Posted by: jkirkby8712 | January 26, 2011

Sunday, 23rd January 2011 – afternoon of music and heat

As Victoria’s huge ‘inland sea’ continues to move downstream , emergency workers in Victoria’s north this weekend,  are turning their attention to the town of Swan Hill as floodwaters in the area flow into the Murray River. Hopes rest on a large permanent levee to stand between Swan Hill’s population of around 10,000 and the coming deluge. While hopes are favourable that a large permanent levee that has been constructed over recent years [much of it at the instigation of a local farmer] will protect most of the 10,000 population in Swan Hill, it will do little to help those in the surrounding farming areas, and smaller settlements between the bigger population centres. In fact, I have felt over the last week or so, with all of the publicity being centred upon the many Victorian towns that have faced the onslaught of the Victorian floodwaters,  those thousands of hectares of land, much of it farming land, in between the towns has for all intents and purposes, been forgotten. Subsequent reports of huge stock losses, thousands of acres of crops, stone fruits, etc, destroyed, have brought this home quite severely, and of course the personal plight that my former brother-in-law up near Kerang faced during the week, made the situation of those lower populated areas, so much more realistic. Sitting back here in the ‘dry’ part of the state, on a day where temperatures got up into the 30s in what was one of the most uncomfortable days this summer, it’s so hard to picture the full extend of the losses and financial suffering that is coming out of the Victorian floods. And that is not forgetting the catastrophic floods and consequences that occurred up in Queensland, and the city of Brisbane itself, just a week ago.  Even today, the after affects of the tsunami style flood that occurred west of Brisbane, are yielding their grim results – with reports this weekend of the findings of human remains in the areas hit by the flash flooding on January 12th. There are in fact a number of people still missing from that day, and many feel that they will never be found!

Meanwhile, on the home front, as is the case each second Sunday, I had the two shows on the radio today – as usual lately, the early morning program was difficult to initially get motivated for, although once on the road, that motivation would quickly return, and the pleasure of sharing my music equally as quickly change any ‘tired’ moods that might have begun the morning. By late afternoon, the day had become extremely warm, humid and unpleasant, so it was perhaps a relief to get back into the air conditioned studio for a few hours [not that the conditions in the house were particularly uncomfortable, although we were in for a very warm night, followed by a thundering change!]. Anyway, this afternoon, I decided to acknowledge Australia Day a few days early [that was Wednesday]\, with a program of strictly Australian traditional music in the main [a few modern folk songs added at various intervals]. For almost three hours, I played a selection of popular Australian ‘folk’ songs and tunes from the last 100 years or so, together with a number of  known traditional Australian shearing songs, recorded some 40/50 years ago by ‘folk’ singer, the [Rev] Gary Shearston. These were taken from a vinyl recording put together by Shearston under the title ‘The Springtime It Brings On The Shearing’, with his singing accompanied by some wonderful playing on the harmonica, and banjo and guitar.

The notes taken from the recording were obviously written some 35 years ago, but provide an interesting insight into the origins of the tracks theron, most of which I would play throughout the afternoon. Here’s an indication of where the songs came from.

“The first recording Gary Shearston made was called ‘Folk Songs and Ballads of Australia’. Most of the songs on it really are old [Australian] bush folk songs. But later he became best known as a singer of new songs, which are not really folk songs, though they are written in folk-song style. Songs, for example, by writers like the Americans Bob Dylan and Peter Seegar, or the Scotsman Ewan McColl; and songs that he wrote himself.

But a while back he decided that the most important thing for him to do, just then, and for some time to come, was to learn more about authentic folk songs; and especially about the folk songs of the bush; and above all about the way that the old bush singers sang the bush folk songs.

So he sat down to listen carefully to every field recording of traditional bush singers that he could lay his hands on. He has listened to recordings of the best of our traditional singers, especially Sally Sloane and Simon McDonald, over and over again. He has also being listening very carefully to the recordings of bush songs made by A.L.Lloyd: a pommy [Englishman] no less! But Lloyd began learning bush songs during the nine years  he spent working as a station hand in western New South Wales, before he wen t back to England to become a distinguished folk-song singer and scholar

This collection of shearer’s songs is the first result of all this. Wherever possible, Gary Shearston has learnt the version of the song which he uses from a recording or tape, rather than from print. Many he learnt from the singing of A.L.Lloyd, some from field recordings, made by the Folk Lore Society of Victoria; one from an old shearer, ‘Duke Tritton’, with whom he sang many times at folk-song concerts.”

Let’s have a look at just one song – this will certainly be familiar to Australian readers, and perhaps may have been heard at some stage overseas – called ‘Click Go the Shears’. In this ‘story’, Henry Lawson [one of our most famous Australian poets] tells how the gold diggers, during his boyhood days  [circa 1860s] used to sing a song by the popular American composer, Henry C Work, which went as follows

(Henry Clay Work 1865)

High in the belfry the old sexton stands
Grasping the rope with his thin bony hands
Fix’d is his gaze as by some magic spell
Till he hears the distant murmur
Ring, ring the bell

Ring the bell, watchman! ring! ring! ring!
Yes, yes! the good news is now on the wing.
Yes, yes! they come and with tiding to tell
Glorious and blessed tidings. Ring, ring the bell!

Baring his long silver locks to the breeze
First for a moment he drops on his knees
Then with a vigor that few could excel
Answers he the welcome bidding
Ring, ring the bell

Hear! from the hilltop, the first signal gun
Thunders the word that some great deed is done
Hear! thro’ the valley the long echoes swell
Ever and anon repeating
Ring, ring the bell

Bonfires are blazing and rockets ascend
No meagre triumph such tokens portend
Shout! shout! my brothers for “all, all is well!”
‘Tis the universal chorus
Ring, ring the bell

Some shearer borrowed Work’s tune, and some ideas from his words, and created ‘Click Go the Shears’. The collectors he found a lot of old shearers who knew the song. Versions do not differ very much, but in this version  – which comes from A.L.Lloyd – the words are almost the same as those that Banjo Paterson printed in ‘Old Bush Songs’ long before Lloyd arrived in the Riverina.  The popular version is printed below of our ‘Click Go the Shears’

Click go the Shears

Out on the board the old shearer stands
Grasping his shears in his long bony hands
Fixed is his gaze on a bare-bellied “joe”
Glory if he gets her, won’t he make the ringer go

Click go the shears boys, click, click, click
Wide is his blow and his hands move quick
The ringer looks around and is beaten by a blow
And curses the old snagger with the blue-bellied “joe”

In the middle of the floor in his cane-bottomed chair
Is the boss of the board, with eyes everywhere
Notes well each fleece as it comes to the screen
Paying strict attention if it’s taken off clean

The colonial-experience man he is there, of course
With his shiny leggin’s just got off his horse
Casting round his eye like a real connoisseur
Whistling the old tune “I’m the Perfect Lure”

The tar-boy is there awaiting in demand
With his blackened tar-pot and his tarry hand
Sees one old sheep with a cut upon its back
Here’s what he’s waiting for “Tar here Jack!”

Shearing is all over and we’ve all got our cheques
Roll up your swag for we’re off on the tracks
The first pub we come to it’s there we’ll have a spree
And everyone that comes along it’s, “Come and drink with me!”

Down by the bar the old shearer stands
Grasping his glass in his thin bony hands
Fixed is his gaze on a green-painted keg
Glory he’ll get down on it ere he stirs a peg

There we leave him standing, shouting for all hands
Whilst all around him every shouter stands
His eyes are on the cask which is now lowering fast
He works hard he drinks hard and goes to hell at last

You take off the belly-wool clean out the crutch
Go up the neck for the rules they are such
You clean round the horns first shoulder go down
One blow up the back and you then turn around

Click, click, that’s how the shears go
Click, click, so awfully quick
You pull out a sheep he’ll give a kick
And still hear your shears going click, click, click

A couple of explanations  –  the ‘bare-bellied yeo’ and ‘blue-bellied yeo’ refers to a ewe, an English dialect word for ewe, with little wool on it’s belly;  snagger  – is an unskilled shearer who leaves ‘snags’ of wool on the sheep; ‘as it comes off the screen’  – meaning as it comes off the table at which the fleeces are classed into different grades;  ‘the colonial experience man’  – refers to the English gentleman, getting some experience of life in ‘the colonies’, by working for a time on a station; an object of both derision and resentment on the part of the shearers; ‘you can take off the belly wool’  – this saying  gives an account of the order in which the shearer was expected to remove the wool; and finally, ‘shouting for all hands’  –  means to buy drinks for everyone in the bar [at the pub].

Gary Shearston didn’t dominate the program, which also included a number of instrumental and vocal versions of a broad range of popular Australian folk music, not just of the ‘shearing’ variety;. Amongst other things, I also slipped in a few tracks of ;non-Australian’ music but which was performed by a very popular ‘semi jazz/popular music’ band here in Australia of the 70s and 80s – the Daly Wilson Big Band, very much an Aussie group of performers, whom I had the pleasure of seeing perform at the Albert Hall in East Melbourne towards the end of the 1970s. I don’t think I can recall up until then, music at such a high volume as was presented at that particular performance, although you soon adjusted to it!. Towards the end of the show, I also played portion of a performance by Dame Edna Everage, from a show ‘she’ did at the Globe Theatre in London, on the 8th July, 1976 – this was a performance I had copied from a vinyl recording, but unfortunately, the version I was playing this afternoon didn’t quite get to the end of the track, the CD decided to play up on me. One of Barry Humphrey’s other ‘characters’, Sir Les Patterson [cultural attaché to London] I also had on this CD but had decided not to play it –  in 2011, much of the dialogue that Les Patterson carries on with, would today be considered extremely racist, and prejudicial against certain classes in many ways. Although admittedly, when one looks at the content of many of the ‘so-called’ comedy acts in our annual comedy festivals, and many TV comedy programs, I’m not that sure that I needed to have worried too much.

Earlier this afternoon, the Tour Down Under cycling race finished over in Adelaide., the final stage [6] over a distance of 90 kilometres – 20 laps of a specific course through a part of the capital. It turned out to be quite an exciting finish, with a number of potential winners. Was interesting trying to work out the various team tactics as they tried to get their preferred rider into to the right position to take the final stage placings, and hopefully decide the overall winner in the competition. I’m afraid I don’t clearly understand many of the tactics used in professional cycling, if I have a query of that nature, the question has to be addressed to my brother, who presumably was stationed somewhere near the finishing line as I watched the conclusion on the TV.  Anyway, today’s winner was Ben Swift [Australia], from Ben Henderson, and Michael Goss of Australia in 3rd position. It seemed as though we had about 60 cyclists all coming over the line, virtually at the same moment! It also seems that the configuration of those placings, meant that the overnight leader, Australia’s Cameron Myer kept that lead, and was declared the overall winner of the Tour Down Under.  Michael Goss was 2nd, and Ben Swift finished in 3rd position. As for the other main Australian competitors, the two riders whom Robert managed to get into a photograph with the other night finished the overall race in 28th position [Robbie McEwan, had one day wearing the leader’s jersey] and 50th [Stuart O’Grady]. In what was supposedly his last major professional cycling race, Lance Armstrong finished in 67th position of the 129 cyclists who completed the race [130 started, a great outcome].

Meanwhile, on the cricket scene, Australia after it’s disastrous Test Ashes Series against England, seems to have found better form in the One Day International series of the best of seven games, against the English team. While the makeup of this team is a little different to the test team, and also without Test captain Ricky Ponting, still recovering from his broken finger, and ODI captain Michael Clarke continues to be out of form, they seem to be performing much better – today saw the third of the seven scheduled 50 over matches, in which Australia has won all three of the matches. I had noticed that my cricket friend in the UK had been fairly ‘quiet’ over the past week or two, but give her credit, she did acknowledge today’s win, on Facebook, in a message to me!  An interesting quotation was mentioned by one of the cricket commentators at one stage during this match  – a saying that could be applied to all walks of life  –  it was the ‘TCUP’ advice  –  ‘Think Clearly Under Pressure’.

I had the opportunity to watch another ‘advert free’ movie on the ABC tonight –  another Australian film featuring the Indigenous communities, called Bran Nue Dae [literally Brand new day]. It was actually a film version of a 1990 Indigenous musical produced over in Western Australia. Our regular ‘Age’ film critic, Jim Schembri [who admits later in the article that he didn’t like the film] writes that it ‘deserves to be celebrated, indeed, the film’s celebratory tone, catchy tunes and emphasise on self-mocking comedy is widely credited for its game-changing success, the thinking being that audiences found it a refreshing change from the depressing, maudlin mood often stapled to any story about Aborigines’.  I tended to agree with that, although like the critic, I found it hard at times to warm to the movie either – perhaps it was my conservative nature finding it hard to laugh along with the characters in the various send up aspects of the film. I also decided that I prefer to see Geoffrey Rush in a more serious role, than that of the caricature style priest he plays in this film. Apart from Geoffrey Rush, the film starred current pop idol, Jessica Mauboy [as Rosie, the girl our hero, Willie is in love with], Willie played by a young Rocky McKenzie, along with Missy Higgins [ passing hippy], Magda Szubanski [as a gun-toting, petrol pumping harlot], Deborah Mailman [as a Kimberley floozie], Ernie Dingo as Willie’s irascible Uncle Tadpole, and  Australian blues and country singer, Dan Sultan, who plays the role of a rock star competing for Rosie’s Affections. I’ve played Dan Sultan’s music on the radio a few times, but had never seen him act before [may not again, either – think he should stick to singing].

Anyway, whilst glad I got the opportunity to see the movie,  I felt thankful afterwards that I’d not paid the price of a movie ticket, because I think I might have felt that I didn’t get my money’s worth, despite the fact that the film has generally been highly received. I think my problem is that I don’t like what I perceive to be a serious subject – in case, the non-Indigenous prejudice of the 1950s era towards the Aboriginal population been treated in such a carefree and light-hearted manner. Apart from that, it was good entertainment,, and as another critic noted [Emily Dunn] ‘The story stretches the boundaries of credulity, even for a comical musical, but this made up for in the joy and exuberance heard in classic chorus-line tunes’ such as ‘There is nothing I would rather be, than to be an Aborigine’  The music was infectious, and in many ways, a pleasant enough way to finish the weekend.


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