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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.