Blog Post · Folk Music

One Day in a Perfect World

It was probably in 2006 when I first heard Colum Sands play at the National Folk Festival here in Australia. His carefully crafted and insightful song about the troubles in Ireland, Last House in Our Street, was a trigger to collect all of his albums. It was a good investment.

I wasn’t intending to go to the National this year as juggling five young children has made it a challenge. However, when I heard Colum on the radio in the weeks beforehand, promoting the festival, it suddenly became a much more attractive option.

My wife and I and three of our sons (12, 4 and 1) went along for the Friday. Hearing Colum play some songs from his new album along with Buskers and the funny song about the donkey was worth every cent of the ticket. My wife was also brave enough to meet Colum and get the newly purchased copy of Turn the Corner signed.

This post isn’t intended to be a report from our day at the festival, but more about the nature of this particular festival. Every year that I have attended, it has felt like stepping into Diagon Alley. A world where socially conscious people sit and listen to well-crafted music by everyone from the 10yr old with their first ukulele, to masters of the art. People are patient, generous and friendly.

Sometimes the odd ‘normal’ Canberran buys a ticket by accident and can be spotted wandering in a daze, like a muggle at a Quiddich match. I don’t know if this phenomena is common to all folk festivals, I haven’t been to many others but the ones I have been to don’t compare to the National. The slogan for the 50th anniversary, “5 days in a perfect world”, certainly rings true for me.

Despite living in Canberra since 1994, it was not until I was asked to help teach some morning Qi Gong exercises and coordinate a Chinese Dance display in 2006 that I discovered this incredible alternate universe. As one who has dabbled in the magic arts, I do wonder whether it is the concentration of so many people of a certain type, performers, organisers, volunteers and general attendees that creates the otherwise unexplainable vibe.

I’m sure that any one of the performers could put on a great concert, but I doubt if people would walk away with the same feeling that comes from spending some time at the National.

My son lost his Ukulele within the first 15 minutes of being at the festival. On Tuesday I had a phone call from the lost-property folks letting me know that it had been returned. As I said to my wife after my son noticed it was missing, “don’t worry, this is the National, these people don’t steal stuff”.

I should mention a few new performers that we enjoyed listening to. The harmonies provided by the three lads from The Young’uns were superb. It is great to have acts of this calibre come over from the UK and their selection of left-leaning songs was brilliant. I had to record my own version of John Ball, after hearing them perform it.

Co-cheòl also impressed.  Unfortunately the venue (Lyric) was probably half the size of the audience trying to get in. Fortunately my son and I had pre-positioned. With success on their Pozible campaign, they should have a debut album out in the near future. Multi-instrumentalists and with a solid choral background, their songs were heavenly to listen to.

We made sure to catch up with past festival favourites of ours, Cloudstreet and The Roaring Forties who put on a Cicely Fox Smith special that I was very pleased to sing along loudly to. The downside of a single day ticket is that you inevitably miss some performers, so it was a great disappointment to miss the Wheeze and Suck Band and also the Fiddle Chicks.

An important event that didn’t occur until the end of the festival was the presentation to Tony Eardley of the Alistair Hulett social justice songwriting award. You can see Tony’s excellent song “Sally Cross The Water” here. I first heard Tony sing Portugal Beach at the 2008 National and had it stuck in my head for 7 years until I finally met him in the Blue Mountains last year and purchased a copy of his album Desire Lines.

Maybe this feeling is unique to me, but I suspect others feel similarly about this event. It is only sad that every other day is now just one which isn’t spent at the National.

Blog Post · Folk Music · My Own Music

Women’s Day (Men stop being Bastards)

I wrote a song to express my sentiments on Women’s Day this year. I have included the lyrics below:

Women’s Day (by Daniel Kelly, 2016)

You pulled her hair in primary school,
Teased her ‘caus you thought it made you cool,
Laughed at her when she knew more than you

Girls can’t run, girls are weak,
Make them cry, don’t let them speak,
It’s really no surprise how we got here


It’s women’s day, it’s women’s day,
There has to be a better way,
To say the things still in my head
Let’s call it ‘Men don’t be Bastards’ day instead.

Took her on a date when you were fifteen,
Tried to squeeze her into your shallow dreams,
She was never gonna be the one you loved

It’s hard to know how to relate,
When all you’re ever taught is hate,
I wish I hadn’t lived with it so long


When the children came, she stayed at home,
No women’s wage could pay those bills,
In a market made by men you’ll never win

They say you can always start again,
But only if you pay the price,
Your family, your dignitary and soul.


More than a thousand years to prove,
The truth that we already knew,
There’s nothing that a woman cannot do

I wrote the song reflecting on the strong women I have known during my 39 years, and especially in relation to the treatment of women that I grew up observing as a child in Queensland during the 1980’s. Treatment which, to my shame, I emulated. It was not until I left home at seventeen and was exposed to the work of Tori Amos and a broader range of movies and television that I started to re-think the ideology that I had been raised in.

This blog post is about dissecting the origins of my behaviour and, hopefully, to let women know that there are men in society who value their contribution as complete people, rather than trophies, servants or sex toys. I’m also writing to encourage men to think about their attitudes towards women; where those attitudes come from and whether they are your own or imposed.

Why do we, Crucify ourselves
Every day, I crucify myself
Nothing I do is good enough for you
Crucify myself, Every day
And my heart is sick of being in chains
(crucify, from Little Earthquakes, Tori Amos)

The Little Earthquakes album, released by Tori Amos in 1992, had a magical property for me. It took an arrogant, selfish and condescending young male mind and rubbed my face in a thousand years of women’s suffering. I’m not ashamed to admit that I would often be reduced to a sobbing mess after listening properly to some of the songs on this album.

I’m not for a second suggesting that forcing every 17yr old male to listen to Tori Amos is going to solve the problem of gender imbalance, but for me it was a transcendent experience.

The social experiment, done by fanpage in Italy demonstrated with boys 6 to 11, that the tendency towards violence against women must be developed after this age. I’m not just talking about physical violence here, much of the violence against women is verbal and focused on how they look, how they feel and express feelings or how their interests and skills are trivial. Excluding someone from opportunity in society on the basis of their sex is violence.

The lyrics in the song above are all biographical. There were many beautiful young girls in my classes during school that I would tease relentlessly. Not playful teasing, but cruel verbal abuse. Even in my first years of university I would ridicule girls that social norms labelled overweight or unattractive. Girls who were considered attractive would be assumed to be sexually available and subject to a different form of abuse. How had society instilled such a shallow value system in me? I guess I could blame the fact that every storybook, television advertisement, movie and sitcom I was exposed to had the male hero exclusively pursuing a certain type of willing, beautiful, girl whose main purpose was to gush over said hero and fall helplessly into his arms. In my defence, I do not believe that very many young boys could resist an onslaught of this type if it is not countered by an alternate view in the adults and other children they are exposed to. This does not in any way excuse my behaviour or change the harm that was caused.

By the time I was finishing high-school, I ended up inviting a girl to the school formal that I had barely said five words to. My interest purely stemming from the fact that she looked like a singer who I had become infatuated with. As expected, things did not go well, and I was left confused when life did not imitate what I had seen on television and read in books.

I am angry at the way in which this attitude towards women sits at the core of Australian society. Unless a women chooses to forgo having children and is willing to endure harassment, it is unlikely that she will rise very far within her profession. This is evidenced by the average 18% pay gap [i] and means that when selecting top scientists, top doctors, top lawmakers, we are excluding between 5-15% of the available population, purely based on an antiquated idea that men are superior.

Other nations have moved on, providing in-workplace child care, flexible work arrangements and paternal leave. There is no logical reason for this absurd situation, yet in every field that women have fought to become part of, they have faced, and still face, a mountain of resistance.

If anything, celebrating Women’s Day in Australia is really just pointing to our failure. I encourage you to read the story of Rosmary Folett, the first female chief minister in the Australian Capital Territory. It is a story of triumph; her succeeding in doing a job she was highly qualified to do despite a wall of male ignorance and prejudice. However, the point is that she should not have had to, and how much better could she have done if time had not been wasted combating said prejudice? Enough is enough, it is time for balance to be returned.

He said you’re really an ugly girl
But I like the way you play
And I died
But I thanked him
Can you believe that
Sick, sick, holding on to his picture
Dressing up every day
I wanna smash the faces of those beautiful boys
Those Christian boys
So you can made me come
That doesn’t make you Jesus

(Precious Things, from Little Earthquakes, Tory Amos)