Blog Post · My Own Music

Return to Tipperary

In the absence of comprehensive liner notes for this album, I’m compiling some commentary on each of the tracks in this post. The album results from my attendance at the ‘Return to Tipperary’ weekend at St Clements Retreat in Galong, New South Wales in November 2022. I provided some music during the event and the collected songs here relate in some way to the talks given, discussions I had over the weekend and subsequent research about the connection between Ireland, Australia and the Catholic Church. One of the attendees from the event, Michelle Rainger, put together this report.

There are a few songs that I performed over the weekend that are not on the album due to copyright challenges, including ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, ‘Raglan Road’, and ‘John O’ Dreams’. I have found that most folk writers are happy to approve published covers, but once they pass on and the large rights agencies get involved, the money they ask for a single song is more than I’ll ever recover from album sales.

1. Shores of Botany Bay

This song wasn’t performed over the weekend, but tells the emigration story of an Irishman to Australia. The author is unknown, though Duke Tritton did claim to add an additional verse. There are some indications that the destination was originally ‘Amerikay’. More detail about the song’s history here.

2. A Long Way to Tipperary

I had not really listened to this song’s lyrics before trying to do a recording for this album. I had put it in the general basket of twee condescending English songs about Irish people. On a more detailed listen, the lyrics are quite racist. For the album I have re-written the lyrics and put the song to a new minor key melody.

3. Battle of the Dardanelles

One of the great things about conferences attended by people passionate about the topic is the conversations held during the breaks and over meal times. One of the attendees mentioned to me that a song had been known in her family and sung by her father, but that no members knew the full lyrics. With a bit of selective searching on Trove, I was able to track down the song as published in 1915 and solve the family mystery for her. The song is also known as The Dying Solider and Banks of the Murray.

4. The Answer’s Ireland

Having attended the online memorial for John Dengate for the past three years, I was very happy to hear that past events of this type at St Clements (under the title ‘Shamrock in the Bush’) had John Dengate in attendance as bard. I sang this song on the last day of the conference and am very appreciative of Dale Dengate’s approval to put my recording of this song by John on the album.

5. The Gallway Shawl

This was one of the first Irish ‘standards’ that I committed to memory and it is frequently part of my sets at folk festivals. Sadly the author of this fine ballad is unknown.

6. Ned Ryan’s Castle

Ned Ryan is the whole reason for the existence of the St Clements Retreat in Galong (established by the Redemptorists in 1918) and also the reason that a conference on Irish history is so suitably held there. Ned was a convict, deported in 1816 for his part in a minor act of vandalism against the English in Clonoulty. After serving his time as a convict, he established himself and a large family in Galong. On the passing of his last descendent, John Nagle Ryan, the land (and his castle) was bequeathed to the Catholic Church.

7. Antiphon for Psalm 89

This Antiphon (short introduction to a Psalm) originated in Bangor, County Down, Ireland around 700 A.D. I thought my simple setting was suitable to include on the album given the strong Irish Catholic thread that is woven through the history of the Irish in Australia.

8. Ned Kelly’s Armour

One of the most fascinating presentations given over the weekend was Dr. Richard Reid’s discussion of his role in curating the ‘Not Just Ned’ exhibition at the Australian National Gallery in 2011. Getting several suits of Kelly armour in one place was no easy exercise! I wrote this song in response to repeated attacks on me and others by a handful of zealots who wish to paint a ‘black and white’ view of the history of Irish persecution in Australia.

9. On Carden’s Wild Domain

Having both His Excellency Tim Mawe, Ambassador of Ireland to Australia, and his wife Patricia McCarthy with us over the whole weekend was a fantastic surprise. During his stirring speech at the conference dinner on Saturday night, Tim recited this poem by Reverend Timothy Corcoran. He also generously reminded me which poem it was several months later when I asked him via Twitter because I had forgotten. The poem had come from an effort by the Irish government in the 1930s to collect songs and stories from school children. The broader story of John Rutter ‘Woodcock’ Carden’s abduction of Eleanor Arbuthnot in 1854 could warrant a whole album on its own.

10. The Kelly Gang

I discovered this song in Trove while researching the other Ned Kelly song on the album. It only appears in print because the author of the 1898 article is attacking the quality of Australian ‘bush poets’. I guess that backfired for him.

11. The Vow of Tipperary

I found this song by Thomas Osborne Davis while looking for the origins of the well known song Silevenamon. Rather than re-record the very well known Tipperary song, I went for this one by Davis, which seemed to have been lost to history.

12. The Second Coming

I had recorded this poem by William Butler Yeats some months before this album was envisaged, but as I was doing an album focused on Ireland, I had to include something from my favourite Irish poet. I had discussed the ideas in this poem in a previous post.

13. The Parting Glass

While the origins of this parting song appear to be Scottish, it has been well and truly adopted by the Irish. It was also popular (and out of copyright) long before Ed Sheeran sang it.

In conclusion, I want to express my thanks to all of the attendees and organizers of the event at Galong. Especially to Cheryl Mongan and Dr. Richard Reid for inviting me to provide music for the event.

Blog Post · Folk Music · My Own Music

Shanty on the High Seas (from your bedroom)

This year I recorded an album of Harry Potter inspired Sea Shanties, Muggles Ahoy!. This blog post will describe the process and equipment involved in creating an album like this.

One of the Harry Potter shanty re-writes that I did ended up on the great album of Hogwarts Shanties called Hut on the Wrock. Bess, from Wizrocklopedia asked if I would write a ‘how to’ guide for others who are starting out on the home/bedroom-studio journey.

Music produced in the commercial world will often rely on studio equipment that costs well over $100k. Even just a single condenser microphone can set you back US$9k (AKG C12VR), then you need sound proofing, mixing desks, rack-mounted equalizers, compressors, monitors and effects systems. Not to mention the time of a producer and sound engineer. Advances in digital technology and the drop in price mean that home recordings of high quality are now achievable within the sub-$500 price range.

This post will be divided into two parts, firstly the technical equipment and software that I use. Secondly, and equally importantly, I will talk about the songwriting, shanties and performance side of things.

What you Need

Rather than repeat what is already out there, Paul Davids recently uploaded this brilliant video covering all the technical parts you need for a home studio. The only part missing is a camera, which you don’t need for making an album, but you do need for uploading your content to YouTube in a way that will engage your audience.

Like Paul, my set of equipment has evolved over the years, with expansions/replacement occurring when I had a need, something broke, or I had some spare money to invest. The equipment I used on the album, what it is for, and a rough estimate of the current cost in US$ is listed below.

Microphone: If you want your recording to sound decent, then you need a good microphone, the microphone in an iPhone or Laptop is not going to reproduce the sound you make in an accurate way. When I say decent, I am talking about the ability of the microphone to capture the sound accurately across the audio spectrum. Spectrum meaning from the lowest Bass notes you make (E2, 82.41Hz) up to the the highest pitch Soprano squeals (C6 1kHz). If you aren’t familiar with vocal range and Hertz, Wikipedia is a great resource. If you want to get into recording and mixing audio, there are critical concepts to understand.

My Microphone: Rhode NT1-A (US$270)

Mic Response (from

The graph above shows how the microphone that I use responds to sounds across the audio spectrum. Have a look at this site to see the responses for an iPhone. The important thing is that when the mic introduces noise and cannot pick up parts of the signal, you get a recording that sounds ‘thin’ or like you are speaking into a can. While some of these problems can be slightly improved using software effects, the effects cannot recover sounds components that never got recorded.

A Condenser mic, like the NT1-A requires a pre-amp, which basically means that the mic needs some power to operate, unlike a Dynamic mic, which uses a moving coil of wire over a magnet to generate the electrical signal.

Audio Interface: While your computer probably has an ‘audio in’ port, it is not going to be able to capture the recording in high enough resolution or with enough accuracy to create a song that sounds good. Back in the 60s, audio was recorded and processed in analogue format, but audio production on your computer will be digital. Meaning the wavy lines of air pressure change that make up sound need to be converted to a digital format of ‘ones’ and ‘zeros’. The digital format will have a resolution in volume/level (usually measured in bits, e.g. 16bits = 65536 levels of volume) and in time (usually measured in Hertz, indicating how often in time the signal is sampled, e.g. 44.1kHz is how often CD audio is sampled, meaning signals of up to 22kHz can be captured). The audio interface is what takes the analogue signal from your microphone and ingests it into your computer (often at the same time as playing back previously recorded tracks so you can add new layers of sound).

My Audio Interface: Scarlett Focusrite 2i2 ( US$170)

This interface is useful for me because I can also plug a guitar in and record both the guitar signal and the microphone at the same time (or have two mics plugged in). The Focurite also provides ‘Phantom Power‘ to the condenser microphone.

An important aspect of the audio interface is latency, i.e. how long does it take from when the audio is captured, to when it can be played back through your headphones. It is very disconcerting to try and listen to yourself while recording if there is a perceptible gap in time between when you speak and hear the sound. This is another reason why your laptop/computer built-in audio system is not appropriate for recording. The Scarlet 2i2 has a latency around 3ms (depending on sample settings), humans won’t pick up the latency unless it is more than 10ms.

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

The DAW is what takes the places of many racks of equipment and the mixing desk in a traditional studio. It is software that allows you to apply effects to audio tracks that you record and also play back the recording while you add new layers/tracks. Most of my Harry Potter album was purely vocals, so I won’t get into the complexity of digital instruments or recording physical instruments.

Of course, you could use very simple free software like Audacity to record your audio, however, you won’t hear the effects in real time, or be able to ‘mix’ the audio with immediate visual feedback.

My DAW: PreSonus Studio One 3 ( AUS$ 160)

I use Studio One because it came with a MIDI keyboard that I purchased from ALDI, I upgrade the cheap version to the Artist license. For the recording that I do, this has everything I need. There are many extra plugins and instruments that can be purchased and the more expensive editions have more features. It can take a while to invest the time to make sense of all the options and interfaces that make up a DAW, but YouTube and most vendors provide tutorials.

Extra Things:

You also need a way to listen to what you create, I have a cheap set of computer speakers but also a more expensive set of headphones (Audio Technica ATH-MH45), the thing to remember is that people listening to your work may have a $10k High-Fi system, or they might be using $3 headphones on their android tablet. The best you can do is make it sound good to you across a few different mediums that you have access to.

I also haven’t spoken about the computer. Any modern laptop/computer will be able to process your audio and there are plenty of DAW alternatives for Mac and Linux. It is just important to make sure that your USB Interface is compatible with your Operating System.

The other obvious thing I have omitted is a space to record. My ‘studio’ is just a corner of my bedroom, fortunately I live in a quiet enough street that background noise is not too much of a problem and the rug on the wall limits the natural echo.


Song Creation Process

I should caveat, that I have been singing folk songs and sea shanties for over 30 years. I have also been playing many musical instruments and singing in choirs or performing as a solo singer for most of that time. It is unreasonable to expect to have great musical intuition if you have never sung before in your life, so be prepared to make some terrible creations before you start making something you like the sound of.

I grew up listening to Weird Al Yankovic and was in awe of his ability to take a pop song and create new lyrics on a totally different theme. Now having written my own songs for many years I am constantly shuffling words in my head to make a rhyme, or else shuffling the grammar in a sentence to fit a syllable count. So the process of taking an existing sea shanty, like Rolling Down to Old Maui or Sam’s Gone Away and thinking about what words could be replaced is a process that naturally goes on in my head.

It helps of course to know the song your are trying to write a parody for reasonably well before you try and do a re-write. All the songs on Muggles Ahoy are parody versions of genuine sea songs, all shanties (work songs) except for Dobby’s Farewell. The shanties have a unique cadence and repeated refrain. The rhythm related to specific tasks on the ship, whether raising the anchor, pumping the bilge or shortening sail. The purpose being to make sure everyone pulled, heaved, lifted or pushed together. It also broke the monotony of the work, which could go on for hours, as the shanty-man would often mix the lyrics up, the dirtier the better.

The shanties also owe a lot to land based work, whether agricultural or on the canals. In fact many songs that we call ‘sea shanties’ still have leftover parts from their land-based origins, for example, Roll the Woodpile Down.

Once the words to a parody are written, it is simply a matter of recording the main vocal and then overlaying a few harmonies or additional voices on the melody. Historians still debate about whether sailors actually sang harmonies, but my feeling is that harmony naturally emerges from thousands of hours of singing the same boring melody. Sailors also didn’t live in a bubble, they would have heard harmonies in musical theater and in the many cultures around the globe that they spent time with.

I learnt some basic harmony singing from the shanty group Forty Degrees South (formerly The Roaring Forties). They did a singing workshop in our town about 15 years ago. Once you can confidently follow the melody, it is then possible to sing a 3rd or 5th (a major chord is made up of a root note, then the notes at positions 3 and 5 in a scale, for example in the C Major scale the notes C E G make up a C Major chord). These 3rd and 5th notes will always sound ‘good’ against the melody. Things can get much more complicated with drone notes, 7ths, and many other musical theory things that I won’t go into. For me it is a process of trying a few takes that sound horrible until I get the harmony sound that I am after. As each layer is added, it gets easier to include more variations, just as it is easier for a crowd of people singing to ’round out’ the edges.

When recording the tracks I usually add some Compression to get a bit more loudness, an Equalizer to boost the base and high treble range and some Reverb to simulate a more ‘echoey’ room. With a DAW you can overlay twenty or more voices to get the sound you are going for. These effects, which would have been done by $20k analogue equipment, are now done in software within the DAW.

For songs with a few different voices, I use the Pan feature to position the singers across a stage from left to write, which adds some interest/presence for a listener (assuming they have a stereo listening device). It is also important not to let the accompanying voices drown out the main melody, a DAW lets you visually watch the levels as the song plays through and manually lower/raise the level of each voice.

There are many tutorials on YouTube describing how to use these features of any DAW. For me, as an Electrical Engineer and with some sound/video production experience I found I was able to teach myself relatively easily on 3-4 different DAWS.

Final Notes

The final step is to export a *.wav file from your DAW and upload it to whatever your distribution platform is. I have not gone into the process of Mastering here, which is another whole art. The main goal is to make sure that if a listener plays your album from start to finish, they don’t hear sharp differences in volume or ‘atmosphere’.

I use Bandcamp for my less serious albums and Distrokid to publish my ‘proper’ folk albums to sites like iTunes, Spotify etc. It is worthwhile thinking about what the right platform for you is. The major streaming platforms offer more coverage/exposure, but I have found people much more willing to fork out $5 for an album on Bandcamp.

Do your own research into how much each service costs and what percentage of the sale goes to you. I initially made the mistake of distributing my albums through ReverbNation, which was costing me over US$50 per album each year just to keep them published. An amount of money I was never going to recoup in sales/stream revenue.

Most importantly, don’t expect to make a living from your music. Not everyone is going to be Billy Eilish, your first goal should be to enjoy yourself and share your creations. Making music is good for the soul!


A Factory Lad - Project · Blog Post · Folk Music · My Own Music

A Factory Lad – Part 1

I first heard Margaret and Bob Fagan sing Factory Lad at the National Folk Festival in 2008. The song was part of the feature album for the festival, showcasing NSW folk talents. No doubt they mentioned Colin Dryden as the author, and I assumed he was a bearded gentleman in his late sixties with volumes of songs to his name.

I was struck by the beautiful melody and also by the poignancy of the lyrics. I’ve never worked in a factory, but can relate to the drudgery and depression that can come with repetitive, unrewarding work which can exist in the office building just as it does on the factory floor. Of course, at the desk and conference room table the work is without most of the debilitating long-term physical effects of strenuous labour.

I learned the song and began including it in my performances at various folk events.

It wasn’t until Colin’s niece commented on my YouTube upload of the song and pointed me to her 2013 Tumblr post about Colin that I was prompted to dig a little deeper.

Thanks to Naomi’s post, I was able to listen to the recordings of Colin that Warren Fahey had put together on his site here. And also a number of Colin’s songs that Naomi had gathered from various recordings.

After making some rough recordings of my own in this playlist, I realised that there are no downloadable albums of Colin’s work, other than the many hundreds of (sometimes unattributed) covers of Factory Lad (sometimes as Turning Steel). Broom Bezzums being one example here.

<rant on> It really annoys me the way record companies pay no attention to the original writers of songs when they re-publish albums on streaming media like YouTube, Spotify, iTunes. Even if the covering band did the right thing in the liner-notes of their album, this detail is un-ceremoniously stripped from any Internet publication. </rant off>

Colin’s Pit Boy and Sither are just as brilliantly written songs as Factory Lad and deserve a wider audience. I think these three songs, as discussed here by Dermott Ryder, represented the pinnacle of new folk ballads written in Australia in the 1970s.

I will go into the detail of Colin’s life in a future post, but he was only in Australia for twenty one years from 1965 and passed away at 43 soon after returning to England (Yorkshire) in 1986.

I plan to use this blog series to catalogue my research into the music and life of Colin Dryden and document the process of putting together an album of the songs and tunes that he wrote and sung.

Happy for anyone who would like to contribute an anecdote, or a favourite song to contact me here or on my Facebook page.

A Factory Lad – Part 2

Blog Post · Folk Music · My Own Music

The Economics of the Independent Singer-Songwriter

Last month I took my second album, ‘Wolf at the Door’, down from digital distribution. I published the album in February 2017, and to keep the album published on all the distribution services (Google, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc.) has cost me a total of US$70 (around AUS$100).

I published through Reverbnation, and over the next few months will take down my other albums as the annual renewal ($50) comes due. It just isn’t worth the cost.

My total revenue from Wolf at the Door was $9, which was mostly from a single iTunes purchase. Of interest, 203 Spotify streams earned $0.28, Google and iTunes paid similarly minuscule amounts.

It will be more viable to only publish albums on my Reverbnation site, which doesn’t attract an annual fee (just a 17% cut of each sale). I had looked at cdbaby, which charges around $50-$70 per album, but then takes a 10% cut of your revenue forever.

Last year was the first time I made an effort to publicise an album. Zombie Sheep of the Murrumbidgee (still up on stream services until June). I did several radio appearances, on local radio in our small town, and also in the bigger city an hour’s drive away. I performed at several local events for free prior to the launch and then organised a ticketed album launch concert.

I also ran a crowd-funding campaign to try and get the album professionally produced, but the campaign never came close to the $1000 goal (thanks to those who did bring it up to $200).

The Zombie Sheep album opened up some fantastic opportunities for me, playing for the Irish Ambassador in Canberra, being part of the ceremony in Sydney commemorating the Irish Famine Memorial and also participating in the Bush Traditions Gathering.

As a folk singer/songwriter, I feel that this album was definitely a pinnacle in terms of my writing, performing and the relatability of the content. My three previous albums were mostly obscure, self-indulgent, and unlikely to attract broader interest.

Over the past 8 months I would have sold close to 25 physical copies of Zombie Sheep, totalling around $200. I usually sell them for $20, but sold about 10 during the launch concert for $15.

So why have this rant? I need to replace a piece of recording equipment, which is going to cost around $200. As an independent musician, the economics of what we do matters. All of the income from album sales and paid gigs over the past five years probably comes close to half of the cost of equipment (instruments, recording and live sound gear) I have purchased. This got me thinking about whether what I do is a costly and wasteful hobby, or is it creating art that is of value to humanity now and in the future?

David Rovics wrote this great piece on the economic viability of touring as a full time musician. Here is another article written in response to a comment made by fantastic Scottish folk musicians Karine Polwart. The underlying theme, is that you most likely won’t make a good living as a musician with ethics and integrity. If you want to write what you want, and play for an audience that appreciates your work, and maybe even say things that some in power don’t want to hear, then it is going to be a struggle.

The economics aren’t so complicated for me. I’m not trying to feed a family with my musical profession, my main goal is just to break even and get my message out to a few people.

Through a random reddit scroll this weekend I watched this video of a song that Trevor Lucier wrote for his girlfriend. I was struck by the upbeat enthusiasm Trevor had during his intro, something an introvert like me would never try to pull off on-camera. Going through Trevor’s videos, I found this one from just a few months earlier. It is tough to watch, but I suggest that it is worthwhile. It speaks to the economics of America, and many western countries. How we are crushing the spirits of young people through unaffordable housing, unaffordable rent, ridiculous cost of living and unwillingness to pay our artists for the value they give society. Trevor is a talented guy, an accomplished guitar player, a good writer and singer and seems like someone worth having a chat with over a coffee. Maybe instead of having one Ed Sheeran earning a $110 million a year, we could have an Ed Sheeran on every street corner earning $80k a year?

Bringing this closer to home, the local farmers market has been paying musicians $100 to play for around 1.5-2 hours for the last 3-4 years. The spot is circulated between beginner and more professional performers and was a great way to support both the musicians and the atmosphere of the market. This year, under new management, the demand has been that musicians play 3 hours for $50. Writing and performing with an instrument is not flipping burgers. Needless to say, I won’t be playing the market any more.

Last week I had a brief brush with fame when I wrote this song about an issue with the quality of our local water. The song jumped to 4k views on YouTube within a few days and was even played on the local news in Canberra. ABC played the song on the radio and mentioned it several times in their articles. The only cent of revenue I saw was from a local shop owner who wanted to play it in their store and bought the song for $0.99 (I told her to show APRA my text message consenting to play it in public if they come around hassling her).

For any aspiring musicians reading this, my advice, for what it’s worth, is that you have to make each and every sale in person. Your music needs to connect with the person in your audience every time you perform. Not everyone is going to be Mike Rosenberg or Taylor Swift, but just inspiring one person, or touching the heart of one person, makes being a musicians worthwhile. It won’t pay, so get a day job, but don’t stop creating.

Blog Post · My Own Music · Spirituality and Philosophy

The Prodigal Guitar

Here is a picture of me back when I was young and naïve. I’m playing the guitar that my now beautiful and long-suffering wife (then girlfriend of 12 months) owned. From the class ring I’m wearing, it was probably the summer of 1997. I had a work experience placement at Channel TEN studios in Brisbane for six weeks and would have been there staying with her.

No doubt I was playing some Pearl Jam or Simon and Garfunkel badly.

When we moved in together a few years later, we ran into money troubles and chose to sell some things to get by. The guitar was one of the things we sold, since we had two and it was the cheaper quality. I’ve always felt guilty for selling the guitar, partially for being so bad at managing money, and partially because it represented one of the many sacrifices my partner would make (and still makes) to keep me in a career and keep food on the table for our kids.

A few years later, in better times, I bought a good classical guitar for my partner, that you will often see me playing in the videos of me singing the kids to sleep (or not to sleep). We had sold the guitar to a local pawn broker for around $60, but I always felt like the guitar had been abandoned, and wondered where it had ended up.

20 years on, an ad came up in the local Facebook marketplace for a guitar that looked very similar.

I picked the guitar up today for $50. The machine heads were damaged and it looks like there has been a repair done to re-attach the fingerboard where it joins the body, but apart from that and a few minor scratches it was in good condition. I put some new machine heads and new strings on and wrote/played this song on it. Feels good to have it, or maybe its cousin, home.

For the guitar history boffins, the guitar was made in Korea by Amena which according to the link was making Gibson copies in the 1970s. The guitar is based on the Gibson Hummingbird, played by one of my favourite singer/songwriters, Mike Rosenberg (talking about guitars here).

Here is a blog post by a repairer, Tym Guitars, working on a similar guitar. Just like the guitar Tym worked on, this isn’t a $4000 Martin, but to me it sounds beautiful and represents a recovery of something lost.

So what is the moral of the story? The song that came out was about loss and serendipity, and accepting the universe’s plans. If something is meant to be yours, it will come back eventually.

I’m looking forward to hearing what other songs this lovely instrument has to share.

Blog Post · My Own Music

Don’t Look Away

Surely this is the tipping point.

This is it, the step too far, the final act that exposes the monster and the fraud.

We cringed when he was caught out bragging about grabbing women. We gritted our teeth when he appointed a series of incompetent staff to key appointments in the White House. When he put the oil barons in charge of environmental protection we gasped in horror.

When his children and in-laws began representing the country in roles they were in no way qualified to fill, we cried ‘nepotism’ and nodded wisely.

When he started methodically destroying relations with all of America’s allies, while simultaneously making friends with the most brutal dictator in the world, we stared at our screens in confusion.

As I watched the news report speaking about young children being torn from their mothers at the US border and put in detention where they are not provided with any emotional support, I thought “finally, he has gone too far”.

The picture in this article from the Independent is all you need to see. If your heart breaks and you get choked up with anger and fear and despair, then you are still human. If you don’t, then I don’t know what you have become, or what society or race you are part of.

Jacob Soboroff from MSNBC gives this report of the conditions inside the camp housing the 10-17 year old boys. More disturbing still is the report made by Colleen Kraft at the detention centre where younger children are being held. The rules mean that children as young as two cannot be touched, cannot be give the most basic symbol of human compassion that every child should be given at every difficult moment of their life.

I remember the first day I dropped my twins at child care when they were almost three. My wife and I stopped in the baby room and saw a distressed child, around 12 months old, crying. Even though this wasn’t my child, it hurt terribly, sharing in the fear and despair emanating from this young soul. Scientists know the value of human touch during early development. I don’t for a second judge those parents who need to work two jobs just to keep the family fed, and I am very grateful that my own circumstances mean that all of our children have being at home with one parent full-time until at least two. The long term impact on these children in America, who have been taken from their parents for no good reason, will be severe and long-term.

Worst of all, Jeff Sessions had the unbelievable arrogance and bigotry to quote the Bible in support of this despicable action. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, doesn’t come from the Bible, it comes from human values. One of the most fundamental and widely worshiped human values is the bond between mother and child.

I can’t do much, but I can write songs, so here is my contribution to fighting this latest chapter in the Trump disaster novel. Please don’t look away, stare evil in the eye, recognize it for what it is, and fight it with whatever peaceful means you have.

Blog Post · My Own Music

Zombie Sheep of the Murrumbidgee

Now that I have finished writing 11 song about the distant and recent history of Yass, in New South Wales, Australia, I want to make them into an album.

All my previous albums have been digital-only, due to the prohibitive cost of producing albums and the low likelihood of ever selling the 300 minimum run.

I am making my first foray into crowd funding, to see if enough people will pre-order an album to make the production worthwhile.

You can listen to the rough take of all the songs here.

If you like the music, and can afford to buy an album, please consider supporting the Pozible campaign below:

Blog Post · Folk Music · My Own Music · Spirituality and Philosophy


We live in an age, for better or worse, where ignorance is no longer an excuse for bigotry. Back in the 1500s, you could excuse the populous for joining a bloody fight over a few flavours of Christianity. Even though the printing press had been invented in 1436, it would take us another 600 odd years until we are at the point where almost everyone in the developed world can access enough points of view to come to a sensible conclusion. Obviously if you live in in China, Russia or under the Taliban in Afghanistan, your chances of access to conflicting points of view is severely limited, but in the affluent west, anyone with an iPhone or a local library has the world at their fingertips.

Back in the 1500s, the illiterate populous was forced to listen to the priest of whatever religion held power threaten them with terrifying tales of the evils of the other side. Whether it was science, witches or heathens, the balance of access to information and its creation and dissemination was entirely in the hands of the elite, the church and its ruling pawns (or the other way around, as the case may be).

In this environment where a monopoly is held on information it is much easier to encourage humans to take up arms against other humans and commit the most heinous atrocities. I am writing specifically about the recent events in Charlottesville. For anyone who doubts the thinking of the white-supremacists that marched there on 12 August, you can watch this interview with some of them.

The most telling point of the interview, which was a repeat of what Justin Moore had said in a voicemail to the reporter:

“I’m sorta glad that them people got hit and I’m glad that girl died,” Moore said in a voicemail to WBTV. “They were a bunch of Communists out there protesting against somebody’s freedom of speech, so it doesn’t bother me that they got hurt at all.”

 – Charlotte Observer, 15 Aug 2017

This is an example of where a person is indoctrinated with a hate-filled ideology to the point where they are happy to see another human die for no reason other than a difference of belief. To me this is the heart of any toxic ideology, whether related to race, religion, sexuality or class. If we as a society cannot identify the sources of these beliefs and respond to them effectively, we are doomed to a future of senseless violence.

Within 24 hours of the death of Heather Heyer, it was possible to read over 20 eyewitness accounts collected by different independent websites and media companies. Footage of the march and the clashes from multiple perspectives was accessible on social media and YouTube. My conclusion is that that Nazi’s had come to Charlottesville to incite a riot and the anti-Fascist people were there to protect the populace and demonstrate that a rise of violence and intimidation by far-right groups will be met with resistance. This particular set of eye-witness accounts is most telling.

It was largely expected that Trump would respond inappropriately, but his ‘both sides are to blame’ initial statement was a new low, even for him. Apologising for Nazis on American soil must have had every veteran of WWII shaking his or her cane at the TV (or Twitter feed) in their retirement home. The statement flew in the face of the mass of evidence to the contrary. Even after he seems to have been forced to address the issue with a subsequent statement (clearly prepared from him), soon after he went back to his thinly veiled pro-racist statements.

What I am witnessing amongst my sphere of Facebook friends and other Internet contacts is the deeply polarising nature of these events. Those who I suspect have a lingering racist streak (sadly not uncommon here in Australia) are quick to decry the Socialist/Communists for violence and imply that the Nazis should have been allowed to march under ‘Freedom of Speech’.

I strongly disagree. Freedom of Speech, does not and should not cover hate speech. Whatever your ideology, if you advocate the death of a race, religion or any other set of humans based on some common attribute you have no right to publicise that belief in any way. I have been encouraged by the Jewish community’s strong response against this ‘Freedom of Speech’ argument.

Billy Bragg had the gall to support the removal of statues celebrating the defenders of slavery on his Facebook page. The vehement backlash from some of those who are supposed to be his ‘followers’ suggested that this sentiment is not just an American one. A small amount of research would reveal that the statues were erected long after the events of the civil war in order to fight for the retention of racist laws during the Jim Crow era in the South. A good article on the issue here. If you want history, go and read a book. Statues serve the purpose of dominating physical space with an ideology, they are not about history.

While writing this post, I am listening to Phil Ochs. He was a crusader against the ‘alt-right’ back in the 1960’s. I Ain’t Marching Anymore is a fine example of his work. I wrote my own song about the events in Charlottesville. I like to believe that it was the songs of Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie and their contemporaries that have helped keep the ideology of the extreme Right at bay for the past 30 years.

What is the answer to this challenge facing humanity? I think that educating our children to distil their truth from a broad basket of lies and half-truths is the best thing we can do to immunise them against these hateful ideologies. We need leaders and public figures who come out strongly and un-ambiguously whenever these ideologies emerge. That is a big ask when this particular event has shown us how many of these leaders are in the pocket of extremists.

Make no mistake, I know there are ideologies on the Left which are just as violent and dangerous as what we saw the Right exhibit in Charlottesville. However, the evidence of the behaviour and the goals of the anti-Fascists in Charlottesville does not support an argument that these ideas were present or being touted in this event. It is the tool of these extremist ideologies to point out one flaw in a group and use it to tar the entire collective and all its ideas.

I have to trust in humanity; believing that any person who is supplied with enough of the truth and the tools to interpret it will eventually put down their club, or nuclear warhead, and learn to see the humanity in all others. For those who refuse to give up their hatred, I am encouraged that there are people still willing to put their own safety at risk for the interest of the society and stand in the way of hate.

Blog Post · My Own Music · Spirituality and Philosophy

Miranda – Keep the Cameras Rolling

With everything that has happened since the surreal inauguration of Donald Trump on 20th of January, I have found myself feeling paralysed and numb. The string of ridiculous Presidential Executive Orders this week has dashed any hope that maybe the election rhetoric was just puffery to get him elected.

As Trump surrounds himself with ignorant and dangerous extremists, it is hard to see any good in the coming four years for America or the world.

Petty and angry responses to the coverage of the inauguration, termination of the Acting Attorney General, Paula Yates, with terms like ‘betrayal’ has given any undergrad psychologist enough information to diagnose Trump with a narcissistic, paranoid, vindictive personality disorder. This is the man who now has his finger on the Nuclear Button.

This compounding week of unbelievable events unfolding has left me dazed.

It feels like all the voices of reason, compassion and tolerance are stammering incoherently. It is as though the scale of the insanity, the crazed support of a blinded and increasingly belligerent right-wing populace has left us speechless and despairing.

Usually when I see an injustice in the world, I can write a song about it. But the song that came to me this week is about the absence of a song, I have no words to suggest that we look at the positives or we maintain hope in the future revival of humanity.

We are not in new territory here, the consequence of demonising a portion of society can be starkly observed in the Jedwabne progrom in Poland, 1941. This atrocity wasn’t perpetuated by the Nazi’s, but by 23 Polish men who burned alive at least 340 Jews from their own town. It is not by accident that I pick this example from World War II. The comparisons between the rise of Trump and Hitler have already ready been widely made. Others have suggested Mussolini as a more fitting parallel, neither one bodes well.

Trump has demonised women, reporters, Mexicans, Muslims, environmentalist and I am sure I have missed many more. This type of incite to hatred has real, and often fatal, consequences.

Here in Australia the same rhetoric is coming from the One Nation Party, and has already been popularised by the UK Independence Party leading to the vote to leave the European Union. Five years ago, these groups with extremist views still existed, but they were on the fringe, with a tiny following. Now they are setting the agenda, drawing a sizeable following, and having centre-right parties borrow from their policies.

Humanity is undoubtedly undergoing a crisis of faith. Not religious faith, but faith in the principles of kindness, tolerance and honesty; principles that underline the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is increasingly being ignored in favour of commercial and political interests.

Anyone who thinks that this is purely an ideological issue and part of the small swing from left to right that happens with democratic elections should look at the treatment of the members of the media that reported on the Women’s March held alongside the inauguration. Trump is set on ushering in the era of post-truth, alternative-facts and double-speak.

It is not that analysts, commentators and human rights activists are not pointing out the problems, it just seems that their words are lost in the wind of hate-speech and ignorance.

The one light I can point to is the behaviour of the US National Park Service tweeting about climate change in defiance of Trump (another great article). I suspect that a generation of young people inspired by Leslie Knope have joined the Park Service, and hold Leslie’s values as their own. Life imitating art in a glorious way.

As paralyzed as I feel, I must continue to record what is happening and how I feel about it, just like the last of the colonists on Miranda.

Blog Post · My Own Music

Wolf at the Door

Amidst all the Happy New Year well-wishing I was feeling distinctly un-optimistic about the future of humanity. I tried to capture the feeling in this song, Wolf at the Door. I’m not sure if I have ever properly understood the meaning of the ‘wolf at the door’ motif, despite its extensive use in popular culture.

After all, wolves probably can’t open doors and if you are in a house with a door then you probably aren’t going to be scared of wolves. Wolves knocking on doors is a common theme in fairytales, such as the Three Little Pigs and the less well-known (in English-speaking culture), The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats. Given the dialogue and door-knocking, these are clearly cautionary tales for children using anthropomorphism.

These stories serve two purposes, firstly instilling a well-deserved fear of wolves if you are a young child, and, secondly, instilling a healthy fear of humans that knock at doors. There is no shortage of children’s stories where the wolf is the bad guy, Peter and the Wolf and The Boy Who Cried Wolf being just two examples. Incidentally, I remember first hearing Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf when I was only three, the wolf music still gives me the creeps.

The Wolf at the Door motif is often used in the context of poverty or starvation, which would suggest that the wolf in this case is a stand-in for a more intangible foe.

This experience got me thinking about other songs which have spoken about impending doom on a global scale. My list is by no-means extensive, and I would appreciate any additions in the comments. I am interested in the songs, why they came about and what, if any, effect they had on people.

Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival

This was the first song that came to mind, and a little research revealed the fact that John Fogarty wrote this after watching The Devil and Daniel Webster. This 1941 film is about a farmer in dire financial straits who sells his soul to the devil and subsequently gets rich but alienates and enslaves his friends. Strangest of all, the protagonist has a desire to become President of the United States. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Not Dark Yet – Bob Dylan

As with most Dylan songs, getting an in-depth analysis of the song from the author is unlikely. I only have the lyrics to go on. The song could just be about a temporary depression relating to the particular girl that Dylan has received a letter from, but my feeling is that this song strikes at a deeper depression with the general state of 21st century society, especially given the fact that it was written in 1997 when millennial fear was building.

It’s the End of the World as We Know it – R.E.M

I may be wrong, but I think this song might fit in the same box as Billy Joel’s, We didn’t Start the Fire, where the author is saying that bad stuff has been happening for thousands of years and whatever impending doom you are fearing is probably insignificant. These songs were recorded in 1987 and 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall and an end to the nuclear terror of the Cold War. Listening to both these songs as a teenager in the 1990’s, I loved them because they felt like two fingers in the face of the older generation, “this mess isn’t our fault”.

Across the Hills – Leon Rosselson
Eve of Destrucion – Philip Sloan
We Will All Go Together When We Go – Tom Lehrer

I have grouped these songs together as they all related to the period in the 1960’s when nuclear destruction was on people’s minds and the Vietnam War was dragging on. Tom Lehrer, in his usual acerbic style makes a joke of the matter, while Leon Rosselson paints a beautifully dichotomous dialogue between the optimist and the pessimist. I particularly love the phrase:

And it shall reap a hellish harvest
Make the desert of this land

I had always attributed Eve of Destruction to Barry McGuire, but it was written by Philip Sloan. It was interesting that the conservative Right in America felt strongly enough to attack the song directly, even claiming that the song aided the enemy in Vietnam.

I should say that I have no intent to minimize Tom’s contribution because it is funny. Humour has always been a way of coping with horror. Here is another great one from Tom about the subject.

Doom Further Back

I cannot think of any songs from before the 1950’s that relate to a feeling of impending doom about the future of the world. I know that comets and eclipses have had that effect on cultures for thousands of years, but I can’t find evidence that people sat down and wrote songs about it. It may be that television, the Internet and instantaneous global reporting have compressed our vision of the future in a way that previous societies have never imagined. It does feel like a weight on our minds that we could do without.

I must acknowledge the following websites as sources for some of the songs of doom:

Please post other suggestions in the comments.