Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 2

by John Short

This is the second of the three CDs which record 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.”

Sung by: Jim Mageean, Jeff Warner, Keith Kendrick, Jackie Oates, Roger Watson, Sam Lee, Brian Willoughby, Tom Brown, Barbara Brown, Doug Bailey.



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. Rowler Bowler () - Barbara Brown

A rare shanty that seems to have greater life in the revival than it does in the old collections. John Short gave it as a capstan shanty. There is little that can be added.

  1. Whisky Is My Johnny () - Jim Mageean

All those who publish the shanty state give it as halyard shanty, although Stan Hugill says it was later used even while stamping round the capstan.  We have extended John Short’s five verses although, of course, they may well be superfluous for a short task.

  1. So Early in the Morning (The Sailor Likes His Bottle O) () - Jeff Warner  

An old shanty. The tune has affinities with several shore songs and, interestingly, also with Lucy Long (No.5 below).  This is an early form of a pulling shanty that is English in origin, uncommon in American ships, and did not last widely in the repertoires of shantymen.

  1. Boney Was A Warrior () - Jackie Oates

A shanty that varies little, from version to version, except in the elements of Napoleon Bonaparte’s life that could be cited – or invented – to make the shanty last as long as the task. John Short used this as a short haul or foresheet song.

  1. Lucy Long () - Tom Brown

Another rare shanty. Both Sharp and Terry print Short’s version and Stan Hugill gives a version he “picked up in Trinidad.” It probably derives from the Virginia Minstrels’ Miss Lucy Long (introduced in 1843) – although Short’s verses are, essentially, all floaters.

  1. Roll and Go (Sally Brown) () - Roger Watson

Although in form this shanty is in authentic halliard style, all the collectors agree it was a capstan song and this is certainly how John Short used it. A widespread and popular shanty on both sides of the pond, although its theme may have changed over time to focus on a more overtly sexual relationship between Sally and the singer.

  1. Tom’s Gone To Ilo () - Sam Lee

Popular and widespread, this shanty appeared in pretty well every collection although melodic variations are more common than for some other shanties. It is closely related to Tommy’s Gone Away (vol.1 tr.18) so we have sought to use a different set of verses to those – in actual use, verses would have been interchangeable.

  1. Huckleberry Hunting (Hilo, Me Ranzo Ray) () - Barbara Brown

As Ranzo Ray, this is a shanty where the melody and chorus are relatively stable but the words vary hugely in different versions. The shanty was used for pretty well every job you could think of with perhaps the exception of tacks and sheets, and hand over hand.  One distinction of Short’s version lies in his melodic use of an augmented fourth – the ‘Devil’s Interval’ as it is known in classical circles.

  1. Haul On The Bowline / Paddy Doyle / Johnnie Bowker () - Keith Kendrick / Jim Mageean / Tom Brown

A little set of three shanties. Haul on the Bowline was a widespread and popular short-haul and sweating-up shanty – but Short’s version is, as always, distinctive.  Sharp noted that according to Short, Paddy Doyle, as a bunting shanty, was sung only once by everybody, the shanty man leading off.  Nevertheless, he gave Sharp four verses. - evidently, it was not always simply a one-heave job. Johnnie Bowker was used as a (longer) short-haul shanty on American ships although sometimes for furling and bunting. Short gave it to Sharp as a bunting shanty, and was adamant that, in his experience, “the song is sung once only, the one action completing the job.”

  1. Santy Anna / Whip Jamboree ( ) - Roger Watson / Tom Brown

Two shanties that we’ve put together because they share a tune, both closely varying the first phrase of the Irish melody King of the Fairies!  John Short’s version of Santy Anna is, of course, early and has no ‘grand chorus’. Whip Jamboree, widely known in the revival, stems (like Rosabella) entirely from John Short’s version, although a couple of other distinctly different songs do exist. The entire text and unadulterated aeolian tune is from Short – see the website for further discussion on how people amend the chorus text!

  1. Good Morning Ladies All () - Jeff Warner

A rare shanty - Sharp knew of no versions of this shanty other than Short’s, and Terry published a shanty with the same title, but a different scansion and structure. This leaves John Short’s version pretty much as a stand-alone. 

  1. Knock A Man Down () - Sam Lee

More widely known nowadays in the Blow the Man Down version, John Short’s ‘Knock’ betrays this as another early version. The shanty possibly originated in an old Negro song Knock A Man Down but collectors comment on six different sets of words (storylines) – John Short’s is none of these! 

  1. Shanadore (Shenandoah) () - Barbara Brown & Keith Kendrick

Everyone knows Shenandoah – sung freely so you couldn’t do any kind of a job to it at all – despite its being invariably cited as a capstan or windlass shanty. This beautiful (and irregular) version works perfectly and rhythmically as it should for capstan work. Short’s text seems to be half way between the commonly sung bowdlerized text and the later ‘dirty’ version that borrow verses from Sally Brown.

  1. A-roving () - Jim Mageean

A widespread and popular shanty – often sung with a bowdlerized text. Short’s version is possibly the oldest of the versions of what is possibly the oldest capstan shanty.

  1. Times Are Hard and Wages Low (Leave Her Johnny, Leave Her) () - Jeff Warner

Usually sung during the final spell at the pumps with the shantyman seizing the opportunity to express the crew’s dissatisfaction with the ship they were about to leave. Short’s verses are not the most vicious or critical that have been recorded. Across The Western Ocean, is arguably the oldest form of this shanty proper.

  1. I Wish I Was With Nancy () - Tom Brown

A straight shantyman’s parody of the American Civil War anthem I Wish I was in Dixie. Short’s words parody the original in the chorus and second verse. We admit to going over the top with this one – letting not only the song’s roots show but some of the other routes the tune has taken!

  1. One More Day () - Keith Kendrick

This shanty belongs just before the end of a voyage but it is cited for widely different tasks: capstan, halliards, pumps, or windlass. Sharp noted: “Mr. Short told me he always used this as a capstan or windlass-chantey.” This early version has no grand chorus.

BONUS TRACK: Sweet Nightingale () Sam Lee & Jackie Oates

Not a shanty, of course – but a favourite folk-song of John Short’s – he told Cecil Sharp: “I often used to sing it on board ship.” It was the only non-shanty that Sharp collected from John Short, and John was still singing it when he was guest of the Watchet Court Leet, at the age of 92, and “entertained the company with shanties and Sweet Nightingale.” Once again, just that little bit different to the more widely known version.  We include it here as a ‘bonus track’ – apart from the shanties, but there for the sake of completeness.

1. Rowler Bowler () - Barbara Brown
Sample not available
2. Whisky Is My Johnny () - Jim Mageean
Sample not available
3. So Early in the Morning (The Sailor Likes His Bottle O) () - Jeff Warner
Sample not available
4. Boney Was A Warrior () - Jackie Oates
Sample not available
5. Lucy Long () - Tom Brown
Sample not available
6. Roll and Go (Sally Brown) () - Roger Watson
Sample not available
7. Tom’s Gone To Ilo () - Sam Lee
Sample not available
8. Huckleberry Hunting (Hilo, Me Ranzo Ray) () - Barbara Brown
Sample not available
9. Haul On The Bowline / Paddy Doyle / Johnnie Bowker () - Keith Kendrick / Jim Mageean / Tom Brown
Sample not available
10. Santy Anna / Whip Jamboree ( ) - Roger Watson / Tom Brown
Sample not available
11. Good Morning Ladies All () - Jeff Warner
Sample not available
12. Knock A Man Down () - Sam Lee
Sample not available
13. Shanadore (Shenandoah) () - Barbara Brown & Keith Kendrick
Sample not available
14. A-roving () - Jim Mageean
Sample not available
15. Times Are Hard and Wages Low (Leave Her Johnny, Leave Her) () - Jeff Warner
Sample not available
16. I Wish I Was With Nancy () - Tom
Sample not available
17. One More Day () - Keith Kendrick
Sample not available
BONUS TRACK: Sweet Nightingale () – Sam Lee & Jackie Oates
Sample not available

Folk Northwest

Derek Gifford

This is the second of three volumes of the songs collected from John Short a Watchet sailor as part of the collaborative project between Song & Ale Projects and Wild Goose. I reviewed Volume One in the previous FolkNW.

From hearing the opening track 'Rowler Bowler' sung with great gusto by Barbara Brown I knew that this second volume was going to be at least as good as the first one if not better.

The artistes are the same team viz: Jim Mageean, Jeff Warner, Keith Kendrick, Jackie Oates, Roger Watson, Sam Lee, Brian Willoughby, Tom Brown, Barbara Brown with producer and recording engineer Doug Bailey doing his bit in front of the microphone too.

As before this represents an excellent performance of a collection of interestingly different versions of well known shanties and sea songs including the likes of 'Roll and Go', 'Haul On The Bowline', 'Santy Anna', 'One More Day', 'A-Roving' etc. There are also a number of lesser known songs such as 'Huckleberry Hunting' and 'Knock a Man Down'.

As before comprehensive sleeve notes on the songs and Hilary Bix's sleeve design makes the production presentation near perfect.

It really only needs me to say that if you've got volume one then this volume is a 'must have' too. If you are to complete this fine collection then the third and final volume is not too faraway from production. Can't wait!

Folk Wales

Mick Tems

As a researcher/performer into the Barry and Cardiff sailors' 50 shanties and sea songs, it seems to me as thought the Bristol Channel was well stocked with rumbustious and exciting seafaring material � and some of it of a rare quality, too.  In 1926, American collector James Madison Carpenter recorded the South Wales sailors, and in 1914 John Short of the Severnside harbour community of Watchet, Somerset, gave the folk-song collector Cecil Sharp nearly 60 shanties, several in early rare versions.  The admirable WildGoose label has just released Volume 2 of John's work, recorded from a range of expert folk singers; having listened to it, I am so looking forward to Volume 3.

Short, also known as Yankee Jack, spent 50 years in sailing boats and deep-water ships, sailing all around the world as a shantyman.  He was born in 1830, went to sea with his father when he was nine, went deep sea at 18 and retired from the deep water trade in his mid-thirties.  He died at the age of 94 in 1933.  Sharp said of him: �He has the folk-singer's tenacious memory and� very great musical ability� It would be difficult, I imagine, to find a more experienced exponent in 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.�

In the same way as Carpenter recorded the South Wales sailors by cutting off their delivery, Short only sang a verse or two of his 6- shanties for Sharp; the singers say they have carefully reshaped the stanzas.  There are striking similarities between the shanties on both sides of the Channel, too � William Fender from Barry sang the shanty Ilo Man for Carpenter, but Short sang an American shanty called Huckleberry Hunting with exactly the same tune and the same �boys and the girls� words.  Once distinction of Short's version is his use of an augmented fourth, known as �the Devil's Interval� in classical circles, and deep-voiced revival singer Barbara Brown makes a good job of that.

Barbara also does the opening shanty, Rowler Bowler, to perfection, and she paves the way for Whisky is My Johnny (Jim Mageean), So Early In The Morning (Jeff Warner), Lucy Long (Tom Brown) and a dainty fiddle-plucked Boney Was A Warrior, executed beautifully by Jackie Oates � the same Jackie who recorded the South Wales shanty, Tommy's Gone Away, which I recorded in 1984.  Roger Watson, recorded before his stroke, sings Roll And Go, Sam Lee interprets Tom's Gone To Ilo and Keith Kendrick and Barbara Brown harmonise  a lovely Shanadore, which became known as Shenandoah.  Tom also does a bawdy sailors' parody of the American Civil War anthem, I Wish I Was In Dixie, called I Wish I Was With Nancy, the bass concertina giving it the artful oomph.

We have been waiting 98 years to hear such a caring, profession task as WildGoose have accomplished in their Short Project � more power to their elbows.