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?

Posted in Blog Post, Film, TV and Literature, Spirituality and Philosophy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Blog Post, Folk Music | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Blog Post, Poetry | Leave a comment

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blog Post | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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”.

Posted in Blog Post | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Blog Post | Leave a comment

A Factory Lad – Epilogue

“If you build it they will come” is the line I remember from a 90s Kevin Costner movie.

I am preparing for a ‘Factory Lad’ album launch concert this Friday at our local wine bar, Yazzbar, kindly hosted by owners Harvey and Penny. This place is definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself passing through Yass.

On 7th August 2019, UK folk singer, and ex-Australian resident Gerry Hallom started uploading recordings of Colin to his YouTube channel. Gerry is well known in the Australian folk scene for his fantastic setting of Henry Lawson’s Outside Track, sung here by the late Danny Spooner. The tune was re-used for Cicely Fox Smith’s Lee Fore Brace by Charlie Ipcar.

So far Gerry has uploaded the following songs, some live with spoken intro and some from studio recordings (you can listen to them all on this playlist):

It is fantastic to hear these recordings, some of them of much better quality that what I have heard so far (excepting the 7 songs on the Mike Eves studio recording).

Posted in A Factory Lad - Project, Blog Post | Leave a comment

Loving the Common People

A lot of folk song, due to its origin, speaks about poverty. Some songs that immediately come to mind are Poverty Knock, A Begging I will Go, Four Pence a Day and some that have been recycled several decades apart like Four Loom Weaver (from the Poor Cotton Weaver). No accident that these are all songs I found in Colin Dryden’s repertoire during my recent research work on his career. Colin was clearly a man with a social conscience.

Where I grew to be a Man, by Dorothy Hewett is a good Australian example, often sung under the title Weevils in the Flour. Many of the songs and poems recited by Max Cullen and Warren Fahey in their brilliant adaptation of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson’s work, Dead Men Talking, deal directly with poverty and its consequences, sometimes from personal experience of the author, and other times as a compassionate observer.

Songs (and poems) like this have been sung by those with lived experience to draw attention to their plight, to seek solace in a shared expression of their circumstance or simply to ensure that their misery is not lost to history. I don’t think there can be any argument against the value of this, except maybe from those who are the cause of their poverty or profit from them remaining in that state.

There is another side to songs about poverty. I remember listening to the Paul Young version of Love of the Common People on the radio when I was in school. I doubt anyone performing or in the audience of this recording would recognize a ‘common’ person in the street or have any personal lived experience of living on starvation wages or dealing with the prejudice, violence and disenfranchisement which so often comes hand in hand with poverty.

I can believe that John Hurley, one of the writers of the song back in the 1960s, probably did have enough experience, if not personal, then at least from direct contact with people living in poverty. John’s family put this video together of family photos over John’s own recording. You would have to grow up quickly as a child performer in Pittsburgh bar-rooms in the 1950s.

Some of the names that covered John and Ronald Wilkins song include Waylon Jennings, John Denver, Elton John and Leonard Nimoy (yes that one). It is probably safe to say that at the time of recording, none of these people were short of a penny.

Here is where the sticky line of morality arises. Just like Justin Bieber or Shawn Mendes singing about hard drugs, womanizing and the challenges of life from their white middle-class bedrooms at the age of twelve can hardly be convincing, what does it mean when wealthy, or ludicrously wealthy, people sing about being terribly poor?

There are some famous musicians and singers that have made tangible efforts, often at personal risk or expense to make the world a better place. Joan Baez immediately comes to mind with her efforts to end the Vietnam War and establishment of the Institute for the Study of Non-Violence. A cynic would equate this to the study of non-wet water, but at least there was a genuine and tangible action taken seeking a change.

What about those who sing songs about poverty purely to make a few dollars from a bit of virtue signalling and convenient alignment with a topical social issue? An episode of Sacha Baron Cohen’s series Who is America? captures this so beautifully when he gets a Bachelor in Paradise contestant to agree to be photo-shopped into a picture showing her helping African people suffering from Ebola.

Maybe when Elvis sang In the Ghetto, his intent was to trigger social change and not just about needing a top 10 hit after a four year drought. The detail here on Elvis’ charity efforts seems light-on for someone with the lifestyle Elvis was leading. The discussion here during the recording is also enlightening.

And why does it sell? It certainly isn’t people living below the poverty line forking out $20 to buy an album or $200 for a ticket to hear songs about being poor. To use one of the things I hate, made-up academic terms, Poverty Fetishism is what I think is at play here; people who like the idea of being poor, or are thrilled by imagining themselves in a romanticised vision of poverty for a few minutes before purchasing their next Latte or Louis Vuitton handbag.

Love of the Common People was one of the songs in our choir concert this season, which is what got me thinking about this topic. I’ve done a cover here based on the version done by one of my favourite bands, Indigo Girls. I don’t think you can get much more earnest or authentic than the Indigo Girls when it comes to singing about social issues. I know that when they sing this song, it is to share the story of those who are poor with those who might not be so poor, with respect and out of a shared humanity. I hope this is what comes across in my own music.

Posted in Blog Post, Folk Music, Spirituality and Philosophy | 6 Comments

A Factory Lad – Final?

With the publication of ‘A Factory Lad: The Songs of Colin Dryden’, this phase, at least, of my research into Colin has come to an end. You can listen to the full album for free on YouTube, and it is also available on most digital streaming platforms.

It was fortunate that tonight I was recording ‘The Outside Track’, Henry Lawson’s poem set to music by Gerard Hallom. I was looking for this version by Danny Spooner when I happened upon this video from 1965. About 3 minutes into the video, Colin, just ten weeks off the boat, sings a blues number. Later in the program, about 20 minutes in, he sings ‘The Holy Ground’. As far as I know, this is the only published footage of Colin singing.

While ‘Just Folk’ was a weekly program, most film from that era was wiped. I’m not sure if Colin appeared on any other episodes.

It feels like a fitting gift from the universe at this point in the journey.

I’m not sure what the future holds for this research, but it has been quite an emotional process for me personally. There is something about Colin’s confident and poignant delivery of whatever he was singing that makes it a great shame to have it lost to the world.

There are efforts underway to get some of the existing recordings of Colin made widely available, hopefully they will bear fruit soon.

I want to say a thankyou again to the many people that have shared their own stories with me, and also Colin’s niece, Naomi, for being so generous with her own research and understanding of an outsider’s desire to learn more.

Posted in A Factory Lad - Project | Tagged | 3 Comments

A Factory Lad – Part 5

 

On 10 May I had the great honour of singing a few songs at Duke’s Place in Marrickville, thanks to an invitation from Sandra Nixon. While the audience was small, it was an inspiration to sing in a place that has been part of Australia’s folk music history since 1954. I’m not sure if Colin Dryden ever sang at Hut 44, but the fabulous people I had the chance to meet and speak with were certainly part of the Sydney folk scene that Colin joined in 1965.

Hut 44

Hut 44

The opportunity to sing Poverty Knock and Four Loom Weaver in a venue like this was special indeed. There is no small irony in the fact that the complex which Hut 44 is part of was once an army base. Turning the engines of violence and war into community spaces for music, culture and conscious living is a poignant victory (and don’t we need them at this point in history).

Best of all, after giving a lift home to Margaret Walters, I was handed a CD of 1971 recordings of Colin at the Elizabeth Hotel, a venue which was a key part of the Sydney folk revival and mentioned by Warren Fahey here. My three hour drive back to Yass was filled with some truly fabulous music, including Margaret’s own album Steadfast, which I highly recommend.

Australian Folk Albums

Australian Folk Albums

Thanks to some other CD’s that I’ve been chasing for many years, I’ve also been able to significantly expand my collection of John Warner covers (another severely under-appreciated Australian songwriter).

I have made a recording of Lassie Wi’ the Yellow Coatie, which Dermott Ryder tantalisingly mentions as a regular part of Colin’s repertoire in his homage article to Colin’s work in 2012. The CD of Colin at the Elizabeth, from a collection of recordings made by Peter Wheeler (but never published), has a very poor recording of Colin doing this song. With this song, I’ve only got a few re-recordings to do before the tribute album is finished.

Album Cover

Album Cover – Final

I made some minor tweaks to the painting for the album cover and will get started on the final layout.

It is bittersweet to reach the end of this project, which has been a rich emotional journey. My hope is that one year soon, the National Folk Festival will host a concert of Colin’s songs, performed by those who knew him and those who have been inspired by his music.

Meditation in the Park

Meditation in the Park

I was fortunately enough to time my trip to Sydney with the annual gathering for early  morning Qi Gong exercises in Hyde Park to mark the birthday of the founder of this particular style on May 13. It was a relaxing start to the day before the long drive back to Yass. I was also delighted to find the, rock history themed, Brewsters cafe in Bowral for the essential mid-drive coffee.

 

Posted in A Factory Lad - Project, Blog Post, Folk Music | Tagged , | 2 Comments