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 even 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, 2020, 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