Archivi tag: Rogue’s Gallery

Hanging Johnny : hang, boys, hang

Leggi in italiano

“Hanging Johnny” is an halyard shanty in which we talk about the hangman who hangs all those who bother him! Immediately, the scholars wanted to find a historical figure who incarnated this executioner in Jack Ketch notorious executioner in the seventeenth century London.

But for the sailors the phrase “hanging Johnny” has a whole other meaning.


In order to hoist the heavier sails, they followed a strange procedure : the younger and nimble sailors (and less paid as they were apprentices) climbed up on the masthead and, after grabbing a halyard, jumped in the air, hanging like so many hangers. As they descended, they were helped by the efforts of the remaining sailors to slowly reach the deck.
Joys explained that “hanging Johnny” did not refer to a sheriff’s hangman, but instead to nimble young sailors who, when a topsail was to be hoisted, would climb to the masthead and “swing out” on the proper halyard. They would then ride to the deck as the men at the foot of the mast brought them down by their successive pulls. Joys recalled one chanteyman who would always tell the boys when to swing out by shouting up to them, “Hang, you bastards, hang!” Then, while the boys were hanging on the halyard fifty feet or more above the deck, he’d start his song and the crew would make two pulls on each chorus. When the boys hit the deck, they would tail on behind the other men and pull with them until the work was finished.
Joys added that the word “hang” was “the best goddamn pullin’ word in the language, especially on a down haul.” Ashley said the tune was “a bit mournful, but a good one for hoisting light canvas,” noting that the words enabled the sailors to find fault, good-naturedly, with all their real and fancied enemies, “if the work lasted long enough.”
 (from “Windjammers: Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors” by Ivan H. Walton and Joe Grimm, 2002 here)

So on Mudcats a heated debate has opened up: “The words “Hang, boys, hang,” are used in a topsail-halliard hoist, when sweating up the yard “two blocks” where, in swaying off, the whole weight of the body is used. The sing-out, from some old shellback, usually being words such as “Hang, heavy! Hang, buttocks! Hang you sons of ——-, Hang.” After setting the topsails, we gave her the main-topgallant sail, which was all she could carry in a heavy head-sea. The decks were awash all day. “…. the chantey was sung with a jerk and a swing as only chanteys in 6/8 time can be sung. While the words were of Negro extraction, yet it was a great favorite with us and sung nearly every time the topsails were hoisted.” (from Frederick Pease Harlow, 1928, The Making of a Sailor, Dover reprint of Publication Number 17 of the Marine Research Society, Salem, MA here)

Definitely a perfect “pirate song”! I found this piece of film about the golden age of the great vessels in which the song is sung.

Oh they call me hanging Johnny.
Away, boys, away.
They says I hangs for money.
Oh hang, boys, hang.
And first I hanged my Sally
and then I hanged my granny.


Sharp publishes a set of words in which the shantyman does not himself hang people and indeed sings, I never hung nobody. Hugill is adamant (as is Terry) that no shantyman ever claimed that anyone other than himself was the hangman, and that “Sentimental verses like some collectors give were never sung – Sailor John hanged any person or thing he would think about without a qualm.” Checking these ‘some collectors’, one finds several who elect only to hang the bad guys – liars, murderers, etc. – are these the verses Hugill means by ‘sentimental’ or is he having a go at Sharp for the shantyman not being the hangman himself? Sharp’s notebooks show that he recorded from Short the same as he published. It could be that Short is self-censoring but it seems unlikely given that Short seems happy, in various other shanties, to sing text that might not be regarded as genteel (e.g. Nancy, Lucy Long, Shanadore). Short was, however, a deeply religious man and, if this is not simply an early and less developed form of the shanty, then he may have deliberately avoided casting himself as hangman – we will never know! Notwithstanding, and contrary to Hugill’s assertion, there was at least one shantyman who actually sang I never hung nobody.

Collectors’/publishers’ reactions to the shanty are curiously mixed: Bullen merely notes that “shanties whose choruses were adapted for taking two pulls in them… were exceedingly useful”, Fox-Smith that it had an “almost macabre irony which is not found in any other shanty”, and Maitland that “This is about as doleful a song as I ever heard” but, in an almost poetic description points out that “there’s a time when it comes in. For instance after a heavy blow, getting more sail on the ship. The decks are full of water and the men cannot keep their feet. The wind has gone down, but the seas are running heavy. A big comber comes over the rail; the men are washed away from the rope. If it wasn’t for the man at the end of the rope gathering in the slack as the men pull, all the work would have to be done over again.” – Horses for courses! (from here)

Tom Brown from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 1

They called me hanging Johnny,
urrhay-i-, urrhay-i-,
They called me hanging Johnny
so hang, boys, hang
They hanged me poor old father
They hanged me poor old mother
Yes they hanged me mother
Me sister and me brother
They hanged me sister Sally
They strung her up so canny
They said I handeg for money
But I never hanged nobody
Oh boys we’ll haul and hang the ship
oh haul her ropes so neat
We’ll hang him forever,
We’ll hang for better weather,
A rope, a beam, a ladder,
I’ll hang ye all together


Stan Ridgway from  Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI 2006. Masterful interpretation that transforms the shanty into a melancholy folk song

The Salts live in a jaunty version

 Stan Ridgway lyrics
They call me hanging Johnny,
yay (away )-hay-i-o
I never hanged nobody
hang, boys, hang
Well first I hanged your mother
Me sister and me brother
I’d hang to make things jolly
I’d hang all wrong and folly
A rope, a beam, a ladder,
I’ll hang ye all together
Well next I hanged me granny
I’d hang the wholly family
They call me hanging Johnny,
I never hanged nobody
Come hang, come haul together,
Come hang for finer weather,
Hang on from the yardarm
Hang the sea and buy a big farm
They call me hanging Johnny,
I never hanged nobody
I’d hang the mates and skippers,
I’d hang ‘em by their flippers
I’d hang the highway robber,
I’d hang the burglar jobber;
I’d hang a noted liar,
I’d hang a bloated friar;
They say I hung a copper,
I gave him the long dropper


Boney was a warrior

Leggi in italiano

A sea shanty  originally born as a street ballad on the Napoleonic wars: Napoleon embodied the hopes for independence and the revolutionary demands of the European populations and the American colonies (Ireland in the lead); loved by the poorer layers as well as by intellectuals, it is the romantic hero par excellence, in its greatness and its fall. Nowadays, no one siding with Napoleon, but two centuries before, the spirits flared up for him!

Napoleone Bonaparte


AL Lloyd wrote “A short drag shanty. These simple shanties were uses when only a few strong pulls were needed, as in boarding tacks and sheets and bunting up a sail in furling, etc. Boney was popular both in British and American vessels and in one American version Bonaparte is made to cross the Rocky Mountains.”: there are many text versions that all portray the victories and defeats of Napoleon in a few lines. The melody recalls the Breton maritime song “Jean François de Nantes” (with text in French)
C’est Jean François de Nantes OUE, OUE, OUE
Gabier sur la fringante Oh mes bouées Jean François
The adventure “Asterix in Corsica” pays homage to the shanty giving the name Boneywasawarriorwayayix to the chief of the resistance in Corsica

Paul Clayton

Boney(1) was a warrior,
Wey, hay, yah
A warrior, a tarrier(2),
John François (3)
Boney fought the Prussians,
Boney fought the Russians.
Boney went to Moscow,
across the ocean across the storm
Moscow was a-blazing
And Boney was a-raging.
Boney went to Elba
Boney he came back again.
Boney went to Waterloo
There he got his overthrow.
Boney he was sent away
Away in Saint Helena
Boney broke his heart and died
Away in Saint Helena

1) Boney diminutive for Napoleon. The origin of the name is uncertain may mean “the Lion of Naples”, the first illustrious name was that of Cardinal Napoleone Orsini (at the time of Pope Boniface VIII)
2) terrier = mastiff
3) or Jonny Franswor! quote from the Breton maritime song Jean-François de Nantes

.. the punk-rock version with irony
Jack Shit in Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI 2006

Boney(1) was a warrior
A warrior a terrier(2)
Boney beat the Prussians
The Austrians, the Russians
Boney went to school in France
He learned to make the Russians dance
Boney marched to Moscow
Across the Alps through ice and snow.
Boney was a Frenchy man
But Boney had to turn again
So he retreated back again
Moscow was in ruins then
He beat the Prussians squarely
He whacked the English nearly
He licked them in Trafalgar’s Bay(1)
Carried his main topm’st away
Boney went a cruising
Aboard the Billy Ruffian(2)
Boney went to Saint Helen’s
He never came back again
They sent him into exile
He died on Saint Helena’s Isle
Boney broke his heart and died
In Corsica he wished he stayed

1) The battle of Trafalgar saw the British outnumbered but Nelson’s unconventional maneuver (a position called in military jargon to T) displaced the enemy line up arranged in a long line (the excellent study in see), the only blow inflicted by the French was the death of Nelson. England was an unequaled naval power for the French and the Spanish, so Napoleon renounced the invasion of Great Britain who became the mistress of the seas until the First World War
2) the ship that brought Napoleon into exile on Saint Helena was Bellerephon but the name was crippled in Billy Ruffian or Billy Ruff’n by his sailors not sufficiently well-known to appreciate the references to Greek mythology.


The authors write in the short Sharp Shanties project notes “Short’s words were few—a mere two and a half verses—but sufficient to indicate that his, like every other version of the shanty, essentially followed Napoleon Bonaparte’s life story to a greater or lesser extent depending on the length of the job in hand (although, as Colcord points out, some versions introduced inventive variations on his life). We have simply borrowed some (of the true) verses from other versions—but by no means all that were available!.. Perhaps, we are again dealing with a shanty that changed its purpose—Jackie has chosen a slower rendition which may be more appropriate to the time. Sharp noted: “Mr. Short sang ‘Bonny’ not ’Boney’, which is the more usual pronunciation; while his rendering of ’John’ was something between the French ’Jean’ and the English ’John’.” (tratto da qui)

Jackie Oates from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 2

Boney was a warrior,
Wey, hay, yah
A bulling fighting tarrier,
John François
First he fought the Russians
then he fought the Prussians.
Boney went to Moscow,
Moscow was on fire oh.
We licked him in Trafalgar’s
Billy ??
Boney went to Elba
he came back to make another show
Boney went to Waterloo
and than he maked his overthrow.
Boney went to a-cruising
Aboard the Billy Ruffian.
Boney went to Saint Helena
Boney he didn’t get back
Boney broke his heart and died
in Corsica he should stay
Boney was a general
A ruddy, snotty general.

An interesting version in the folk environment comes from Maddy Prior who sings it like a nursery rhyme with the cannon shots and the drum roll in the background
Maddy Prior from Ravenchild 1999

Boney was a warrior
Wey, hey, ah
A warrior, a terrier
John François
He planned a distant enterprise
A great and distant enterprise.
He is off to fight the Russian bear
He plans to drive him from his lair.
They left with banners all ablaze
The heads of Europe stood amazed.
He thinks he’ll beat the Russkies
And the bonny bunch of roses. (1)

1) english soldiers

FRENCH SHANTY: Jean-François de Nantes

Les Naufragés live

C’est Jean-François de Nantes
Oué, oué, oué,
Gabier de la Fringante
Oh ! mes bouées, Jean-François
Débarque de la campagne
Fier comme un roi d’Espagne
En vrac dedans sa bourse
Il a vingt mois de course
Une montre, une chaîne
Qui vaut une baleine
Branl’bas chez son hôtesse
Carambole et largesses
La plus belle servante
L’emmène dans la soupente
En vida la bouteille
Tout son or appareille
Montre et chaîne s’envolent
Attrape la vérole
A l’hôpital de Nantes
Jean-François se lamente
Et les draps de sa couche
Déchire avec sa bouche
Il ferait de la peine
Même à son capitaine
Pauvr’ Jean-François de Nantes
Gabier de la Fringante.


Sally Brown I rolled all night, capstan shanty

Leggi in italiano

In the sea shanties Sally Brown is the stereotype of the cheerful woman of the Caribbean seas, mulatta or creole, with which our sailor  tries to have a good time. Probably of Jamaican origin according to Stan Hugill, it was a popular song in the ports of the West Indies in the 1830s.
The textual and melodic variations are many.


WAY, HEY, ROLL AND GO (halyard shanty)
I ROLLED ALL NIGHT(capstan shanty)
ROLL AND GO (John Short)


In this version the chorus is developed on several lines and the song is classified, also with the title of “Roll and Go”, in the capstan shanty that is the songs performed during the lifting of the anchor.

Planxty live (which not surprisingly chuckle, given the name of the song)

Irish Descendants from Encore: Best of the Irish Descendants

Shipped on board a Liverpool liner,
Way hey roll(1) on board;
Well, I rolled all night
and I rolled all day,
I’m gonna spend my money with (on)
Sally Brown.

Miss Sally Brown is a fine young lady,
She’s tall and she’s dark(2) and she’s not too shady
Her mother doesn’t like the tarry(3) sailor,
She wants her to marry the one-legged captain
Sally wouldn’t marry me so I shipped across the water
And now I am courting Sally’s daughter
I shipped off board a Liverpool liner

1) the term is generically used by sailors to say many things, in this context for example could mean “sail”.
2) it could refer to the color of the hair rather than the skin, even if in other versions Sally is identified as creole or mulatto. The term “Creole” can be understood in two exceptions: from the Spanish “crillo”, which originally referred to the first generation born in the “New World”, sons of settlers from Europe (Spain or France) and black slaves. The most common meaning is that which refers to all the black half-bloods of Jamaica from the color of the skin that goes from cream to brown and up to black-blue. In the nineteenth century with this term was also indicated a small elite urban society of light skin in Louisiana (resident mostly in New Orleans) result of crossings between some beautiful black slaves and white landowners who took them as lovers.
3) tarry is a derogatory term to distinguish the typical sailor. More generally Jack Tar is the term commonly used to refer to a sailor of merchant ships or the Royal Navy. Probably the term was coined in 1600, alluding to the tar with which the sailors waterproofed their work clothes.

Teddy Thompson from Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate   Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys,  ANTI 2006 in a more meditative and melancholic version

Sally Brown she’s a nice young lady,
Way, hay, we roll an’ go.
We roll all night
And we roll all day
Spend my money on Sally Brown.

Shipped on board off a Liverpool liner
Mother doesn’t like a tarry sailor
She wants her to marry a one legged captain
Sally Brown she’s a bright lady
She drinks stock rum
And she chews tobacco


Little Billee sea shanty

Leggi in italiano

A sea song with caustic humorism also entitled “Three Sailors from Bristol City” or “Little Boy Billee”, which deals with a disturbing subject for our civilization, but always around the corner: cannibalism!
The sea is a place of pitfalls and jokes of fate, a storm can take you off course, on a boat or raft, without food and water, it’s a subject also treated in great painting (Theodore Gericault, The raft of the Medusa see): human life poised between hope and despair.

The three sailors

The maritime songs can express the biggest fears with a good laugh! This song was born in 1863 with the title “The three sailors” written by William Makepeace Thackeray as a parody of “La Courte Paille” (= short straw) – that later became “Le Petit Navire” (The Little Corvette) as a nursery rhyme.(see first part): cases of cannibalism at sea as an extreme resource for survival were much debated by public opinion and the courts themselves were inclined to commute death sentences in detention.
The murder by necessity (or the sacrifice of one for the good of others) finds a justification in the terrible experience of death by starvation that pushes the human mind to despair and madness, but in 1884 the case of the sinking of Mignonette broke public opinion and the same home secretary Sir William Harcourt had to say “if these men are not condemned for the murder, we are giving carte blanche to the captain of any ship to eat the cabin boy every time the food is scarce “. (translated from here).
The ruling stands as a leading case and puts life as a supreme good by not admitting murder for necessity as self-defense

Little Billee
Bernard Partridge Cartoons

From notes of “Penguin Book” (1959):
The Portugese Ballad  A Nau Caterineta  and the French ballad  La Courte Paille  tell much the same story.  The ship has been long at sea, and food has given out.  Lots are drawn to see who shall be eaten, and the captain is left with the shortest straw.  The cabin boy offers to be sacrificed in his stead, but begs first to be allowed to keep lookout till the next day.  In the nick of time he sees land (“Je vois la tour de Babylone, Barbarie de l’autre côté”) and the men are saved.  Thackeray burlesqued this song in his  Little Billee.  It is likely that the French ballad gave rise to The Ship in Distress, which appeared on 19th. century broadsides.  George Butterworth obtained four versions in Sussex (FSJ vol.IV [issue 17] pp.320-2) and Sharp printed one from James Bishop of Priddy, Somerset (Folk Songs from Somerset, vol.III, p.64) with “in many respects the grandest air” which he had found in that county.  The text comes partly from Mr. Bishop’s version, and partly from a broadside.”  -R.V.W./A.L.L.

Ralph Steadman from “Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI- 2006″.

There were three men of Bristol City;
They stole a ship and went to sea.
There was Gorging Jack and Guzzling Jimmy
And also Little Boy Billee.
They stole a tin of captain’s biscuits
And one large bottle of whiskee.
But when they reached the broad Atlantic
They had nothing left but one split pea.
Said Gorging Jack to Guzzling Jimmy,
“We’ve nothing to eat so I’m going to eat thee.”
Said Guzzling Jimmy, “I’m old and toughest,
So let’s eat Little Boy Billee.”
“O Little Boy Billy, we’re going to kill and eat you,
So undo the top button of your little chemie.(1)”

“O may I say my catechism
That my dear mother taught to me?”
He climbed up to the main topgallant(2)
And there he fell upon his knee.
But when he reached the Eleventh(3) Commandment,
He cried “Yo Ho! for land I see.”
“I see Jerusalem and Madagascaar
And North and South Amerikee.”
“I see the British fleet at anchor
And Admiral Nelson, K.C.B. (4)”
They hung Gorging Jack and Guzzling Jimmy
But they made an admiral of Little Boy Billee.

Thackeray lyrics here
1) from french chemise
2) or top fore-gallant
2) his companions did not have to be very attached to the Bible (and probably Billy would have invented new ones to save time!)
4)  “Knight Commander of the Bath”, the chivalrous military order founded by George I in 1725


According to Stan Hugill “Little Billee” was a sea shanty for pump work, a boring and monotonous job that could certainly be “cheered up” by this little song! Hugill only reports the text saying that the melody is like the French “The était a Petit Navire”, so the adaptation of Hulton Clint  has the performance of a lullaby.

There were three sailors of Bristol City;
They stole a boat and went to sea.
But first with beef and hardtack biscuits
And pickled pork they loaded she.
And pickled pork they loaded she
There was gorging Jack and guzzling Jimmy,
And likewise there was little Billee.
but when they got to the Equator
They’d only left but one split pea.
Then gorging Jack to guzzling Jimmy,
“I am confounded hungaree.”
Says guzzling Jimmy to gorging Jacky
“We’ve no wittles (1), so we must eat we.”
Said Gorging Jack to Guzzling Jimmy,
“Oh Guzzling Jim what a fool you be..
There’s little Billy, who’s young and tender,
We’re old and tough, so let’s eat he.”
“Make haste, make haste” then say Guzzling Jimmy
as he drew his snickher snee (2)
“O Billy, we’re going to kill and eat you,
undo the collar of your chemie.”
When William heard this information
he drope down on bended knee
“O let me say my catechism
which my dear mom taught to me”
So up he went to the maintop-gallant
and he drope down on his bended knee
and than he said  all his catechism
which his dear mamy once taught to he
He scarce had said his catechism
when up he jumps “There’s land I see
Jerusalem and Madagascaar
And North and South Amerikee.”
“Jerusalem and Madagascar,
And North and South Amerikee;
There’s the British fleet a-riding at anchor,
With Admiral Napier, K.C.B.”
When they bordered to Admiral’s vessel,
He hanged fat Jack (3) and flogged Jimmee;
as for little Bill they make him
The Captain of a Seventy-three (4).

1)  It’s a mispronunciation of “vittles,” which is a corrupted form of “victuals,” which means “food.”
2) a particularly lethal big knife used as a weapon
3)in some versions the degree of guilt between the two sailors is distinguished, so only one is hanged
4) 73 cannon war vessel

And for corollary here is the French version “Un Petit Navire”


Blood Red Roses, a whale shanty

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Ho Molly, come down
Come down with your pretty posy
Come down with your cheeks so rosy
Ho Molly, come down”
(from Gordon Grant “SAIL HO!: Windjammer Sketches Alow and Aloft”,  New York 1930)

To introduce two new sea shanties in the archive of Terre Celtiche blog I start from Moby Dick (film by John Huston in 1956) In the video-clip we see the “Pequod” crew engaged in two maneuvers to leave New Bedford, (in the book port is that of Nantucket) large whaling center on the Atlantic: Starbuck, the officer in second, greets his wife and son (camera often detaches on wives and girlfriends go to greet the sailors who will not see for a long time: the whalers were usually sailing from six to seven months or even three – four years). After dubbing Cape of Good Hope, the”Pequod” will head for Indian Ocean.
It was AL Lloyd who adapted  “Bunch of roses” shanty for the film, modifying it with the title “Blood Red Roses”. It should be noted that at the time of Melville many shanty were still to come

Albert Lancaster Lloyd, Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger

It’s round Cape Horn we all must go
Go down, you blood red roses, Go down
For that is where them whalefish blow
Go down, you blood red roses, Go down
Oh, you pinks and posies
Go down, you blood red roses, Go down
It’s frosty snow and winter snow
under’s many ships they ‘round Cape Horn
It’s your boots to see again
let you them for whaler men

Oswald Brierly, “Whalers off Twofold Bay” from Wikimedia Commons. Painting is dated 1867 but it shows whaling and the Bay as it was in the 1840s

Assassin’s Creed Rogue (Nils Brown, Sean Dagher, Clayton Kennedy, John Giffen, David Gossage)

Me bonnie bunch of Roses o!
Come down, you blood red roses, come down (1)
Tis time for us to roll and go
Come down, you blood red roses, Come down
Oh, you pinks and posies
Come down, you blood red roses, Come down
We’re bound away around Cape Horn (2), Were ye wish to hell you aint never been born,
Me boots and clothes are all in pawn (3)/Aye it’s bleedin drafty round Cape Horn.
Tis growl ye may but go ye must
If ye growl to hard your head ill bust.
Them Spanish Girls are pure and strong
And down me boys it wont take long.
Just one more pull and that’ll do
We’ll the bullie sport  to kick her through.

1) this line most likely was created by A.L. Lloyd for the film of Mody Dick, reworking the traditional verse “as down, you bunch of roses”, and turning it into a term of endearment referring to girls (a fixed thought for sailors, obviously just after the drinking). I do not think that in this context there are references to British soldiers (in the Napoleonic era referring to Great Britain as the ‘Bonny bunch of roses’, the French also referred to English soldiers as the “bunch of roses” because of their bright red uniforms), or to whales, even if the image is of strong emotional impact:“a whale was harpooned from a rowing boat, unless it was penetrated and hit in a vital organ it would swim for miles sometimes attacking the boats. When it died it would be a long hard tow back to the ship, something they did not enjoy. If the whale was hit in the lungs it would blow out a red rose shaped spray from its blowhole. The whalers refered to these as Bloody Red Roses, when the spray became just frothy bubbles around the whale as it’s breathing stopped it looked like pinks and posies in flower beds” (from mudcat here)
2) Once a obligatory passage of the whaling boats that from Atlantic headed towards the Pacific.
3) as Italo Ottonello teaches us “At the signing of the recruitment contract for long journeys, the sailors received an advance equal to three months of pay which, to guarantee compliance with the contract, it was provided in the form of “I will pay”, payable three days after the ship left the port, “as long as said sailor has sailed with that ship.” Everyone invariably ran to look for some complacent sharks who bought their promissory note at a discounted price, usually of forty percent, with much of the amount provided in kind. “The purchasers, boarding agents and various procurers,” the enlisters, “as they were nicknamed,” were induced to ‘seize’ the sailors and bring them on board, drunk or drugged, with little or no clothes beyond what they were wearing, and squandering or stealing all sailor advances.

Sting from “Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys” ANTI 2006. 
The textual version resumes that of Louis Killen and this musical interpretation is decidedly Caribbean, rhythmic and hypnotic ..

Our boots and clothes are all in pawn
Go down, you blood red roses,
Go down

It’s flamin’ drafty (1) ‘round Cape Horn
Go down, you blood red roses,
Go down

Oh, you pinks and posies Go down,
you blood red roses, Go down
My dear old mother she said to me,
“My dearest son, come home from sea”.
It’s ‘round Cape Horn we all must go
‘Round Cape Horn in the frost and snow.
You’ve got your advance, and to sea you’ll go
To chase them whales through the frost and snow.
It’s ‘round Cape Horn you’ve got to go,
For that is where them whalefish blow(2).
It’s growl you may, but go you must,
If you growl too much your head they’ll bust.
Just one more pull and that will do
For we’re the boys to kick her through

1) song in this version is dyed red with “flaming draughty” instead of “mighty draughty”. And yet even if flaming has the first meaning “Burning in flame” it also means “Bright; red. Also, violent; vehement; as a flaming harangue”  (WEBSTER DICT. 1828)

Jon Contino

“Go Down, You Blood Red Roses” is a game for children widespread in the Caribbean and documented by Alan Lomax in 1962

(second part)


Farewell Lovely Nancy by Cecil Sharp

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“Farewell Lovely Nancy” or “Lovely Nancy” is a traditional ballad collected in 1905 by Cecil Sharp from Mrs. Susan Williams, Somerset (England), where the handsome sailor leaving for the South Seas, dissuades his sweetheart who would like to follow him disguising herself as a cabin boy, telling her that working aboard ships is not for females!

AL Lloyd writes in the notes to the LP “A Sailor’s Garland”: To dress in sailor’s clothes and smuggle oneself aboard ship was a pretty notion that often occurred to young girls a century or two ago, if the folk songs are to be believed. This song has been widely found in the south of England, also in Ireland.”


In the sea songs we find sometimes the theme of the girl disguised as a sailor who faces the hard life of the sea for loving and adventure.
The cross-dressing ballads are in fact mostly inherent in women who go to play a male job, such as the sailor or the soldier.

Ed Harcourt in Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys ANTI 2006, a very romantic, almost crepuscular version

Ian Campbell & Dave Swarbrick 1964

 John Molineaux  (live)

“Fare you well me lovely Nancy
for it’s now I must leave you,
All along the Southern(1) sea
I am bound for to go.
Don’t let my long absence be
no trouble to you,
For I shall return in the spring
as you know.”
“Like some pretty little seaboy
I’ll dress and go with you,
In the deepest of dangers
I shall stand your friend.(2)
In the cold stormy weather
when the winds are a-blowing,
My dear I’ll be willing
to wait for you then”

“Well, your pretty little hands
they can’t handle our tackle,
And dour dainty little feet
to our topmast can’t go.
And the cold stormy weather love
you can’t well endure,
I would have you ashore
when the (raging) winds they do blow.
So fare you well me lovely Nancy
for it’s now I must leave you,
All along the Southern sea
I am bound for to go.
As you must be safe
I’ll be loyal and constant
For I shall return in the spring
as you know.”

1) in Sharp is “salt seas” but becomes “western ocean” in the version of A. L. Lloyd
2) in A. L. Lloyd becomes “My love, I’ll be ready to reef your topsail”.
3) the closing stanza in an Irish version written in Ancient Irish Music (1873 and 1888) by Patrick Weston Joyce says:
So farewell, my dearest Nancy, since I must now leave you;
Unto the salt seas I am bound for to go,
Where the winds do blow high and the seas loud do roar;
So may yourself contented be kind and stay on shore.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: LOVELY ON THE WATER
american/irish version: ADIEU MY LOVELY NANCY
sea shanty: HOLY GROUND


The Grey Funnel Line

Il folksinger Cyril Tawney  scrisse “The Grey Funnel Line” nel 1959 prima di congedarsi dalla Marina Reale del Regno Unito. E’ lo stesso Cyril a raccontare la genesi del brano (vedi): come in molti shanty il marinaio si lamenta del suo arruolamento desiderando con nostalgia la vita accanto al proprio amore, ma sono in genere lacrime da coccodrillo..
ASCOLTA Jolie Holland Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys ANTI 2006, una versione con molto soul

ASCOLTA Dolores Keane, Mary Black, Emmylou Harris

ASCOLTA Islands in A Sleep & a Forgetting 2012 Strofe I, II, V, VI

Don’t mind the rain or the rolling sea,
The weary night never worries me.
But the hardest time in sailor’s day
Is to watch the sun as it dies away.
It’s one more day on the Grey Funnel Line (1).
The finest ship that sailed the sea
Is still a prison for the likes of me.
But give me wings like Noah’s dove,
I’d fly up harbour to the girl I love.
It’s one more day on the Grey Funnel Line.
There was a time my heart was free
Like a floating spar on the open sea.
But now the spar is washed ashore,
It comes to rest at my real love’s door.
It’s one more day on the Grey Funnel Line.
Every time I gaze behind the screws (2)
Makes me long for old Peter’s shoes (3).
I’d walk right down that silver lane
And take my love in my arms again.
It’s one more day on the Grey Funnel Line.
Oh Lord, if dreams were only real
I’d have my hands on that wooden wheel (4).
And with all my heart I’d turn her round
And tell the boys that we’re homeward bound.
It’s one more day on the Grey Funnel Line.
I’ll pass the time like some machine
Until blue water turns to green.
Then I’ll dance on down that walk-ashore
And sail the Grey Funnel Line no more.
And sail the Grey Funnel Line no more.
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
Non bado alla pioggia o al mare agitato
la notte fredda non mi preoccupa mai
ma il tempo più duro in una giornata da marinaio è guardare il sole mentre tramonta, un altro giorno nella Gray Funnel Line
La nave più bella che solcò il mare è tuttavia una prigione per quelli come me. Ma dammi le ali come la colomba di Noe volerò oltre il porto dalla ragazza che amo. Un altro giorno nella Gray Funnel Line
Ci fu un tempo in cui il mio cuore era libero come una piattaforma galleggiante nel mare aperto. Ma ora la piattaforma è trasportata a riva, si ferma alla porta del mio vero amore. un altro giorno nella Grey Funnel Line.
Ogni volta che guardo dentro ai motori ad elica mi viene da desiderare le scarpe del vecchio Peter.
Camminerei su quella scia d’argento e prenderei di nuovo il mio amore tra le braccia
un altro giorno nella Grey Funnel Line.
Oh Signore, se i sogni fossero realtà
metterei le mani su quella ruota di legno
e con tutto il cuore la farei girare
e direi ai ragazzi che siamo diretti verso casa
un altro giorno nella Grey Funnel Line.
Passerò il tempo come quella macchina
finchè l’acqua azzurra non diventerà verde.
E ballerò su quel pontile
e non navigherò mai più con la Grey Funnel Line
e non navigherò mai più con la Grey Funnel Line.

1) i fumaioli delle navi a vapore essendo i tratti più evidenti e riconoscibili nelle lunghe distanze erano verniciati con colori ditintivi dalla varie linee mercantili, così i fumaioli della Royal Navi per Cyril Tawney erano grigio canna di fucile
2) non so se ho tradotto correttamente
3) Old Peter o Saint Peter’s shoes sono le scarpe del vecchio pescatore biblico, che grazie alla fede camminò sulle acque: Se avesse avuto l’abilità di Pietro di camminare sull’acqua, avrebbe potuto camminare sulla scia della luna per titornare tra le braccia del suo amore
4) il timone


Old Man of the Sea

Baby Gramps un po’ hobo, un po’ pirata, con una voce da vecchio lupo di mare, nasce a Miami ma finisce a Seattle, inizia come musicista di strada e poi gira per il mondo in concerto, collaborando con artisti di grosso calibro, eppure non abbandona mai la strada e preferisce i piccoli club.

Con l’aplomb e l’energia di Jack Sparrow, accessioriato di borsalino, capelli lunghi e barba fluente con treccine, canta e suona il folk, il canto della gente e la protesta, canzoni ragtime, l’inizio del rock ‘n’ roll e il country, blues jazz anni 20-30, ma anche brani originali in stile vaudville, con parole che sono giochi di parole, esercizio di stile retorico o enigmistico. Colleziona vecchi e strani strumenti e vecchie canzoni, ed è un autentico musicista indie, indipendente!
La voce particolare alla Popeye (secondo alcuni a metà tra il didgeridoo e il monaco tibetano) è nientemeno che uno stile vocale: “The style is called “vocal fry”.  It has been variously employed for effect by heavy metal artists among others.  The techniques used to achieve it are akin to those used by Central Asian throat-singers and Tibetan monks, though of a lesser order.  Its appropriateness for the singing of pirate songs will be a subject for lively debate” (Tipi Dan)
Anche lo stile con cui suona la chitarra (dobro) è assolutamente personale. In un’intervista dichiara di aver dovuto far di necessità virtù, avendola eraditata dal padre musicista, con relativi tasti consumati e i buchi nel legno: si è dovuto inventare delle cose per riuscire a farla suonare! Il senso ritmico gli viene dagli studi alla batteria, il suo primo strumento, ed è come se applicasse sulla chitarra le tecniche imparate.
Secondo un articolo del Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, Baby Gramps è considerato uno dei 50 musicisti più influenti negli ultimi 100 anni insieme a Ray Charles, Jelly Roll Morton, Ernestine Anderson, John Cage, Bill Frisell, Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, The Wailers, The Ventures, Soundgarden, e Pearl Jam. Gli è riconosciuto il merito di aver fatto conoscere al pubblico di Seattle vecchi blues e antiche ballate che il resto del mondo ha in buona parte dimenticato.

Nella compilation Rogues Gallery (2006) incide due brani “Cape Cod Girls”  e  Old Man of the Sea, un originale composto e scritto da lui.

Max Klinger, Triton and Nereid (1895)

ASCOLTA Baby Gramps in Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys ANTI 2006 (strofe da I a V, III, I, II; III)

At times I feel the shapeliest of mermaids
Course through my veins
But the feel of these shapely mermaids
Of course is only in vain
I would let the seaweed splash
Upon my eyelash
I would let the sea weed splash splash splash.
Upon my eyelash
If I were the old man of the sea (1)
I would bathe the lovely mermaids
If I were the old man of the seawee-, wee-, seaweeds,
I’d bathe the lovely mermaids.
Now I dreamt I saw an old mermaids snorkel
Down dangle from the ships portal
And when I tiptoed to peep in (in a bucket of absinthe)
Saw she was soaking her fins
I would let miss Octopus
Brush and braid my bush.
I’d let miss octo- miss Octopus
Brush and braid my bush
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto*
A volte sento la più ben fatta delle sirene
scorrermi nelle vene
ma la sensazione di queste sirene aggraziate naturalmente è vana
Lascerei il tocco delle alghe
sulle mie ciglia
Lascerei il tocco delle alghe, tocco, tocco, tocco
sulle mie ciglia
Se fossi il vecchio del mare
farei il bagno alla belle sirene
se fossi il vecchio delle alghe
ghee- alghe
farei il bagno alle belle sirene
Ho sognato di vedere una vecchia polena delle sirene
penzolare dall’oblò e quando in punta di piedi facevo capolino (con un secchio d’assenzio),  vidi che stava immergendo le sue pinne
Vorrei che miss Piovra
spazzolasse e intrecciasse i miei capelli
Vorrei che miss Pio – miss Piovra
spazzolasse e intrecciasse i miei capelli

*la traduzione non rende giustizia all’assonanza delle parole nella lingua originale
1) il vecchio del Mare è un dio, Tritone o lo stesso Poseidone


The Pinery Boy

“Pinery Boy” è la versione americana di una vecchia canzone inglese (Sailor’s life, Sweet William) ambientata nel mondo dei taglialegna del Wisconsin.

E’ stata raccolta da Franz Rickaby e pubblicata nel suo “Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy” (1926): quando quel mondo stava andando in declino, il giovane Franz viaggiò per l’Alto Midwest (era l’agosto del 1919) con il suo violino, a fare conversazione con quegli uomini, a trascrivere le melodie e i testi, ad annotare le storie dei suoi informatori; morì a 35 anni, nel 1926 e pocchi mesi dopo la sua morte venne pubblicato dalla Harvard University Press “Pinery Boys: Songs and Songcatching in Lumberjack Era”. Quasi un secolo dopo il libro è andato in ristampa con un saggio biografico di Gretchen Dykstra.

Una giovane donna è alla disperata ricerca, lungo il corso del Wisconsin, del suo amante boscaiolo, ma quando apprende che è morto, si lascia morire di crepacuore (o si sflacella con la sua canoa contro le rocce).

ASCOLTA Sam Eskin in Sea Shanties and Loggers’ Songs (1951)- su spotify
ASCOLTA Art Thieme  in On the Wildnerness Road 1986 (su Spotify)
ASCOLTA Nick Cave in Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI- 2006 (strofe da I a VI)  suggestionati dai toni cupi e dalla fama di Nick, non possiamo fare a meno di pensare ad una murder ballad, ma la ballata non ci dice nulla sulle circostanze  della morte del ragazzo, ed è più probabile un incidente sul lavoro.

“O father, O father, build me a boat
Then down the Wisconsin I may float
And every raft that I pass by
There I will inquire for my sweet pinery boy (1)”
As she was rowing down the stream
She saw three rafts all in the string
And she hailed the pilot as they passed by/And there did she inquire for her sweet pinery boy
“O pilot, O pilot, tell me true
Is my sweet Willie among your crew?
O tell me quick and give me joy
For none other will I have but my sweet pinery boy”
“O, auburn was the colour of his hair
And his eyes were blue and his cheeks were fair
And his lips were of a ruby fine
Ten thousand times they’ve met with mine”
“O dear, dear lady, he is not here
He has drowned in the dells, I fear
‘Twas at Lone Rock as we passed by
O there is where we left your sweet pinery boy”
She wrung her hands and tore her hair
Just like a lady in grave despair
She rowed her boat against Lone Rock (2)
For a pinery boy her heart was broke
“Dig me a grave both long and deep,
Place a marble slab at my head and feet;
And on my breast a turtle dove
To let the world know that I died for love.
And at my feet a spreading oak
To let the world know that my heart was broke.”
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
“Padre o padre, costruiscimi una barca
con cui scenderò il Wisconsin
e a ogni zattera che supererò
chiederò del mio caro ragazzo boscaiolo”
Remando lungo il fiume
vide tre zattere in fila,
e salutò il conducente mentre passavano,
e chiese del suo caro giovane boscaiolo
“O pilota, pilota, dimmi la verità, il mio bel William è tra il tuo equipaggio?
Dimmi presto e rallegrami
che nessun altro voglio avere tranne il mio caro ragazzo boscaiolo!
Oh rossiccio era il colore dei suoi capelli e i suoi occhi azzurri, e le sue guance chiare,
e le sue labbra erano di puro rubino, diecimila volte si sono incontrate con le mie”
“Oh cara, cara madama, non è qui
è caduto nell’acqua, temo,
al Lone Rock che abbiamo passato
oh là è dove giace il tuo caro ragazzo boscaiolo”
Si torse le mani e si strappò i capelli
proprio come una dama in grave lutto,
spinse la sua barca contro il Lone Rock
perchè il suo cuore era spezzato per un giovane  boscaiolo
“Scavatemi una tomba lunga e stretta
mettete un lastra di marmo dalla testa ai piedi;
e sul mio petto una colomba
perchè il mondo sappia che morii per amore
e ai miei piedi una quercia frondosa
per far conoscere al mondo che il mio cuore si era spezzato”

1) letteralmente “il ragazzo della piantagione, foresta di conifere” I Lumbermen arruolavano le loro ciurme di boscaioli a Chicago e appena il clima diventava più rigido si partiva per le “miniere di legname” per il taglio, accampandosi nelle baracche dei campi di lavoro. Dopo i primi tempi in cui la falciatura si svolgeva sulle coste dei corsi d’acqua, si dovette procedere sempre più nell’interno della regione. Doveva esserci il ghiaccio per poter trascinare i pesantissimi tronchi fino al bordo dei “pantani” dove restavano accatastati per tutto l’inverno. Con l’arrivo del disgelo i tronchi galleggianti defluivano verso i corsi d’acqua principali per arrivare fino ai Grandi Laghi.
2) la ragazza manda la sua canoa a sflacellarsi contro gli scogli perche vuole morire nello stesso posto in cui è morto il suo amore.

“Il maiale e il grattacielo: Chicago, una storia del nostro futuro” di Marco D’Eramo

The Cry of Man by Harry Kemp

The poor man is not he who is without a cent, but he who is without a dream.”—Harry Kemp

“The Cry of Man” è un adattamento musicale dei versi del  poeta e scrittore Harry Hibbard Kemp (1883–1960), idolo dei giovani americani del tempo, che amava farsi chiamare «the Vagabond Poet»: assiduo frequentatore del Village Vanguard (il jazz club del Greenwich Village aperto nel 1935, quando agli esordi si suonava folk e si recitavano poesie beat), ma che visse a lungo in una baracca tra le dune di Provincetown, Capo Cod (Massachusetts ) dove morì; da giovane andò marinaio, viaggiò per gli States spostandosi con i treni come un hobo e scrisse alcuni libri autobiografici sulle sue esperienze di vagabondo che ebbero un discreto successo editoriale negli anni 1990-1939.

Oh yes, Harry Kemp was a shack person. When an abscessed tooth nagged him, he removed it himself with a screwdriver. He scratched out his verses with a seagull feather, wore beach rose garlands in his light colored hair, and fancied wearing capes. He knew Greek and Latin (self-taught, of course) and was a serious student of the Bible. Handouts from friends kept him alive. (tratto da qui)

la baracca di Harry Kemp a Provincetown

Seppure non sia una canzone del mare, “The Cry of Man” esprime in pieno lo spirito inquieto e vagabondo del marinaio, la sua inestinguibile sete di avventura.
ASCOLTA Mary Margaret O’Hara – in Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI- 2006.

There is a crying in my heart
That never will be still
Like the voice of a lonely bird
Behind a starry hill
There is a crying in my heart
For what I may not know
An infinite crying of desire
Because my feet are slow
My feet are slow,
my eyes are blind,
My hands are weak to hold:
It is the universe I seek,
All life I would enfold!
There is a crying in my heart
That never will be still
Like the voice of a lonely bird
Behind a starry hill …
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
C’è un grido nel mio cuore
che mai tacerà
come la voce di un uccello solitario
dietro a una collina di stelle. (1)
C’è un grido nel mio cuore
per ciò che forse non saprò,
un lamento infinito di desiderio
perchè i miei passi sono lenti.
I miei passi sono lenti,
i miei occhi ciechi,
le mie mani hanno una presa debole:
è l’universo che cerco,
tutta la vita lo vorrei abbracciare!
C’è un grido nel mio cuore
che mai si quieterà,
come la voce di un uccello solitario
dietro a una collina di stelle

1) c’è sempre qualcosa oltre l’orizzonte