Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sydney – The Tank Stream

Tank Stream, 1842 by John Skinner Prout, courtesy State Library of NSW

The Tank Stream was Sydney’s first water supply in the early days of the colony. When Captain Arthur Phillip arrived in Sydney he was searching for a place to develop the new colony and chose Circular Quay in part due to the freshwater stream running through it, which had been used by the Gadigal people for thousands of years. The small village of Sydney relied on water from this stream as its main water source for the next 40 years.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Vale Chuck Berry – 18 October 1926 – 18 March 2017

Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ’n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday. He was 90.

Berry was rock and roll's master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment.

His guitar lines wired the lean twang of country and the bite of the blues into phrases with both a streamlined trajectory and a long memory. And tucked into the lighthearted, telegraphic narratives that he sang with such clear enunciation was a sly defiance, upending convention to claim the pleasures of the moment.

Berry was the fourth child in a family of six. He grew up in the north St. Louis neighbourhood known as The Ville, an area where many middle-class people lived at the time. His father, Henry, was a contractor and deacon of a nearby Baptist church; his mother, Martha, was a certified public school principal. His  upbringing allowed him to pursue his interest in music from an early age. He gave his first public performance in 1941 while still a student at Sumner High School.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Roscoe Holcomb – Graveyard Blues

I got up this morning, 
With the blues all around my bed. (Lord, lord, lord, lord, lord) 
I got up this morning, 
With blues all around my bed.
I had a dream last night, 
The one that I loved was dead. 

God I went to the graveyard this morning, 
And I fell down on my knees. 
God I went to the graveyard this morning, 
And I fell down on my knees. Asked that good of gravedigger, 
To give back my real good man please. 

Lord that gravedigger looked me, sweet mama, 
Right squarely in the eye. 
Lord that gravedigger looked me, sweet mama, 
Right squarely in the eye. 
He said sorry pretty woman, 
But your man has said his last goodbye.

Then I wrung my hand, 
Said I wanted to scream. 
Then I wrung my hand, 
Said I wanted to scream. 
I woke up this morning, 
And found it was only a dream. 

1924 – El Lissitzky Skyscrapers

1924 El Lissitzky created a series of eight lightweight horizontal skyscrapers to address
Moscow’s problems of overcrowding and inadequate public transport

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Clarence Ashley – The Cuckoo

Dolly Parton – Nine to Five

IWD – Spinning, Warping and Weaving the Wool in the 1590's

Spinning, Warping and Weaving the Wool (1594-1596) by Isaac Claesz. van Swanenburg.

In 15th and 16th century France, two female textile guilds - comprised of single women and wives working independently of their husbands - wielded great power. By the end of the 18th century, they had been dismantled.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Planxty in concert at the national stadium in 1973

The legendary Planxty in concert at the national stadium in 1973, with Raggle Taggle Gypsy O, & "Give me your hand", is Tabhair Dom do Lámh. And Three Drunken Maidens. Banna ceoil traidisiúnta Éireannach é 

Christie Moore – Ride On

Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makes – Malaika

Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg in 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma (traditional healer-herbalist). Her father, who died when she was six years old, was a Xhosa. When she was eighteen days old, her mother was arrested for selling umqombothi, an African homemade beer distilled from malt and cornmeal. Her mother was sentenced to a six-month prison term, so Miriam spent her first six months of life in jail. As a child, she sang in the choir of the Kilmerton Training Institute' in Pretoria, a primary school that she attended for eight years.

Her professional career began in the 1950s when she was featured in the South African jazz group the Manhattan Brothers, and appeared for the first time on a poster. She left the Manhattan Brothers to record with her all-woman group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa. As early as 1956, she released the single for "Pata Pata". The single was played on all the radio stations and made her known throughout all of South Africa. Though she was a successful recording artist, she was only receiving a few dollars for each recording session and no provisional royalties, and was keen to leave home

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Book review by Tony Smith [Trad & Now]

It may be a cliche but - More Than a Life is difficult to put down.

In the field of Australian folklore collection, especially in New South Wales John Meredith (1920-2001) was a giant, pioneer and icon. Keith McKenry pays tribute to Meredith's achievements without ignoring the personal costs resulting from singleminded devotion to a field that was unacknowledged until Meredith ploughed and sowed it.

Meredith had a difficult childhood in Holbrook. He worked after school to help sustain the family and despite being a likely dux, left school when long trousers became mandatory. He lost a kidney and endured months of hospitalisation and was an avid reader. His first book purchase was Old Bush Songs – verse collected by Banjo Paterson.

He worked in a pharmacy despite lacking qualifications and became interested in photography and radios. Choosing a scientific way of life he abandoned religion. He was principled about this, shunning Christmas celebrations, supporting euthanasia and determined to end his own life before becoming a burden.

Meredith embraced self-sufficiency, corresponded regularly with Grass Roots magazine and toiled on 'Walden' his bush block at Balmoral in the Southern Highlands. He did not marry and revealed his sexual identity only late in life. Meredith attempted to work around Australia by bicycle, going first to Shepparton then Red Cliffs picking fruit.

He returned to Holbrook to mind Harrison's Pharmacy. He was not qualified, but he 'did have a white coat'. While Meredith's income mostly came from employment in pharmaceutical companies, such work was a means to an end. His 'real vocation lay in his ... role as the pre-eminent field collector of Australian folklore'.

Meredith visited Canberra and viewed bushranger exhibits at Collector. He stopped at the memorial to poet Henry Kendall near Gosford, picked pineapples near Brisbane then worked at Atherton, hoping to buy a camel for further explorations. Finding the work hard he wrote a poem 'The Cornpicker's Lament'.

Meredith, at 28 had to choose between Sydney and the Bush, and Sydney won. Meredith worked at Elliott & Australian Drug P/L as a counter hand. He joined the Eureka Youth League and at a Springwood camp met lifelong friend Brian Loughlin. He boarded in Petersham with fellow Communists, sold Tribune and as Treasurer of the local branch, inevitably attracted the attention of security agencies.

At weekends he enjoyed the cultural life of the Art Gallery, Museum, the Botanical Gardens and the Domain. He concocted cocktails at work and bought an accordion from Palings. In a communal house in Clovelly, Meredith sang from the Palmer/ Sutherland folio of Old Australian Bush Ballads. This stirred his interest in 'Australian bush ballads as singing material'.

When he discovered Aboriginal rock carvings near Gosford, Walkabout magazine published an article in which he attributed joint authorship to Brian. McKenry says that this established a pattern 'even where the original research and/or the writing of text was almost solely his own work'.

Meredith joined both the blueblood Royal Philharmonic Society Choir and the leftist Peoples Choir which later became the Unity Choir using Peter Seeger's songbook. These were turbulent times with the Menzies Government attempting to dissolve the Communist Party. Cultural organisations such as the New Theatre were considered suspect.

The formation of the Council for Defence of Australian Culture meant that forever afterwards, nationalism was associated with the Australian left. Emphasising Australian identity seemed like disloyalty to Britain. Meredith began a music transcription course and persuaded friend Eric Burnett to buy a bush block at Heathcote.

He was in robust good health for a change but was rushed to hospital as his appendix was about to burst. Meredith's neighbour Jack Barrie held 'Australian nights'. Jack, John and Brian donned false whiskers and sang as the Heathcote Bushwhackers with bush bass, lagerphone and accordion. Their instruments, uniform and repertoire 'Click Go the Shears' and 'Botany Bay’ represented the 'birth of the bush band genre',

Harry Kay soon joined on harmonica but Meredith hesitated over Chris Kempster's guitar. McKenry notes an 'inherent conceptual tension' between the Bushwhackers being a novelty act and presenting neglected bush culture. The quintet established a tradition of unpaid performances. Meredith set the tone for the band with his accordion. Typically one member sang the verses while the others joined the chorus in unison.

Meredith searched for more songs at the State Library. Librarian Edgar Waters introduced him to Russell Ward and Nancy Keesing who had similar interests. Fortuitously, Hilda Lane (William's niece) introduced Meredith to Jack Lee. Lee performed 'Backblocks Shearer' while Meredith transcribed, a process so slow that Meredith borrowed a tape recorder for a return visit. Lee gave him a good contact in fiddler Joe Cashmere.

Meredith recorded 16 songs and 27 tunes that Cashmere knew by ear. Meredith bought his own Pecotape recorder which cost half a year's wages. He declared himself 'a song collector, to his dying day he had no interest in song analysis'. Unfortunately McKenry does not enlarge on this distinction.

Further opportunities came with the New Theatre's 1953 production of 'Reedy River' set around the 1891 Queensland shearers' strike. The Bushwhackers needed to sing their signature tune 'Click Go the Shears' but were worried about copyright. The story of how Meredith got around this problem contrasts with his later prickliness about others not acknowledging his collections. McKenry says that 'Meredith would carry the deception with him to the grave'.

Audience members brought stories backstage. Contacts included Frank Bristow and Jack Luscombe, veterans of the 1891 strike. Queenslander Alan Scott and Gay Terry were enthused and listened to Meredith's recordings. Scott returned to Bundaberg determined to collect local material. In 1954 both the Australian Folklore Society and the Bush Music Club came into being. Keesing introduced Meredith to Ina Popplewell of Darlington. Ina had no power so they went to the home of a friend who had 'the electricity' where Meredith recorded some 19 songs and three recitations.

Meredith was becoming more selective in his collecting. He was interested not in parlour songs or music hall but 'bush songs and to a lesser degree bush tunes and recitations'. The first edition of the AFS journal Speewa, the 'first periodical in the field of Aust folklore' included an article by Meredith on Jack Lee. Meredith embarked on a collecting tour of the Upper Murray to record in Khancoban and Beechworth.

In September 1954 the Bushwhackers discontinued their involvement in 'Reedy River', effectively ending the ten month season. In only two years Meredith collected some 300 items from 50 sources after a 'standing start'. There was no manual on how to go about song collecting. When the Bushwhackers performed for the Miners' Federation in Lithgow, Meredith met the remarkable Sally Sloane, from whom he recorded another 150 songs and tunes.

The 1950s were hugely productive for Meredith. Unfortunately, frustration lay ahead. Meredith wanted his collection to be preserved but was reluctant to let the ABC copy his tapes, fearing that they might be used without acknowledgement. He was perhaps less concerned for his own credit than that of the informants who had supplied the material.

Following protracted negotiations however, the National Library moved into the area and its invaluable Oral History collection was started. Further problems arose over the use of Australian material by some overseas folklorists.

An American Academic John Greenway joined enthusiastically in local activities and copied Meredith's collection of recordings. Greenway offended Meredith in several ways. First, when returning to a USA dominated by McCarthyism he wrote that Australian folk music was dominated by communists. Secondly, he claimed that he himself had collected the material Meredith had allowed him to copy. Thirdly, he lionised the Englishman A.L. Lloyd as a collector of Australian folk songs.

Meredith was not impressed. During the 1960s general folk revival overseas artists threatened to swamp the market and distract locals from the folklore Meredith loved. Yet not all of Meredith's frustrations arose offshore. When he decided to write with Victorian Hugh Anderson the book The Folk Songs of Australia and the Men and Women Who Made Them Meredith received a six month Commonwealth of Australia Literary Fund Fellowship.

Meredith worked feverishly, sending Anderson some ten tunes per week, but the pressure told and he suffered a heart attack. This caused him to announce his retirement from collecting. He made his own digitalis from foxgloves to treat his heart, but he grew impatient with Anderson. As editor of the Bush Music Club magazine Singabout, Meredith's ideas developed.

He had set policies about which records and books to review. Initially, he would be critical of publications that worked only from secondary sources and he gave a negative review of Victorian Ron Edwards' Overlander Songbook. Eventually he decided to endorse songs which were collected here but whose origins were exotic. On first meeting Duke Tritton Meredith recorded the old shearer's traditional repertoire but shunned the Duke's own compositions.

His attitude changed however and Singabout published works by Tritton, Merv Lilley and John Dengate. Meredith described the magazine as 'traditional in style but contemporary in theme’. As McKenry's Bibliography shows, Meredith wrote plays, poems and a novel and took photographs and made films. As a musician he participated in some of the earliest recordings of traditional music by Wattle Records although his influence over style diminished after the Bushwhackers disbanded.

Wattle's LP 'Australian Traditional Singers and Musicians' included many of Meredith's sources such as Sally Sloane and Duke Tritton. Unfortunately, just one track was from Meredith's original recordings. The others had been rerecorded in the studio. Meredith passed the mantle to younger collectors.

He resumed collecting and obviously got on well with Peter Ellis on trips to WA and Victoria's Nariel Creek and with Rob Willis and David DeSanti, all of whom became prolific collectors. Meredith was immensely proud to be recognised with an Order of Australia medal in the Australia Day honours list.

Meredith refused to attend festivals. When the National Library wanted to launch his book of photographs Real Folk during the National Folk Festival in Canberra, Meredith made it clear that he would attend a Library event but not the Festival. In the same year, Keith McKenry organised a special concert on the theme of Meredith's collecting, the subject refused to attend, although he later heard a recording and was very impressed.

By organising Meredith's story into chronological order McKenry enables the reader to see how the central character developed. While Meredith is obviously the focus of More Than A Life, many of the musicians, collectors, writers, researchers and bureaucrats who were active in Australian folk music in the second half of the twentieth century have walk-on parts.

Their interactions might have been of varying warmth and productivity, but this book is a splendid introduction to their careers as well. Keith McKenry has produced a remarkable biography. His research has been extraordinarily thorough. The end notes show that he scrutinised Meredith's own writings, some of which were confidential until after the subject's death, correspondence and a mass of secondary sources.

Most appropriately McKenry listened to Meredith's recorded material and conducted extensive interviews himself. His writing style is clear and entertaining and the chronological arrangement of the material makes it accessible to the general reader. The strongest chapters are those where he sets the social and political background and shows how broader issues, such as the 'Petrov Affair' influenced cultural values.

If at times McKenry points to personal characteristics of Meredith that might seem negative, he writes with compassion, fairness and understanding. John Meredith could not have wished for a better biographer than Keith McKenry.


Many thank to Tony Smith and Cec Bucilo for permission to republish this review.

Rainbow Quest - Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and Tom Paxton

        Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest - Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and Tom Paxton

Greening The Home in the City

Grow a Garden and Birds will Visit
Environmentalist Indira Naidoo writes:

I had done enough reading to know that with good sunlight and a few basic elements such as pots, organic potting mix, some manure, compost and regular watering, a thriving balcony garden wasn’t a total pipe-dream.

I drew up a plan of my balcony to determine how many fully grown plants I had room for. I knew overcrowding plants in small pots was a common mistake of the novice gardener.

I wanted my garden to be aesthetic as well as functional. I decided to use large dark-grey painted fibre-glass pots which were sturdy but light-weight and placed them on wheeled pot stands so I could relocate them more easily. I installed a vertical wall and hanging baskets on the railing to maximise my growing space.

Potted vegies need watering more regularly than vegies in garden beds because they lose more moisture through evaporation. So I invested in a watering can and attached a hose to my outdoor tap.

I also made sure my plants got regular feeds with mixes of diluted fish emulsion and seaweed fertiliser, Munash mineral rock dust and a little worm juice from my Hungry Bin balcony worm farm.

I sourced my seedlings from quality garden centres and mail-ordered organic heirloom seeds from Diggers and the Italian Gardener.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit

Written by teacher Abel Meeropol as a poem and published in 1937, it protested American racism, particularly the lynching of African Americans. Holiday grew to embrace the song so much she began to believe she composed it. She certainly made it one of the most powerful protest songs of the time. “Strange Fruit” was released on record in 1939, and quickly became famous. It had a particular impact on the politically aware, among artists, musicians, actors and other performers, and on broader layers of students and intellectuals. It is one of the few songs that has a book dedicated to its history: David Margolick’s book, Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Café Society and an Early Cry for Civil Rights.

During the postwar witch-hunt, the performance of “Strange Fruit” became even more difficult. Some clubs refused to allow Holiday to sing what had become her signature song. She insisted on contracts specifying her right to sing it, but even that did not resolve the issue. Margolick’s book relates how at one club on West 52nd St. Holiday cried after her performance. “Did you see the bartender ringing the cash register all through?” she said. “He always does that when I sing.”

around town

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Pete Seeger – To hear Your Banjo Play – 1947

Folk master Pete Seeger narrates Alan Lomax's documentary on the evolution and appreciation of American folk music. Special cameo performances include Woody Guthrie and Brownie McGhee, 

Andy Irvine Gladiators

From Wikipedia – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Twelve

The Sydney Twelve were members of the Industrial Workers of the World arrested on 23 September 1916 in Sydney, Australia, and charged with treason under the Treason Felony Act (1848), arson, sedition and forgery. They were John Hamilton, Peter Larkin, Joseph Fagin, William Teen, Donald Grant, Benjamin King, Thomas Glynn, Donald McPherson, Thomas Moore, Charles Reeve, William Beattie, Bob Besant.

Some within the Australian labour movement claimed the men were framed for their strong anti-war views and their opposition to conscription during the First World War. Former Labor Prime Minister (and later Nationalist) Billy Hughes forced through the Unlawful Associations Act (1916) through Federal Parliament in five days during December 1916, then had the IWW declared an unlawful association.

The case against the Twelve was assisted by the Government hysteria against the IWW. This was typified in the Tottenham murder case involving three members of the IWW and the murder of a policeman at Tottenham, New South Wales, on 26 September 1916. The prosecution made every effort to connect the murder with the charges against the Sydney IWW men. Frank Franz and Roland Nicholas Kennedy were found guilty and executed on 20 December 1916 at Bathurst Gaol, the first executions in New South Wales after a decade. Herbert Kennedy was acquitted.

The judgment by Mr Justice Pains on the Sydney Twelve brought sentences of fifteen years to Hilton, Beatty, Fagin, Grant, Teen, Glynn and McPherson; ten years to Moore, Besant, Larkin and Reeve; and five years to King. Grant remarked after his sentence was passed: "Fifteen years for fifteen words". The actual words which were quoted in his trial were: "For every day that Tom Barker is in gaol it will cost the capitalist class £10,000."

There was an active campaign for the release of the Sydney Twelve and other IWW members held in prison. The Defence and Release Committee was established at the behest of Henry Boote, Editor of the Australian Workers' Union weekly paper, the Worker, and of Ernie Judd, delegate from the Municipal Workers Union on Labor Council of New South Wales. Supporters included Percy Brookfield, the member for Sturt (Broken Hill) in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, and the poet Lesbia Harford. Unions such as the Ship Painters and Dockers Union were active in the campaign.

The Labor Council of New South Wales commissioned a report into the case in 1918, and an enquiry into the case was also conducted by Judge Street. Both the trade union report and the judicial report found problems with the case, for example the chief witness, Scully, had concocted evidence which he gave at the trial.

After the Storey Labor Government was elected in New South Wales on 20 March 1920, Tasmanian Judge Norman Ewing was appointed to inquire into the trial and sentencing. The judge found that Grant, Beattie, Larkin and Glynn may have been involved in conspiracy of a seditious nature, but recommended that they be released. Six of the men, the judge found, were not "justly or rightly" convicted of sedition: Teen, Hamilton, McPherson, Moore, Besant and Fagin. King was considered rightly convicted of sedition, but recommended for immediate release. Reeve was found to have been rightly convicted of arson. However the judge also rejected any suggestion that the men had been framed. Ten of the men were released in August 1920, and King and Reeve slightly later.

The Watersons "Hal–an–Tow"

The Watersons performing the may day song "Hal-An-Tow" 
(you can also hear it on "Frost & Fire: A calendar of ceremonial (ritual & magical) folk songs"