A wide range of songs - long, short and tall – all with a touch of the briny about them - but not a shanty in sight.
A wide range of songs - long, short and tall – all with a touch of the briny about them - but not a shanty in sight. It has a distinctly maritime leaning – and also revisits some songs that have been in our repertoire for many years. We’ve also, again, taken the opportunity to work with some additional performers we admire: Keith Kendrick makes a welcome return – he hasn’t been able to make any of our recordings since Where Umber Flows – and it’s been a delight to work with the Askew sisters, Emily and Hazel, (whose combined ages are less then either of us!) who are a formidable duo in their own right, both singing and playing, and who have their own CD with Wild Goose. Malcolm Woods and Joan Holloway have kindly added the odd bit of percussion and we actually got Doug Bailey out from behind the desk for a bit of chorus work too! – and there you have it.
We first put The Convict Maid with Ten Thousand Miles thirty years ago when we wrote a couple of shows about North Devon maritime history, called Seascape. The Convict Maid is Australian – although the tune, of course, has done good service for many songs including Lord Franklin. Ten Thousand Miles was written by Joseph Geoghegan circa 1860. The two songs together make a nice little story of the transported female felon followed to a new life by her boyfriend – well, that’s the way we read it!
Also from the Seascape project, which led ultimately to the Over The Bar cassette, in 1979, came two songs which Tom wrote for the purpose – Padstow Bar To Lundy Light, which is really a trip up the Atlantic coast, between the two places that have had more influence on our lives than any others, and The Wreck Of The Montagu – a true story which records one of the Admiralty’s most embarrassing moments: not just one battleship aground, but two. It was during the Seascape work that we came to realise how long and intimate North Devon’s relationship with Canada’s Eastern seaboard had been, largely through both the timber and fishing trades. Tom found The Spirits Of George’s Bank in Ballads And Sea Songs Of Newfoundland, by Greenleaf and Mansfield (1933). They collected it from Daniel Endacott – now there’s a good Devon name – at Sally’s Cove in 1920 and Tom mis-learnt the tune that they collected. We thought this was the only version and then discovered another diminished text (The Ghostly Fishermen) in MacEdward Leach’s Folk Ballads and Songs of the Labrador Coast (1965).
It was also during the Over The Bar project that we discovered the shanty Rosabella and its singer, John Short (a.k.a. Yankee Jack) – the Watchet sailor who gave Cecil Sharp 57 shanties – but who didn’t the sing the song he might have: The Watchet Sailor – that came to Sharp from Cpt. Lewis at Minehead in 1906. We’re not aware of The Watchet Sailor being a version of any other song (although, of course, the tune keeps cropping up for songs like Rosemary Lane) so perhaps it is a purely local song.
One that Tom didn’t mis-learn, but had from the man who created it, was Firing The Mauritania. It was written by Redd Sullivan and if it sounds heartfelt - it should do – Redd was a one-time stoker on the Mauritania and used to sing the song with due venom.
We’ve always had a penchant for short songs – not a fragment; but a verse that is, in itself, a complete song or expresses a complete idea. On this CD we’ve strung five of them together in a set. The tunes Brighton Camp (a.k.a. The Girl I Left Behind Me) and the Sailor’s Hornpipe have long been used as ideal vehicles for a multitude of little four-liners: here they are used for Well I Couldn’t Care Less which came from Cyril Tawney, and for Have Another Drink which appears in Doeflinger’s Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman. Cyril was also the source for Americans at Sea – both can be found in his book of songs from the Royal Navy: Grey Funnel Lines. Tom learnt Out In The Lifeboat from Mervyn Vincent who himself had it from Jack Roberts, an old Padstow skipper. Billy Flynn was given to us by Bill Adams at The Yetties club in Sherborne, who said it used to be sung by his grandfather – a naval man. Sadly, we couldn’t get the tune from Bill so Barbara created this one which fits like a glove.
Bonny Sailor Laddie is a happy marriage of tune and words that was contrived by Roy Palmer for his book (and the LP) The Valiant Sailor back in 1973: he took the tune O The Bonny Fisher Lad from Stokoe & Reay’s Songs and Ballads of Northern England and the words from Ashton’s Real Sailor Songs. Roy Palmer is also, in a way, responsible for The Death Of Nelson. This great tune came from the singing of George Dunn of Quarrybank, Staffordshire (and was recorded on Leader Records) the text was collated with a broadside version and also published in The Valiant Sailor.
Barbara couldn’t remember her source for Tarry Trousers but a bit of digging revealed that she had it from the E.F.D.S. publication The Wanton Seed – a version collected by Gardiner from Mrs. Hall of Axford, Basingstoke. Quite how we acquired a guest appearance by Orfeo in the arrangement is a mystery - he somehow found himself a part, like he does! We like songs of strong-willed women (well, Barbara does, anyway) which is why we sing this version of Young Susan – who, unlike the other Young Susan to the same tune, goes of to sea with her bloke instead of wimping it on shore – serves her right that she got shot, then (says Tom)! This Young Susan also comes from Ashton’s Real Sailor Songs although, mostly, of course, they aren’t! We’re beginning to think that ‘her life was not insured’, in v.4, is not a misreading of ‘her life was not ensured’ – because there was a period when, for voyages to China, John Company could indeed not get insurance! This may come as a disappointment to everyone who’s heard us introduce the song over the last twenty years.
Chesapeake and Shannon comes from a broadside and records a battle between the U.S.S. Chesapeake (Cpt. James Lawrence) and H.M.S. Shannon (Cpt. Philip Broke) on the 1st of June 1813. It was a rare victory for the British at sea in the 1812 war – for example, on the 19th of August 1812, the U.S.S. Constitution had captured H.M.S. Guerriere to the same tune!
All round the coast of the U.K. there are versions of The Herring’s Head (or The Red Herring, or The King Of The Sea, etc., etc.,). This version was in the local Devon repertoire way back in the 1960s and we think it originates from the version in the Baring-Gould mss., the ‘as collected’ version of which can be heard with other Baring-Gould collectibles on Paul Wilson & Marilyn Tucker’s CD Dead Maid’s Land (WGS292). Whatever the source, it’s amazing what you can (claim to) do with a herring. Our friends say this version suits us because it is an argument song – we don’t know what they mean! And while on the subject of Little Fishes, here’s a lonesome fisherman doodling away on his concertina and dreaming of other things. It’s one of the songs that we can actually trace the route it took to get to us! From Spencer Tracey (in Captains Courageous), to Eric Ilott, the Bristol shantyman, to Chris Coe (in the Bandoggs piscatorial trilogy) and thence to Barbara. Eric also sang a version of The Bold Princess Royal – but not this one, which highlights the Captain’s cowardice and the Mate’s command capability. Tom got this Bristol version from Albert Lightfoot via Bob Stewart. Bob was the first person we knew who played a harpeleik. That would be a totally irrelevant piece of information, were it not for the fact that, a harpeleik can be heard accompanying The Ship In Distress which is essentially as collected from Mr. Harwood, of Watersfield, Pulborough, Sussex, by George Butterworth in 1907, and subsequently tampered with by Bert Lloyd. It is a straight theft from the Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs, recently revised, updated, and published by the E.F.D.S.S. as Classic English Folk Songs. Another E.F.D.S. publication, Garners Gay, was Barbara’s source for The Blackbird. It was collected by Fred Hamer from the wonderful Shropshire singer May Bradley who said she had heard ‘a modern song like it’, but preferred to sing it ‘in the old way’ – we’re with you, May!