Four Treasures of Ireland

I have been working my way through The Secret Rose and Other Stories, which is a compilation of several short stories and essays by William Butler Yeats. As a ballad collector and writer I was very pleased to find many songs within the text.

The full stories of Red Hanrahan are part of the book and are available here. It was the first in this series of stories about a semi-fictional Irish bard that prompted me to write this song.

Incidental to this post, I have been writing a song (almost) every week as part of the Positive Songs Project. It is great motivation as a songwriter and also an opportunity to hear the work that others are doing while we are unable to play live in-person events.

Red Hanrahan is a fictional character but based on the life of Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin (Owen Roe O’Sullivan) who lived in the 1700s. It is not clear how much is Yeats creation and how much of Hanrahan was Owen’s own alter-ego.

In one of the stories, Yeats attributes one of my favourite Irish songs, Casadh an tSúgáin (Twisting the Rope) to O’Sullivan. A song that I spent some considerable time trying to learn to sing like Michael O’Domhnaill does.

In the first Red Hanrahan story, Yeats tells how Hanrahan was at a barn being used as a pub when he received word that he could marry his true love if he quickly returned to the house of her recently deceased mother. It is Samhain eve and instead of leaving Hanrahan is convinced to play cards with a strange old man and ends up following a magic rabbit out into the night.

Hanrahan ends up in the heart of Slieve (mount) Echtge with a fairy queen/goddess, the mountains namesake (the mountains are also known as Slieve Aughty). Four old women carry the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Hanrahan is deemed unworthy, possibly for refusing the advances of Echthge. There seems to be little written about this goddess Echthge, other than that her name means ‘awful one’ and she eats her children. Elsewhere Echthge is referred to as the daughter of Nuada of the Silver Hand.

It is fitting that Echthge is Nuada’s daughter as he is the owner of the Sword of Light (Claíomh Solais), one of the four treasures.

In the story, Hanrahan returns to the world but his lover is long dead as many years have passed. This incident haunts him throughout the rest of his life.

Yeats (or O’Sullivan) cleverly foreshadowed the appearance of the four treasures by having the old man mutter ‘Spades and Diamonds, Courage and Power; Clubs and Hearts, Knowledge and Pleasure.’ before the card game.

It was the linking of the Playing Card suits that I found most interesting in this story. I love it when we are casually reminded of the pagan origins of the everyday items that people take for granted.

A student of Wicca or Ceremonial Magic (as Yeats was) would immediately recognise the link between the four items and the four elements, Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and the four cardinal points.

The four treasures, brought by the Tuatha Dé Danann from their islands in the north (maybe Atlantis) were the Cauldron of the Dagda, the Sword of Light, the Stone of Destiny and the Spear of Lugh.

The connection between the Cauldron of the Dagda (and Morrigan), the Wiccan Chalice and the Tarot Suit of Cups is clear. The association of the suit for hearts and the cauldron with pleasure makes a lot more sense when you watch this video of how Vikings cooked with a cauldron. In the Bronze Age, the ability to eat and the association of the cauldron with food and the dream of an eternally full cauldron makes a lot of sense for people on a subsistence diet. The Cornucopia is also an interesting counterpart to this cauldron.

The Sword of Light previously mentioned is linked to the suite of Clubs and the Athame (ritual knife) in Wicca. Interesting that in Wicca the knife is associated with fire, but with air for some ceremonial magicians. In the story, the club (sword) is associated with knowledge, possibly with the idea of cutting through illusion. Interesting that the word for fire brand and sword are interchangeable in several languages, originating from Old Norse, brandr.

The Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil) has a clear association with power, as it was used to confirm the kings of Ireland until 500 AD. The association with the suit of diamonds is less clear until you realise the diamonds are stones. The pentacles or coins suit in the Tarot looks exactly like the pentacle used to symbolise earth for Wiccans. In the Waite-Smith tarot, the magician is shown with each of the four magical tools and the pentacle suit symbol on the altar.

The final item, the Spear of Lugh, is easily associated with the suit of spades, which look like a Bronze Age spearhead. I am fascinated by the similarities between Lugh’s spear and the arrow carried by Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy. Lugh’s spear can be directed to hit its target and return on its own. One of the stories suggests that Lugh demanded it from a king of Persia. We know that the Bronze Age was a time when some areas of the world were developing advanced metal working techniques. Some Viking swords came from Afghanistan and the quality of high carbon steel blades and spear heads would have seemed like magic to warriors with bronze weapons. In Wicca and Ceremonial magic the spear has been replaced by a wand or a feather, and is associated with the element of Air. The spear is associated with courage in Hanrahan’s story, which aligns with the idea that the holder of the spear will always succeed in battle. The story of lightening coming from the spear and its ability to return gives it a strong connection to Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir. In the Tarot, the suit is various called wands or staves. The spear is said to be made of Yew, which is poisonous and associated with death (something that Harry Potter got right).

The four treasures associated with Ireland also have a parallel in the mythology of King Arthur and the Holy Grail. The four elements of the grail mythology are the Cup of Christ, the Spear of Loginus, the sword Excalibur (or another sword) and a dish (possibly mistranslated). Britain, not to be outdone, has thirteen items.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ye Sons of Australia

Ned Kelly was executed at Melbourne gaol on 11 November 1880.

While I don’t consider myself and Australian songwriter (I was born in New Zealand, and am more drawn to the songs of Ireland and Scotland), it was a little odd for me to have recorded and uploaded 700 songs, mostly folk, to YouTube without ever a mention of this Australian folk hero.

Hero only to a small portion of the population, and likely a hero to different parts of that population and for different reasons over the 140 years since his death.

I’m not a Ned Kelly historian, and there are been plenty of recreations and retellings of his life and exploits in film and in song. Most recently The True History of the Kelly Gang aired on Stan earlier this year. It can be called a ‘true history’ in the same way that Trainspotting was a ‘true history’ of drug use and crime in Scotland.

The reason for this post is my recent recording of the ballad Ye Sons of Australia, prompted by the suggestion of Ewan Lawrie from the Canberra Shanty Club. I was intrigued by the fact that you can’t find this song anywhere on Spotify or iTunes and the author is listed as anon. It was recorded by Martyn Wyndham-Read and Danny Spooner in the 60s/70s but very much out of print now. Jason and Chloe Roweth recorded this as ‘Kate Kelly’ on their 2003 album, As Good as New. Some of the very helpful Australian folk community have assisted me in trying to track down the author, but to no avail.

I found this very interesting, for a song with such a famous character as its subject.

John Meredith captured a snippet of the song being sung by Gladys Scrivener around 1953-1961, available at the National Library here. John Meredith went on to publish the song in his book, Songs of the Kelly Country, published in 1955. Gladys was credited with passing on a number of songs to the Bush Music Club in Sydney during the 1950s and says that many of the songs were learnt from her grandfather. This Mudcat thread indicates that Gladys’ Grandfather was J M Power, of West Maitland who learned them while working in Northern New South Wales. No further details of his life are available, but if he was collecting songs as a young man, it would have been around the time of Ned Kelly.

One fascinating aspect of this particular ballad is that it focuses strongly on the exploits of Ned’s sister, Kate Kelly. It seems clear that it was more likely to be Ned’s other sister, Maggie, who was responsible for acts of daring in support of the Kelly Gang. Maggie had especially good reason to be bitter after her husband was falsely imprisoned after the Fitzpatrick incident and never returned to her or his children.

The Kelly Gang - Coming Home for Christmas

The Kelly Gang – Coming Home for Christmas

George Washington Lambert painted The Kelly Gang – Coming Home for Christmas in 1908. George was just seven when the siege at Glenrowan occurred, so the event must have been in the public consciousness in 1908 enough for him to warrant doing this painting.

The feelings that inspired the painting match well with the style and tone of the ballad, suggesting that it could have been in circulation then. Kate painted as a rescuing hero, defying the police and trying to help her brothers to freedom during the siege of Glenrowan is an odd way to represent the fate of violent outlaws.

This article in The Bulletin in 1953 by Douglas Stewart highlights the extreme difficultly that song collectors were having linking songs to authors at the time. This is confusing when the likes of Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson were having their work published far and wide. This article from the West Australian in 1904 describes a play called the Outlaw Kelly, which seems to incorporate Kate riding bravely on her horse. Maybe this was the inspiration for George Lambert and the author of the ballad?

Another play by E. C. Martin, Ostracized, was reviewed in August 1881, less than a year after the Glenrowan siege.

It is possible that the class warfare between the English and Scottish Protestant power holders and the Irish Catholic ex-convicts and working people meant that authors of songs like this chose to remain anonymous for their own safety.

In 1880, Ned represented a violent response to corrupt police and laws designed to make it difficult for people on the fringes to make a living. The memory of the Castle Hill Rebellion in 1804 and the Eureka Rebellion of 1854 were likely to still be strong in the minds of these people. Much as the singing of Irish rebel songs could lead to death or imprisonment in Ireland, singing the praises of Ned Kelly in the 1880s probably came with the same risks. As stated, I am not a Ned Kelly historians, there are many papers that can be read on that subject.

I would love to hear from anyone who knows something more about the history of authorship of this ballad. I am reasonably sure that the attribution to J. K. Moir here is an erroneous reading of the Douglas Stewart article I quote above.

Update: After publication of this article, Chris David Woodland provided a copy of the song as it was in circulation in the 1960s.

Update 2: Thanks to Sandra from the Bush Music Club for sending me a link to the second page and better quality images from the song as it appears in Bushwacker Broadsides.

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Alistair Hulett Memorial Concert – Sydney 2020

It would have been just after 9:30pm, some two hours into the concert, which had been ticking along at a good pace, thanks to Margaret Walter’s highly efficient direction. The air conditioning, which probably does a good job cooling the Sydney Gaelic Club when Pat and Brian are downing a Guinness on a lazy Saturday, was being pushed to its limits with around 100 people crammed into the venue.

Miguel Heatwole

Miguel Heatwole had just finished a song about ‘better times’ (edit: that he wrote and won the Alistair Hulett Social Justice prize with in 2017, lyrics and link in Miguel’s comment below), possibly an old-time style parody about the living standard of working people, accompanied by some toe tapping ragtime style guitar.

After this, Miguel got up on a makeshift soapbox and sang an acapella version of Revolution as sung by Dick Gaughan on his 1997 album A Different Kind of Lovesong. The lyrics to this song were written as a poem by Joseph Bovshover, in Yiddish and published in 1919. Joseph had died in America in 1915 after fleeing oppression under the Tzar in 1891, but his poetry became tied to the Russian Revolution and other global movements for workers’ rights and fair distribution of wealth.

I start at Miguel’s performance, because for me it summed up the feeling of the evening. So many great performers contributed to this memorial event for Alistair Hulett, in Sydney, some 17 thousand kilometres away from Alistair’s native Scotland and ten years after his passing in January 2010.

Solidarity Choir

The evening was opened and closed by the Sydney Solidarity Choir. I have to say, that some of my previous experiences with socialist choirs has been somewhat like Mao’s suits, dull and mostly sung on the same note. This choir was a pleasant surprise, with complex multi-voice rhythm and harmonies which were a delight to listen to, plus the rare sight of a Baroque Guitar (no, not a broke guitar).

 

Steph Miller

Steph Miller, who I had a brief chat with after my set, sang a heartfelt interpretation of Suicide Town. This was one of the first songs by Alistair that I heard, sung to me around a campfire by Judy Pinder some 10 or more years ago. Judy then lent me a copy of Cold Grey Light of Dawn which solidified my admiration for the song writing, artistry and commitment to humanity that Alistair is remembered for. Steph was part of Alistair’s punk band, Roaring Jack.

Chris Maltby, Tom Hanson, Don Brian and Margaret (Forty Degrees South) sang a few of my favourite Alistair social justice songs, including The Day that the Boys Came Down, sadly I didn’t get a photo.

I should caveat the next part by saying that I’m not a Communist or a Socialist. In my teenage extrication from Pentecostal Christianity I read widely, including Marx and Engels. But I also read Mein Kampf, Crowley’s Book of the Law, Gurdjieff and many others. I came to the conclusion that any system which replaces the power held in the hands of a few rotten people, with a few other rotten people, is doomed to fail. Success lies in a revolution inside each human heart, to overthrow greed and envy and bigotry with compassion, tolerance and truth. This is a hard road and, in my view, cannot be travelled by waving pitchforks or throwing Molotov cocktails (or super gluing yourself to the street). I sympathise with the urgent desire to see things change, but in the words of John Lennon, “if you are talking about destruction, you can count me out”.

Emma and Daniel

Emma Norton and Daniel Kenny

Emma Norton and Daniel Kenny played a beautiful pair of songs. I do not wish to offend anyone, but the cognitive dissonance triggered by a couple that would look right at home at a Baptist gospel singalong espousing Marxist values and sing about Red militancy was surprising to say the least. I guess the younger generation of Communists have forgone the Che t-shirt, and camouflage pants.

Bob and Margaret Fagan and Christine Wheeler

A highlight of the night for me was getting to follow Margaret and Bob Fagan. It was their performance of Factory Lad at the 2008 National Folk Festival by Margaret and Bob that set me on the journey which would culminate in the Factory Lad album.  Bob did a brilliant acapella version of By Ibrox Park, from Alistair’s In Sleepy Scotland. Sadly there is no rendition of this song on YouTube, which I hope to remedy soon.

Other performs that I haven’t mentioned, but also contributed so well to the evening were Christine Wheeler, Darren Whitaker and Patrick Harte. There were also speeches given by Diane Fieldes, Tim Anderson and Alistair’s sister Alison Popov.

I was honoured to join such a great line-up of performers, and to sing to an audience which so appreciated Alistair and his legacy. I sang Time is Running Out, which was the last song that Alistair wrote. While it was likely written in response to his illness, the words present a stark warning for the current state of our environment and our society.

I don’t often make the four hour journey each way to Sydney to play music, but in this case it was well worth the drive to be part of this moving celebration of Alistair’s life. And also encouraging to see that ten years on, his ideals and words are still valued by so many.

Many thanks to Margaret Walters for organizing and running the event, to Sandra Nixon for running the door and also to Chris Maltby for being an impromptu stage hand.

P.S. I forgot to mention the very fabulous and a little bit naughty Wild Rover Again as sung with much enthusiasm and skill by Kathy Rytmeister.

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Love in a Tub – Roud#556

I have been listening to Rachel McDonough’s renditions of ballads from the Francis Child collection for about four years. These ballads are mostly of English/Scotts/Irish origin from the 1600-1700s or earlier.

While many of these ballads were revived/re-discovered in the 1960s by the likes of Ewan MacColl, Martin Carthy or collectors such as Albert Lloyd they were often truncated or censored to make them suitable for radio. It is usually these truncated versions that end up being endlessly re-recorded by folk/pop musicians.

I think the work of the YouTube community recording and sharing these ballads in their original state is important. Not many artists are going to put the 27-minute-long Will Steward and John on their album, so we are lucky to have Raymond Crooke’s rendition.

I have only recorded 21 of the 305 Child Ballads, but Rachel recently highlighted that beyond the Child collection there are many other ballads catalogued in the Roud index (of 25,000 songs) which do not have published recordings. The index was created and is maintained by Steve Roud.

This post documents my research in putting Roud #556, Love in a Tub, or The Old Miser Outwitted to music. Love in a Tub appears as a broadside around 1764. The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library hosts the Roud index and here is the entry for #556. In some cases the Roud entry is just a reference to an entry in another catalogue document, for example this 1905 catalogue of broadsides and chapbooks at Harvard.

Incidentally, archive.org is an absolutely incredible resource for the ballad researcher. With a library of over 2.6 million scanned and indexed (i.e. you can search for words) books it is possible to find an entry in a catalogue and then track down the referenced chapbook or possibly the broadside at the Bodleian Ballad database.

The two references to Love in a Tub in the Bodleian database do not suggest a tune, but do have consistent lyrics apart from the ‘long s’ (which fell out of use by the 1800s) in one of the versions.

I think the woodblock image in the first version is trying to show the process of building the woman into the barrel, which would be quite a time consuming challenge, if you look closely you can see the woman’s head poking out the bottom of the barrel. This video showing the construction of barrel’s shows how challenging this might be.

Another version, found in New York is referenced at the Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballad Project.

In the Roxburghe Ballads index there is a reference to Love in a Tub, suggesting that it was a new song in 1684 and that it should be sung to the tune of Daniel Cooper. This means that the song was already almost 100 years old when it was printed in the 1764 broadside.

I did find a very scratchy 1942 recording of Harvey Murchie (from Houlton, Maine), part of the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection, singing the song with lyrics clearly modified from the broadside. The lyrics were most likely modified through the ‘folk process’. It amazes me that this recording is possibly the only time the song had been sung since its popularity in the 1700s, possibly passed down through Harvey’s family and carried with them when they emigrated from Ireland (I am assuming this from the accent, as I can find no biographical details on Harvey).

I did have a go at transcribing the 1700s music notation in this broadside of Daniel Cooper, but couldn’t get the tune to scan with the lyrics. Interestingly, there is a dance called Daniel Cooper  which was popular with the Russian court and even got a mention by Tolstoy in War and Peace.

There are echos of the tune from the Daniel Cooper broadside in the Russian Dance tune, and it is fascinating that a ‘Cooper’ features in the Love in a Tub story. None of the tunes on thesession.org with names matching the ones referred to in the Daniel Cooper ballad seemed to relate to the annotated melody.

I am not sure what the connection is, but there was a play by Sir George Etherege called Love in a Tub written around 1660. I read through most of the play, but could find no correlation between the story in the ballad and the story in the play.

The idea of hiding a woman in a barrel in order to procure her as a wife seems like a trope that would have captured the popular imagination and founds its way into other poems and songs. Sadly I can find no references to putting people in barrels apart from the brutal execution of St Eulaia of Barcelona 303 C.E.

I ended up setting the ballad to my own melody. The final result is available here. Text of the broadside and chords provided below:

G         C         G            C
Let every one that is to mirth inclin’d
      C            G       Am      C
Come draw near I pray and listen awhile,
G              D        C        D
Tis witty and pretty, diverting new,
C               G        D           G
And tho’it is merry, it is certainly true.

In the City of London there lately did well,
A topping-wine merchant that’s known very well;
He had but one Daughter, a Beauty most bright,
Who was all his Comfort and all his Delight

A handsome young Vintner lived very near,
Who dealt with this Merchant for Thousands a Year;
And being invited to Supper one night,
He happened to see this Beauty so bright.

Instead of his stomach he feasted his eyes
On the charms of her beauty which did him surprise
But that very night fortune prov'd so kind,
That he to the lady discover'd his mind.

Young cupid so cunningly acted his part,
That with the same passion he wounded her heart,
So that when he began to discover his mind,
He found that to love she was quickly inclin'd.

Said she, sir, your stock you know is but low,
Some hundreds of pounds to my father you owe,
And I am a lady of noble estate,
How do you presume to talk at this rate?

Dear madam, said he, had I thousands a year,
I'd part with it all for the sake of my dear,
Then let not true love be despised for gold,
For riches can't buy it, 'tis not to be sold.

She granted hm love, and to him she reply'd,
My dear, I would have you be well satisty'd;
'Tis fitting my father consents we should wed,
Not a farthing of portion else is to be had. 
(this line missing from the broadside I sung from)

If you will be true, my dear jewel, he said,
A politic fancy I have in my head, 
And when you do hear it, I fear not, says he,
But unto the project you will quickly agree.

You see in a vault where your father's wine stands
There are some empty casks on the left hand;
The cooper's my friend, I can trust him said he,
I'll give him ten guineas in gold for his fee.

He shall head you up in a hogshead this night, 
Your father will think it is good Lisbon white, 
And I'll come and buy the same as it stands;
And pay him the money down at his demands.

She liked the project and both were agreed,
The cooper was sent for, he came with all speed,
He took the young lady without more delay,
And into the hogshead he put her straitway.

He headed it up all secure and nice,
Then strait came the vintner up in a trice;
And seeing the merchant, said sir at this time
I am in great want of a hogshead of wine.

Then to the wine cellar they both did repair,
To taste of the liquors, but when they came there
He knowing the hogshead did make this reply,
Sir, this for my money, if any, I'll buy.

When I was here last, if the truth I may tell,
I tasted the liquor, and liked it well,
For the same they agreed, the money was paid,
He turned him round to the merchant and said:

Sir, all in the hogshead I've bought, it is mine,
But only the staves and the hoops they are thine:
Yes, yes, said the merchant, and I am content,
Then straitway to taste of the liquor they went.

He then took a piercer, and pierced the fame,
But never a drop from the hogshead there came;
The vintner said what a bargain is this,
For never a drop in the hogshead there is.

Nay, nay, said the merchant,'the bargain is good’,
For you bought the hogshead just as it stood,
Let what will be in it, either beer, ale, or wine,
You've bought it, paid for it, so it shall be thine

They open'd the hogshead, the lady came forth,
The old man he star'd and rap'd out an oath,
If this be your bargain, e'en take her, said he,
Sure never poor old man was bubbl'd like me.

It is but a folly to fly in a rage,
I find that youth is too cunning for age;
You bought her, I sold her, so love her, said he,
Three thousand pounds portion I’ll freely give thee 

The vintner he loves her as dear as his life,
And as 'tis reported, the proves a good wife
He follows his calling of drawing good bub,
By this you may see there is Love in a Tub;

 

 

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The Fall of Skywalker?

It is with some trepidation that I take my family to see the final installment in the Star Wars saga that has been running since the year I was born. A New Hope, just Star Wars back then, was the first movie I was taken to as a child. No doubt I didn’t remember much, being only two or three years old.

I didn’t even get to watch the second and third installments of the franchise growing up as my parents had joined a religion which didn’t allow exposure to much in the way of mainstream culture. Other kids at school were playing with Wookies and pretending to be Han Solo when I was in primary school, but I had no idea what they were talking about.

It wasn’t until university that I got to sit down and watch the whole original trilogy. Star Wars taught me that life is messy, that even an orphan moisture farmer can find himself at the centre of a broader story, and make a difference. It taught me respect for magic, that heroes aren’t always all good and the villains aren’t just bad.

Another important lesson was not to get too attached to the first pretty girl you meet, she might turn out to be your sister (*spoiler*).

I wish I had been exposed to these truths growing up. I think it would have saved me from learning them in more difficult ways.

Star Wars was also the catalyst which allowed me to embrace my weirdness. It let me know that I wasn’t the only person on the planet interested in inter-stellar travel, mystic powers and aliens. It drew my attention off the mundane lives people lead on this irrelevant speck of dust, and revealed a canvas spanning millions of years and trillions of stars. So much of what interests me as a human being is tied up in the world of Star Wars.

I even attribute my taking up of the meditative spiritual path of Falun Gong twenty years ago in part to the themes in Star Wars. Similarly, it helped me break free of the restrictive and lifeless religion of my upbringing. The words of Yoda aren’t just fiction, pick up a classical Taoist or Buddhist text and find them you will.

The final movie in this series represents a double death for me. Firstly in the closure of the story, but also in the swallowing of the franchise by Disney. While George Lucas presented the brutal truth of existence, for many years Disney has glossed over it. I know there are exceptions, but in the main Disney prefers heroes and villains who stay in their lanes. Good triumphs at the end of the story arc and the struggle along the way is rarely ethically taxing. This isn’t real, life doesn’t work this way and it worries me when generations of children are raised on the thin sugary gruel of Disney.

So far George Lucas seems to have kept his hand on the tiller and the three most recent films have revived some of the Star Wars magic. To be honest, I really enjoyed the three prequel films as well. What hope for the future though?

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Crazy Christmas Carol Conflation Challenge

On my YouTube channel I usually do some sort of Christmas challenge. This year I endeavored to find twelve Christmas related songs and sing them to the melody of another Christmas related song.

I had a lot of fun doing this, and it is interesting to see which songs can be adjusted to fit others. In some cases a line needed re-phrasing and there is always a bit of leeway with the placement and length of syllables.

As I have several books of Christmas songs from ten years of busking in the main street of our town each Christmas, the process involved picking one song and then trying the words out on all the other melodies I had. In most cases the song just doesn’t fit because there are too many lines or too many syllables in each phrase to sing without sounding ridiculous.

You can listen to all twelve songs (plus one posted by a fellow YouTube musician, Michael Hermiston) at the playlist link below.

My favourite achievement is joining Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You with Wham’s Last Christmas.

In theory, I should be able to reverse the process for 2020.

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The Marble Reflecting

In moments of reflection,
does the marble think back to the workshop floor,
where its waste parts lie scattered,
sawn, chiselled and scraped away?

In each finely sculpted finger and lock of hair,
does the trauma of the grinding, cutting and sanding
still seethe, latent, beneath the surface?

Are we, in our becoming, the mirror of our unbecoming?

Raised to the pedestal, in your sublime beauty,
admired by all, you stand in frozen milk-white perfection.
But do you mourn the parts lost?

Perhaps you existed in perfect form, within the stone,
waiting to be released by hand and chisel of the master sculptor.
The discarded parts no more special than the shell to the eaglet.

The discarded, misshapen, marble on the floor might disagree.

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How to Build a Cob Oven

For a long time I have wanted to build a pizza oven in the back yard. I shied away from spending $2-3k on fire bricks and cement and decided to try and build with what I had already in the back yard.

I watched quite a few videos and blog posts about building ovens with cob, including this very helpful video by Lizi Qi. These photos track the progress of building the oven.

The first step was to dig a hole for the base and fill it with cement.

The bricks were laid out on a piece of half inch steel that was on the property when we moved here. Then a base brick structure for the steel sheet was laid up to about waist height.

Then the steel was mortared in on top and a layer of bricks added to hold it in place. The cavity was filled with sand and glass bottles to insulate the base from the layer of bricks in the oven.

With the layer of bottles complete, the oven base bricks were laid without mortar on top of the sand, but overlapping the brick base to create a sill.

 

 

The shape for a brick arch entrance was laid out on the grass and then a wooden frame created to support it while the mortar set.

The arch required some additional wooden supports as the width of mortar between the bricks wasn’t measured properly when they were laid out on the ground.

Prior to constructing the oven, a shelter was built to protect the earth while it dries. I had a piece of corrugated iron left over from a renovation, but the wood was purchased new and is probably the most expensive part of the build.

 

Wet sand was mounded into the desired shape of the interior of the oven. Usually ovens are dome shaped, but this oven is based on an oval.

 

Wet paper was used to keep the first layer of mud from drying too quickly, and also to ensure that it didn’t get stuck to the sand.

 

 

For the inner layer, a mix of roughly half sand and half clay soil was used. Where we live, there is red clay soil around a foot below the topsoil.

 

 

 

 

 

The inner layer was made around 1 inch thick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixing the cob with bare feet can be disgusting or fun, depending on your outlook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first layer was dotted with holes to help the next layer stick to it after it had dried for a few days.

 

 

Mixing the cob (sand, clay soil and straw) takes a bit more effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cob is quite rough, so a final layer of clay soil and sand without the straw was used to get a smoother finish.

A few 1mm cracks appeared as the cob dried out, and these were filled with more clay mixture.

 

 

 

 

After drying for a week, the sand mold was dug out by hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the first fire lit.

 

 

 

 

 

The fire was kept going for about 3 hours.

 

 

 

 

And the first pizza cooked.

 

 

 

 

 

The oven retained enough heat for 4 pizzas, but as the door was not a tight fit it was clear that a lot of heat was being lost. With a tight fitting door, it should be possible to keep cooking with the coals removed.

No chimney was installed, as the goal is to cook with heat retained in the earth walls and brick base, rather than continuous radiant heat from the fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Country Boy after a few days in the Big Smoke

by Daniel Kelly, Sydney, 2019

What compels folk to live in this dense morass of flesh and concrete?
Is there some hidden attraction that escapes my small town eyes,
do those here stay out of necessity or fear of leaving the crowd?

Is there some joy to the endless tide of people moving from one place to another,
carried by a relentless procession of steel cages, train, bus, taxi and car?
Moving like cancerous blood through cholesterol clogged arteries and veins.

Give me the one traffic-light town over this mad web of chaotic bitumen.
Give me the gentle amble from the butcher to the café
over the mindless rush from one purveyor of mass retail to another.
Give me the smile and chat with a well-known face
over the flood of unseeing, uncaring eyes.

Have I missed some leap of human evolution?
These alien creatures in suits, Armani coats or compression tights,
with plastic white protuberances from their ears.
Are they our future?

We are damned.

Oh to be back on my half-acre plot.
To hear the town bell briefly break the serenity,
rather than the constant sirens and roaring of engine.
Damn the endless barrage of inane but frantic chatter and noise masquerading as music.
To smell the grass newly washed by rain, the scent of flower and field
instead of the putrid puddles of oil rainbows and rank detritus.

If Henry were here, he would hop the first train out,
bound for the refuge of wide open space.
Banjo would pour a finger of rum into his tin and nod wisely,
“I told you this is where they were headed old friend”.

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Old Man in Rushcutters Bay

Unidentified Tree in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney

by Daniel Kelly – 2019

We will wait, standing like trophies in your manicured lawns.
Torn from our wives and mothers and made to stand,
equal spaced, among our enemies, alone.

Torn from the soil of our ancestors,
from the million memories buried with the flesh of our tribe.
I will hold up the sky here, drink the rain, and mull over our suffering,
with patience and growing malice.

The day will come, maybe sooner than you think,
When the fuel will all be burned, and your engines go silent.
When the chainsaws cease to growl and the axes have rusted,
When you can no longer make fire.

Then my children will come, an army of tiny droplets
falling in the cracks of your concrete and bitumen.
Taproots will prize apart your sharp edges and lines,
cracking, tearing, convulsing.

Vines and tendrils will climb your lofty towers and pry away their windows,
Strong roots will move the foundations you thought unshakable.
The army of green will overrun your world,
As the ant dismembers the cricket, so will your world be returned to dust.

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