, the Infantry are seen,/accompanied by the Engineers, Artillery and Marine,/for none but the shades of Cavalrymen dismount at Fiddlers’ Green. ( my thanks to Wikipedia for the information given above)

Now, this song is usually sung by Sam the Man, but, as we are all in lock-down I get to sing songs I like from both our main singers!

Fiddler’s Green

Come Up the Stairs

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Come Up the Stairs A couple of years ago I attended a reunion, ninety minutes south of Sydney, in Wollongong of, Seannachie, the band I was part of in the 1970s. It was a memorable weekend starting with folk open-mic at a bowlo in North Wollongong at which I drank lots of Guinness and sang, The Streets of Forbes and Her Father Didn’t Like Me, Anyway. When asked for a few more songs later in the night, I had to demur, for obvious reasons.

I stayed with Joe Brown, the guitarist with the group. The next day we gathered at the house built by Bertie McKnight, the mandolin player. There, also, was Johnny Spillane, the whistle player and Tony Fitzgerald, the main singer of the group who had learned to play the guitar in the decades intervening.

We swapped songs and yarns all day and, after Joe and I  returned to his place, he found an old cassette and played this song from circa 1975 which I had learned from a Johnny McEvoy record a few years before. Anyone remember cassette players, apart from us oldies?

I had completely forgotten about it and determined to resurrect it for performance with the group I helped establish in western Sydney in the mid-1990s, Banter.

I placed a flamenco-flavoured introduction before the song proper and provided an outro of rolling chords, reminiscent of the sea- in my fancy- Am/C/F/E/Am/C/F/E/G…/Am… It has become one of the favourite songs in our repertoire. But this is only, as they say, a pale shadow of the live performance.

The song was written by Shay Healy, Irish broadcaster, songwriter, and journalist. He got the 9/8 tune from his mother who was a noted singer of old Irish traditional songs. This explains why so many people think this is an old song, but the lyrics were written by Healy sometime in the 1960s.

A piece of trivia- appropriate, perhaps, for this strange time of COVID lockdown: Shay Healy also wrote Ireland’s winning entry for the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest, sung by Aussie Johnny Logan. The song’s title: What’s Another Year? Oh Really? This year, 2020, will live in infamy- to quote FDR

Come Up the Stairs

Across the Western Plains

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

In the Irish tradition this is known as “All For Me Grog” and is sung with gusto. In Australia, having moved across the sea and moved inland, it slows down and becomes more wry and sombre. Here we find a swaggie, who has just sold his moke (a broken-down horse) for drinking money.

It was a feature of the various gold diggings in Australia for luckless scroungers to supplement their incomes by illegal fossicking on another’s claim. This was known as “plundering”. Our narrator is in an outback shanty bar where he has just spent all his money- or “plunder”. The subject of our song resolves to head back to the diggings and peg out a claim and settle down to some hard yakka (hard work).

The Dubliners’ 1967 version, is faster and jollier and features women. Alas, in 19th Century Australia, women were in short supply out in the bush, hence the difference in the second last line of the chorus where, instead of…I’ve spent all me tin with the ladies drinking gin, we get…I’ve spent all me tin in a shanty drinking gin. This may explain why the Aussie version is a lot more doleful.

You’ll also hear reference to the Darling Pea. This addictive plant is poisonous to livestock. A vet from that time describes the effects of Darling Pea on livestock, They lose the ability to judge where their feet are. They become wonky, fall over, appear to be blind, walking into things. Now what does that remind you of?

Across the Western Plains

Sweet Thames Flow Softly

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

I first heard the song in the early 70s from Planxty’s eponymous first album and determined to learn the song, adding an instrumental verse on Spanish guitar. Only last year, I re-visited the song with its instrumental adornment with the group, Banter. Here, though, is a Band-in-a-Box backing track with vocal. Who knows when we will be able to stand in front of a crowd (remember those times?) and do the band treatment of the ballad.

Robert Herrick’s 17thC poems say life is short, the world is beautiful, love is splendid, and we must use the short time we have to make the most of it. And he wrote that sentiment in lines we still recognise four centuries later: Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, /Old Time is still a-flying; /And this same flower that smiles today/ Tomorrow will be dying.// The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,/ The higher he’s a-getting,/ The sooner will his race be run,/ And nearer he’s to setting. I like to speculate that Ewan McColl was thinking of these lines when he wrote this song.

The Thames is one of the great rivers of the world, even though it is not very long in comparison the big rivers of this earth. It has history, romance, stories and poems galore, not to mention that it flows through London. Several times I have looked down on the bridges and Parliament as I have flown in to one or other of the big airports and never failed but be moved at the sight. Edmund Spenser the Elizabethan poet, in his poem, Prothalamion, ends each of the verses with the line, Sweet Thames flow softly till I end my song. T. S. Eliot, references this line in his modernist masterpiece, The Waste Land. McColl’s song has been covered by many, many artists and it is with great trepidation that I put my cover out there among such company. Anyway, have a listen to my version of Sweet Thames Flow Softly on SoundCloud and see what you think…

Sweet Thames, Flow Softly

North and South of the River

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

North and South of the River is a metaphor for the sectarian divide in Ireland which is over 400 years deep and still a factor in the life of that small island washed by the Atlantic waves. The divisions splitting our planet are various: religious, ideological, political, ecological, economic. You, too, can assuredly add to the tally.

Christy Moore wrote this with assistance from Bono and the Edge from U2. I first heard this sung at a club in Western Sydney in the mid-1990s. I took it up at about the same time and, a quarter of a century later, in lockdown, I present it here instead of at the same club, The Penrith Gaels, which is shuttered and, who knows when it will be open for business and live music.

North and South of the River

Moreton Bay

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Patrick Logan became Commandant of the Moreton Bay penal settlement in 1826. He was hated by the convicts for his harsh methods. He did some exploring and was surveying the Upper Brisbane river when he was killed by Aborigines in 1830. Logan was a relentless flogger as shown in a sample record of his floggings that were noted in the diary of one of the prison clerks. This records that from February to October in 1828 Logan ordered 200 floggings with over 11,000 lashes.

When Logan’s body was brought back to Moreton Bay, the convicts “manifested insane joy at the news of his murder, and sang and hoorayed all night, in defiance of the warders.” Bushranger Ned Kelly used lines from the ballad in his “Jerilderie Letter” in 1879 (“Port McQuarrie Toweringabbie Norfolk island and Emu plains and in those places of tyranny and condemnation many a blooming Irish man rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke were flogged to death and bravely died in servile chains.”)

In 1911, Bushranger Jack Bradshaw printed a version in his True History of the Australian Bushrangers . Bradshaw printed the song again in Twenty Years of Prison Life in the Gaols of NSW attributing it to “poor old Frank McNamara”. Francis MacNamara (Frank the Poet) recited it as he stepped off his convict ship in 1832 at Sydney Cove.

MacNamara was subjected to all the brutality of the convict system in Australia, and was to spend years in various penal settlements. He served time in Port Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land concurrently with John Kelly, Ned Kelly’s father. No doubt it was there that Kelly learnt MacNamara’s ‘The Convict’s Arrival’ or ‘The Convict’s Lament on the Death of Captain Logan’ which we now know as ‘Moreton Bay’. Francis MacNamara wrote many fine poems including ‘The Convict’s Tour of Hell’, ‘The Cyprus Brig’ and one of the many versions of ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’. He used to begin his recitals with the following verse: My name is Frank McNamara\ A native of Cashell Co Tipperary\ Sworn to be a tyrant’s foe\ And while I’ve life I’ll crow! My thanks to folkstream- Australian Folk Songs for the info above.

Moreton Bay borrows the tune of an old Irish air, Eochaill. As Frank the Poet wrote about his convict experience in or shortly after 1830, it precedes by seventy years or so, P. J. McCall’s borrowing of it for his well-known song Boolavogue, which commemorates the campaign of Father John Murphy and his army in County Wexford during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. It was composed in 1898, the centenary of the Rebellion.

The singer in our group, Sam the Man, will probably be irate that I am singing his song, here. However, he’s in lockdown miles away and I’m at a loose end, so…

Moreton Bay

Gentle Annie

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Stephen Foster wrote this in 1856- based on an Irish melody. The song went to England, then, later, to Australia where it acquired these lyrics by Lame Jack Cousens of Springhurst, Victoria, who was a travelling thresher. I first heard this sung by Johnny McEvoy c. 1971 in Co. Cork at my brother Jim’s place. There is a different song of the same name by Tommy Makem which is also worth a listen.

Stephen Foster wrote over 200 songs. Among his best known are Oh! Susanna, Hard Times, Campdown Races, Old Folks at Home, My Old Kentucky Home, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair, Old Black Joe, and Beautiful Dreamer.

He died early, of fever, at the age of 37. The wowsers of the time were quick with the label, drunkard, but somehow overlooked the quality and quantity of his song-writing. Thirty years after his death, one reporter described him as paying “the penalty of an irregular life, being “weak-willed”, and writing songs about people of “a pathetic character”.

So, you see, he had a lot of detractors, of a mind like that anonymous reporter. And, like that reporter, they are also now unknown nobodies while Stephen Foster lives on in his songs that we, and so many people of good heart, around this wonderful world, SING!

The ways that music and words travel across continents from culture to culture and change to suit the circumstances of the place and time attest to the strength of folk music as a genre. It took fifty years from the time I first heard the song in Co Cork to when I took it up as a part of our repertoire.

Again, this rendering is just a shadow of what a live performance with guitar, fiddle, bodhran, mandolin and voices in chorus can deliver. I am looking forward to the time when, along with the rest of the world, we can meet in convivial groupings in bars and pubs and clubs to enjoy the fellowship of others’ company

Gentle Annie

Rosalita and Jack Campbell

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Rosalita and Jack Campbell was written twenty years ago or so by Sean Mone of Keady, Co Armagh about the terror of drive-bys and targeted assassinations in Belfast in the early 1970s. In it he presents us with a couple who live for country music, (then called country-and-western). Anita sings in a bar and Jack just loves to have a pint and listen to her perform. He channels the ethos of the southwest border territory of the US along the Rio Grande. The songs of Anita and the figurings of his imagination evoke dusty, sunlit vistas populated by Cowboys, Indians and heroic one-on-one gunfights.

One night, after Anita’s performance, they set off homewards and call into their local chippy for a takeaway meal where they entertain the queue by dancing around the joint and singing. This mundane scene transmogrifies to nightmare when “street demons come out to dance”; that is, a sectarian assassination squad in a car, looking for a victim, any victim, cruise by and shoot Jack Campbell dead.

Anita never recovers, spending the dwindling years in her room consuming Prozac and Gin. The song posits a more heartening coda where Rosalita (a.k.a. Anita) and Jack Campbell dance off into the sunset along the Rio Grande.

I first heard the song earlier this year from Christy Moore’s singing. It is far from the first song of his that I’ve covered and it won’t be the last, God willing.

It brought me back to my years in Belfast; first, as a teenager, from 1966 to mid-1968 when I spent weekends going to music venues with my girlfriend (later, wife); then, from late 1968- mid 1972 where I attended St Joseph’s College of Education, known colloquially as Trench House, for a teaching degree. I saw Belfast turn from a vibrant, modern city into a bitter, sectarian battleground in those short years. The descent into hell did not take very long at all.

From late 1969 to mid 1970, I lived in a dingy one-room bedsit near Carlisle Circus at the bottom of the Antrim Road. Across the landing lived a boozy journalist from The Belfast Telegraph who would regale me of tales of the dark doings of British special forces and various loyalist and republican groupings. The stuff he knew curdled my blood, even if he did, perhaps, exaggerate for effect.

In July 1971 I got married and, in 1972, moved into a small house in a lane just off the Whiterock Road with my wife and infant daughter. There, we experienced the increasing violence that internment without trial spawned and witnessed (but mostly heard) skirmishes between the IRA and British forces on that road where we could read, from our upstairs bedroom window, the graffito on the cemetery wall, Is There a Life Before Death? In answer to this question, we left the first setting of our married life for Australia in September 1972.

Hearing the song brought it all back, because, not just ourselves, but just about everybody in Belfast and Northern Ireland has been touched by such a shooting or other instance of violence associated with the “Troubles”. Anyway, here’s the song.

Rosalita and Jack Campbell

The Holy Ground

a-storm-image

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

It is 1816, a sailing ship limps past Roche’s Point, its rigging all torn. Exhausted mariners, returning after months at sea, perform their duties in desultory fashion but begin to perk up as they round Spike Island and spot the rows of terraces rising above the quay in Cove.

a-holy-ground-image

They swarm ashore and make for the places of entertainment for lonely and thirsty sailors in the section of town known as The Holy Ground. Soon they make the rafters roar with their shouts and songs, calling for strong ale and porter as the serving girls move among them, sometimes tumbling into the willing lap of a lusty tar. This is part of a post I published five years ago when the world was a different place.

The Holy Ground exists outside the lusty taverns of 19th Century, Cork. There is sacred ground everywhere, and some, say with the perspective of astronauts looking back at the blue dot from the vastness of space, would characterise all of this earth as holy or sacred ground. That so much of it (to say nothing of the waters around and flowing through it; or the air which passes over it) is despoiled by violence and pollution and injustice makes one wonder if Gaia herself is unleashing pestilence such as SARS-CoV-2 to teach us a salutary lesson.

And so, from lockdown, I present another song that, Deo volente, we, as the group, Banter, will be able to play again in public. These songs are nothing like the real songs which are played in front of crowds enjoying the moment- but, perhaps, it is better than silence.

The Holy Ground

Champion at Keeping Them Rolling

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

This song was written in the 1950s by Ewan McColl about the truckies who plied their trade throughout Britain before the advent of the motorways when roads were treacherous and rigs were prone to breakdowns. To wrangle the gears on these old beasts you needed finesse and strength. This particular version of the song I dedicate to the memory of John Reddington, married to my wife’s sister, who gave me, from time to time, employment on his lorry, when I was a teen, as he travelled around the place with a variety of loads. One of his son’s, named John also, kept up the family tradition by trucking around Ireland, Britain and Europe (or he used to).

Ewan McColl used the music of the Irish song, The Limerick Rake, for his account of the truck drivers of England in the decade after the end of the second world war.

Champion At Keeping Them Rolling

Down by the Glenside

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

Down by the Glenside (The Bold Fenian Men)” is an Irish rebel song written by Peadar Kearney, an Irish Republican and composer of numerous rebel songs, including “The Soldier’s Song” (“Amhrán na bhFiann“), now the Irish National Anthem and “The Tri-coloured Ribbon”.

Kearney was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, popularly known as the Fenians. He wrote the song about the time of the 1916 Rising. It evokes the memory of the freedom-fighters of the previous generation (strong, manly forms…eyes with hope gleaming), as recalled by an old woman down by the glenside. It is effectively a call to arms for a generation of Irishmen accustomed to political nationalism.

Three verses to this song were sung by Ken Curtis and The Sons of the Pioneers in the 1950 John Ford movie Rio Grande.

The song became popular again in the 1960s, when it was recorded by The Clancy Brothers. It has since been recorded by numerous artists, including The Dubliners, Cherish The Ladies, Omnia, Screaming Orphans, Jim McCann, Harry O’Donoghue, and The Wolfe Tones.

The song is also sung in the first episode of the BBC series Days of Hope, written by Jim Allen and directed by Ken Loach. An Irish barmaid is forced to sing after being sexually harassed by British soldiers and impresses them with her song.

The info here above courtesy of Wikipedia which I often access and donate to.

I have long admired the song, even though I omit the third, original verse which details the old woman’s thrill at seeing a previous generation of bold fenian men drilling when she was young.

Another member of the group usually sings this in our practices, but, as he is not here…

Down By the Glenside

Viva La Quinta Brigada

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

(Notes for VLQB taken from Wikipedia, a marvellous resource I urge everyone to support.)

Viva la Quinta Brigada  (listed as Viva la Quince Brigada in later recordings) is a Christy Moore song about the Irishmen who fought in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. The title was inspired by a Spanish song about the war,Viva la Quince Brigada.

Moore wrote this song choosing to focus on the Irish socialist volunteers (who in later years became known as the Connolly Column) who were a small contingent within the 15th International Brigade. The tune which he used was substantially similar to the version of Viva la Quince Brigada recorded by Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers in the early 1940s.

The song was inspired by Spanish Civil War veteran Michael O’Riordan’s book Connolly Column.

Moore said: Without Michael O’Riordan I’d never have been able to write Viva la Quince Brigada. I must have performed the song over a thousand times and every single time I sing it I think of Mick and wonder how can I ever thank him enough. In Spain in 1983 I was reading his book, Connolly Column – the story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic, and I began this song as I read on. The song was lifted entirely from his book.

Moore’s original song title – which translates as “Long live the Fifth Brigade” – was a slip due to the similarity in Spanish between “quinta” (fifth) and “quince” (fifteen). The bulk of Irish volunteers served with the XV (Fifteen) International Brigade; the “Fifth Brigade” was not one of the International Brigades. The song later appeared listed as Viva la Quince Brigada as Moore corrected the mistake in subsequent recordings. Both titles are correct however, originally there were ten brigades in the Spanish army, the five international brigades were then added to the list making the 5th International Brigade the 15th Brigade of the Spanish republic.

Robert Martin Hilliard (7 April 1904 – 22 February 1937) was an Olympic boxer, Irish republican, Church of Ireland minister and, later, communist. He was killed in the Spanish Civil War fighting in the International Brigades.

Name-checked were men from all parts of Ireland, Catholic, Protestant and of no faith, including Bob Hilliard who ended his life as an atheist. In later versions of the song, Christy amended locales of a couple of the people name-checked but I have stuck to the version I learned a quarter of a century ago.

Viva La Quinta Brigada

The Patriot Game

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

The Patriot Game was written by Dominic Behan to the tune of an Irish traditional song, The Merry Month of May . Its narrator is Fergal O’Hanlon, who was a member of an IRA team who attacked the RUC barracks at Brookeborough, Co. Fermanagh on New Year’s Day, 1957. He, along with Sean South from Limerick, was killed; also killed in the attack was a young Catholic constable, John Scalley. I sang the song many years ago at a pub in western Sydney and a couple of blokes there objected to the “IRA song”. Yet, I view the song as an example of the tragic deaths fuelled by love of country, particularly of young men. Interestingly, Christy Moore notes that the song is often requested at his gigs by British soldiers. Dominic Behan once, in a phone conversation, furiously berated Bob Dylan who had used the song as a template for his composition, With God On Our Side”. Dylan suggested that their lawyers should meet to discuss the situation. Behan retorted that he only had two lawyers, and they were at the end of his wrists. The version I sing retains the slighting reference to the first Irish President, Eamon de Valera, but omits the verse that justifies the killing of police officers. Yes, it is a controversial song, but, IMHO, worth singing, nevertheless.

The Patriot Game

Take This Frame Away


In my first journal entry for the sequence The Summa Quotidian in 2015, I mentioned the fact that it had been fifty years since I had written my first song. For this concluding entry to the sequence, A Bit of Banter, I wish to record the fact that the song included here took me fifty years to complete. I wrote the first part as a 17-year-old, pimply, schoolboy on the inside cover of a Clancy Brothers songbook that I had been working my way through. I added to it over the years, putting a final touch to it

Clancy Bros

three years ago, when I was 67. A couple of other examples from the 120 songs in The Summa Quotidian, also underwent a similarly, leisurely (some might aver, slothfully) compositional process. By comparison, the 56 songs recorded over a period of three months during the pandemic achieved warp-speed!

Two days ago, before dawn on Anzac day, April 25th, I stood in my driveway and listened to the broadcast from the Australian War Memorial. I set a candle on my letterbox and, IMG_0011glancing up and down the street saw men and women, at the end of their driveways, paying silent tribute to the fallen. A 70-something veteran with a chest full of medals walked past and we nodded a greeting. After the ceremony, I returned to my home where we are in lockdown and thought, this was good, nothing like it before or, perhaps, after. The tens of thousands of Australians who shared in this experience will remember it for the rest of their lives- long or short. 

Some Millennial commentators have welcomed the advent of SARS-CoV-2 as an efficient CoViIDBoomer Remover. Unfortunately for them, it does not so finely discriminate. While those of retirement age are more heavily afflicted, the virus does strike down many of those in their demographic as well. Careful what you wish for, eh?

Have you noticed that the crisis engendered by the pandemic has brought people of real worth to the fore? Not the vain-glorious bloviating buffoons who, hitherto, pranced across the (inter)national stage. I’m thinking about media-hungry politicians and the gross (and grossly overpaid) shock jocks. But now, quietly spoken experts in epidemiology, nurses, doctors, check-out operators and shelf-stackers in supermarkets, paramedics, truck drivers and public transport employees-to name but a few- have engaged the respect of the public by their willingness to step forward in these strange time and do their duty, fully mindful of the potential consequences for themselves and their families. Meanwhile, the self-absorbed, pollies and celebs flout the regulations as if they don’t apply.

I’m now north of seventy years old with a handful of co-morbidities. My wife’s sister-in-law has died from coronavirus (on April 6, 2020, in Northern Ireland) and will be buried next to her mother in a small country graveyard in Rasharkin, County Antrim. celtic crossShe is the first person in our family circle to have been taken from us by the pandemic (May she rest in peace). Because her husband had pre-arranged their funeral-and-burial details some years previously, there have been no problems with the internment. Hitherto, some had felt that he was just too…what? Fastidious? Careful? Over-scrupulous?

What about, perspicacious! How many of us will follow her to a grave that will not be marked by the usual obsequies because of the overwhelming wave of deaths that will accompany the savagery of SARS-CoV-2 as it sweeps across the world as we NYC Covid burialsknow it. When I viewed the mass graves in New York City on April 10, it was with horror I asked, Are we living in the 21st Century? And then I reflected, this has been happening in all too many countries, without respite, for every year of this century (and the one before) while most of us were looking away, or at fatuous reality shows on TV… 

I do not know if I will survive this event. I may hope. I certainly will pray. I intend to persevere and endure. 

 

A Bit of Banter 64: This Cold Bed

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and running again…

Song 64: This Cold Bed– This is a demo I recorded a while back. We have played the song in rehearsal but have yet to record it or perform it in our present incarnation of Banter. I wrote the words about 20 years ago but my wife told me the tune I had crafted was not a fit for the genre. Can you do better, riposted the wounded artiste? Yes. And she took the lyrics and hummed the tune that is used here, off the top of her head! Collaboration is a wonderful thing. The inspiration for the song was the hunger strike of 1981 which saw ten republican prisoners starve to death, most notably, Bobby Sands, who had been elected to the British Parliament on 9 April. The strikes were a turning point for Sinn Fein which supplanted the various nationalist groupings to become the major political force in the politics of Northern Ireland. I originally, and somewhat pretentiously, gave the song the title, The Dying Revolutionary, as I did not intend it as, solely, a loosely-based biographical item about Bobby Sands. I wanted to examine what forces could persuade an artistic individual to move from art to violence as I know the events of that summer in 1981 almost prised me from a life-long belief in liberal democracy and non-violence. Still, that awful working title stuck in my craw so I substituted what is now the better option. Sometimes it takes a while to work these things through…

This Cold Bed (RealBand Version)

A Bit of Banter: 63 The Sea Around Us-

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and running again…

Song 63: The Sea Around Us– Although he died almost 30 year ago, the songs of Dominic Behan continue to be played around the world, especially by Irish bands and performers. Notable songs include, The Patriot Game (which he claimed, with much justification, was plaigarised by Bob Dylan for God On Our Side.), McAlpine’s Fusiliers, of which you’ll find a version elsewhere on the site, and Come Out Ye Black and Tans. He was a committed socialist and republican and he had a wide network of friends and collaborators in the media politics and arts. The verse below, from this song, demonstrates his acerbity and humour: Two foreign old monarchs in battle did join/Each wanting his head on the back of a coin;/If the Irish had sense they’d drowned both in the Boyne/And partition thrown into the ocean. One summer in the mid-sixties, my brother and I hitch-hiked to Bundoran, a holiday town on the Atlantic coast of Donegal. We stopped into a church hall to hear Dominic Behan perform: still a happy memory.

 

The Sea Around Us

A Bit of Banter 62: I’m Not a Merry Ploughboy

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and running again…

Song 62: I’m Not a Merry Ploughboy– In some ways, this song is a companion piece to Paddy Went Home Today. It was written around the same time (1995ish) and features a working man in Sydney. This character, however, springs not from an anecdote or acquaintance but rather is a product of pure (or should that be, fevered, imagination). In SoundCloud, where I also have a site, it is quite popular. It was given an outing or two at the Henry Lawson Club where the band used to play regularly in the mid-1990s. Now, it is being re-introduced for a new audience at the Penrith Gaels in outer-western Sydney. And, when we get round to recording  our usual folk ensemble version, featuring guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bodhran, I’ll update it here. Until such time, here is a Band-in-a-Box rendition from when I was reduced to playing with myself (so sad).

 

 

I’m Not A Merry Ploughboy

A Bit of Banter 61: Paddy Went Home Today

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and running again…

Song 61: Paddy Went Home Today– I wrote this in the mid-1990s.  It was inspired by an anecdote by one of the group during a refreshment break (our rehearsals often feature such breaks, which we deem necessary- for our mental and emotional well-being, of course).  We were chatting about “characters” we had encountered in our working lives. One of these characters was a sheet metal worker encountered in the mid-1970s in inner-Sydney. This guy would slope off to the pub at morning smoko for a “cure”.  Often enough he would be missing in action when the foreman looked for him later. We have revived the song for our current repertoire as hosts of the folk club at The Penrith Gaels in outer-western Sydney. This version is a Band-in-a-Box demo I recorded a couple of years back. I’ll update this with the current, acoustic version featuring guitar, mandolin, fiddle and bodhran in the not-too-distant-future.

 

Paddy Went Home Today

A Bit of Banter 60: Ballyhootry-

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There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and running again…

Song 60: Ballyhootry– I wrote this back in the mid-1990s. I must have fallen out on the wrong side of the bed that day because I created a town called Ballyhootry in the County Anywhere. I let fly at the ersatz Irish or Oirishry so beloved by Hollywood B-movies and songs. You know, where leprechauns frolic at the ends of rainbows and the beer is dyed green and quaintness rules the day to the deedle-lee-dee tootling of a tin whistle. Also a target is the rampant commercialism where Mammon trumps Tradition every time. (the use of the previous verb is not coincidental, by the way). FYI,  I still love Ireland, her blemishes notwithstanding, but I live in Australia now and consider it home- for all its imperfections. The song here is not backed by Banter but Band-in-a-Box because we have not yet recorded any version of the song, even though we’ve play it enough in the past. I’ll update, when or if we ever get round to it. In the meantime, enjoy a more rocky rendition than is heard in our acoustic oeuvre.

 

Ballyhootry

A Bit of Banter: 59- My Last Farewell

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There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and running again…

Song 59: My Last Farewell- Based on the last letter written by Padraig Pearse to his mother, this song was written by the O”Meara brothers (who also penned the well-known song, Grace, about another hero of the 1916 Irish uprising- Joseph Mary Plunkett). This song is often requested on our WOW fm radio show, A Touch of Ireland, here in the Penrith valley. Poignantly, the song references his brother William, who was executed the day following the execution of the Irish rebel leader. William seems to have been executed for his name rather than any significant involvement in the rising. “Willie”, a sculptor, was more involved in running St Edna’s School in Rathfarnam. Padraig, in writing his letter, was not to know that his brother, far from providing solace to the Pearse family, would join him in the ranks of the executed participants in the failed rising that provided the impetus for the founding of the Irish state within a matter of years.

 

 

My Last Farewell

A Bit of Banter: 58- Shelter

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There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and running again…

Shelter: Song 58- Part of our repertoire since the mid-1990s, this song gets more and more dislocated from the realities of contemporary Australian official government policy, where refugees (designated as such by the UN) languish in off-shore detention camps. Written by Eric Bogle, one of our songwriting heroes, the sentiments expressed herein are closer to the hearts of many Australians than the callous real-politik practised by our major political parties.

Shelter

A Bit of Banter: 57- McAlpine’s Fusilier’s/Instrumental

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and running again…
Song 57: McAlpine’s Fusilier’s/Instrumental– Over the years this has proved to be one of the most popular items in our repertoire. Obviously we enjoy playing whatever song or instrumental we happen to be performing. We play for enjoyment and not for pay. All we ask is a reasonable sound system. While we won’t make money doing this, we will make craic- and isn’t that all that matters. Dominic Behan wrote this song (among many other fine examples from the genre) and it captures the essence of the Irish navvies who, in their thousands and tens of thousands built the rail, the roads the tunnels and canals and a lot more of the infrastructure in Britain and farther afield.
 
 
McAlpine’s Fusiliers/Instrumental

A Bit of Banter: 56- Follow Me Up To Carlow

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (plus one middle-aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and running again…

Song 56: Follow Me Up To CarlowAccording to tradition, the pipers of Fiach McHugh, the protagonist and hero of the song, played this melody as a marching tune for the Irish fighters during the battle of Glenmalure, fought 337 years ago, almost to the day of this posting. That wise oracle Wikipedia tells me, The Battle of Glenmalure (Irish: Cath Ghleann Molúra) took place in Ireland on 25 August 1580 during the Desmond Rebellions. An Irish Catholic force made up of the Gaelic clans from the Wicklow Mountains led by Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne and James Eustace, Viscount Baltinglas of the Pale, defeated an English army under Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, at the O’Byrnes’ mountain stronghold of Glenmalure. The lyrics were written by that great Irish scholar and songwriter, P. J. McCall, who also wrote such perennial favourites as Boolavogue and Kelly, the Boy from Killane. This song has long been in my repertoire and the group, Banter, is working up an arrangement (that you can hear below) that is, like so much of our latest ouevre, a work-in-progress. After a few refreshing beverages, we often get to musing about going into a real studio and recording a live, but considerably more rehearsed and  balanced version of our favourite songs…

 

Follow Me Up To Carlow

A Bit of Banter: 55- Back Home in Derry

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (plus one middle-aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and ??running?? again…

Song 55: Back Home in Derry– There have been books written on the life and times of Bobby Sands. Among other things, he was a songwriter who, had circumstances been otherwise, might have entered the legions of singer-songwriters of Ireland and fared well (or not-so..) in this avocation. But circumstances saw him elevated to the pantheon of Republican heroes and martyrs. He borrowed the melody for this song from the same Irish source as Gordon Lightfoot did for his song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Sands added a chorus and wrote these well-known lyrics which commemorates the transportation of Irish prisoners to Van Diemen’s land (present-day Tasmania).  We had returned to Ireland in 1979 and were living in Cushendall, Co Antrim, when the Republican prisoners in the H-Blocks of the Maze prison started to agitate for political status. I tell some of this story in another part of this blog- The Summa Quotidian Entry 34- This Cold Bed. I had written the lyrics and music but my wife thought my chords and melody were too-clever-by-half. Of course, she was right, so I “borrowed” a melody she hummed as she read the lyrics.

 

Back Home in Derry

A Bit of Banter: 54- The Lark in the Morning

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and ??running?? again…

Song 54: The Lark in the Morning– A song in progress (we’ll probably end up copying The Dubliners version of this song with the interspersed instrumentals). At any rate, our bodhran player and main singer confided the other day that he used to sing this song way back when so we struck up the band, so to speak, and this is what resulted. We’ll keep working on it ( I was about to say, refining it but that might be a bridge- or should I say,- an inaccuracy too far…) This is one of the most popular songs, covered by many artists.

 

The Lark in the Morning

A Bit of Banter: 53- Two Hornpipes

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and ??running?? again…

Song 53:  Chief O’Neill’s Favourite/The Cork Hornpipe or Harvest Home– In 1974 , my wife bought me a small round-backed mandolin I lusted after from the music shop at the top of  Crown Street, Wollongong. I started plinking on it and after a time found that I could string the notes of these hornpipes together fairly accurately.  Of course, I slavishly followed the example of The Dubliners from a record of theirs which I played repeatedly to get the gist of the tunes. When Seannachie formed, I duetted with the gun mando player from that group- one Bertie McKnight- and for the next few years it became a staple of our performances. When the group, Banter, re-formed (again) just a few months ago, I re-introduced the hornpipes to the group. Why we hadn’t played them before remains one of life’s little mysteries because they are great tunes. Anyway, in this formation, I play guitar while the tunes are carried aloft by father and son on mandolin and fiddle respectively as the group’s main singer batters away on bodhran to mark the tempo.

 

Two Hornpipes

A Bit of Banter: 52- Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and ??running?? again…

Song 52 & 4: Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye– I first heard this sung by Tommy Maken way back and I took it up as part of my repertoire when I was still young and green. Written by English songwriter, Joseph Geoghagen and published in 1867, the anti-war sentiment seemingly  embodied in the song may be an aretfact of 20th Century readings of it as some evidence suggests that the song was sung for comic effect in music halls in the 19th Century!   But in Ireland itjihky was sung, like Arthur McBride, as a cautionary tale about joining the British army. In any case, these anti-militaristic views were quite widespread, especially among women. We’re trying out another arrangement of the song, now, and it is still a work in progress (even though some-myself included-might quibble a bit about that word progress!) Nevertheless, it may be of interest to those readers and listeners who like to examine process as much as product.

 

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

A Bit of Banter: 51- The Ferryman

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and ??running?? again…

Song 51: The Ferryman– Like so many Irish urban songs, this Pete St John number tells of how economic forces affect the ways in which people regard their employment and the ways in which their relationships also may be subject to change. For all the gloomy sub-text, the song remains optimistic in spirit and this comes through in this treatment of it.

 

The Ferryman

A Bit of Banter: 50- St Anne’s Reel

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and ??running?? again…

Song 50: St Anne’s Reel– When we emerged from our self-imposed torpor a few months ago and started, in desultory fashion, to play music together again, we found ourselves quite rusty and found that the WD-40 that overcame this problem was the expedient solution of slowing down whenever we commenced a hazy tune. Our innate competitiveness, however, invariably resulted in the tune gradually acquiring momentum (sometimes to the extent that it eventually flew apart under centrifugal forces!) All good fun…

 

St Anne’s reel

A bit of Banter: 49- The Lonely Banna Strand

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and ??running?? again…

Song 49: The Lonely Banna Strand– Back in the mid-seventies we sat around a fire in a bleak backyard in Werrington and sang this (and other) songs. I came across a reference to this song in an old diary and, having decided to get up and going again (even though two of us are over seventy and I’m closing on that big “O” at a rate of knots…and the baby of the group is over halfway to three-score and ten) we offer up a series of songs and tunes that we intend (at some time in the not-too-distant-future) to take into a proper studio and record a properly balanced set. I think the singer interprets this portion of the story of Sir Roger Casement with real feeling. When I lived in Cushendall, I would often take the family out to Moorlough Bay, which looks across the North Channel to Scotland, and walk the paths about the headland, thinking about the achievements of this great man. I taught, also, for nine years in the 180s at Ballymena Academy, the alma mater of Sir Roger. While I was there, they did not acknowledge him, in any meaningful way. I wonder if this is still the case?

 

A Bit of Banter 48- Let Them Not Fade Away

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots (+ one middle aged son) gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. These songs were the resa-muso-imageult of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table is, now,  an iPad with connected mic that has somehow survived the knocks and spillages that are part and parcel of the sessions.  So here we are, up and ??running?? again…



Song 48- Let Them Not Fade Away After a quite lengthy break from blogging, I resumed keyboarding and promptly fell overboard by deleting this (original) post as I was constructing the  49th effusion (but at least it wasn’t as bad as waterboarding). Had it been one of my longer-form posts, I would have saved it in some fashion and would have been able to resurrect it whole and hearty…can you feel a “but” coming on?… but, I didn’t, and only a hazy outline of the original remains in my consciousness. A rock version of this song can be found in The Summa Quotidian sequence on this site. However, this is the bare-bones version featuring guitar and voice. The first song by The Rolling Stones I recall hearing was their single Not Fade Away from February, 1964. It made me a life-long fan of the group, particularly their 60s oeuvre. This song is part-homage, part-autobiographical snippet, which I think works pretty well.

 

 

 

Let Them Not Fade Away (RealBand version)

…And Leave Him There

…And Leave Him There

SCRIPT CONVENTIONS:

  1. Text of four sizes appears in the script:

12 point plain text indicates narration

11 point plain text indicates verse

10 point plain text indicates song lyrics

9 point italic text indicates staging suggestions

  1. Indentation, also, is used to indicate the type of text: narration is set margin to margin, verse is indented two tabs and song lyrics are centred.
  1. Staging suggestions are enclosed in round brackets at the point where they occur.
  2. At the beginning of the play, two paramedics are seen wheeling a gurney SR to SL. At the end of the play, they wheel the gurney SL to SR. The action of the play takes place between these movements. Therefore, there are no breaks in the script and no interval; although, I have indicated where an appropriate break might be inserted should an interval be needed for reasons such as commercial or contractual considerations.
  3. THE PLAYERS           The Narrator: A man of about fifty years of age

A Young Woman about twenty five years of age

A Young Man also about twenty five years of age

  • Production Note: The play was written with adaptability and scalability in mind: this version is a three-hander for the commercial stage. Although the directions indicate the presence of a live band and elaborate stage sets, it could be mounted without the band and with a more minimal set. Larger forces; for instance, a variety of singers and reciters would lead to a more expansive feel and bring the Narrator into greater prominence. A radio version needs little amendment and a film/TV/animated adaptation would be possible, given the nature of this work. BM

___________________________PLAY BEGINS___________________________

(Music in background, instrumental, from “Coda”. The setting is in Manhattan in the spacious living area of an apartment in midtown; the date is 11 September 2001. It is a few hours before the event that changed the history of the 21st Century. The stage is open at the outset- no real sense of location. There are ramps and flies that can be shifted. The sets are fluid. There may be a playing platform for a live band if the production allows, who are sometimes behind a scrim, sometimes in view. The band, as well as playing and singing, may be incorporated into the action of the play, including the verse sections. Two paramedics push an unoccupied gurney across the stage, in a hurry. There are strobe effects and we see the movement jerkily. Strobe off as the gurney and its pushers exit unseen. Then, there is a spot within a diffuse spot into which the Narrator moves, downstage, off-centre. There is a rocking chair downstage, side stage are a variety of movable surfaces and shelves. Should the stage allow, tabs can fly to open up or narrow the width of the playing area. The Narrator is carrying a glass of water and he is wearing a dressing gown and slippers. During the play the gown and slippers he wears will change. A partition, for quick changes on stage, should be part of the set. DSC is a large, tall and wide picture window from which can be seen a familiar cityscape. Skyscrapers fill the window but we cannot see the tops of the largest skyscrapers in the centre because there is a fashionable blind which comes down covering the top third of the window)

I have lived in harbour cities in that global abstraction that we call the West: on both sides of the Atlantic- Belfast on the Eastern edge; New York on the other- and also that Emerald City of the Antipodes- Sydney. Alas, although I would have loved to complete the trans-oceanic set, San Francisco or L.A. were never to be locales in which I have lived…ah, well! He pauses, takes a chased silver pillbox with three or four compartments from his pocket which he flicks open. He raises it to his mouth and washes a pill down with a drink of water and returns the pillbox to his dressing gown pocket.) As a child I met a courteous merchant marine captain named Schnell who knew and revered Hitler. This was in 1959; he had, no doubt, dined out on this for years. As, indeed, have I … (He breaks and crosses to a table the follow-spot brings into view. He sets the glass on the table beside a partly-open book.) That’s done: the introductory dance, that is. I suppose you wonder why you should stay- even pay- to listen to this. I know of those men and women, artists all, who put their all into whatever genre they are presenting- the laundry lists, the diaristic agonies, the close-up of tears, the unendurably sad sobbing of violins. I will not do this. I am much too cold a fish for that. I have been told this. I have been told this. My wife, in fact, compared me to a fish as she left for JFK ten days ago. “Don’t drink like a fish when I’m gone- and don’t forget-you have the infusion at the clinic”. But she did leave me with this. (He takes from his pocket a small device with a red button.) Ha! The panic button! Not so long ago, I thought it was just a saying. Strange. (He puts it away again) Where was I? The violins…the violins. Yes!  Nor will I emulate those monsters of ego who tell you nothing but can show everything: who surround themselves with great paintings, priceless first editions, antique furniture and all the uncountable, unimaginable accoutrements of culture in their landmark chateaux, schlosses, castles and penthouses. The sort of people you love to know about even though you may hate everything they have achieved and everything they stand for. You know, I’m just like you, so, it may be a kindness of fate that a recent windfall has come late enough to save me from myself. For I think, I think, that if such great good fortune had come my way earlier- I would have been a monster too. But more of that later. . we are only at the beginning of our journey, after all. (He looks down at his dressing gown, which is a plain, light-coloured affair, plucking at it fastidiously.) I think therefore I am. Descartes. Yes? Don’t flinch; I will not bombard you with Wittgensteinian profundities and obfuscatory perambulations around abstruse philosophical topologies only negotiable by a poindexter with the agility of a mountain-goat harbouring a penchant for semiotics. No! I inhabit a much more moderate tract of intellectual real-estate. I am what you may call- a middle-brow sort of person. No threat, no threat at all. That which I have is, for most part, borrowed rather than grown or owned. But to get back to the courteous captain. As a child of about…oh, I was eight or nine, I listened with only the vaguest comprehension to the table-talk. The table talk.  We were on an oil-tanker, in mid-Atlantic, on our way to a vacation that the oil-company insisted the families of its employees took every two years. My father had many contacts among the merchant marine and he had arranged passage from Aruba to Southampton for his family on this occasion during our sojourn in the tropics. As guests of the captain, we were at his table. There was, as well as my sisters and mother, another guest; a young man of mixed race who showed to me on deck one day a miniature camera that was one of his proudest possessions. As I say, I have only the vaguest recollections of the content and import of the captain’s conversation. What registered then, and has never left me, is the icy contempt with which he treated that young man whose name, I regret to say, I do not remember. Captain Schnell would lavish old-world courtesy on my mother; he would smile at me and my sisters indulgently. But as for the young man of mixed race- and what a stupid and vacuous phrase that is- there is only one human race after all. And here, in this place, in this space, I think we can all agree on that. But in that other space, that other time, on that oil tanker in mid-Atlantic- the captain was never rude. He was always punctilious in passing the soup tureen and so on- but everybody knew, everybody knew, the young man included, that captain Schnell despised the young-not-quite-white-man who must have had connections the captain could not refuse. So why did I forget his name? Maybe, it’s been the weight of several decades: the sluice, no, no, the torrent of information that has poured in through my senses- only five, by the traditional way of counting them. All that noise and light; the odour, taste and texture of life itself. Maybe it was that I didn’t care enough then and perhaps don’t really care enough now- or am I being too honest? Can one be too honest? And still, forgetfulness fills us with such terror. I don’t really understand- but, then, I don’t have to- I’m not an explicator, explainer, philosopher. Perhaps something of an observer. (At this point he walks downstage and scans the audience slowly.) And from time to time I scratch that itch that some call the need to create. An observer, then, with a need to relieve the itch.  The conceit is not unusual but probably borrowed even though it fits so easily, so naturally. That’s me done with introspection- for now, anyway. I’ve always preferred stories-(He crosses to the table and picks up the dog-eared paperback.)  a good read over the worthy canonical tomes you can find under the heading: self-improvement. And, indeed, I’m always surprised to find people who think that I’m educated, even erudite. Having encountered and, in a couple of instances, been friends with people who are- I know my place, my pleasure, my role, if you want to be reductive about it. I scavenge…collect enticing bits and pieces, turn them over close to my face in wonder, then notice something glinting just over there, and either drop what I am examining or stuff it in a pocket (He places the book in a pocket.) as I clamber over, it may well be, the secret of the universe as I reach for the next shining artefact, leaving the real prize untouched.  (He takes the pillbox from his pocket and looks at it…) This metaphor, too, is, in all likelihood, borrowed. From now on take it as read that much of what transpires has not been voiced in the universe for the first time. Of course, I have enough vanity left to tell you that I will feel disconsolate, for however short a time, if you conclude, as did a professor after reading his student’s plagiarised essay: this work is both original and good but, unfortunately for you, the good bits aren’t original and the original bits aren’t any good. The icy captain Schnell stirred my interest in history. But have you read a history book recently; so heavy, doesn’t fit in the pocket or the mind very easily. Scavengers only rarely have the time. Much better is to slip a poem or a song snugly into the memory and take it out, when leisure allows, and set it beside some other small treasure that you have found along the way. (He replaces the pillbox and takes out the paperback quickly finding the page.) Let me demonstrate what I mean. . (He takes a rectangular reading magnifier from his pocket. He needs this to make out the words and images of almost every book or picture he looks at.) On the authority of Edwin Brock I have learned that…(Cross-fade, lights down on the Narrator as, advancing across the stage, comes a no-nonsense woman, dressed in clinical whites, perhaps with a clipboard, carrying a slim, silver pen which is used to tick off points on the clipboard. She will appear in later scenes. The click of the pen as the points are enumerated should be audible. Bring in progressively more elaborate set aspects as the play progresses. At the start the set is quite bare; by page 20 it is expressionistic, even surreal.)

from Five Ways to Kill a Man– Edwin Brock

There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man

you can make him carry a plank of wood

to the top of a hill and nail him to it…

Or you can take a length of steel,

shaped and chased in a traditional way,

and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears,

…you may, if the wind

allows, blow gas at him…

…you may fly

miles above your victim and dispose of him by

pressing one small switch…

…Simpler, direct, and much more neat

is to see that he is living somewhere in the middle

of the twentieth century, and leave him there.

(She clicks the pen decisively: lights fade as she exits. A kaleidoscope of colours swirl on a scrim as the opening notes and chords of the song begin. As the song begins we see behind the scrim the shadow of the singer. This figure is the young man dressed in fascistic black and silver. Fly the scrim as the song gets under way to spot another figure dressed in motley; a clown-king, a harlequin, (in fact the young woman after a quick change) who enters. Sound FX of crowds cheering during song chorus words “ooh, ahh”, modulating to crowds screaming on the last chorus.)     

The Emperor of Ice Cream

Wallace wrote a poem and put it in a glass jar

Placed it on a hillside deep inside Tennessee

Ah don’t you know that Sunday can be wearing

Strolling in a peignoir mulling on the mystery

Where is that sweet man ooh ahh

The Emperor of Ice Cream ooh ahh

Plot against the giant young girls if you’re able

Summon him with bright cloths whisper in his fleshy ear

But first make sure those sweet smells really check him

Or he will detect your schemes and growl lights out shades down

Recall that nice man ooh ahh

The Emperor of Ice Cream ooh ahh

Look at fat Jocundus staring at a tumbler

Watch the politicians playing cards their fat cigars

Become their batons beating lazy jig-time

As macabre mice dance dreaming of democracy

Send back that white man ooh ahh

The Emperor of Ice Cream ooh ahh

Place a loaf of bread beside a scenic window

Cover up with paint the view that lies beyond the crust

But when you hear the sound of marching feet

It’s time to face the beast the mask is off you’ve lost

Here is that feared man ooh ahh

The Emperor of Ice Cream ooh ahh

(During the final chorus the clown crosses to the singer, takes the radio mic (singer exits) and hands it to the Narrator, which he takes without surprise. The clown sits cross-legged and “his” head sinks. The Narrator switches the mic off, after speaking the first sentence, during which time there are echo and phasing effects. His gown is now white with blue piping.)

A much younger man wrote that song in the mid-seventies: sitting in a Sydney park under the antipodean sun, reading the poetry of Wallace Stevens, watching his two young children playing; a refugee from the cauldron that was Belfast- the first of the harbour cities to give a shape to his life, the place he sought out as a teen for its music and the sweet, sweet girl who was to become his partner for what has been now over thirty years. And now circumstances have forced her to be his warder- (You realise I’m talking about myself here- third-person pretension, I think it’s called?) I have an addictive personality, I am told, and I have to be watched for my own good. And because she isn’t here to watch- she has left this device for me to use if I go over the edge (He takes out the panic device again)…wherever and whatever that may be. Apparently it will summon help: the ever dependable Eddie downstairs or some paramedical service. Ha! Help! Help…  Australia, then, was the land of the long weekend, bland but safe. Oh, I know that horrors lurked. But not for us any more – or rather, the beast was safely out of sight for another ten years or so. It was strange to reflect that less than ten years before, I had been part of that sixties’ optimism- all the entrenched bigotries were being swept away by the scornful laughter of rejection as youthful shock-troops kitted out by Carnaby Street and waving the incoherent manifestos of various pop philosophers stormed the tired ramparts of- what else- The Establishment. And 1968 was the annus mirabilis- a time when, throughout most of the western world, change seemed not only possible and desirable but inevitable and imminent. But, in Belfast, other, less fashionably dressed, players were in the game. They, too, had the establishment in their sights. But with them that expression was not figurative. It all went sour very quickly. Anyone who has lived through the experience of a civil society collapsing can attest to this. One day, it seems, all is well, nothing but mundane concerns clouding the horizon. The next day the sun doesn’t rise because, in Yeats’ memorable lines, the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity. And what was I during the cataclysm? Neither best nor worst. Was I lukewarm, perhaps? To be spewed out of destiny’s mouth! (Replacing the device in a pocket, he now takes out a flask, sips from it, rolling the liquid around) Destiny’s mouthwash perhaps? Once upon a time I would have riffed on that conceit- turned it into a song-lyric, short story or, more likely, barroom bluster. Now I find it a chore merely to recount. (During the opening bars of the song the clown comes to life and starts to dance around the Narrator- The clown, dances DSC and begins to sing. The Narrator crosses to a partition which allows him to quickly change gowns and slippers. From, presumably, a small bar-fridge he takes a tomato, and from a tastefully arrayed set of knives he selects a shining blade with which he proceeds to slice the tomato on an adjacent surface. He clicks on a kettle; we see a coffee mug next to it. The choreography should be arranged to highlight the appropriate moments to bring the Narrator and his actions into view. His gown is now blood-red, as are his slippers.)

Harlequin’s Poles

Harlequin dances round the poles in the hall

We dance along singing his song

And now we’re falling

Harlequin glances at the writing on the wall

He speeds the dance we’re in a trance

We hear him calling

He seems such a nice guy

With his painted on smile

Hope he’s going to stay a while

Harlequin chances on some people won’t heed him at all

He takes their lives with his long knives

And now they’re fallen

He seemed such a nice guy

With his painted on smile

As the bodies pile up high

Harlequin dances round the poles in the hall

We dance along trapped in his song

And now we’re fallen

(Exit clown. Light fx of swirling smoke on scrim. The Narrator moves downstage holding his mug of coffee. We note he has finished his tomato and his first words may be somewhat muffled as he swallows the remnants of his collation. He warms his hands on the mug and speaks quietly to the audience.)

I had a friend, once upon a time, who lived in the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney. From a new house with bloodwood timber floors and views across a wilderness of eucalypts, he only had to step outside to walk for hours in any direction through one of the most glorious landscapes the world can offer. But he was bored; dissatisfied with his lot. You see, entering into his fifth decade, he had never experienced history. I reminded him of the ancient Chinese curse that wishes the enemy a life in interesting times. Drink your steaming, gourmet coffee (He looks sardonically at his own sad beverage.) as the sun burns the early morning mist off the mountains, I said, and read about it from the comfort of your hillside retreat. You teach in a multicultural school in the city. Do you wonder why that seventeen-year old Croatian girl’s eyes are full of pain? Remember the expulsion of the Afghani youth whose behaviour was seriously alarming? It’s safer to read about the Taliban’s treatment of dissidents than experience it. Too young to have seen service in Vietnam, he had at least one student in each of his classes as a consequence of Australia’s involvement. A good person, he had helped repair the damage done to some of those who, in fact, had the misfortune to be living in places undergoing interesting times. And he had worked and scrimped and saved with his beautiful wife to build the beautiful house of their dreams to share with their two beautiful children. But he was bored; dissatisfied with his lot. So, he set out to experience history. We threw them a going-away party and our kids played together in the backyard as we drank a wonderful red wine around an open fire, yellow-box wood was burning in the brazier and I can smell it still. He was killed by separatists outside a model school… somewhere in the Himalayas as I recall, burned to death in his car with his wife and two pre-teen daughters as they were arriving to start the new school year. (During this time he has been downstage, pacing, drinking his coffee. He crosses to the side and places his cup down. He returns with a spray-bottle, as he continues speaking he sprays, from time to time, a sizeable bonsai garden set in a trough suspended from chains that may be flown in. From the audience p.o.v. the hanging basket should be shaped as a half-vesica, a miniature island with small bonsai plants and rock formations) As I watched our kids playing in that Sydney backyard I was reminded of playing on the patios of Aruba- the adults would drink and talk and never think our little ears were listening. But they were. For a few years, it was evident that a change was coming. My dad would talk about the new crew he was training up; my mum would ask “But when will they…?” “Shhh, Big ears is just over there…” In 1964 we returned to Northern Ireland, for the last time from the sunny sojourn that was my childhood; from the Lotus Land that was the small Caribbean island of Aruba where my father had worked for twenty five years as a tug-master for the oil company founded by old man Rockefeller, one of the icons of Capitalism. From time to time, to break the monotony, I would rummage about in the attic of a rainy day- and the small coastal village of Cushendall had more than its share of these that year, as I remember it. There was, in an old, green steamer trunk, brass-bound with an ornate hasp and decaying leather handles, piles of newspapers, copies of The Irish News from the years of the Second World War. And I began to read: there in black and white was the frisson of living in exciting times. A newspaper that doesn’t know if it will publish the next day, courtesy of a German bomb, has rather more focus than the indulged rags of peaceful epochs. A bit like a man facing execution- as Doctor Johnston said- it concentrates the mind wonderfully. At any rate, this was history. My father and mother were in its pages, in very, very, small print- he hadn’t been a general at Stalingrad but has watched a U-Boat blow a friend out of the water, literally. Strange how glibly that phrase “blown out of the water” falls from the mouths of those who have never been closer to conflict than raised voices, a shove or a drunken slap. They were on the Maracaibo run bringing crude oil from Venezuela to the oil-refinery in Aruba. He never spoke about it to me- it was part of the family legend and some things you knew better than to broach. My mother, meanwhile, an ocean away, helped console the shattered survivors of the Luftwaffe’s attacks on Belfast. They made monsters in those days, and even the ordinary people seemed larger-than-life. But I was born into the next age, the Age of Anxiety. In the early sixties, Castro was a renegade on the rampage not too far to the north- but somehow comic with his beard and cigar, a Latin Groucho Marx rather than the more imposing German Karl. However, the missile crisis sparked nervous cocktail conversations in the patios of expatriate Americans: You can bet the refinery will be hit! (He aims his spray gun at the audience “shooting” them in a wide arc.) The periodicals were full of details of how to build bomb shelters. The commie bastards would, of course, be utterly destroyed. MAD was more than a magazine title, in those days. That magazine, by the way, provoked in me spasms of hysterical laughter one day in 1961- I don’t remember what, in particular, set me off but I remember my mother regarding me oddly as I pointed gasping and shrieking at the source of my merriment. In memory it seems to be in vivid colour even though I know the magazine didn’t abandon the black and white form for decades after that. The other magazine I remember from the time was US News and World Report which, unlike MAD, featured prominently on the periodicals display in the High School library. And, from that sober source I learned about an invisible, mysterious killer- Radiation delivered in its hellish sacramental form- Fallout. (He points the spray gun vertically overhead and sprays, lighting should show the droplets falling around him.) My learning was from the printed page. In 1945 on a clear August day the people of a Japanese harbour city learned about it much more directly (Lights out, The Narrator exits as the drone of a B-29 fills the theatre and fades. Brilliant strobe flash, bright, tight spot picks up the young woman dressed in white who speaks the poem; other effects or none as your conception of the piece dictates)

from The Shadow– Toge Sankichi  

That morning

a flash tens of thousands of degrees hot

burned it all of a sudden onto the thick slab of granite:

someone’s trunk.

Burned onto the step, cracked and watery red,

the mark of the blood that flowed as intestines melted to mush:

a shadow.

 

Ah! if you are from Hiroshima

and on that morning,

amid indescribable flash and heat and smoke,

were buffeted in the whirlpool of the glare of the flames, the shadow of the cloud,

crawled about dragging skin that was peeling off,

so transformed that even your wife and children

would not have known you,

this shadow

is etched in tragic memory

and will never fade.

(She turns and watches as the singer, the young man dressed in a bomber jacket WWII vintage, begins to sing.)

Airman

When I was a young boy on the farm

I didn’t believe that bad men could win in the end

I thought evil was stealing cars

Or getting drunk and wrecking dimly lit bars

But then the depression rolled along

The bank foreclosed the family took to the road

I joined the Army Air Corps just in time

To go to war and then go out of my mind

Above the clouds lies the land of our dreams

They say everything is beautiful

But it ain’t what it seems

We gathered in early light the wind was chill

A general made a speech we yawned half asleep

Thunder of engines rocked the dawn

A few hours later a city was gone

Above the clouds lies the land of our dreams

They say everything is beautiful

But it ain’t what it seems

Above the clouds lies the land of our dreams

They say everything is beautiful

But it ain’t what it seems

(The singer and reciter see each other, pace slowly until they are face to face. They look into one another’s eyes, then walk slowly side by side upstage and the Narrator walks downstage between them. The singer-pilot pauses, reaches in his pocket and hands a small black oblong object to the Narrator who advances towards the audience as the others exit.)

I first held a switchblade in 1962. We were bored. All those movies of youthful rebellion, the stories of the streets brought back by boys from New York City or Chicago fed our hunger for connection in the tropical nights. Sneaking out was a test of manhood. While our parents snored we would slip away to an assigned meeting place among the cactus and coral. We would throw eggs or almonds at passing police trucks, steal Coca Cola from crates in the backyards of bungalows and crash parties of younger or uncool kids. I remember the shock on the faces of teachers shortly after we showed up at the High School Halloween dance dressed in jeans, black jackets and white, white T-shirts. It was prize-giving time. The scariest costume or theme was supposed to win. We swaggered up, five of us, stood in a semicircle before the judges, who, as the younger and less powerful members of the teaching staff, had been allocated supervision duty for the night. They smiled indulgently… how could we hope to compete with the assortment of ghouls, ghosts and goblins standing about in the hall? On a signal we each produced our knives. The click (He presses the button on his held object and the blade swings out.) as the blades locked in place was executed with the precision of a US Marine honour guard hefting arms. We didn’t win. Our shiny blades were confiscated and we got detention for a month. We were that Junior High’s coolest gang and we were bad- in a middle-class, pampered, sort of way. Innocent, really, now that I look back on it. We were never going to be a match for the real-life counterparts of The Sharks and The Jets: West Side Story was causing a sensation at the time. And, of course, we were not even in the same universe as those teenage gangs who called themselves the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the seventies. The lesson I learned as I served my detention time was that the wielders of authority decide who is going to win, regardless of what the rules may say, even when they solemnly intone that everyone has to abide by them… especially then : (He crosses to side-stage. There is a bookshelf with a variety of tomes. He looks silently at the array during the song. Occasionally, he extracts one and looks at the title on the spine before replacing it. The young man sings.)

Outlaws

He never walked in Sherwood Forest

Or twirled a six-gun in the west

But here on the line live his people confined

They love the outlaw

Take Robin Hood or Billy the Kid

Not much in common but they lived

Outside the law hold our children enthralled

They play the outlaw

So raise your glasses to the Sheriff

Cheer Marshal Garrett till you’re hoarse

The people outside you scorn and deride

They toast the outlaw

Who do you turn to when times get rough

When the keepers and the guardians are corrupt

Oh oh oh oh

Oh oh oh oh

Don’t point to facts they have no force

A body count brings no remorse

Just look past the eyes of the zombie inside

We need our outlaws

(Exit the singer. The Narrator now selects a slim yearbook and may look through it from time to time as he approaches the audience talking. In it he sees photographs of himself and his friends and scenes of some of the activities described.)

The following year I took my Dad’s Chevvy for a drive. It was 1963 and I was feeling a bit of an outlaw. I’ve always looked younger than my age and among the well-fed North Americans I was the Irish runt- always the smallest in my class. In yearbook after yearbook I’m that really small kid at the end on the left-hand side. The police sergeant smiled as he handed the keys back to my father saying that at first he thought the car was driving itself. It was time to bail out. A criminal life was not for me. It’s hard to sustain the persona of an underworld czar when your victims only laugh at your exploits. But, hey, it was the sixties, and rebellion didn’t have to take the form of serious law-breaking. There was a new music being born. And I started to listen. An older girl who could actually drive legally- she was sixteen- showed me a Martin guitar. She was raving about the coffee house folk scene back in the States. Her name was Mary Ann and she, with her friends Bonnie and Cheryl, took a shine to me and my friends. They adopted us as mascots and drove us around, gave us beers and smokes and complained about their boyfriends. They were seriously cool chicks; they read widely, knew about art and music and told us that women actually dug men with brains above the pelvic region. Not that this stopped them whistling at the senior basketball team at practice and singing rude songs, the content of which would make a rugby team blush She didn’t need liberating, Mary Ann. Bright academically, really striking in looks, (although, funnily enough it isn’t reflected in her yearbook photographs) she laughed at the teachers at the school and called them greys- even though they were mostly in their thirties and selected for their above average academic record. I almost cried when I told her that I had to leave to return to Ireland. She laughed, gave me a cigarette and handed me a bottle of Amstel beer. She leaned over and whispered in my ear: “Don’t go grey.”  (He touches his receding grey hair) Now, I never thought she was advocating that I dye my hair in later years. It took me years to realise that she and her friends were an extraordinarily deviant group, but deviant, only in the sense that they were just about as far from the conventional 60s norm as you can get. Then, I just took it as read that the other half of the human race, in whom I was just starting to take hormonal notice, were wise and witty and funny beyond anything that we could come up with. (The Narrator stands downstage to one side looking at a page of the yearbook as the young woman- advances. She accompanies her recitation with large gestures, jazz-ballet style. Obvious light effects will suggest themselves but it’s OK to resist them. On the line “people will stare forever” the narrator gazes spellbound at the young woman.)

I Would Like to be a Dot in a Painting by Miro– Moniza Alvi

I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro.

.

Barely distinguishable from other dots,

it’s true, but quite uniquely placed.

And from my dark centre

I’d survey the beauty of the linescape

and wonder- would it be worthwhile

to roll myself towards the lemon stripe,

Centrally poised, and push my curves

against its edge, to get myself

a little extra attention?

But it’s fine where I am.

I’ll never make out what’s going on

around me, and that’s the joy of it.

The fact that I’m not a perfect circle

makes me more interesting in this world.

People will stare forever-

Even the most unemotional get excited.

So here I am on the edge of animation,

a dream, a dance, a fantastic construction,

A child’s adventure.

And nothing in this tawny sky

Can get too close or move too far away

(The Narrator walks towards her but never gets too close. The young woman exits appropriately and the Narrator returns and replaces the yearbook on the shelf. He mixes himself a drink. It’s a stiff one, he shouldn’t really be having it. Stage business here, as elsewhere should not, unless dramatically necessary, impede the fluidity of the play’s unfolding.)

I have never forgotten Mary Ann. I would like to think that she took her iconoclastic insouciance into her future life. If she still lives, and if she, by some magic of mathematical chance, hears me now, can I say, Mary Ann- I took your advice, I didn’t go grey or tried not to- I read (present tense) read (past tense) widely, listened to music from everywhere I could manage, sought out art and sculpture and tried, even if in a small way, to create. Although, I would be the first to concede- I will never be among the pantheon of your artistic heroes. But, as I said, I read voraciously and still can’t resist a big, really big, Art Folio or an extravagantly outré exhibition- and Manhattan is just the place to be for that! Music still has me enthralled, and I have gorged on jazz and rock and experimental and classical over the past months of my Big Apple residency and I still haven’t been satiated and, alas, I think something else will intervene before that happens. Oh, I never will forget her laughter at a world that was horrible and risible at the same time. Her laughter was the sound, you know, the music that made me first look at life with a clear, cold eye. I have basked in the glow of memories such as those starlit car-rides out through the police gates, guarding the segregated housing of the employees of the oil company, into the more anarchic multiracial streets of San Nicholas- a mini-Manhattan in it’s own way- and I have derived strength from something created in those few short months that has endured to this day. Thomas Hardy wrote a poem, The Self-Unseeing, where he set out that universal truth: that it is only long after the event that we can actually appreciate the significance of our actions and of the people in our lives. Not long after I had the privilege of knowing you, Maryanne, (and, also, Cheryl and Bonnie) I was heading towards a new life in the Old World. Tired old Europe and tired old Ireland was to be the setting of the next phase of my life: the gates of Eden closed as we drove to the airport, my older brother and I, to take a flight that was heading north to Miami and New York, then east, over the Atlantic, towards the emerald isle. As we soared above the clouds, I persuaded my brother to order a vodka and coke for himself, which I drank. He didn’t drink at the time and, reflecting on this small episode, you might well wonder how the diminutive youth could be so persuasive. Years later I asked him about it and he said that I had an appeal, then, that was hard to resist. His use of the past tense hurt somewhat. We lose so much, as we grow older, don’t we? I wasn’t trailing clouds of glory, but the fumes of that spirit, high above the Atlantic, helped to kill the pain. I knew I was leaving the walled garden, that Eden, in Aruba and that the coming years would be…well, I was to find out: (He crosses to a shelf of books and takes one, returning to his rocking chair. He carries his drink which he places on a small table beside the chair. During the song-sung by the young man- he reads the book with intensity- but closes it, with a sigh before the song ends.)

Cannery Row

With Mack and the boys out on Cannery Row

Laid into the wine jug we sat

On a log placed outside the Flophouse and Grill

We watched the sun painting the hill

As the armchair romantic sinks into his dream

He forgets that his life is constrained

How he wrestled and lost with a thing that was dead

How emptiness entered his head

A handful of notes won’t buy you the soul

That you traded for being assured

For the pages must turn then the book’s cast aside

Another you has just died

My cheek on one shoulder I walk past the shelves

Of the library just before dark

I needed to borrow a chart for the mind

I had lost and was searching to find

Then to the Mojo Motel book a table for two

The Moonglow quintet plays requests and old

Standards for you it’s true

Home again we make mechanical love and you

Say it was okay

But Mack and the boys are still living it up

And the Doc has returned from the tide

And those good working girls are preparing to go

To the party on Cannery Row

Yes Mack and the boys are still living it up

And the Doc has returned from the tide

And those good looking girls are already at

The party on Cannery Row

(The singer exits. The Narrator places now empty glass on a surface, side stage, and he replaces the book on a shelf.)

One of my first discoveries in the Old World was the existence of old people. Aruba was an expatriate society with one purpose only: to refine the crude oil from Venezuela and send it off to the gas guzzlers of the American Dream. Hence, it was an artificial social construct using any index you might select. Even the water was, in a sense, artificial. It didn’t fall from the sky or run in rivers but was piped in from a desalinisation plant and was more valuable than the crude oil. I recall where an employee of the company, actually one of the rising young executives, was summarily dismissed for tampering with his water meter. Through youthful eyes all the adults were old- but, in reality, they were mostly in their thirties or forties. Really old people, like my parents, had attained the impossible age of fifty- younger than I am now. The houses, schools, clubs, boats, cars, clothes, toys, tools, furniture, fittings, fixtures- all new. Set down by American Capital on a small desert island only a generation before. Aruba, at that time, was owned by Holland but the Americans built a refinery and constructed a quasi-colonial enclave- we actually called it the Colony- on one end of the island which was walled off from the rest of the island, the gates manned by armed police to ensure its isolation. The food also was, for most part, freighted in and sold from a commissary. Now, Ireland was different. When my father returned upon his retirement from the company- I had preceded him and my mother to start boarding school some months before- he took me up a narrow, rutted, lane in the country to visit his stepmother. It was a small one-storey Irish cottage with whitewashed walls and thatched roof. The wooden half-door was open and inside was an open fire with an iron kettle swung over it. There was an open dresser with gleaming crockery, an old wooden bench and a dog asleep on a rug. Decades later I was to visit a theme park in the south of Ireland with an almost identical cottage, outside and in. My father knocked and we entered. A small, stooped, wizened woman with deep fissures in her face smiled faintly at us as she hobbled out of a darkened room off to one side of the main living area. This was his step-mother. After introductions, he told me to go play by the stream that ran close by, while they talked. There I had one of those almost preternatural encounters that puzzles me to this day: across the stream was a tinker lad- one of the travelling people of Ireland. Commonly called the Gypsies, they are the subject of prejudice wherever they go. He called across the stream to me but I could not understand what he was saying. He repeated his words- still no comprehension. The next thing I remember, we were throwing stones at one another. Then I heard my father call my name; the tinker-lad dropped the stone he was about to throw, laughed, and disappeared into the bushes lining the stream. I walked back feeling, feeling…and the feeling persists to this day…somehow cheated. When we were settled in the car I asked my father about his real mother, but he answered only that she had died when he was a small boy. It wasn’t until thirty five years later that I was to receive a fuller account. I saw old people on the streets, at Mass, when I visited relatives, or in attendance at the funerals and wakes that were a not unusual feature of country life in the Glens of Antrim: I ought, in short, to have been inoculated by the…Methusaleh-isation of my life in a society with a more natural demographic spread than the one I had been living in but remember being shocked to the core by the evidence of rampant geriatric carnality encountered when I worked for a summer on the Isle of Man at a holiday camp a few years after my return. I was sixteen years old and, for the first time in my life, truly on my own, away from the influence of adults who had an interest in or responsibility for me. I had completed my O- Levels and flew to that strange island in the middle of the Irish Sea with Sean Flynn, a friend from school a year older than me. He was a day boy who travelled by bus from Ballymena and I travelled by bus from Cushendall- a day boy too, apart from a few months boarding- of which, more later. But to get back to the rampant geriatric carnality- which I wish I possessed in greater measure- the easy English sexuality in the mid-sixties was somewhat in advance of the Irish kind practised in the repressed Catholic country parish I lived in. One night, returning to my cabin after washing the pots and pans in the cavernous kitchen which catered for the happy campers, I heard low grunts and thumps coming from the other side of my very basic sleeping quarters. Thinking it was a dog at the garbage cans placed there, I rounded the corner to confront Ernie and Madge engaged in what I was later to learn was called a knee-trembler. Ernie was a janitor, married to Edna who was head of the cleaners at the camp. Madge was one of the cooks in the kitchen. What was said to me was short but not incongruent with the activity I had so inconsiderately interrupted. Whispering my revelation to Sean, after I had prodded him awake upon my stunned return, I was puzzled by his failure to fall out of his bunk at the enormity I had just related: But Jesus, Sean, I said, they’ve both got grey hair! (The Narrator has grey or greying hair.) Sean just yawned. Sean, yawn- ah…anyway, Sean didn’t think much of a previous… epiphany… I had related it only months before, when we were planning our Isle of Man adventure in the study hall of the college. After I returned from Aruba I was shoe-horned into a prestigious boarding college that my parents had arranged for me to attend. I was domiciled in St Marys one of the Houses of the college. It was the most recent addition to the boarding accommodation of this august institution- at least that’s what we were told- the college, in fact, was a relatively recent response of the Catholic bishops who were determined to use education as the wedge to overcome the sectarianism of the Northern Ireland statelet. And so, a castle overlooking the Irish Sea was bought and filled with callow Catholic boys. And it grew, and overseas students helped to fund its expansion, the latest of which was St Marys which was a three-storey honey-brick construction. It was, unlike the more communal arrangements of the other Houses, a single-room complex. One room and one student. No dormitory living for us! And the priest who had charge of it had, on what my memory can only remember as Walpurgis Night, been called away suddenly to a family emergency. Don’t ask me how it got out. But seeping through the walls of our individual minimalist rooms- seeping through the walls was the information- we’re on our own. WE’RE ON OUR OWN! I had been caned just that day by that very same holy man, that guardian of our Catholicity, that warder in charge of St Marys. It happened this way: we were up on the slopes overlooking the Irish Sea, up above the college, four friends and I, playing poker and smoking, and we missed curfew. So, as we trooped into St Marys, the four recalcitrants and I, Father Grinsin was waiting with his thin instrument at the door. Ten times the cane hissed and thwacked- one on each hand. With pride, I can relate that not one of us yelped in pain. We sucked it in. But, you know, I can still feel it to this day. I was sitting at my desk, reading and taking notes on the novel we were studying in English, rubbing my smarting palms between my legs. I was really getting bored by Ralph and Piggy so when the seeping seeped into me-I was ready. Knock, knock, who’s theeere!  I opened my door and was hit in the face by a wet mop. Fabulous. Was I ever waiting for this! I charged out of the room and pursued my attacker down the corridor. He dropped the mop and I ripped the handle out and threw it at him. It sailed past his head and stuck in a prefect’s door at the end of the passageway. It was brilliant! The door opened and I screamed an obscenity and the door shut. Ha! Water bombs, pillow fights, beds upturned, it was brilliant! Although we didn’t say brilliant back then. Brill was the in-word at the time. It was Brill. The strangest thing was…there were no repercussions to speak of. We all just tidied away as best we could (mind you, the place was still a bit of a shithouse!) and, when Grinsin returned the next day and conferred with his prefects and the powers-that-be, well, nothing. It was as though nothing has ever taken place. We all agreed that it had not, really, happened! But the boys of St Marys were guilt-tripped big-time. The prefects were scathing over the next while as they condemned our utter disregard for the proprieties, for besmirching Grinsin’s grief, for sullying the memory of an old, old man who had lived an exemplary life and brought Father Grinsin into the world to look over us. Yeah, right- I thought then, and now… And Sean Flynn yawned then too, when I related the details of glorious anarchy- or is that just memory playing its delicious tricks (The young woman ironically declaims the poem.)

from Let Me Die a Youngman’s Death– Roger McGough

Let me die a youngman’s death

not a clean and inbetween

the sheets holywater death

not a famous-last -words

peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73

and in constant good tumour

may I be mown down at dawn

by a bright red sports car

on my way home

from an allnight party…

Or when I’m 104

and banned from the Cavern

may my mistress

catching me in bed with her daughter

…cut me up into little pieces

and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death

not a free from sin tiptoe in

candle wax and waning death

not a curtains drawn by angels borne

“what a nice way to go” death

(It should not be as obvious as a paroxysm of coughing, but the Narrator is drained by the effort and he crosses side stage where he sits on the rocking chair. He takes his pillbox out and, reluctant to get up and cross to where he can get water, pulls from another pocket a hip-flask with which to wash down his medication. From time to time he may take a medicinal swig during the song. The band plays unseen behind the scrim- the young man sings- onto which are projected vignettes, images, symbols, etc mimicking memory. The young woman appears during choruses, watched by the Narrator.)

Everybody’s Story

Oh if I start to talk today

Of all the wonders of my youth

Pour me another glass of wine

And let me go rambling through

Those memory lanes again

I’ve been a resident for years

Thank you for filling out the forms

I know you want to hear my news

But I’d rather ramble through

Those memory lanes again

Yeah everybody’s story’s got a point

Lost friends heroes and lovers

They rise and they shine again

Everybody’s story’s got a point

Lost friends heroes and lovers

They rise and they shine again

I won’t forget you in my will

I will not alter it at all

You are my son I wish you well

Now please let me ramble through

Those memory lanes again

Next time you come bring in the kids

I still remember their soft smiles

If you won’t do that bring some wine

And let me go rambling through

Those memory lanes again

Yeah everybody’s story’s got a point

Lost friends heroes and lovers

They rise and they shine again

Oh everybody’s story’s got a point

Lost friends heroes and lovers

They rise and they shine again

(The singer exits. The Narrator, who is, after all, only about sixty although his illness may have aged him somewhat- during the final choruses crosses to the bar fridge and prepares himself another drink. The young woman watches, then exits. He crosses to the shelves and takes down a photograph. This is a family grouping. He holds the framed photograph and looks at it, then sets it down, picks up his drink and confides in the audience.)

Small children have an affinity with those the all-conquering youth generation and their go-getting parents call old. They respond to the easy tolerance and gentle understanding of their grandparents. Alas, I didn’t experience this at first hand as both sets of grandparents had died before I was born.  And I regret that I am not fated to become an indulgent grandad surrounded by the progeny of my progeny. But I have one grandson, one link to the universe beyond, the only way in which my being can truly live into the future. My God, how I quake at the idea that anything will happen to him before he…I don’t buy, and never have, that hogwash that claims all parents as evil, warping pathologies in the development of their children. The strident attacks on the supposedly artificial nuclear family by ideologues of left and right never quite rang true- the generation gap, for me and lots of people I know, was not a yawning chasm boiling with hellfire, but a difference, not all that astounding, comprising difference in age, experience and changing culture and expectations. As the kids of Seroe Colorado Junior High in Aruba would have responded, as they did to any fatuity: Duhhh!! Of course, what I have said is a generalisation and I was to encounter in the stories of other people’s lives a vast, often dark, forest where fiends do, indeed, lurk. However, the tabloids of paper and TV would have us believe that behind every vicarage curtain a satanic coven meets and …you know as well as I the variety of paranoia peddled, the range of hypotheses hyped by those who profess an interest, not all of it well-intentioned, in the care of children. As young parents, we were anxious to do the right thing, and, like so many of our generation we read the Spock child-rearing manual with the same avidity that theological students use scouring Scripture for the meaning of existence. I wish I had found out earlier than I did that we would have been better employed assimilating the words of wisdom uttered by the pointy-eared Vulcan of the same name. Appropriately enough, Star Trek lives on. As do so many innocent and enabling fictions. . (This might be a good point where the separateness of Narrator space, Recital space and Musical space- the three main playing constructs and their conventionally discrete roles- is subverted. There is an opportunity here for the Narrator to sing the next song which is simple and undemanding: a lullaby, in fact. The director may feel that the preservation of the separate spaces is to be kept. The alcohol is taking effect, but larger than might be expected in a veteran imbiber.)

Cycle of Love

Me mother told me the greatest pack of lies when I was young

Not an ugly duckling I but the finest whitest swan

Me father was complicit in this conspiracy of love

He swore by the sun and moon and stars up above

That I was special

I’m grown up now and married and it should come as no surprise

To our children we have told the same old pack of lies

Knowing that they all add up to something that is true

Knowing that most people know this is nothing new

Our kids are special

The cycle of love rolls through the years

The cycle of love cuts through the tears

The cycle of love rolls on and on…forever

I have to smile sometimes when I am walking far and near

As I pass a family these words I often hear

You are no ugly duckling but the finest whitest swan

You are the moon and stars above you are the shining sun

Oh you are special

The cycle of love rolls through the years

The cycle of love cuts through the tears

The cycle of love rolls on and on…forever

The cycle of love rolls through the years

The cycle of love cuts through the tears

The cycle of love rolls on and on and on…forever

(The Narrator crosses to the bench and sets down his glass. From a shelf he picks up a small, oval cameo brooch, looks at it and advances, yet again, on the audience.)

In our house in Cushendall, my father set up, in a front room overlooking the lawns, his beloved hi-fi gear, B&O of course…his AKAI reel to reel, state of the art when he proudly purchased it a couple of years before- a retirement present to himself, perhaps?… his writing desk and chess sets and comfortable chairs. An ornately carved chest smelling of camphor gleamed dully in one corner and, around the walls photographs in polished wooden frames peopled by grimly countenanced Victorian and Edwardian gents and ladies. Two photographs in oval frames on adjacent walls, stared into space at right angles to one another. One his father, an imposing moustachioed man in his sea-captain’s uniform; the other a pale and delicate young woman in a ruffled blouse closed at the neck with a cameo brooch – his birth mother. (He looks, for a couple of beats, at the cameo brooch in his hand. The audience can draw what conclusions they wish.) He was comfortable with reminders, not of his twenty five years in the sun, but with the mute artefacts that recalled the early years of the century. (He walks back and replaces the cameo brooch on the shelf as the young woman, dressed in raffish Edwardian male garb, breezes on stage. She is cheery and rubs her hands briskly as she instructs the audience. The Narrator clutches his gut and walks offstage. When he reappears he will be wearing a much finer gown and slippers suggesting emperor-like opulence)

from History of the Twentieth Century– Joseph Brodsky

Nineteen-fourteen! Oh, nineteen-fourteen!

Ah, some years shouldn’t be let out of quarantine!

Well, this is one of them. Things get raw:

In Paris, the editor of Figaro

is shot dead by the wife of the French finance

minister, for printing this lady’s/ steamy letters to

-ah, who cares!…

…a socialist and pacifist

of all times, Jean Jaures. He who shook his fist

at the Parliament urging hot heads to cool it,

dies, as he dines, by some bigot’s bullet

in a cafe. Ah, those early, single

shots of Nineteen-fourteen! ah, the index finger

of an assassin! ah white puffs in the blue acrylic!…

There is something pastoral, nay! idyllic

about these murders. About that Irish enema

the Brits suffer in Dublin again. And about Panama

Canal’s grand opening. Or about that doc

and his open heart surgery on his dog…

Well, to make these things disappear forever,

the Archduke is arriving at Sarajevo;

and there is in the crowd that unshaven, timid

youth, with his handgun…

(In the last four lines the air seems to go out of her and she walks slowly offstage. The Narrator is not in sight, and the now deflated young woman pauses on her way and looks at the cameo left on the shelf by the Narrator as the opening notes of the song fill the theatre. There is only a singer-guitarist on the playing platform; any vocal support for choruses is from unseen band-members. He walks downstage playing the intro on his acoustic guitar, which should be amplified in wireless fashion, if possible, and sings into a mic. This is the young man. Delete guitar references for non-players.)

Rose

Your name was rarely mentioned Rose when I was growing up

A closed book on a high shelf unopened and uncut

A picture in an oval frame that’s staring into space

Waiting for a mention and waiting for a place

Inside our family history then just the other day

A letter from my nephew came and swept some dark away

Telling of internment in that war to end all wars

And your return to Ireland with anguished mental scars

Rose runs in her asylum clothes

Fleeing from her demons down a darkened Antrim Road

She’s running towards her husband in that distant German camp

Crying to the stars what’s happened to her man oh Rose oh Rose

In ‘14 you were happy gave domestic life the slip

Sailing with your husband as he captained his fine ship

To the port of Hamburg oh did you find release

Did you find what you were after and did you find some peace

Why did you take that fateful trip into the jaws of war

Why did you leave those young boys behind on Ireland’s shore

The answers all are buried now and sunk into the clay

Or hidden is a dusty file that’s yet to see the day

Rose runs in her asylum clothes

Fleeing from her demons down a darkened Antrim Road

She’s running towards her husband in that distant German camp

Crying to the stars what’s happened to her man oh Rose oh Rose

Forgive me Rose if I have used your pain to write this song

People I respect tell me they wonder if I’m wrong

To use you to fill a drunken room with feeble sound

Have I desecrated what was once your holy ground

But Rose I am your grandson and surely I should know

The people I have come from so that I might show

My children that there is a point no matter what the cost

Nothing that’s remembered is ever really lost

Rose runs in her asylum clothes

Fleeing from her demons down a darkened Antrim Road

She’s running towards her husband in that distant German camp

Crying to the stars what’s happened to her man oh Rose

Runs in her asylum clothes

Fleeing from her demons down a darkened Antrim Road

She’s running towards her husband in that distant German camp

Crying to the stars what’s happened to her man oh Rose Rose

(Exit the singer. Fly in emblems representing Mammon; also, 1984-ish formulae such as LOVE=HATE; PEACE=WAR. The set should now be transforming and becomes garish, resembling a tawdry game-show. The Narrator reappears, we really can’t have him advancing on the audience yet again, but to have him rise from under the stage or have him flown in seems, well…excessive. The dressing gown and slippers of the Narrator suggest opulence and decadence.)

The texts from those times are as dated as the flock wallpaper of an Edwardian drawing room. The inheritors of modernism, those pop mavens, working in animation, the written word, sound and stone as well as on canvas have made everything glowing and immediate. Simple, bold, fluorescent statements replace the mandarin meanderings of those sonorous artistic aristocrats of the first tranche of the twentieth century. Purple prose and blue blood is replaced by an apotheosis in green- Warhol’s wall of dollar bills becomes the central image on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of our imagination. Radix malorum est cupiditas- croaks the Pardoner- the love of money is the root of all evil. Well, those roots have spread under the foundations of our civilisation. So what’s new? Maybe nothing, there have been greed and violence as well as selfless love and self-denial since Adam was a lad. I’m not a pundit; I can’t predict what my cat will do next never mind the whole damned shebang. But I know that the language has been ripped back to reveal…what? Orwell was wrong; it wasn’t the thought police of a totalitarian state that eviscerated expression. We did it to ourselves, pursuing the dream, once called American. It responds only to monosyllables or those articulated words that it sanctions: words like Proactive, Functionality, Multitasking, Consumerism. And in the race the swift make sure there is nothing left for those who lag too far behind. Not even what our predecessors would have called language. (The Narrator watches as the young woman, dressed in a very contemporary fashion, makes yet another entrance.)

from The Lads– Eleanor Brown

The lads, the lads, away the lads;

we are the Boys, who make this Noise: hoo, ha; hoo, ha;

a-way, awayawayaway, a-way, away;

ere we go, ere we go, ere we go;

we are the Boys, who make this Noise;

hoo ha;

Away the lads, I love your poetry,

It strips the artform down to nakedness,

distilling it to spirituous drops

of utter poetry.

I like the way you shout it all so loud,

revelling in the shamelessness

of its repetitiousness; the way it never stops

delighting

you. You’ve every right to be proud

of your few, brief, oral formulae-

any of which will do for Match of the Day,

on Friday night, Lads’ Night Out,

lagering up and fighting-

you are the lads. You’ve every right to shout.

(As the band rips into the riff of the next song the young woman responds enthusiastically. So taken by the ambience is she that she joins the singer in the chorus, becomes, in fact, a member of the band. The young man, who is the singer, and indeed the whole band, is dressed, at this point, in post-punk style- she won’t look out of place, really.)

All I Did

I was born to a mother there was a father somewhere

I had brothers and sisters we hung out sometimes

And all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

Had some schooling I was fooling nobody not even me

Left with nothing no nothing except the one thing that I could do

So all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

I got married had a family a boy and girl they were the world

Then they left me I said nothing nothing much that I could say

And all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

Kept on living for some reason but no reason that I could find

Kept on breathing but not believing that there was any point to it

And all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

Now I’m dying but I ain’t trying for your sympathy or gain

At least I won’t have to keep on taking what I’ve been taking for so long

Cause all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

Yeah all I did all I did

All I did was eat somebody’s shit

(Fade or fly out the garish fx of a game show. In the final chorus the spot picks up the Narrator who has lifted again the family photograph from the shelf and returns to the rocking chair where he sits. As the noise, mercifully, if we are to believe the expression of the Narrator, fades he speaks, quietly at first. As the narration proceeds he, becomes a little agitated, gets up and paces a bit, but sits again in the rocking chair from where he will softly recite the sonnet.) 

Any attempt to be a cartographer of the present is bound to fail; there are too many fracture-lines running in a crazy pattern. The hammer blow delivered to the ancien regime by the first great war was followed by others in quick succession; depression, global war, the atomic apocalypse, explosions of technology and population. But it all gets back to a solitary brain (that may or may not contain the mind) carried around in a body (that may or may not contain a soul). Watching newsreel footage of the masses recorded in their moments of revolution, despair and jubilation distances you from the obvious truth- there, that face, just about to disappear behind the police horse’s flank- looked just like your son the last time you saw him as he waved a cheery good-bye…can it be fifteen years already? (He looks for a couple of beats at the photograph before, reluctantly almost, he places it in a pocket of his dressing gown.) Name, fame, the celebrity game is just so much blather. We are all used to yet another icon exposed on the breakfast news as venal or sad or pathetic- just like us really. I remember when the great cynic of English poetry in this- or rather, the previous, century, Philip Larkin was taken off in one of those ships with black sails. Almost before the vessel had vanished around a misty bend of the River Styx we were breathlessly informed that the poet had a collection of what was described as repulsive pornography, and as for the content of his diaries…well! But I will always think softly of him, not because of his life or works but an anecdote concerning him. He was, as I recall, driving back towards his home in Hull along the motorway, listening to the radio and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time with the windshield wipers when he had to pull onto the hard shoulder, blinded by tears, because, on the radio, someone had begun reciting a sonnet by Wordsworth. (The narrator starts to recite- on the second line he turns to see the young woman to whom he addresses the rest of the sonnet.  She moves about the stage oblivious. The young man appears towards the end of the recitation and moves downstage to be in place for the song.)

Surprised by Joy– William Wordsworth

Surprised by joy- impatient as the Wind

I turned to share the transport- Oh! with whom

But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,

That spot which no vicissitudes can find?

Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind-

But how could I forget thee? Through what power,

Even for the least division of an hour,

Have I been so beguiled as to be blind

To my most grievous loss!- That thought’s return

Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,

Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,

Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;

That neither present time, nor years unborn

Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

(The band plays, the young man sings, the Narrator rocks slowly, listening. The young woman moves offstage. The set brightens, but not garishly.)

Surprised By Joy

I’m playing in a band with a few good friends

Nothing very grand but we like our sound

We play Irish music and we sing Irish songs

Anything that takes our fancy as it comes along

We play on weekends after dark

Sometimes we make it sometimes miss the mark

But we do the best we can we enjoy the crack

We hope you enjoyed it too sure maybe we’ll be back

I dreamed one night that I was playing slack

The chords were just as rough as guts I was sweating blood

A guitar chimed in behind me and straightened out the line

I hadn’t heard that sound since 1989

I was surprised by joy to hear my long lost boy

Playing right behind me as he hadn’t played in years

I turned around to smile at him but there was no one there

Just a long note dying and a shadow in the air

I was surprised by joy

I was surprised by joy to hear my long lost boy

Playing right behind me as he hadn’t played in years

I turned around to smile at him but there was no one there

Just a long note dying and a shadow in the air

I was surprised…

(The Narrator speaks softly, almost to himself, the first eight words. He rises and continues, speaking to the audience at times, and looking backwards into his head at others. The set should now be at its most rococo.)

Surprised by joy…it’s been a long time… The eighties were an awful time and an awesome time, too, I suppose. Never mind the crumbling of communism, the Falklands war, the marriage of Diana and Charles and all the other headline events. The dislocations in world history meant little to me. I had hammer-blows enough in the personal sphere to absorb. Unemployment, loss of my father, then mother, serious injury of my younger son, then the loss of my firstborn son began my personal catalogue of horrors and they filled my world during the decade of- what did the eighties mean to you? To me it was global ping-pong: living in Sydney, then Belfast then back to Sydney as the hammer-blows rained down. Not even the…windfall that came my way so recently has provided solace- the cold wind still keeps blowing through me. The larger events were only on TV and newspapers- not real for me at all. And as I mourned my son I remembered my brushes with death as a younger male. Note to mothers, we all think, as teenage boys, that we will live forever, no matter what we do. When I was about twelve, or maybe thirteen, I built a raft. My friends and I lived in and on and near the water. Why not? The blue, coral-fringed lagoons of Aruba were paradise for us. Swimming and snorkelling and spear fishing and catching moray eels on hand lines, yanking them out of their coral caves and spinning them round our heads and breaking their backs on the sharp coral ridges above the surface at low water… filled our days… and beach parties under the stars, and watching from the beach the fireworks display set on barges out in the lagoon on the fourth of July, punctuated our nights- such was the influence of the water fringing that small island of my early youth. One Saturday morning we cycled to a seldom-used beach; there we built a flotilla of rafts. Flotsam and jetsam. We dragged pallets washed in to the shore and shoved driftwood and a variety of containers into them. Three of us, like tropical Huck Finns, launched the unlikely craft into the water. We laughed and joked with one another as the current carried us along the coast. But we started to drift further apart under the influence of the current and waves and the differences in the seaworthiness of our individual rafts. I lagged further behind- not being much of a marine designer. My friends has rounded the point on the coastal current while I…well, I had been daydreaming, looking towards the distant coast of Venezuela wondering what life was like there, and when next I checked my bearings, discovered I was much further from the shore than I had been only, it seemed , moments before. As I vacillated, wondering whether to attempt the swim to the shore, it seemed to rush into the distance. Desert island adventure? No, just fear. The raft bobbed and spun in the choppy offshore sea and I clung to it feeling sick. Alone in the sun I had time enough to recall the drowned, native, fisherman brought in a few months before to the boat-slip near the club. My first sight of a dead body, I had watched, as his friends tried frantically to empty his lungs and bring him back to life- but only froth and mucus for all their labour. He had dived off the boat to try to clear the anchor but his leg had become entangled in the rope and he was dead before they could cut him free. A matter of minutes, they said. Not for the last time, I promised God, with whom, then, I was on speaking terms…I promised Him not to be so stupid again…if only. The denouement? Well, I’m still here. Mr Flaherty, a big noise in the company, whose son, Steve, I hung out with occasionally, had a cabin cruiser that he used to take friends, other big-guns from the States, out fishing. Coming back from a successful morning’s hunt for aquatic game, I guess he pulled another prize from the water. Although, judging from what he said to me and repeated to my parents on the phone that night, I was valued at much less than the fish in the icebox of his boat. It was an early brush with metaphysics and the larger questions, I think they are called. I do prefer the way that artists address these larger questions- professional preachers and career carers (He sits again on the rocking chair.) usually leave me cheering for the grim reaper. . (The young woman dressed casually in bush clothes, a little threadbare, and a battered old hat, perhaps, saunters on to the stage. She addresses the audience first but notices the Narrator and addresses him as well during his recital. On the words “rococo of being your own still centre” she looks at the motionless Narrator )

from The Quality of Sprawl– Les Murray

Sprawl is the quality

of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce

into a farm utility truck, and sprawl

is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts

to buy the vehicle back and repair its image.

Sprawl is doing your farming by aeroplane, roughly,

of driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home.

It is the rococo of being your own still centre,

It is never lighting cigars with ten-dollar notes:

that’s idiot ostentation and murder of starving people.

Nor can it be bought with the ash of million-dollar deeds.

Sprawl is Hank Stamper in Never Give an Inch

bisecting an obstructive official’s desk with a chainsaw.

Not harming the official. Sprawl is never brutal

though it’s often intransigent..

Sprawl gets up the nose of many kinds of people

(every kind that comes in kinds) whose futures don’t include it…

No, sprawl is full-gloss murals on a council-house wall.

Sprawl leans on things. It is loose-limbed in its mind.

Reprimanded and dismissed

it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail

of possibility. It may have to leave the earth…

Being roughly Christian, it scratches the other cheek

and thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl.

(She nods a cheerio to the narrator, replaces her hat and saunters downstage. When she hears the opening chords of the song she stops and listens, nodding appreciatively. The Narrator crosses to the side of stage and mixes himself another drink. She exits as the Narrator returns to the chair downstage. Rococo fx start to fade as the young man sings.)

Patrimony

Ain’t left a will there’s nothing much here

That can’t be divided easy

Some things I been some things I am

Are not very likely to please you

What I have left are tokens at best

A battered guitar and a sackful of rhymes

Hope you can make more of them now

Than I was able before you

And if you can prevail

Escape the swinging flail

That knocks you down

To the ground

Then you might rise above the cruel tides

That endlessly seek to surround you

Wear this cloth cap it represents what

Our forebears had to put up with

Put on these boots walk in the shoes

Your father tried to get by with

Take this gold ring place on the finger

Of someone who loves you and can bring

Into your life the gifts of the time

Which will never leave you

And if you can prevail

Escape the swinging flail

That knocks you down

To the ground

Then you might rise above the cruel tides

That endlessly seek to surround you

Now go outside gaze at the moon

Whistle a tune that comes easy

Walk through the trees and take your ease

By a stream that is running beside you

Splash in the waves laugh at the clouds

Smell the wildflowers kick up the sand

And if you can watch the sunrise

Painting the sky up above you

And if you can prevail

Escape the swinging flail

That knocks you down

To the ground

Then you might rise above the cruel tides

That endlessly seek to surround you

Then you might rise above the cruel tides

That endlessly seek to surround you

(*Possible break in the production Now appear images of guns and associated symbols in stark silhouette, a revolver, an Armalite, target, cross-hairs, flown and/or projected. Alternatively, there should be one huge silhouette of an Armalite. The set is now more industrial/mechanical. Steel and lots of right angles The Narrator, drink in hand, addresses the audience. His dressing gown is a multicoloured affair, bright Mambo-like colours and designs- a contrast to the fascistic set.)

The gun. I would not have one in my house. Even a replica to hang tastefully on the wall. Although I used to love them. Playing Cowboys and Indians, I wanted to be with the cowboys in every game because they had guns only- not those environmentally-friendly, if deadly, bows and arrows. An early memory, before we returned to Aruba in the mid-fifties. The Irish News had an account of the dying gasp of the, then, latest occurrence of IRA insurgence. I cheered at the headline of a policeman being shot. Through the pores, you see… my father was outraged, and my mother joined in the deprecation of my childish glee. They had memories enough of the Black and Tans’ predations in Ireland in those grim years after the First World War and the rivers of blood that flowed in the forties. Suitably chastened, I took care to conceal my love of that quintessentially twentieth century icon. In Aruba, borrowing American friends’ BB rifles, I was a crack shot, killing lizards and iguanas before my age was in double digits. Under the sea, I would impale reef fish with a rubber propelled spear-gun which I concealed under the house. Kids love blood. Some more than others. I remember being on the receiving end of a BB gun. We were down at Rodgers’ Field where we played baseball and soccer and held track meets. Steve, the friend I mentioned earlier, had brought along a relative nicknamed Gordo who was visiting from the States; a gangly, bespectacled guy who had scabs on his arms that he picked at all the time. We had Steve’s BB gun and were taking pot-shots at this and that. Steve dared me to climb one of the lighting poles that surrounded the field. Kids still do that? Dare one another to do stupid things? Course they do. I stood on Steve’s shoulders and reached for the first metal rung, swung up and began the precarious ascent. The rungs were meant for adults rather than a runt like me. I reached the top and stood inside the lighting platform, arms raised in triumph. Ting! There was a noise, but I ignored it and started the even more precarious descent. Ting! Again that noise.  Tingchik! I grabbed at my eye- was it a bee sting? There was blood on my fingers, not much, but blood nonetheless. I looked down. Steve was trying to take the BB gun from Gordo. Gordo just pushed him to the ground and raised the gun in my direction and pumped it for another shot. It took less than a couple of minutes for me to complete the descent but it felt longer as, eyes tightly shut, a succession of BBs hit the pole, my arm, my neck,  my leg. I ran enraged towards Gordo, Steve just stood there looking stunned. I swung at Gordo but he had a much longer reach and landed a punch that put me on my back, winded. “Why? Why?” I gasped, crying. “I wanted to see if I could make you fall”.   Perhaps it was that episode, perhaps it was “the decade of love, man,” but I began to lose my zest for blood-letting in the sixties. On reflection, though, it may have had something to do with reality. In the summer of 1969, five years after returning to Ireland from Aruba, I was dreaming in the country, deep in the Glens of Antrim. Lazing the days away, reading Lord Byron and generally being an aesthete, I thought that it would be fun to be among the decadent boyos of the fin de siecle of Pater and Wilde and…I heard it on the radio. Bombay Street in Belfast had been burned out the night before. The latest instalment of the Troubles had begun in earnest. The college I had just completed my initial year of tertiary education at, in Andersonstown at the top of the Falls Road, Belfast, put out a call for volunteers. Emergency housing had to be found for those residents of the lower Falls who had the misfortune to live, at that interesting time, too close to the Shankill Road. The civil service bureaucrats could not, or maybe would not, respond to the unprecedented demand. I packed a bag and caught the train to Belfast. Other students, too, had responded to the call. My psychology lecturer, at our initial briefing, told us solemnly that, first names were OK for the emergency but that the appropriate academic formalities would have to be maintained when lectures resumed in September. No buses then, all burned out, and barricades going up in all the streets, and Radio Free Belfast, and me, dazed by drink after trying to forget how I had to process, via forms that drain humanity, the sad detritus of lives caught in the terrible text of yet another colourful page of history. I remember walking late at night towards the centre of town, along the Donegall Road, past corrugated iron ramparts, knowing that I might be in the cross-hairs of a gun-sight. Knowing that it would be something more potent than a BB gun. I wasn’t brave. Just, young, confused and, generally, drunk. Evacuating people from North Queen Street and running them in a shonky motor over unapproved roads and across the border to an Irish army camp in Donegal, I feared the B Specials, bogeymen to our generation as the Black and Tans had been to my parents. The next few years, a phantasmagoria. Who, but an optimist, or someone not terribly well in touch with the real, would marry? But I did, and rented a house, as a student, off the Whiterock Road. My wife pregnant, clambering over barricades to get to work, one day called into a corner shop and was pushed unceremoniously to the floor as a rubber bullet crashed through the pane of glass in the front door and ricocheted among the tinned goods. We had that rubber bullet as a memento on the mantelpiece for a while: damned if I know what happened to it. I, protective husband that I was, remonstrated with the local women that night, that I would not let my wife go out on bin-lid duty- this was the early warning technology of the savvy citizens to warn the local brigade of British Army patrols, and she, returning to the corner shop the next day, encountering a wall of silence as she was motioned silently to the counter to buy her bread and milk and sugar. My propensity for daydreaming nearly killed me. I was walking through a back lane towards our digs from one of my last lectures, pyschometrics I think it was, when I became cognisant of an alien voice. A British soldier, my age, was pointing a gun at my head, shaking, as his hands clenched his SLR. I hadn’t heard his repeated calls to stop. I think what saved me from a beating, or worse, was my accent- not at all typical of Belfast- when I explained that my mind was elsewhere. Elsewhere, was Australia. Gunfire was in the air, as my father picked us up to take us for a few weeks back to the relative peace of the Glens of Antrim before we flew to the land of OZ. It was 1972. Even there, the gun. I remember being with friends from Belfast, in the outback of New South Wales shortly after we had arrived. They were hunting wild pigs and kangaroos. I took with me a guitar, an orange box with rusty wires, really, and on the first day’s hunting, I was given, should I want to join in the sport, a .22 with a telescopic sight. A pop-gun, next to their more potent armaments. A feral sow broke cover; she was running heavily, sway-bellied with, with,… and, as I raised the gun, I saw, through the scope, the dust pop off her flank as the rounds pierced her…I have never fired or held a gun since that day. (He walks quickly to side stage, slams the glass down and grips the edge shaking as the young woman enters. She notices a calendar hung on a surface near the Narrator and runs her fingers over it. She addresses her remarks to the bent head of the Narrator at first.)

The Calendar-Goran Simic

I heard the fall of a leaf from a calendar.

It was the leaf for the month of March.

The calendar belongs to a girl I know.

She spends each day checking the calendar

and watching her belly grow.

Whatever is in her womb

was nailed there by drunken soldiers in some camp.

It is something that feeds

on terrible images and a terrible silence.

What fills the images?

Her bloodstained dress, perhaps,

fluttering from a pole like a flag?

What breaks the silence?

The fall of the month of March?

The footstep of her tormentor- his face

the child’s face, the face she will see

every day, every month, every year

for the rest of her life?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

All I heard was the fall of a leaf from a calendar.

(She exits. Stage darkens; we hear the opening notes of the next song. The young man appears in a bright spot and sings.)                 

Oblivion Mountain

I lived on Oblivion Mountain

Not far from the town of Neverwas

The road to Nowhere passes by here

Ends in the valley of Despair

Then aircraft from Somewhere Else

And tanks from Hereweare

And troops from a place called Rapine

And ships from Disneyland- came

I loved on Oblivion Mountain

A woman with a name you couldn’t say

My children played and sang here

Games and tunes all the livelong day

Then aircraft from Somewhere Else

And tanks from Hereweare

And troops from a place called Rapine

And ships from Disneyland- came

They died on Oblivion Mountain

Expiring in full colour just for you

They died on Oblivion Mountain

Before the ad break on the evening news

When aircraft from Somewhere Else

And tanks from Hereweare

And troops from a place called Rapine

And ships from Disneyland- came

I hide on Oblivion Mountain

Watching a TV crew below

And I can’t pay my last respects

Till they pack their fancy gear and go

With the aircraft from Somewhere Else

And tanks from Hereweare

And troops from a place called Rapine

And ships from Disneyland- go

I’m leaving Oblivion Mountain

Leaving my happiness behind

Searching for a lonely place

Where I will never wake up and find

Aircraft from Somewhere Else

And tanks from Hereweare

And troops from a place called Rapine

And ships from Disneyland- again

(An insistent beeping is heard after the song finishes and the stage goes completely black. Exit singer. Lights up side stage as the Narrator takes out a watch-alarm and presses a button to silence it. He is still shaking a bit and he fumbles with the pillbox as he takes another tablet which he washes down with a bit of water. On a surface, a small wall decoration is spot-lit. It is a small, cobalt-blue guitar very high gloss- preferably a purpose built one that can take some punishment in the next scene where it will be bashed on the stage and otherwise misused-  which he takes down and carries to the chair downstage. His gown is now prison-orange with a stainless steel chain encircling his waist. His slippers are nondescript.)

Oh, yes…the nineties showed us a thing or two about barbarity and violence. And the strangest thing is: who cares? The victims; certainly, those who can still feel anything. Their family and friends, obviously. But for the rest of us- with a few exceptions of course- you perhaps?- it is all something happening in electronic space, which unlike the Newtonian construct, is not vast, empty and silent, for most part, but babbling and buzzing and bedazzling: a welter of sound and image and exhortation to buybuybuybuybuy…I, meanwhile, was drifting on my raft, spinning in the choppy seas of that last turbulent decade, as my calendar pages dropped, year by year, waiting for a boat to appear to fish me from the confused waters. My raft, now, as then, an unlikely craft. Buoyed by my family, a few good friends, and, flotation devices that I assert, though others may demur, saved my sanity: my guitar and literature and music. . (Enter the young woman dressed in fifties’-corporate-America style. She wears a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and she crosses to where the Narrator is sitting bent over his guitar. In this section the Narrator shares the recitation which is shown by the underlined sections of the verse. On the sixth couplet the Narrator is hauled out of the chair and used as a prop- as is the guitar- for the recitation. He is returned to his chair at couplet 11.)

          from The Man With the Blue Guitar– Wallace Stevens

The man bent over his guitar,

A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, “You have a blue guitar,

You do not play things as they are.”

The man replied, “Things as they are

Are changed upon the blue guitar.”

And they said then, “But play, you must,

A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar

Of things exactly as they are.”…

Ah, but to play man number one,

To drive the dagger in his heart,

To lay his brain upon the board

And pick the acrid colors out,

To nail his thought across the door,

Its wings spread wide to rain and snow,

To strike his living hi and ho

To tick it, tock it, turn it true,

To bang it from a savage blue

Jangling the metal of the strings…

So that’s life, then: things as they are?

It picks its way on the blue guitar.

A million people on one string?

And all their manner in the thing,

And all their manner, right and wrong,

And all their manner, weak and strong?

The feelings crazily, craftily call,

Like a buzzing of flies in autumn air,

And that’s life, then: things as they are,

This buzzing of the blue guitar.

(The reciter helps the Narrator to his feet and they walk offstage as the band begins to play behind a scrim projected onto which is a sequence which could be abstract, the point of which is the conjoining and interaction of two separate yet complementary entities. During the song- sung by the young man- the young woman walks on stage, giving vocal support in the choruses. If possible, she should accompany on bodhran. She exits as the scrim flies towards the end of the song.)

Let Them Not Fade Away

When I was younger I heard the two sounds

Both of them spoke to my soul

One was electric the other unplugged

Together they made me feel whole

Hendrix the Beatles the Beach Boys the Stones

The Who and that Belfast band Them

My Generation Hey Joe Little Deuce Coupe

Ticket to Ride Gloria

Fade away let them not fade away

Fade away let them not fade away

LA and London Chicago New York

The accents were strange to my ear

But as I listened to Ireland’s heart

Heard the voices I needed to hear

The Clancys and Makem The Dubliners Planxty

The pipers and fiddlers too

Reels jigs and hornpipes The Irish Rover

And only our rivers run free

Fade away let them not fade away

Fade away let them not fade away

Now my kids go to dance parties and raves

Talk of techno and hip-hop and rap

Yet funny enough they don’t put down my stuff

Saying that’s just Dad’s old-fashioned crap

I guess they must see what it means to me

And I guess they feel something themselves

If I don’t connect with their music

I’m just like my parents before me

Fade away let them not fade away

Fade away let them not fade away

(Scrim flies just before the end of the song and we see the Narrator with the band as he joins in the last chorus and we watch the Narrator as he steps down from the playing platform and walks downstage wearing a gown of wavy grey lines.)

But everything does fade. Even protons will evaporate at the dark, cold, close. Still, innocent and enabling fictions do keep entropy at bay- or maybe just seem to. As sunset fell on the twentieth century and the light began to fade, so did my eyesight. Advancing age may or may not bring sagacity, but it certainly brings illness. The body, now surplus to evolutionary requirements- procreation and nurturing of the next bunch completed- forgets to tell certain cells to switch on and forgets to tell others to switch off. Hence the proliferation of nose-hair and the thinning of bones. We become experts at our own demise. I thought it comical, years ago, watching my father and mother reading to one another the obituary columns of The Irish News, ticking off friends and acquaintances, deciding whether to send a Mass card, letter of condolence or go to the funeral. Etiquette in this matter was as precise and necessary as that of an Oriental court. My aunt, lying under her quilt covers, knowing death was a matter of weeks away, dictated to her hapless husband and children the minutiae of her passing, she didn’t want a shroud of traditional brown to be her final covering but one of cerulean blue. It was important, and it was done. But death had no dominion in that fabled decade from the mid-fifties to mid-sixties in the fairy-tale that was an Aruban childhood. With the single exception of the native fisherman, so easily taken by the sea, I can bring to mind no other death. There must have been, of course, but in that dispensation that was Pax Americana, it was as if the triumph of the Dream had banished death. It was excusable that we felt this was the case- but that American foreign policy makers seemed to accept it as dogma too ensured that shortly after, the Dream collapsed in Vietnam. But, then, risk-taking was de rigueur for us. Exploring caves and abandoned mines, climbing cliffs, racing cars and bikes, running down the sloped roof of the beach-hut at Rodgers Beach, leaping out and over ragged coral teeth and into water a couple of feet deep, turning in midair so that the sand didn’t break leg-bones but bruised, instead our arses- this was fun, fun, fun. And as I cast back in memory, it is a solitary vision that now emerges from the deep- it seems so real that I can feel it kinaesthically.  Am I floating? (He closes his eyes and extends his arms, swaying as he starts to walk across the stage) Above-ground pipes criss-crossed the colony. The island was composed of coral and rock, you see. The pipes carried water from the island’s desalination plant- a world class unit everyone was proud to boast- the pipes carried water into the houses built for the oil company executives. The pipes were paired- one for drinking water, one for brackish water. I loved to use the pipes as a highway, balancing effortlessly as barefoot I traversed the coral and cactus rough-land that surrounded the houses and tended gardens of Seroe Colorado. Bare feet feeling the warmth of the sun, feeling the rush of liquid life.  I never fell off. Not once. Not once. Life was glorious light, but, (He has crossed to DSC and now opens his eyes and surveys the audience) and this is borrowed … shades of the prison-house began to close upon the growing boy. Now the light glows only in memory, and maybe brighter because of that. . (He crosses to the side, takes out his pillbox, looks at it, and sets it on a shelf as he prepares himself another drink. He stands looking into a mirror that is now revealed. As this stage business proceeds a couple of guitarists- the young woman and young man-walk downstage with their guitars and a couple of stools, they are dressed identically. The songs here are a diptych, one plays and sings the first song, while the other accompanies, the other plays and sings the second as the first now plays accompaniment. The Narrator looks at himself in the mirror.)

Everything Goes/ Restless Paces

All of my life

I’ve been searching for the light

And I just don’t get it at all

In the wings await the call

To walk on to the stage

Across the front page

Singing stories of the age

The curtain comes down

The crowd streams out

And I sweep up in the hall

Stack chairs against the wall

Collect a meagre wage

From an old guy backstage

If he knows I’m real I cannot gauge

And I just don’t understand

Why I stay in a shadowed land

Where the fare is bleak and bland

And there’s no upper hand

But everything goes

Nothing remains you know

And there’s nothing to it at all

As you await the fall

Rage rage

Inside time’s cage

Now with eternity engage

And I just don’t understand

Why I stay in a shadowed land

Where the fare is bleak and bland

And there’s no upper hand

I just don’t understand

No I just don’t understand

Oh has it come to this?

Laying down the gift

That I thought to keep for awhile

Like my true love’s kiss

How my spirits lift

Every thought and feeling had some style

Oh for years you put my heart through its restless paces

Leading me at times to lonely places

Didn’t know when we’d go

What would be on show

But I know I am thankful for these graces

There were times when I saw you fade away

But I found you again along the way

Yes for years you put my heart through its restless paces

Leading me at times to lonely places

Didn’t know when we’d go

What would be on show

But I know I am thankful for these graces

Yes I know I’m still thankful for these graces

Yeah

(The singers walk off stage carrying their guitars and stools as the Narrator resumes.)

The scientists are wrong. Just as we found out, some time ago, that the priests are wrong. The experts are wrong: the town planners, the educationalists, the pundits, the technologists- all wrong. Which makes me uncomfortable. The pharmaceutical companies, long the villains of the piece, have kept me alive for some years. At last count I consume eighteen different pills, ten in the morning and eight at night. To say nothing about the latest nauseating liquid concoction they are testing on me. To be beholden to those we despise is a delicious irony, wouldn’t you say? But why should they expect gratitude, after all, they have our money. During one of my spells of unemployment, at the beginning of the eighties it was, I remember watching a documentary on the BBC. East German scientists, in the days when there were two Germanys, were performing experiments on rats to find a cure for homosexuality. And they were caricatures of what we imagine mad scientists to be; white coats, music-hall German-accented English, and steel-framed glinting glasses. I had been drinking at the time. (He has taken out his hip flask and now takes a long swig from it. He ruefully recalls his last comment.) I remember checking the TV guide next day to determine whether I had been hallucinating. And it was there. I didn’t feel reassured. If real-life was serving up stuff like this, then real-life was deeply pathological. No, I didn’t feel reassured at all. I always turn to the poets to tell me what is really real. (The Narrator takes the family photograph out of his dressing gown pocket and looks at it, resuming his rocking chair, as the young man walks onstage, addressing the audience.)

The Scientists are Wrong– Abba Kovner

They’re wrong, the scientists. The universe wasn’t created

billions of years ago.

The universe is created every day.

The scientists are wrong to claim

the universe was created from one primordial

substance.

The world is created every day

from various substances with nothing in common.

Only the relative proportion of their masses,

like the elements of sorrow and hope,

make them companions

and curbstones. I’m sorry

I have to get up, in all modesty, and disagree

with what is so sure and recognised by experts:

that there is no speed faster than the speed of light,

when I and my lighted flesh

just noticed something else right here-

whose speed is even greater than the speed of light

and which also returns,

though not in a straight line, because of the curve of the universe

or because of the innocence of God.

And if we connect all this to an equation, according to the rules, maybe

it will make sense that I refuse to believe that her voice

and everything I always cherished

and everything so real and suddenly

lost

is actually lost forever.

(The young man walks off as the Narrator, still looking at the photograph, falls to his knees and rocks back and forth. Scrim flies as the band plays the next song. A spot picks out the young woman standing motionless across the stage.)

Rats

I’m down on my knees to pray

But experts tell me give it away

We’ve something here to set you free

Of all your problems banish the blues

You’re in the twentieth century

Here’s what you do

Cut up a rat’s brain

Dissolve it in acid

Study the graph it

Will show you the answer

So throw away the Tao Te Ching

It will never teach you anything

The Bible is a fairy-tale

There is nothing in it that you can use

For a solution that never fails

Here’s what you do

Cut up a rat’s brain

Dissolve it in acid

Study the graph it

Will show you the answer

The wise men of the past are wrong

They were only stringing you along

They were searching in the desert sun

For truth instead of looking in test tubes

So leave them now and have some fun

Here’s what you do

Cut up a rat’s brain

Dissolve it in acid

Study the graph it

Will show you the answer

I’m down on my knees to pray

But people tell me give it away

We’ve something here to set you free

Of all your problems banish the blues

You’re in the twentieth century

Here’s what you do

Cut up a rat’s brain

Dissolve it in acid

Study the graph it

Will show you the answer

(The young woman kneels and sings the last words of the song “the answer” to the Narrator and then exits The Narrator gets painfully to his feet. It is obvious by now that he is struggling with his illness, and losing.)

The answer. Always less important than the questions and assumptions preceding it. In the beginning was the word. And I’ll bet it was punctuated with a question mark. And I’ll ask a question: who here can remember a world without TV? I can: through a quirk of fate that washed me up on a small desert island that did not have access, in my formative years, with the cathode ray tube that has beamed its reality into homes across the western world since before most of us were born. Books and life and people formed me. And film- a gracious washing of a huge screen with larger-than-life colour and character and story while we sat, a community of aficionados, bound in the gentle dark by popcorn and projectiles- those bits of candy fired in unseeable arcs to bounce off the heads of enemies or strangers. But TV is mundane, squatting in the corner killing conversation and inventing worlds of soap and game-shows and sponsored sport. Thankfully I am too old now to speculate on its latest morphing into the active matrix screen on laptops and a billion pixels on computer monitors. Being no expert I can confidently assert- this is not an advance. No question mark. Therefore suspect .(He smiles as the young man, now in the guise of a suave, world-weary cosmopolitan dude languidly walks over next to the Narrator who nods in agreement with the thesis of the verse.) 

from A Way of Life- Howard Nemerov

It’s been going on a long time.

For instance, these two guys, not saying much, who slog

Through sun and sand, fleeing the scene of their crime,

Till one turns, without a sound, and smacks

His buddy flat with the flat of an axe.

Which cuts down on the dialogue

Some, but is viewed rather as normal than sad

By me, as I wait for the next ad.

It seems to me it’s been quite a while

Since the last vision of blonde loveliness

Vanished, her shampoo and shower and general style

Replaced by this lean young lunk-

head parading along with a gun in his back to confess

How yestereve, being drunk

And in a state of existential despair,

He beat up his grandma and pawned her invalid chair.

But here at last is a pale beauty

Smoking a filter beside a mountain stream,

Brief interlude, before the conflict of love and duty

Gets moving again, as sheriff and posse expound,

Between jail and saloon, the American Dream

Where Justice, after considerable horsing around,

Turns out to be Mercy; when the villain is knocked off,

A kindly uncle offers syrup for my cough.

(Well, wouldn’t you know it, the Narrator does begin to cough, nothing very dramatic, and the suave man looks at the audience then points to the Narrator with a there-you-go! gesture, who is pouring the nauseating syrup into a measuring cup as the band strikes up again. He carries the cup back to his rocking chair and sits, sipping his concoction. The young woman sings. On the words ”bolt down what is offered” The Narrator, again, clutches his stomach and exits.)

Pandora’s Box

Sitting in the half light watching shadows

I can hear the sirens serenading sailors

Pandora feeds me visions

Their agony is my art

I am feeding

I the vampire

I saw three sprightly children run to Mama

Shots rang out and they were shapeless bundles

Pandora feeds me visions

Their agony is my art

I am feeding

I the vampire

I joined the panic dwarfs in a chorus

Glad to see the asses’ ears flap so wildly

Pandora feeds me visions

Their agony is my art

I am feeding

I the vampire

Supping with the Cyclops is so easy

Scew your mind shut hold your nose and bolt down what is offered

Pandora feeds me visions

Their agony is my art

I am feeding

I the vampire

You can sit in the half light and watch shadows

Singing with the sirens to the sailors

Pandora is a vision

Agony is art

You can feed here if you choose

Be a vampire

Pandora is a vision

Agony is art

You can feed here if you choose

Be a vampire

(The Narrator has returned side stage where he throws down his medicine cup and opens a bottle of stout. He pours some into a small glass and moves back towards the audience. His dressing gown is now black and silver- is he a Magus?)

Horror movies, the howling werewolf, black-cloaked vampires with preternatural strength, swamp monsters, assorted trolls, goblins and giants from grim folk tales peopled?…no, creatured my hungry, youthful imagination fed by books and movies that seem quaint today beside the chic- ironic, yet puerile, slayer in designer clothes wisecracking to befuddled, barely-comprehending adults as demons explode in colourful pixels against the point of her post modern wooden stake. Another generation’s hunger for information about the dark side is nourished by a flashier special- effects menu than was available to mine. And those years of feeding at the table of horrors wasn’t preparation enough to enable me to comprehend the real horrors that lurked in recent history. I remember when Eichmann was captured by the Israelis and tried in Jerusalem. I looked in vain for the mark of the Beast on those bland features. I had read The Scourge of the Swastika and stared at stark photographs of black-booted sinisters, some smoking nonchalantly, standing over pits of murdered people. Could this bespectacled clerk be the author of so many deaths? Yes. At the behest of his Master. In concert with others of his bureaucratic kind who were in on the secret. Aided and abetted by the minor functionaries who enable the infrastructure of modern society. Made possible, finally, because so many people could look away and later deny any knowledge. But the answer still doesn’t make sense. All our resources of language, all our intelligence, sensibilities, sensitivities, imagination fall short of the task. And even our greatest poets despair at delineating the horror that was the Holocaust- still the pattern par excellence for the bland-featured sociopaths who have a plan that doesn’t include so many on this earth and whose solution is every bit as final as that proposed at the Wanersee Conference so many years ago. (The Narrator resumes his chair. The next poem should be a tour de force. The young man and young woman who have been onstage previously recite the poem. If possible, they are on different levels. The verse is spoken in unison in places and assigned to alternating voices in others. The Narrator may be seen at times in his black and silver gown. Stage actions for him are a possibility, but he will exit at some point to change into his final garb.)

The Fugue of Death– Paul Celan

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall

we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night

drink it and drink it

we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there

A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes

he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete

he writes it and walks from the house the stars glitter he whistles his dogs up

he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in the earth

he commands us now on with the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink in the mornings at noon we drink you at nightfall

drink you and drink you

A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes

he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete

Your ashen hair Shulamith we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there

He shouts stab deeper in earth you there you others you sing and you play

he grabs at the iron in his belt and swings it and blue are his eyes

stab deeper your spades you there and you others play on for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink you at noon in the mornings we drink you at nightfall

drink you and drink you

a man in the house your golden hair Margarete

your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

He shouts play sweeter death’s music death comes as a master from Germany

he shouts stroke darker the strings and as smoke you shall climb to the sky

then you’ll have a grave in the clouds it is ample to lie there

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

we drink you at noon death comes as a master from Germany

we drink you at nightfall and morning we drink you and drink you

a master from Germany death comes with eyes that are blue

with a bullet of lead he will hit the mark he will hit you

a man in the house your golden hair Margarete

he hunts us down with his dogs in the sky he gives us a grave

he plays with the serpents and dreams death comes as a master from Germany

your golden hair Margarete

your ashen hair Shulamith

(The young couple remain on stage and sing: one takes the verse, the other the chorus.)

Paul

The forest gave to you a necklace of hands

The aspen tree reminds you of your mother’s hair

Now you are young as a bird dropped dead in March snow

Your poetry sings out like a phoenix from the flare

I want to know if I can save my soul

Or if I am losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

You drank the black milk and tasted ashes on your tongue

You played with serpents and you heard the fugue of death

You said the night needs no stars mouths full of silence

You sank as fish watched rising the spheres of your last breath

I want to know if I can save my soul

Or if I am losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

How many people have been covered by the night

Eyes burned out in the cradle by a hell-black sun

Yes I have been a blind guest those words you uttered

Let there be light an order this century undone

I want to know if I can save my soul

Or if I am losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

Losing losing all control

Lose…

(The singers exit. The Narrator stands, swaying unsteadily. He finds his equilibrium before he starts to speak. We notice that his gown and slippers have reverted to those he was wearing at the play’s opening.)

I have supped full of horrors. And I am glad that my dish has been, largely, vicarious. My mind is not filled with the scorpions tyrants have to contend with nightly. C.S. Lewis, author of those innocent, those enabling fictions, the Narnia tales, also wrote The Screwtape Letters during the dark years of the Second World War. His readers, avid for more insights into the Satanic mind, were disappointed when he called it quits. He could no longer bear the burden of dwelling imaginatively in those dark regions. He feared for his very soul. And rightly so. Human life needs light and love and natural things and if this means a quotidian existence where one has to forgo the depths of Faustian knowledge and the heights of Elysian experience, then, so be it. Limits are, often, not so much limiting, as lifesaving, after all. (He is very tired. He stands behind his chair and grips the back for support as the young woman quietly speaks from the other side of the stage. She is speaking to him.)

from Prayer– Carol Ann Duffy

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer

utters itself. So, a woman will lift

her head from the sieve of her hands and stare

at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth

enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;

then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth

in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

(She turns and walks off. The Narrator, still holding the back of the chair looks after her before addressing the audience.)

Although I cannot pray, a prayer uttered itself, when I started to remember a childhood, when I started to take a part in the childhood of my children, and, although I doubt I will be given the gift of participating in the childhood of my children’s children, I was content. I was set down in the middle of the twentieth century and I got out of it alive, I thought. Silly me. (The narrator sings the next song. The young couple, dressed for ballroom dancing appear and dance during the song. At first they are not together, then they dance arm in arm. In the bridge section the woman pirouettes off stage leaving the young man alone. He stares after her and then dances with an imaginary partner in the final chorus, leaving the stage alone.)

The Ballroom of Romance

Drivin’ in the car

No aim at all and we’re so far from home

We pass the ballroom where I recall

I said to you

May I have this dance with you

I’m in the mood for true love

So let’s dance the polka

Let’s take a waltz

Around the ballroom of romance

So many years ago outside this place

Footloose and fancy free then I saw your face

I followed you in to the sound of a big band playing

Shall we return then to visit the shrine

Where I first asked you if you would be mine

As the band was swinging three-four time

The hall is now empty but the music’s intact

Burned in my memory so there is no lack

Of what we need so again I ask you

May I have this dance with you

I’m in the mood for true love

So let’s dance the polka

Let’s take a waltz

Around the ballroom of romance

And still I hear the big band playing

Songs that bade our hearts be true

And I can still remember praying

That I’d spend my life with you

May I have this dance with you

I’m in the mood for true love

So let’s dance the polka

Let’s take a waltz

Around the ballroom of romance

The ballroom of romance

(The Narrator, with real difficulty, leaves the support offered by his chair and slowly approaches the audience.)

How can we know the dancer from the dance? Yeats asked this question in a poem written a lifetime ago. My question is: What is left of the dance when the dancer has gone away? Islands have been the defining settings of my life: not formed in the great central land masses of the Americas or Eurasia. Ireland, Aruba, the Isle of Man, the island continent of Australia- which is huge- but small in some very important ways: there is less variation in custom and language across the length and breadth of that ancient land than between adjacent glens in the land of my birth. And finally to this island that is, according to its inhabitants, the world- Manhattan. Finally. Finality. I won’t be leaving this place: Manhattan. I have come to value the energy (which I possess in declining quantities), the expansive optimism (which I once possessed) the sense that everything is do-able (which I know, in my case, is a fallacy). I wish for my family to … Be careful what you wish for, they say. From my mid-forties, I had started to deteriorate physically- not surprising, I had led an indulgent life. And so the taking of an increasing repertoire of tablets at breakfast-time began. And how I railed against my admittedly deserved fate. How I wished I no longer had to work, toad-like, to bring home the bacon. And I prayed. Did I in a drunken fugue invoke the Master of Lies to answer them? I prayed for a little more time for doing the things that I wanted to really do and a little money to…to… When I learned I had won almost $20 million on Lotto, I passed out. Everyone laughed. Why is it that we laugh when we see people fall down? Gordo certainly would have laughed had I fallen from that lighting pole. Best go for a check up, though. Better safe than sorry. Sorry, the doctor said. I have some bad news. I had just made it out of the 20th Century only to learn that I had less than a year to live. Give or take. Maybe two years maybe two months- who can tell! Live it up, some said. What can’t you do now? Well, I can’t buy time, apparently. Amazing what we do to save ourselves when there’s a definite use-by date? Didn’t give up the smokes and booze, didn’t take up exercise, didn’t follow all that good advice that doctors love to dispense. Before the diagnosis. And did I fall for the schemes of the cruel hoaxers who prey on those peri-mortem mortals? I did. But I caught myself on, as the saying goes, before my credulous longing for life, more life, had bled too much from my now voluminous bank accounts. And I came back to the more-or-less real world. And my research led me to the institute here in Manhattan where miracles are not for sale, but quality of life is- ; bade farewell to Sydney, flew to England where we booked a cruise, my wife and I, and crossed the Atlantic. I now have the wherewithal to indulge a long-held wish to live in Manhattan. And I’ve seen the Yankees play! A dream come true from…long ago, you know, I played for the Yankees, in the Little League in Aruba, yeah, we called ourselves the Yankees, and we wore similar stripes and caps. God, how I loved that uniform.  I was put in to bat because I was small, and, hunched over, created a miniscule shoulder to knee slot for the opposing pitcher! I could see and hit the ball too, in those long ago days- nights mostly, under the lights at Rodgers Field near the Esso Club, one of which I almost fell off courtesy of that psycho Gordo. There is a certain irony in the sombre fact that that I am here to die. There is no cure, but I can purchase a delay in the pain that is coming as surely as the sun will rise.  (He pulls out his flask and takes another swig. He considers the flask holding it up for examination) Can I make a bit of a confession? I’m not sticking strictly to protocol here. Eddie, the ever-accommodating Eddie, has put me in touch with another doctor who has had some, ah, problems with the pernickety accreditation boards here in the city. He has been most helpful in augmenting the approved analgesic regime. But, whether above-board or under the table- it costs quite a bit. (I wonder, do my kids think that I am in thrall to those new bumper-stickers that have begun to appear over the last while; you know, the ones about blowing the children’s inheritance? As a baby boomer I am a part of the most selfish generation in history- according to some.) Don’t worry kids there’ll be enough left over after I’ve finished throwing all that cash at the black something that is hurtling towards me.) (He addresses the audience) It’s coming for you too. But you don’t believe it do you? Not really. Yes, we booked an ocean cruise on one of those majestic liners- and not by accident either; you see, I had made this crossing before- I first crossed the Atlantic back in 1956 on that famous Cunard liner The Queen Mary when my mother took me and my sisters to re-join my father in Aruba after a visit home for her to connect with my older brothers who were staying with my aunt on the family farm. I loved that ship. I still remember getting into an elevator with my sisters- we were exploring, as I recall. Some drunken guy tousled my hair and predicted that I would someday be president of the USA. But I don’t think they’ll change the constitution- just for me. And even if they did…I will, though, see my wife tomorrow evening.  She has been away, (He holds up the flask) and this mouse has been at play. She flew back to Australia to visit our grandson for his birthday. Ha! She thinks that she will surprise me when she- TAH-DAA- comes through that door, bringing my daughter and my only grandson. (Alas, my genes and chromosomes lament, that I have not more.) She doesn’t know that I know that they have landed a couple of hours ago and are checked in at the airport hotel. I only wish we had the space to put them all up here. I miss my wife, I miss my daughter, but there is a hunger in me for a sight, sound, touch, and smell of my grandson- I miss him more than I know how to elucidate…They’ll do a spot of sightseeing before coming here. Eddie, he’s more than just the doorman downstairs- he’s part of the fabric of this building, where we have purchased this cosy little apartment. Eddie confided to me that earlier tonight, as I embarked on my usual evening constitutional, that he has arranged an early morning view of Manhattan for them all from the tallest point in the city- the miracle of the internet, eh?. He knows everyone worth knowing, apparently. I must feign surprise, I suppose, when they burst into this room, as they surely will, in just a few short hours, telling me I must, when my current treatment is completed, take in the wondrous views to be had from the mighty towers of Mammon. And Mammon has enabled me to live in this tower and how good it is! So why do I feel that I shouldn’t have this luck when so many…Catholic guilt, I guess. I wrote a poem once, when I was feeling low. I was fifteen. I had read Byron’s Darkness and I had a darkness of my own to convey (although, how dark, really is the world of a teenage boy- black as pitch at the time; but now, I scorn their emo agonies- Oh Lord! I’ve turned into an old fogey, God help me!). I have kept with me very, very little of my poetic or prosaic output. Indeed, before we came here, I consigned to long-term storage boxes of…ephemera… I supposed it should be called. At one stage, as I contemplated mortality screaming around the curve, coming straight for me, I thought I would finally put it all together in a big book- get it published. Hell, I can now afford to publish it privately and buy enough copies to get it on some hack reviewer’s list. Then I thought a better thought. And so, I have kept nothing, well almost. This I kept, (He pulls a piece of paper from his gown pocket) I was fifteen; I thought the world existed only for me. But even then, somehow, heard the blackness roaring just beyond the limits of perception. Allow me to read to you. It is the poem I wrote at the advanced age of fifteen years! It is called Explication.

Like a poem carved upon an ancient bone

Dug out of an ash-pit,

An outline of a heart in bog-oak

Dragged up and into the open air,

The remnants of an ancient tune

Whistling through the shaking leaves

Of the last stand of native trees

Left on a fissured plain,

Let my voice, telling of love

And letdowns, carry across

The fields of time spread

To the shimmering edges

Of eternity fringed with

A sparkling circlet of stars

Before they wink out

One by one,

Swallowed by the incurious

Blankness beyond.

Now what on earth did I know then, all those decades ago, to write such words? It was as though that fifteen-year old boy reached through the fabric of time and space into this room and into this heart to find them. Words. So many, many words: so few worth reading…writing…hearing…speaking (Sfx sound of wind and waves and seabirds calling, creaking of timber of a ship under sail.) I love the sea and I love the ships that sail on it so, I suppose, it is no surprise that I love The Tempest where all the drowned sailors and seafarers are discovered safe and well. The girl on the desolate island finds true love and is restored to her princely patrimony, the imprisoned spirits of light are set free and even the monster gets to keep his island with the admonition that he should mend his ways. The magic of theatre. The magic of books. The triumph of the imagination. (He returns to the chair, very tired, sits) And what is left to tell? (He tries to rise again but has to sit back, painfully, on his chair. He takes out the panic button, it drops to the floor) Too much. (He starts to rock, and as the rocking stops; across the stage, the paramedics push their gurney, a platform with which to remove the expiring Narrator. The band plays the final song to end the play. The paramedics- the young man and woman- take off their coats and sing the song. One takes verse 1 the other verse 2. The young man crosses to the window DSC and pulls a cord to raise the blind. It is dawn, and we recognise the silhouettes of the twin towers now. They share the singing in the choruses. By this point the set has returned to its original, or starker, condition.)

Coda

Something came into my cell today

Feels like the wind

The wind that blows through solid walls

And confining doors

Something touched my wound and made it well

Feels like the hand

The hand that leads the dispossessed

To the Promised Land

And I don’t want to feel the pain

To grieve in the dark again

If you go away please take me with you

And I don’t want to feel the pain

To wake to the dark again

If you go away please take me with you

(Tabs have flown in to mask the Narrator and the gurney. On the final notes the singers, resume their paramedic coats and, as the strobe effects start out again, we see the form of the narrator on the gurney as it is pushed offstage. The stage is now bare. We hear fx of a radio, static, station ID, a New York voice announces: “It is a wonderful, brisk fall morning here in Manhattan, Saturday, September 11, Two Thousand and One- the sun is shining and it’s soooo good to be alive” static as the broadcast fades quickly as the sound of a large jetliner swells. The twin towers are all that can be seen out through the windows)

The curtain call could be: Music- tabs on version of “Coda”. The young man and young woman enter, hand in hand, take their bows, turn and watch the Narrator who enters to centre stage where he takes his bows. If there is a live band, fly scrim to reveal them as they are acknowledged. Three actors take final bow- tabs off.)

—————————————————————————————————

Because the action of the play happens in the short interval between the gurney’s traverse of the stage- as the narrator slips out of this life and is taken away- the props can be as elaborate and expressionistic as expense allows or as sparse as the budget demands. Similarly, the use of multiple images and screens are possible to punctuate and illustrate elements of the narration, song and poetry.

A bit of Banter: 47- Where is the Man

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 47: Where is the Man– First heard by one of the singers in the pubs and clubs of republican Belfast around 1970. I haven’t come across it anywhere else, but maybe it goes under another title: a not uncommon phenomenon in Irish folk. It has a great tune to it and lots of energy- just a couple of the reasons we like it.220px-robert_emmet-the_irish_patriot

 

Where is the Man?

A bit of Banter: 46- The Spanish Lady

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 46: The Spanish Lady– This version is the most widely-known example. It is set in Dublin and concerns various activities of the unnamed Spanish Lady. Variants occur spanish-lady-black-beret-225_37288further afield, Belfast, in English towns such as Chester and in America. We don’t actually care if it originates in Timbuctu: it sounds and sings great!

 

The Spanish Lady

A bit of Banter: 45- Three Rivers Hotel

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 45: Three Rivers Hotel– An Aussie song recorded by many country artists here, most notably, the late, great Slim Dusty. It tells of the hard-working, hard-drinking blokes who undertake the hot and hellish, dirty, dusty construction jobs in the bush of Australia. The hotel, where cold beer and entertainment of various kinds is to be found, is the heart of3rivershotel the vastness and celebrated in more songs than this one. This is one of several variants on the song, written, I think, by Stan Coster, a songwriter and bushman of note, who died back in 1997.

 

Three Rivers Hotel

A bit of Banter: 44- Spancil Hill

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 44: Spancil Hill– Another much loved and requested song from the 70s onwards, in my experience. It was originally a poem written by Michael Considine, who left for America in the wake of the Great Famine. He hoped to make enough money to return home and marry his sweetheart. He died at age 23 in 1873, without ever having fulfilled his dreams. But he sent a poem to his nephew on which the song is based. The punch andspancilhill power of the ballad, even in its popular, abbreviated form is a testament to his feeling for “my first and only love” .

 

Spancil Hill

A bit of Banter: 43- Hard Times

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 43: Hard Times– Written by Stephen Foster who died much too soon at age 37. The wowsers of the time were smug, characterising him as a “drunkard” who wrote songs about “pathetic people”. Well, he’s remembered and revered 150 years after his death forstephen_foster such classics as Beautiful Dreamer, Gentle Annie, My Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair and Camptown Races, while his mean-spirited critics have sunk into well-deserved oblivion.

 

Hard Times

A bit of Banter: 42- Cross Me Heart

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 42: Cross Me Heart– A much requested song from audiences when we play(ed) in Western Sydney- and not only the Dubs, or, indeed, the Irish! The changes in streetscapes, manners and economic circumstances is a worldwide phenomenon, I’m sure. Often, a returning visitor to the British Isles will remark something to the effect- You know, you dubstreetwouldn’t recognise the place , now! Songs like this have a way of articulating these feelings better than we could ever express.

 

Cross Me Heart

A Bit of Banter: 41 – The Overlander

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 41: The Overlander– There are a couple of versions (at least) of this song. One is quite sedate, nice even. We don’t do that one. We prefer the Queensland version which has a lot more swagger and outlaw energy- like the legendary stockmen who drove cattle acrossdrovers immense distances in the Australian outback.

 

The Overlander

A bit of Banter: 40 – Two Irish Tunes

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 40: Two Irish Tunes– I have lost the first and I think the second is called, The Kettle Boils Over, but I’m not going to bet the house on it. Irish tunes and, to a lesser extent, songs, have variant titles. So, I’m not too distressed at this loss of information– which isirishmusos often over-rated in any case, and often useless -or, indeed, misleading in a few instances.

 

x/Kettle Boils Over

A bit of Banter: 39- The Triumphant and Centenary Marches

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 39: The Triumphant and Centenary Marches– Much played at Irish ceilis in past decades. These occasions were social gatherings in rural areas, especially, of Ireland and Scotland featuring folk dances of various kinds, accompanied by tea and biscuits. These gatherings were displaced by dances featuring showbands and fizzy soft drinks which were in turn displaced by discos and recreational drugs which were in turn displaced by dating sites and ceilisexting on digital media. But enough of this potted and probably wildly inaccurate social history! Anyhow, in a world of alternative facts and such-like, we enjoy playing the music of the traditional ceili even though its cultural milieu is, alas, long gone- except in a few recusant venues- God bless ’em…

 

The Triumphant/Centenary Marches

A bit of Banter: 38- McClory

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 38: McClory– Another immigrant song. Written by Pete St John about three interwoven strands of recent Irish history: the need to leave Ireland to find work, sectarianism and how friendship can overcome religious differences. One of our favourite songs, first heard from the singing of Jimmy Moore with Claddagh here in Sydney in the mcclory1990s. Unlike McClory and the persona of the song, we haven’t returned to Ireland, apart from visits, and as we get older, the song seems to improve- like a good wine.

 

McClory

A bit of Banter: 37- Three Score and Ten

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 37: Three Score and Ten– The events depicted in the song date to 1889 when fifteen fishing vessels and seventy or more men and boys were lost in storms off the Yorkshire coast. No one knows, definitively, who wrote the original song, but I agree with the sentiments I read somewhere that the song belongs to the people of the fishing ports and the families who suffered losses to the North Sea gales that have taken so many. Three3scoreandten score and ten, of course, is a trope for the length of human life. The magnificent King James Version expresses in Psalm 90, The days of our years are threescore years and ten;/ and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,/ yet is their strength labour and sorrow;/ for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

 

Three Score and Ten

A bit of Banter: 36- A Nation Once Again

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 36: A Nation Once Again– Thomas Davis, one of the main shapers of Irish identity, wrote this stirring ballad in the 1840s, making it one of the early Irish folk songs. He believed that songs were more effective than political harangues. It is notable for its classical references: for example, the 300 men  of the song’s first verse recalls the valiant Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC who, while losing their lives in defence ofthomas_davis_young_irelander ancient Greece, laid the foundations of the classical period and all its glories- of which we are the fortunate beneficiaries. While some of the references may be alien to listeners in the 21st Century, the meaning (and emotion) of the song contained in the choruses is unmistakable.

 

A Nation Once Again

A bit of Banter: 35- The Irish Rover

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 35: The Irish Rover– A widely-known folk song: The Dubliners and Pogues produced a memorable version in 1987. I first heard it from an LP of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem in the early 1960s. The cultural impact is widespread: a character from the song, Slugger O’Toole, (who was drunk, as a rule) is used by a political website in Northern Ireland that provides a lively platform for diverse views on matters local and international. A successful group used the song , pluralised, to give themselves a musical identity. Covers220px-the_irish_rover of the song stretch across more than fifty years and, I would imagine, will continue into the future. As part of that musical stream, we offer this version from one of our sessions here in Sydney.

 

The Irish Rover

A bit of Banter: 34- Begleys

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 34: Begleys Went into the radio station today to co-host our regular fortnightly show, A Touch of Ireland. Drove there because of a phone call the night before from my partner in radio-crime that he was entertaining seven Irish backpackers from Bondi and that it may be advisable, nay, prudent, to vary our wonted routine and for me to pick him up. We always start with an instrumental- and to my surprise he started with this- a tunebegleys2 we had recorded around the table a few years back. And, indeed, it was one we resurrected just last week as part of our reconstituted sessions.

 

Begleys

A Bit of Banter: 33- Figuring out tunes…

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 33- Figuring out tunes…Just for aficianados of process- this track shows the group re-discovering tunes we used to play in the past and listeners can get the flavour of the rather chaotic methodology used to get stuff in some sort of order. The wonder is- how does anything whole ever get recorded? figuring-out-tunesHowever,  we generally reach a consensus as to what constitutes a Banter tune or song and this is the hallmark of a true group. I read about groups where a “leader” tells the others what to do, etc. but that isn’t a true group, it’s something ( not-really-Irish) else.

Figuring Out Tunes

A bit of Banter: 32- Whiskey in the Jar

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 32: Whiskey in the Jar– Rock groups seem to like this one (Thin Lizzy, Metallica, et al). There’s something about the shape of the melody that appeals widely. This would be another song that is/was much requested when we play/played. The idea of the overlooked or inconsequential person sticking it to the Establishment has been a trope since Adam was a lad, I’ll wager. It appeals to Banter and, to be topical for a moment, it appealed towhiskey2 many millions of Americans when they voted for the outsider in the election a couple of days ago. Who will get stuck with the more dire consequences, if any, following this result, one muses?

Whiskey in the Jar

A bit of Banter: 31- Sonny

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 31: Sonny– Another disputed song- I have come across several versions of the song and how it came to be written. (Ron Hynes, Newfoundland folksinger, is, of course, thehi-ron-hynes-852 originator.) The good thing about being in a knockabout Irish folk band is that you can leave the wrangling to others. If you don’t care about commercial gain and prefer to gather at whim and sing and play just what you want, then the rest is just noise. All you have to do is try to create a version of the song that appeals- if only to yourselves.

 

Sonny

A bit of Banter: 30- Deportees

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 30: Deportees– I first played this song as a student in Belfast in 1969 at at a impromptu folk session on the beach at Bangor, County Down. From memory, I first heard the song from the singing of Judy Collins in the mid-60s. (Of course, the great Woody Guthrie wrote it originally)guthriePerspective is a funny thing: the song commemorates a plane crash in 1948-a year before I was born. And still the drama plays out as I type this. Deportees in the 21st Century will be able to look down on the “wonderful Wall” promised by President Trump as they fly southwards to Mexico.

Deportees (Lockdown version 2020)

A bit of Banter: 29- Working Man

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 29: Working Man– Another song from another era. First heard this sung in the 1990s by a singer from the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, NSW, who looked and sounded like the writer and populariser of the song, Rita McNeil. It’s power is undeniable and, do you know something?: I can’t see any significant singer-songwriter penning a ballad about the ritamcneilltrials and travails of ping-pong playing employees of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs as they struggle with code that will displace yet more workers and line the pockets of another generation of industrialists. But who knows? As someone once observed, prediction is very difficult, especially with regard to the future.

 

Working Man

A bit of Banter: 28- The Monaghan Twig

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 28: The Monaghan TwigThis is an unadorned and brief essay during one of our sessions where the fiddle player and bodhran player had a bit of a go in one of the many refreshment breaks taken by the others in the group. These, although convivial in thebodhran-and-fiddle extreme, militated against the most effective use of time for group practice. Still, who do we really have to please apart from ourselves?

 

The Monaghan Twig

A bit of Banter: 27- Denis Murphy’s/Rathlin Bog

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 27: Denis Murphy’s (or Jim’s Da’s Polka)/The Rathlin Bog An Irish traditional fiddle tune passed down by the fiddler’s grandfather and mandolin-player’s father. We insert in the middle of this polka, an instrumental version of the song, The Rathlin Bog. When we wererathlin last practising, the fiddler’s five year-old son was there bopping to the music. And I guess that’s tradition- the passing on of a musical culture.

 

Denis Murphy’s/Rathlin Bog

A bit of Banter: Song 26- When the Boys Go Rolling Home

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 26: When the Boys Go Rolling Home– This song, I first heard from the singing of Geraldine Doyle, I think. It is rather more light-hearted about homecoming than, say, Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye. Or , indeed, that magnificent Bruce Dawe poem about the Vietnam War entitled, Homecoming. Not that the writer of the song, one Tommy Sands, is incapable of writing poignantly- I urge you to listen to There Were Roses, a brilliant song about the sectarian killings that blighted Northern Ireland for far too long. And there are fears that the dark times may come back again as a part of the unintended consequences of Brexitboysrollinghome

 

When the Boys Go Rolling Home

A bit of Banter: 25- Don’t Get Married Girls

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 25: Don’t Get Married Girls– What a great song! Written by Leon Rosselson who has been around in the folk scene from the early 1960s. He is in his mid eighties now and still active and an activist. He is one of the characters I see as a role-model. It would be great to be still doing the rounds and playing in sessions at that age. Most of us in this little folk group have been married for decades, now. I’m just glad the song was not current when I was courting. We have beendont-get-married told on more than one occasion, after we have performed this satire, how lucky we are that the sentiments expressed here had not been articulated so compellingly way back then. “Why didn’t you bloody well sing this to me when we first met?”…  “I might look stupid, but I’m really  not!” is our invariably unarticulated riposte.

 

Don’t Get Married Girls

A bit of Banter: 24- The City of Chicago

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 24: The City of Chicago– Written by Christy Moore’s brother, Luka Bloom, this is a firm favourite among listeners. The Irish have many bastions in the US: Chicago, Boston, andchicago New York, to name just a few. And, as in England, the Irish were instrumental in building the infrastructure that helped propel the Industrial Age. As members, ourselves, of the Irish diaspora, songs like this have an added resonance for us.

 

The City of Chicago

A bit of Banter: 23- The Hills of Kerry

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 23: The Hills of Kerry– This song may be known by another name. Indeed, when we can’t recall the names of songs and tunes we are very likely to make up a title that seems to fit the song or the tune. The waltz time  and tempo here are very popular as vehicles forkerry songs and tunes that have a nostalgic cast to them. Of course, when we were younger and full of (supply here your own metaphor or idiom that characterises the energy and folly of youth) we tended not to feature so many of this type of song…

 

Hills of Kerry

A bit of Banter: 22- The Lark in the Morning (instrumental)

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next series posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 22: The Lark in the Morning– There is a song with this title which we will get around to recording at some stage, but here is an instrumental that has the sort of energy we like and which always enlivens a session when we gather to bash a few numbers out, have a few soothing ales and shoot the breeze. Our fiddle player gives it some welly and we all charge in too. There is something particularly satisfying about playing Irish music at full tilt. jam

 

The Lark in the Morning (Instrumental)

A bit of Banter: 21- Rhonda Valley Girls

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next 20 posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 21: Rhonda Valley Girls– A rousing songs about Welsh miners. We have seen the sad decline of old industries and processes over the past few decades and know all about the fate of once-proud workers in occupations who find themselves out of work or offered a rvgirlspaltry alternative in the casualised service sector. The election of Donald Trump is, like Brexit, a manifestation of the anger of these folk who have been waiting vainly for at least a generation for the elites to offer them something more than promises come election time.

 

Rhonnda Valley Girls

A bit of Banter: 1- The Spanish Cloak

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next bunch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 1: The Spanish Cloak– Also known as The Munster Cloak, this is a tune I first played with Seannachie in the 1970s. It’s amazing how the tides of time delivers strange configurations on the shore of the present: a chance meeting at a concert last year has led to a reunion of Seannachie for an upcoming weekend in Wollongong, with players coming from Queensland, the Northern Territory and Sydney- I’ll update the post when it’s allspanishcloak over! But back to now. When Banter formed in the 90s it quickly became a favourite with the group. It’s short but, I think, majestically sweet.

 

The Spanish Cloak (aka The Munster Cloak)

A bit of Banter: 2- A Bunch of Thyme

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next bunch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 2: A Bunch of Thyme– Christy Moore popularised this song, which originates in the north of England, as far as I know. Of course, by the time it had made the rounds of the pubs of Ireland it became a naturalised member of the Irish Song Tradition. Many people listen to it and only hear a pleasant melody and overlook the dark lyrics: The rose that never will decay that the bunch-of-thymesailor gives to the maid is likely syphilis, for which there was no cure in the 17th Century where the song, most likely, originates. Banter have sung this song for decades now, and really don’t care where the song came from. And, anyway, the English have stolen plenty from us, so…

 

A Bunch of Thyme

A bit of Banter: 3- The Diamantina Drover

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next bunch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 3: The Diamantina Drover– Another marvellous song which looks at the Australian experience. The drover is an iconic Aussie character anddrover here the persona reflects upon the landscape, regrets and longings in a uniquely antipodean way.  Written by Hugh McDonald who performed and recorded with the Bushwackers, the Sundowners, Banshee, Redgum, Des “Animal” McKenna, Moving Cloud and the Colonials, this is one of our favourite songs. Unfortunately, Hugh lost his battle with prostate cancer in November 2016

 

The Diamantina Drover

A bit of Banter: 4- Dainty Davie

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when three oul’ coots (plus a middle-aged son) gather together to make music? The following posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed -and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was first a laptop with built-in mic, and later, an iPadPro with attached mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the deal.

Song 4: The song dates to the middle of the 17th Century and it concerns the much-married minister of St Cutbert’s Church in Edinburgh- one David Williamson. At one point he was being hunted by English dragoons and, a guest of landowner-sympathisers, he was put in bed with the 18-year old daughter by her mother in an effort to hide him. The Mum returned downstairs where she plied the soldiers with liquor to deflect their ardour in searching for the minister. Williamson repaid this act hospitality and concealment by becoming intimate with the daughter. This gallant was then required to marry the saucy young girl. The song is popular among both Scottish and Irish folk-singers. I think the lyrics of this version are by Robert Burns. This song is part of our current repertoire in our monthly concerts at The Penrith Gaels in outer-western Sydney. P.S. I am happy to acknowledge the copyright owner of the photo above as ValentyneDreams who has graciously consented to this photograph being used as an visual introduction to this brief gloss on the song.

 

Dainty Davy

A bit of Banter: 5- The King of the Fairies/Queen of the Fairies

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next bunch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 5: King of the Fairies/Queen of the Fairies– Another pair of tunes from the Irish instrumental tradition. The fiddle is central to the sound of Banter and here it is given due prominence in this brace of melodies. For me, Michael Hoffman’s 1999 Midsummer Night’s Dream with Rupert Everettkingqueenfairies as Oberon and Michelle Pheiffer as Titania springs to mind when I hear the titles of the tunes now. Anyway, I have always disliked the greeting-card imagery of fairies and angels as cute-as-buttons homoculi cavorting around petal-strewn gardens or fluffy white cotton-wool clouds.

 

King and Queen of the Fairies

A bit of Banter: 6- Donegal Danny

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next bunch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 6: Donegal Danny– Another tale of the sea here. The singer always laments whenddanny called upon to do it as it is longer that the usual three minutes or so our songs typically occupy. The song, written for The Dubliners by Phil Coulter, one of the great musical talents to come out of Northern Ireland, has, as its narrator, another Old Man of the Sea. The singer notwithstanding, the rest of the group likes the song, so- democracy rules…or is it, rather, another example of the tyrannising of minorities which seems so in vogue in dictatorships, and in recent times, even such shining examples of democracy as the USA?

Donegal Danny

A bit of Banter: 7- The Mermaid

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next bunch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 7: The Mermaid– Songs of the sea are a staple of the group. We like the stories and the tunes and the rollicking pace so  many of them possess (such as the case with this example). A belief, common among sailors, was that spotting a mermaid was an omen ofmermaid impending storm and shipwreck. I have read, somewhere, that Boy Scouts in America sing song this around their campfires (which is no stranger than, say, a bunch of superannuated musos singing it around their grog-laden table…)

 

The Mermaid

A bit of Banter: 8- O’Sullivan’s John

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next bunch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 8: O’Sullivan’s John– I first heard this song in the 1970s from one of the members of the folk group, Seannachie. I like to sing it as a modal tune rocking between two chords a tone apart say, C and D. When I was up in Townsville I sang it at a party and a folk group pecker-dunnethere took it up, but fancied it up with minors and such-like. I enjoyed their more sophisticated version, too, but have stuck to the more primitive version here, which I still sing from time to time. It was written by  travelling songwriter and storyteller Pecker Dunne, pictured here.

 

O’Sullivan’s John

A bit of Banter: 9- The Grand Old Duke/Heel and Toe Polkas

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next bunch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 9: The Grand Old Duke/Heel and Toe Polkas In Banter we love bashing out lively tunes such as the pair presented here. As well as tacking on various reels, jigs and hornpipes to our songs, we enjoy focusing on the great instrumental repertoire available to aficianados of Irish music. The Heel and Toe Polka is a great favourite of Aussie Bush Bands and I can remember, at the turn of the millenium, watching people dancing up and down the main street of Gulgong to the accompaniment of the tune.

 

 

The Grand Old Duke/Heel and Toe Polkas

A bit of Banter: 10- Now I’m Easy

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next 20 posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 10: Now I’m Easy– Also known as The Cocky Farmer, this great song of Aussiebogle endurance and stoicism was one of our most requested songs when we were playing on a semi-regular basis in the late 1990s. Back in the mid- 1970s, we began to listen to a great new writer named Eric Bogle. In the 80s, back in Ireland, my hair stood on end when I heard, for the first time, No Man’s Land. In the early 90s, in North Queensland, I attended a memorable concert by Bogle at the Burdekin Theatre. Long may he continue to write and sing.

 

Now I’m Easy

A bit of Banter: 11- Joe Hill

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next 20 posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 11: Joe Hill– This great union song has been a part of my musical experience for many220px-joe_hill002 decades now and I am still moved by its defiant and uplifting message. Before his execution by firing squad in Utah, Joe Hill mordantly declared, in a note to IWW leader Bill  Haywood, “Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.” His will is also worth recording, My will is easy to decide/For there is nothing to divide/My kin don’t need to fuss and moan/”Moss does not cling to rolling stone”/My body? Oh, if I could choose/I would to ashes it reduce/And let the merry breezes blow/My dust to where some flowers grow/Perhaps some fading flower then/Would come to life and bloom again./This is my Last and final Will./Good Luck to All of you/Joe Hill. I think Banter do a good job of the song here.

 

Joe Hill

A bit of Banter: 12- The Old Man’s Tale/Instrumental

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next 20 posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 12: The Old Man’s Tale/Instrumental– In my 20s, I played with a group in Wollongong called Seannachie. Our singer, Tony Fitzgerald, was the first person I heard singing this fine iancampbellsong. Written by Ian Campbell, a Scottish-born folksinger and left-wing activist, it was popular among the anti-nuclear Aldermaston protesters in the 1960s. Campbell was an influential force in music in his native Britain from the early sixties right up to his death in 2012. In Banter, I took it up and twinned it with the instrumental you hear at its end.

 

The Old Man’s Tale/Instrumental

A bit of Banter: 13- Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next 20 posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 13: Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore– The songs of Irish emigration are legion. Before the Great Famine of the mid-19th Century, the Irish had a penchant for travel and this is reflected in the Brendan voyage and the travels of Irish monks across Europe in the Middle Ages. However, the famine forced millions off the land to starve in ditiches or seek refuge in America or Australia.The first memorable version of this song, for me, was sung by Paul Brady, in the 1970s, I think. This emigrant ballad exerts a strange but pbradycompelling pull on the listener when sung by a good singer. I would assert that this is the case here.

 

Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore

A bit of Banter: 14- Shoals of Herring

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next 20 posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 14: Shoals of Herring– The late, great Ewan McColl wrote this one. I was privileged toewan-mccoll hear him sing in the Wollongong Town Hall in the mid-1970s with his wife, Peggy Seeger. He wrote lots of fine songs about workers and the alienated. Perhaps the greatest exponent of this song was Luke Kelly of the Dubliners.

The Shoals of Herring (lockdown Outlaw Version)

A Bit of Banter: 15- The Raggle Taggle Gypsy/The Battle of Aughrim

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next 20 posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 15: The Raggle Taggle Gypsies/ The Battle of Aughrim– I first sang this song in the folk group Seannachie over forty years ago. When Banter formed in the mid- 1990s, we thought the stirring march, The Battle of Aughrim, would complement it nicely. I do wonder, though, how many fine ladies in history have ever left the money, fine clothes  and privileges of wealth and rank in order to follow a gypsy into the privations of a traveller’s life….                                                         the-battle-of-aughrim-by-john-mulvany

 

The Ragglr Taggle Gypsy/The Battle of Aughrim

A bit of Banter: 16- The Three Sea Captains

a-muso-imageThere’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next 20 posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. These songs were the result of a few sessions around a table laden with alcoholic beverages of various kinds. Plonked in the centre of the table was a laptop with built-in mic that somehow survived the knocks and spillages that were part and parcel of the sessions. 

Song 16: The Three Sea Captains– As I mentioned before, chimney sweeps are in my DNA but so, too, are sea captains. My father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all3seacapts captains at one time or another in their lives. This graceful Irish set dance reminds me of this part of my heritage.