CD Review by Graham Seal
Regulars at the National Folk Festival will recall the late Dennis O’Keeffe’s legendary occupations of the session bar.
Concertina in hands and always ready to share a tune or song, Dennis was an essential feature of the National for many years, as he was at the Port Fairy festival.
Dennis spent a good many years researching the history and mythology of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, eventually producing a full-length book about the song’s secret history in 2012.
He expanded the known story in relation to the importance of the union troubles of the 1890s, relating these directly to the composition of the fabled song.
Dennis also tracked down, and interviewed, family descendants who provided the gossip on what was going on at Dagworth Station with Banjo Paterson and Christina Macpherson, the composers of our national ditty.
On this CD, Dennis and some very musical mates, present a selection of items related to ‘Waltzing Matilda’, the country and culture where it came from, together with some of Dennis’s self-penned songs.
As well as various versions of ‘the song’ and its tune/s, we hear about ‘Diamantina Country’ in Dennis’s song of that name, about the strikes of 1894 and the story of one of its martyrs, Billy McLean, sung with great passion.
William Spence, mostly forgotten pioneer co-founder of the Australian Shearer’s Union, which became the Australian Workers’ Union, is also remembered here in song.
Dennis fills it all out with some great versions of the bush ballads, ‘The Dying Stockman’, ‘The Old Bark Hut’ and, of course, ‘Click Go the Shears’.
I particularly liked Dennis’s song about the burning of the paddle steamer, Rodney, bringing strike-breakers up the Darling in 1894.
Unionists boarded her at night, marooned the scabs on an island and burned the Rodney to the waterline.
As she blazed, a young shearer played ‘After the Ball is Over’ on his accordion.
You can’t make this stuff up!
Of course, Dennis set his spirited lyrics to ‘After the Ball is Over’.
Works a treat.
Well produced and presented, with an informative booklet.
Dennis O’Keeffe’s Waltzing Matilda is now a great memorial to the man and his music.
Also available by Dennis O’Keeffe is Waltzing Down the Years TN038-8