Tony Hale

A Christchurch Irish Singalong Story

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                                                            Side Notes

This fascinating biography tells of some Irish émigrés and Kiwi lads who teamed up to take homeland singalongs onto the public stage. 

Here are some questions you may have:

Who Were The Beggarmen?

On Saturday mornings in 1967, several ex-pat Irishmen and Martin Cartwright, a teenaged Kiwi lad with Irish ancestry, would gather in a backyard garden shed to relive homeland times through song. Kiwi musicians were soon invited in, and a group emerged which rehearsed in the old Irish Society rooms in St Asaph St, Christchurch.

Meeting with the touring Dubliners in 1968 was to provide a reel-to-reel tape brimming with new repertoire. Within a few short months, a radio station offered to sponsor the group if they reduced in size and smartened themselves up!

The Beggarmen played semi-professionally from 1967-1974 and later more casually from 1998-2002.

Why Are The Beggarmen Important?

In Christchurch, The Beggarmen rode the entertainment wave of extended hotel evening hours from October 1967. On the national scene, they pioneered new avenues for folk music.

In 1970 they recorded the first New Zealand album of Irish folk songs (Hi! For the Beggarmen, Kiwi SLC-95) from which two tracks were spun off as a 45, with the A side's 'Lady of the Lake' offering tribute to Lake Wakatipu's 'Earnslaw'. Their album and visibility paved the way for the formation of later Christchurch bush bands and Irish pub bands, just as The Beggarmen themselves had drawn upon the Dubliners - an interesting New Zealand example of the folk process.

1971 saw them on our sole television channel as they reached the broadcast round of Studio One's New Faces. Concentrated weekend trips to the West Coast and Dunedin's Royal Albert Hotel and 12th Fret Folk Club in 1972/3 meant enduring the tiredness of return night driving in time for Monday's work. It was no wonder they saw the local Bedford Row Folk Centre as their spiritual home, where audiences listened with intent and understanding, and Phil Garland would welcome and encourage them into new ventures.

Upon reforming in 1998, they soon made preparations for a second recording. That CD, Live at the Harbour Light, was recorded in 1999 and was self-released early in 2000. 2000 also saw members of The Beggarmen involved in the beginnings of The Bog Irish Bar's session band in Cashel St. There was further local television work before they broke up in 2002 with another Harbour Light Theatre concert in Lyttelton.

Why is This Research Important?

In my view, as a folk musician and folk music historian, community-based music is under-appreciated and understudied. Should that continue, further music archives will be discarded with residential downsizing and stories will be lost forever as elderly musicians and singers pass on without being interviewed.

The American and British folk music revivals together with Australasian colonial music have a relatively recent history in New Zealand. Many early practitioners and club organisers are still alive and now of an age where they want to share their experiences. Certainly, my respondents have willingly engaged with me and loaned or donated personal archives. As a result, more than 100 images illustrate the Beggarmen book. I have arranged for donated archives to be placed in the care of the Christchurch City Library and Canterbury University's Macmillan Brown Library so that others may enjoy them through future exhibitions or private research.

What's in it for us as donors?

Folk music contributes richly to our musical heritage. In bringing this biography to life, all donors help to raise awareness of folk music as worthy of study and preservation. Some, who grew up in Canterbury, will remember The Beggarmen performing onstage or on television, or listened when younger to their family's copies of the album or CD.

All donors will receive a tax deductibility receipt when the campaign closes.

Who is Tony Hale and what does he get out of this?

My interest in folk music grew from guitar playing and singing at high school with friends, including future rock singer Sharon O'Neill.

While a member of Canterbury University's folk music club, I organised the 10th-anniversary concert and display (1974), archived interviews with founder members and was elected president for 1975. I developed an interest in folk music history sufficient to take me to Memphis State University in Tennessee where, in 1983, I graduated MA in Musicology/Regional Studies, my thesis documenting the early history and spread of bluegrass music in New Zealand. This was cited in Neil Rosenberg's authoritative Bluegrass: A History (1985).

I published in The Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. Since returning to this country in 1984, I have been the camp manager of three Whare Flat (near Dunedin) folk festivals, presenter of guitar, autoharp and bluegrass workshops, album and cassette tape producer, founder of the successful 'Fingerpicking Delights' guitar concerts in Christchurch and last year organised much of the historical content for the Christchurch Folk Music Club's 50th anniversary weekend. Now retired, I can devote more time to folk music research.

At another level, this lifetime of hands-on experience has brought me closer to the human condition, where music-making expresses something of who we are as people. Our busy lives often limit music performance to an experience of the moment, whereas I see value in anticipating, documenting, interviewing and preserving archives so that names in a concert programme remain real people into the future.

The Beggarmen's story is the first book-length treatment of folk music in Christchurch. Founder member and lead singer Pat Grant, aged 91, passed away during its preparation, proof that my quest is urgent.

Therefore, I have the secondary hope of inspiring others to capture the stories of individuals and groups, folk clubs and folk festivals before age takes its toll.

And if the total raised exceeds $5000?

An important point. The excess will be used to raise the production values of the book, e.g. by introducing a hardcover option, choosing offset rather than digital printing and by printing more books.

Why Boosted?

Boosted understands the Arts scene in New Zealand. They are experienced crowd fundraisers backed by the New Zealand Arts Foundation. I have found my Boosted counsellor very helpful in shaping my campaign. Boosted recovers its costs at the end of the campaign when they take 10% of the sum raised, provided the target is achieved. There are no transaction fees or hidden costs and your donations are tax deductible.

Please see, to understand the process of giving.

Several people with skills and experience far greater than my own have lent their support to date and I wish to acknowledge publisher Quentin Wilson, Beggarmen members Martin Cartwright, Charlie Jemmett and Philip King, IT specialist Howard Pettigrew, the research librarians at Christchurch City Library and UC's Macmillan Brown Library, and willing general assistant Sue Sewell.

As we gather steam I will post updates, information bites and 'thank yous' to my site. Notifications will include the uploading of Beggarmen music to YouTube and detailing pre-production progress of the book.

To everyone who donates - thank you so much. I will also take your donation as a token of your encouragement for the rest of my project.

Many thanks,
Tony Hale