Sleeve Notes for Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 3 by Collected from John Short
This is the third and final CD which records the repertoire of John Short – a.k.a. Yankee Jack – of Watchet, Somerset in England’s West Country, who, in 1914, gave the folk-song collector Cecil Sharp nearly sixty shanties, several in early rare versions. John spent over fifty years working in sailing boats, much of his younger days in deep-water ships, sailing all around the world as a shantyman. He was born in 1839, went to sea with his father when he was nine, went deep sea at eighteen, married and retired from the deep water trade in his mid-thirties, and died at the age of ninety-four, in 1933.
Sharp said of him:
“He has the folk-singer’s tenacious memory and… very great musical ability. His voice is rich, resonant and powerful, yet so flexible that he can execute trills, turns and graces with a delicacy and finish that would excite the envy of many a professional artist. Mr. Short has spent more than fifty years in sailing-ships and throughout the greater part of his career was a recognised chanteyman, i.e. the solo-singer who led the chanteys. It would be difficult, I imagine, to find a more experienced exponent of the art of chantey-singing, and I account myself peculiarly fortunate in having made his acquaintance in the course of my investigations and won his generous assistance.”
The principles which guided the recordings were:
A. All John Short’s text and tunes, should be included. For many shanties, he gave Sharp only a verse or so, and so texts have been expanded from a variety of other collected sources.
B. We would not attempt ‘authentic’ renditions – we were in a recording studio, not working a ship. Having made that decision, it allowed for much more variation in treatment; sometimes letting the songs’ roots show; sometimes just enjoying the improvisation Short himself might have employed; sometimes letting the instruments add variety to the totality of the project - but not, we hope, straying too far from the fact that these were work songs.
C. We would allow the lead singer, whoever it was for each track, to create a rendition that they felt comfortable with. Subsequent choruses would utilize selected members of the crew who were on watch at an appropriate time.
The titles of the shanties are given as they were recorded in Cecil Sharp’s field note books. Evidently, John Short did not always give a title – several are better known by the title in brackets. Fuller and more detailed information on each shanty – Short’s specific verses, chorus and musician names per track, version comparisons, how the recordings were arrived at, etc. - can be found on the internet at www.umbermusic.co.uk/SSSnotes.htm.
1 Rosabella - Sam Lee
A John Short original – not published by any of the collectors! Thanks to Dr. Jonathan Lighter for helping us towards this new set of words. I wonder how fast these will spread! See the website for details.
2 Dead Horse (Poor Old Man) - Keith Kendrick
This shanty is usually associated with the Dead Horse ceremony, but Short’s text moves rapidly into general ‘female encounter’ verses. Perhaps his version is earlier than the ‘dedicated’ set of words.
3 Heave Away, My Johnny (We’re All Bound To Go) - Barbara Brown
A widespread and popular capstan shanty where, with the tune and structure fairly consistent, different texts were used over time. Short sang Banks of the Sweet Dundee. However, the full text of the song would take longer than the longest of tasks – except, perhaps warping along a very long dockside!
4 Bully In The Alley - Tom Brown
A rare shanty, although most modern singers seem to know the version that Stan Hugill ‘picked up in the West Indies’. Short’s version has an unusual structure which perhaps betrays its origins as a cotton-screwing chant – Sharp was unsure himself and marks all the stresses in the melody and lead/chorus parts as instructed by Short. Hugill thinks that Short’s version has degenerated – we think it is simply an early form.
5 Liza Lee (Yankee John Stormalong) - Jim Mageean
This shanty is sometimes titled Yankee John, Stormalong to distinguish it from Stormalong John and Mister Stormalong. Short used a text which may have an origin in the minstrel song Liza Lee. The entire text is straight from Short - as given to Sharp and Terry.
6 Hog-eyed Man - Jackie Oates
Widespread and popular, this is one of the shanties where authors seem to be obsessed about obscenity. Short’s text, however, shows no signs of tampering and we rather like him getting his own nickname into it!
7 Old Stormey (Mister Stormalong) - Barbara Brown
The verses provided by Short (and found in many other versions) are the familiar ones concerning Stormy’s death and burial which, nowadays, are most commonly used for General Taylor. This is probably the grandest of the Stormalong shanties.
8 The Bull John Run (Eliza Lee) - Sam Lee
Sharp noted this down as 'Bull John' - a mis-hearing and misunderstanding of 'Bulgine'. Short’s text bears only slight relation to the supposed minstrel ‘original’ De History Ob De World, and so additional ‘floating’ verses have been borrowed, but avoiding the excess courting verses of the minstrel song.
9 Billy Riley - Jeff Warner
All versions seem fairly consistent and what words there are in Short’s text fit the usual pattern – although neither Sharp nor Terry had heard it other than from Short. It is a shanty that seems to have passed out of common usage relatively early in the evolution of shanties despite its incisive rhythm for hauling to.
10 Handy My Girls (So Handy) - Keith Kendrick
A widespread and widely published shanty - with no particular words, and no story lines peculiar to it alone. Our text includes all the verses he sang to Sharp and to Terry – and only two of them were sung to both collectors!
11 Blow Away The Morning Dew - Jim Mageean
Short gave one verse to Sharp, but to Terry he gave an additional three verses. The text used here is all from Short via Terry with the addition of the ‘new-mown hay’ verse which also comes straight from The Baffled Knight.
12 Rando (Reuben Ranzo) - Barbara Brown
All the collectors give this as a sail-setting halyard shanty. Short sang ‘Rando’ instead of ‘Ranzo’ consistently for both this shanty and The Bully Boat (Ranzo Ray). Barbara has reverted to ‘Ranzo’ for this one. Perhaps it comes down to whether Short had his teeth in or not! (but see the notes to The Bully Boat)
13 Paddy Works On The Railway - Keith Kendrick
One of the two shanties (see following track) which seem to relate to the American shore songs Pat Do This, Paddy Works on the Erie, Mick Upon on the Railroad, Song of the Pinewoods and The American Railway. All the verses here are from Short.
14 He Back, She Back (Old Moke Picking on the Banjo) - Jeff Warner
The second of the two shanties (see previous track) which are related to the complex of texts, locations, tunes and floating verses cited above and which it is impossible to tease out and give sequence to. Short’s first line is an absolute delight – and a statement about accuracy. See the website for more detailed information.
15 Round the Corner Sally - Jim Mageean
Neither Sharp nor Terry had this shanty from any source other than John Short. Stan Hugill credits his published version to 'Harding the Barbadian barbarian'. Nowadays it is widely known from Stan’s version.
16 Do Let Me Go (Yeller Gals)- Jackie Oates
Well known in present times with the text that Short used for Round the Corner Sally (previous track). Although Short started with a standard 'merchant’s daughter' verse, his text rapidly becomes the folk song Blow the Candle Out. The broadside text is however edited – the full text could over-fill even the longest of capstan tasks!
17 Haul Away Joe - Sam Lee
A shanty that crops up widely and consistently. This version comes from a transitionary period when use was changing from short-haul to (particularly on English ships) more general longer hauling work where the extemporized verses could be endless.
18 Lowlands (Dollar and a half a day) - Jeff Warner
Some authors think this shanty was the precursor of the ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ versions - others think the transition was the other way round. In this form, it is purely Negro in origin - from the cotton ports of the South.
19 Homeward Bound (Goodbye, Fare You Well) - Roger Watson
Known by sailors the world over, this shanty – full of sentiment and anticipation - was de rigueur when bringing up the anchor to start the voyage home.
20 Crossing The Bar (Tennyson/Arbo) - Jeff Warner
This is not, of course, a shanty - nor was it sung by John Short. It is a poem, written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and it was read as part of John Short’s funeral service - it seems entirely appropriate given what we know of the man and his attitudes. Having used it in presentations about John Short, we just couldn't resist including it. This setting is by Rani Arbo of Connecticut.