Another Deported Irishman

This week we’ve decided to continue our theme of deportation of convicts to Australia and gone for a song that focuses more on the family left behind as opposed to last week’s Jim Jones at Botany Bay which was from the convict’s perspective.  This is an absolute Irish classic and a great favourite of ours: The Fields of Athenry

The song is quite a modern folk tune, written in the 1970s by Pete St John and originally recorded in 1979 by Danny Doyle.  It centres around the years of the Great Famine (1845-50) and on a man, Michael, who steals his lord’s corn to feed his family.  The lord is referred to as “Trevelyne” which is a reference to Charles Trevelyan who was a British civil servant, greatly disliked by the Irish, who believed the famine was an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” and famously said “God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson.”  Michael is sentenced to deportation to Botany Bay, leaving behind his wife Mary and their young child.

The song has been performed by far too many great musicians to list here, although our personal favourites are a great version by Máiréad Carlin and of course The Dubliners.

We truly love this song, and it’s going to be a stalwart of our sets for a long time to come! We hope you enjoy it too 🙂 x

A Poacher’s Punishment

So here’s a first for us, we’ve done English, Scottish, Irish and American folk songs, and now we’ve taken a trip Down Under! This week we are doing an Australian folk song called Jim Jones at Botany Bay; as featured recently in Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight (although our version differs a bit!)

It tells the tale of Jim Jones who was convicted of poaching and sent to Australia on a convict ship and the misery that befalls them on the journey.  Throughout the first 2 verses Jim is rather miserable and wishing he was dead; dreading the fate that awaits him when they arrive at Botany Bay.  By the final verse however, he has developed a seed of rebellion.  He promises himself that he will get his revenge on his captors and escape into the Australian outback.

The song was first written down in 1907 by a man called Charles MacAlister who drove bullock-teams in New South Wales.  In his book Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South he mentions it was sung to an old Irish tune called Irish Molly, O.  Unfortunately there is more than one tune with this title so we don’t know for sure which one was the original, although the modern versions of Jim Jones actually uses the same tune as the Irish song Skibbereen

While the song wasn’t written down until 1907, it was definitely around much earlier than that and it is generally agreed that the song dates to around 1830 as it mentions Jim Jones’ wish to join Jack Donohue’s gang.  Jack Donahue was a real individual who was active as a Bush Ranger (escaped convicts turned outlaws) from 1825 until he was shot in 1830.

As with many of the songs we have performed so far, this tune has been tackled by many fantastic artists such as Bob Dylan, Martin Carthy, and our personal favourite by Jim Causley! We loved performing this one, Becca especially so as she loves a good story she can act out! We hope you enjoy it too 🙂

A Song For Dink

Our latest song choice is another from across the pond and goes by the name “Fare Thee Well”.  In many folk circles, however, it also goes by the name of “Dink’s Song”.  This refers to how the song was initially collected by the great John Lomax.  John, and his son Alan, were 2 of the most prolific collectors of American folk music in the 20th century; collecting everything from Appalachian tunes to prison worksongs.  This particular tune was first collected by John Lomax in 1909 when he heard a young woman called Dink singing it as she washed her man’s clothes down by a bank of the Greater Calhoun Bayou River next to a camp of levee builders near Houston, Texas.

The song has been done by many of the great revivalist musicians such as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk as well as many modern musicians such as Oscar Isaac/Marcus Mumford and Jeff Buckley.

We’ve had Rob on vocals in a few videos already, but this time it’s been stepped up a notch and we decided to try harmonies between the two of us! Quite good fun really, might do it again on another video or 2…or we will if Rob can handle Becca when she gets in “Teacher” mode and starts yelling words like “ENUNCIATE!” 😉

We only discovered this song recently but very quickly fell in love with it; and the imagery of a woman singing the tune as she did her laundry by the river was just the icing on the cake.  We hope you enjoy this song as much as we do 🙂

P.S. We’ve got a few different gigs lined up for June and July, including a big one for Milton Keynes Fringe Festival! Head over to our Gigs page for details!