Archivi categoria: FOLK AMERICANO/ American Folk

The Coasts of High Barbary

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The George Aloe and the Sweepstake o (The Coasts of) High Barbary is considered both a sea shanty and a ballad (Child ballad # 285) and certainly its original version is very old and probably from the 16th century. So ‘in the seventeenth-century comedy “The Two Noble Kinsmen” we read: “The George Alow came from the south, From the coast of Barbary-a; And there he met with brave gallants of war, By one, by two, by three-a. Well hail’d, well hail’d, you jolly gallants! And whither now are you bound-a? O let me have your company”



The Muslim pirates of the African coasts came from what the Europeans called Barbary or Algeria Tunisia, Libya, Morocco (and more precisely the city-states of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, but also the ports of Salé and Tetuan).
The most correct definition is barbarian pirates because they attacked only the ships of Christian Europe (also doing raids in the Christian countries of the Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean to get slaves or to get the best redemptions). The term included Arabs, Berbers, Turks as well as European renegades.
In the affair there were also for good measure the Christian corsairs, which carried out the same raids along the coasts of Barbary (mainly the orders of chivalry of the Knights of Malta and the Knights of St. Stephen, but obviously in these cases it was a matter of “crusade” and not piracy !!

Although pirate activities were endemic in the Mediterranean Sea, the period of maximum activity of the barbarian pirates was the first half of the 1600s.

FIRST VERSION: a forebitter

Stan Hugill in his bible “Shanties From The Seven Seas” shows two melodies: one more ancient when the song was a forebitter and a faster one as a capstan chantey.
The oldest version of the ballad tells of two merchant ships The George Aloe, and The Sweepstake with George Aloe who avenges the sinking of the second ship using the same “courtesy” to the crew of the French pirate ship who had thrown into the sea the Sweepstake crew.
Pete Seeger

Joseph Arthur from  Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI- 2006 (biography and records here) rock version

There were two lofty ships
From old England came
Blow high, blow low
And so sail we
One was the Prince of Luther
The other Prince of Wales
All a-cruisin’ down the coast
Of High Barbary
“Aloft there, aloft there”
Our jolly bosun cried
“Look ahead, look astern,
Look to weather an’ a-lee”
“There’s naught upon the stern, sir
There’s naught upon our lee
But there’s a lofty ship to wind’ard
An’ she’s sailin’ fast and free”
“Oh hail her, oh hail her”
Our gallant captain cried
“Are you a man-o-war
Or a privateer?” cried he
“Oh, I’m not a man-o-war
Nor privateer,” said he
“But I am salt sea pirate
All a-looking for me fee”
For Broadside, for broadside
A long time we lay
‘Til at last the Prince of Luther
Shot the pirate’s mast away
“Oh quarter, oh quarter”
Those pirates they did cry
But the quarter that we gave them
Was we sank ‘em in the sea

SECOND VERSION: a sea shanty

The ballad resumed popularity in the years between 1795 and 1815 in conjunction with the attacks of Barbary pirates to American ships.

Tom Kines from “Songs from Shakespeare´s Plays and Songs of His Time”,1960
a version of how it was sung in the Elizabethan era

Quadriga Consort from Ships Ahoy 2013

Assassin’s Creed Black Flag  sea shanty version

The Shanty Crew

“Look ahead, look-astern
Look the weather in the lee!”
Blow high! Blow low!
And so sailed we.

“I see a wreck to windward,
And a lofty ship to lee!
A-sailing down along
The coast of High Barbary”
“O, are you a pirate
Or a man o’ war?” cried we.
“O no! I’m not a pirate
But a man-o-war,” cried he.
“We’ll back up our topsails
And heave vessel to.
For we have got some letters
To be carried home by you”.
For broadside, for broadside
They fought all on the main;
Until at last the frigate
Shot the pirate’s mast away.
“For quarter, for quarter”,
the saucy pirates cried
But the quarter that we showed them
was to sink them in the tide
With cutlass and gun,
O we fought for hours three;
The ship it was their coffin
And their grave it was the sea
But O! ‘Twas a cruel sight,
and grieved us, full sore,
To see them all a drownin’
as they tried to swim to shore


South Australia sea shanty

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Under the heading Codefish shanty we have two versions, one of Cape Cod and the other of South Australia: the titles are “Cape Cod girls” and “Rolling King” or “Bound for South Australia” (or simply “South Australia”).
Which of the two versions was born before is not certain, we can only detect a great variety of texts and also the combination with different melodies. At the beginning probably a “going-away song”, one of those songs that the sailors sang only for special occasions ie when they were on the route of the return journey.


“As an original worksong it was sung in a variety of trades, including being used by the wool and later the wheat traders who worked the clipper ships between Australian ports and London. In adapted form, it is now a very popular song among folk music performers that is recorded by many artists and is present in many of today’s song books.In the days of sail, South Australia was a familiar going-away song, sung as the men trudged round the capstan to heave up the heavy anchor. Some say the song originated on wool-clippers, others say it was first heard on the emigrant ships. There is no special evidence to support either belief; it was sung just as readily aboard Western Ocean ships as in those of the Australian run. Laura Smith, a remarkable Victorian Lady, obtained a 14-stanza version of South Australia from a coloured seaman in the Sailors’ Home at Newcastle-on-Tyne, in the early 1880’s. The song’s first appearance in print was in Miss Smith’s Music of the Waters. Later, it was often used as a forebitter, sung off-watch, merely for fun, with any instrumentalist joining in. It is recorded in this latter-day form. The present version was learnt from an old sailing-ship sailor, Ted Howard of Barry, in South Wales. Ted told how he and a number of shellbacks were gathered round the bed of a former shipmate. The dying man remarked: “Blimey, I think I’m slipping my cable. Strike up South Australia, lads, and let me go happy.” (A.L. Lloyd in Across the Western Plains from here)

This kind of songs were a mixture of improvised verses and a series of typical verses, but generally the refrain of the chorus was standardized and univocal (even for the obvious reason that it had to be sung by sailors coming from all the countries).
The length of the song depended on the type of work to be done and could reach several strophes. The song then took on its own life as a popular song in the folk repertoire.
The first appearance in collections on sea shanties dates back to 1881.

The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem 1962 the version that has been the model in the folk environment

Let’s see them in a pirate version in the TV adaptation of the “Treasure Island”

Johnny Collins, from “Shanties & Songs of the Sea” 1996

The Pogues

Gaelic Storm from Herding Cats (1999) they recall the version of the Pogues. It is interesting to compare the same group that has also tried with the arrangement of  Cape Code Girls.

In South Australia(1) I was born!
Heave away! Haul away!
South Australia round Cape Horn(2)!
We’re bound for South Australia!
Heave away, you rolling king(3),
Heave away! Haul away!
All the way you’ll hear me sing
We’re bound for South Australia!

As I walked out one morning fair,
It’s there I met Miss Nancy Blair.
I shook her up, I shook her down,
I shook her round and round the town.
There ain’t but one thing grieves my mind,
It’s to leave Miss Nancy Blair behind.
And as you wallop round Cape Horn,
You’ll wish to God you’d never been born!
I wish I was on Australia’s strand
With a bottle of whiskey in my hand

1) Land of gentlemen and not deportees, the state is considered a “province” of Great Britain
2) the ships at the time of sailing followed the oceanic routes, that is those of winds and currents: so to go to Australia starting from America it was necessary to dub Africa, but what a trip!!

3) Another reasonable explanation  fromMudcat “The chanteyman seems to be calling the sailors rolling kings rather that refering to any piece of equipment. And given that “rolling” seems to be a common metaphor for “sailing” (cf. Rolling down to old Maui, Roll the woodpile down, Roll the old chariot along, etc.) I would guess that he is calling them “sailing kings” i.e. great sailors. There are a number of chanteys which have lines expressing the idea of “What a great crew we are.” and I think this falls into that category.” (here)
Moreover every sailor fantasized about the meaning of the word, for example Russel Slye writes ” When I was in Perth (about 1970) I met an old sailor in a bar. I found he had sailed on the Moshulu (4 masted barque moored in Philly now) during the grain trade. I asked him about Rolling Kings. His reply (abridged): “We went ashore in India and other places, and heard about a wheel-rolling-king who was a big boss of everything. Well, when the crew was working hauling, those who wasn’t pulling too hard were called rolling kings because they was acting high and mighty.” So, it is a derogatory term for slackers. (from here).
And yet without going to bother ghostly Kings (in the wake of the medieval myth of King John and the fountain of eternal youth) the word could very well be a corruption of “rollikins” an old English term for “drunk”.
Among the many hilarious hypotheses this (for mockery) of Charley Noble: it could be a reference to Elvis Prisley!

There is also a MORRIS DANCE version confirming the popularity of the song

Codefish Cape Cod Girls


Cape Cod Girls

Leggi in italiano

Under the heading Codefish shanty we have two versions, one of Cape Cod and the other of South Australia: the titles are “Cape Cod girls” and “Rolling King” or “Bound for South Australia” (or simply “South Australia”).
Which of the two versions was born before is not certain, we can only detect a great variety of texts and also the combination with different melodies.

At the beginning probably a “going-away song”, one of those songs that the sailors sang only for special occasions ie when they were on the route of the return journey.


cape-cod-girlThe most demented version and therefore by “pirate song” that goes for the most in the Renaissance Fairs is that which comes from the peninsula of Cape Cod (State of Massachusetts).
Cape Cod was the first landing of the Mayflower – the first ship that carried the English “pilgrims” on the land overseas, the “New England”.
The activity was based on fishing for fish (especially cod) and whaling.

The climate is mild thanks to the Atlantic currents: there it is summer (warm-cool) or winter (cold-mild) and summer lasts until early December, it is the so-called Indian Summer, always due in the presence of the Atlantic Ocean, which slowly spreads the heat forfeited during the summer.

Yarmouth Shantymen

The Crew of the Mimi 1984

Baby Gramps in “Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys“, ANTI- 2006. The particular voice as Popeye is  a vocal style: “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)

Gaelic Storm from The Boathouse, 2013

Cape Cod(1) girls
ain’t got no combs,
Heave away, haul away!
They comb their hair
with a codfish bone(2),
And we’re bound away for Australia(3)!
So heave her up, me bully bully boys,
Heave away, haul away!
Heave her up,
why don’t you make some noise?

And we’re bound away for Australia!

Cape Cod boys
ain’t got no sleds,
They ride down hills
on a codfish head.
Cape Cod mothers
don’t bake no pies,
They feed their children
codfish eyes.
Cape Cod cats
ain’t got no tails,
They got blown off
in northeast gales.

Other lines variously combined in which the cod are mentioned in all the sauces !!

Cape Cod girls
don’t wear no frills
They’re plain and skinny
like a codfish gills.
Cape Cod doctors
ain’t got no pills,
They give their patients
codfish gills.
Cape Cod folks
don’t have no ills
Them Cape Cod doctors
feed them codfish pills
Cape Cod dogs
ain’t got no bite,
They lost it barking
at the Cape Cod light.
Yankee girls
don’t sleep on beds,
They go to sleep on codfish heads.
Cape Cod girls
have got big feet,
Codfish roes is nice an’ sweet.
Cape Cod girls
they are so fine,
They know how to bait a codfish line.

1) the port par excellence of Cape Cod and of the fishermen of Massachusetts is the port of Provincetown
2) think about the sirens who are notoriously on the beach or a rock to comb their long hair while singing
3) the ships at the time of sailing followed the oceanic routes, that is those of winds and currents: so to go to Australia starting from America it was necessary to dub Africa, but what a trip!!


“South Australia” version


“Fire Down Below” the last shanty

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“Fire Down Below” in addition to being the title of a film and a rock song is above all a sea shanty) according to Stan Hugill “the laswt shanty”. Given the theme it was often used as pump chanty but also as capstan chanty.


The authors of the project “Short Sharps Shanties” write: There was a broadside called Fire! Fire! Fire! – printed by the Glasgow Poet’s Box on the 23rd Nov. 1867.  Versions were also printed by Fortey of London and Sanderson of Edinburgh at about the same time. The chorus is obviously related to, if not the origin of, the shanty:Fire! fire! fire!, Now I’s bound to go;
Can’t you give us a bucket of water,
Dere’s a fire down below.
The text is in a faux-Negro patois and describes Aunt Sally nearly dying in a house-fire.  There was also a parody, printed by Such of London at about the same time, where the text is concerned with a country boy’s encounter with a city girl and the more familiar ‘fire down below’ caused by venereal disease.
Fire! fire! fire!, Fire down below;
Let us hope that we shall never see,
A fire down below.
Perhaps surprisingly, neither theme seems to recur in any of the collected versions of the shanty although plenty of contemporary shanty-singers adopt a nudge-nudge-wink-wink view of the chorus. Tozer and Sharp give it as a pumping shanty, Hugill cites it as a favourite for the purpose, and Colcord says that “Almost any of the capstan shanties could be used on the pump-brakes, but a few were kept [as this one is], by the force of convention, for no other use.”
Hugill comments that, of his five versions, Short’s version has “a not so musical pattern. This form has become popular with radio shanty-singers.”  All verses except the last come from Short although, inexplicably, he only gave Sharp the ‘fire in the galley’ verse on the day and subsequently sent him, by post, the other four verses. (tratto da qui)

Jackie Oates from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor Vol 1 (su Spotify)

Fire, fire, fire down below,
It’s Fetch a bucket of water girls
There’s fire down below.
Fire in the galley, fire down below.
It’s fetch a bucket of water girls,
There’s fire down below.
fire, fire..
Fire in the bottom fire in the main
It’s fetch a bucket of water girls,
And put it out again.
fire, fire..
As I walked out one morning
all in the month of June
I overheard an irish girl
sing this old song
fire, fire..
Fire in the lifeboat,
fire in the gig(6),
Fire in the pig-stye roasting of the pig.
fire, fire..
Fire up aloft boy  and fire down below,
It’s fetch a bucket of water girls,
There’s fire down below.

Shanty Gruppe Breitling
from Haul the Bowline 2013 

Fire in the galley, fire in the house,
Fire in the beef kid(1), scorching the scouse(2).
Fire, fire, fire down below,
Fetch a bucket of water boys
Fire down below.
Fire in the forepeak(3) fire in the main(4)
fire in the windlass(5) fire in the chain.
Fire in the lifeboat, fire in the gig(6),
Fire in the pig-stye roasting the pig.
Fire on the orlop(7) (cabine) fire in the hold.
Fire in the strong room melting the gold.
Fire round the capstan(5), fire on the mast,
Fire on the main deck, burning it fast.
Fire on .. 

1) Beefkid = small wooden tub in which beef salt is served.
2) It is a traditional dish of Liverpool, that is a meat stew with potatoes, onions, carrots. It is a popular dish of poor cooking. Scouse is also the typical accent of Liverpool (of the popular classes) with clear Celtic influences, the origin of the accent is derived most likely from the English pronunciation by Irish immigrants arrived in Liverpool to look for work. In the 1841 census a quarter of the inhabitants of Liverpool were born in Ireland and again from the census at the beginning of the twenty-first century it was found that 60% of Liverpudlians originated in Ireland.
3) forepeak= the interior part of a vessel that is furthest forward; the part of a ship’s interior in the angle of the bow
4) main= ocean
5) windlass and capstan they are two different “machines” which, however, perform the same function, that of lifting weights by the use of a rope or chain.
6) gig= A light rowboat, powerboat or sailboat, often used as a fast launch for the captain or for a lighthouse keeper. The gig was always designed for speed, and was not used as a working boat.
7) orlop = the name of a lower deck.


This version comes from the Caribbean fishermen from the Isle of Nevis (reported by Roger Abrahams in “Deep the Water, Shallow the Shore”)
Hulton Clint


A decadent version that with the “fire in the lower parts” alludes to the disruptive sexuality of a young girl!

Nick Cave from Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys  ANTI 2006.

She was the parson’s daughter
With her red and rosy cheeks
(Way, hey, hee, hi, ho!)
She went to church on Sunday
And sang the anthem sweet
(‘Cause there’s fire down below)
The parson was a misery
So scraggy and so thin
“Look here, you motherfuckers
If you lead a life of sin.
He took his text from Malachi(1)
And pulled a weary face
Well, I fucked off for Africa
And there, I feel(2) from grace.
The parson’s little daughter
Was as sweet as sugar-candy
I said to her, “us sailors
Would make lovers neat and handy”.
She says to me, “you sailors
Are a bunch of fucking liars
And all of you are bound to hell
To feed the fucking fires”.
Well, there’s fire down below, my lad
So we must do what we oughta
‘Cause the fire is not half as hot
As the parson’s little daughter.
Yes, there’s fire (fire)
Down (down)
Below (below)

1) Malachi was an Old Testament Prophet who lived in the fifth century a. C.
2) found written both as a feel and as a fell


A fierce song for halyard: Bully in the Alley

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“Bully in the Alley” is a halyard shanty with origins referable to the black slaves involved in loading and unloading cotton bales in the ports (cotton screwing).
The bully here is a boozing sailor left in an alley by his still “sober” companions, who will move on to pick him up when returning to the ship.

Shinbone Alley is an alley in New York but also in Bermuda, but metaphorically speaking it is found in every “sailor town”. More generally it is an exotic indication for the Caribbean, the alley of a legendary “pirates den” , where every occasion is good for a fist fight! (first meaning for bully). Or it is the alley of an equally generic port city of the continent full of pubs and cheerful ladies, where if you get drunk, you end up waking up “enlisted” on a warship or a merchant ship (second meaning for bully). So our victim in love with Sally instead of marrying her, he goes to sea!
And finally a last interpretation: a “very good”, or “first rate” sailor (the rooster of the henhouse!)
According to Stan Hugill “Bully in the Alley” has become a seafaring expression to indicate a “stubborn” ship that wants to go in its direction in spite of the helmsman’s intention
This song is nowadays among the most popular “pirate songs”!
Take a look to these bully boys!

Assassin’s creed IV black flag

Help me, Bob(1),
I’m bully in the alley,
Way, hey, bully in the alley!
Help me, Bob, I’m bully in the alley, Bully down in “shinbone al“!
Sally(2) is the girl that I love dearly,
Way, hey, bully in the alley!
Sally is the girl that I spliced dearly(3),
Bully down in “shinbone al
For seven long years I courted little Sally,
But all she did was dilly and dally(4).
I ever get back, I’ll marry little Sally,
Have six kids and live in Shin-bone Alley.

1)  God
2) Sally (or Sal) is the generic name of the girls of the Caribbean seas and of South America
3) also written as “Spliced nearly” means “almost married”, and yet the meaning lends itself to sexual allusions
4) to wastetime, especially by being slow, or by not being able to make a decision


Text version identical to the previous one but with an additional stanza before the last closing that says:
I’ll leave Sal and I’ll become a sailor,
I’ll leave Sal and ship aboard a whaler.

Three Pruned Men from Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys  ANTI 2006.

Text version identical to the previous one but with a closing stanza that says:
Sally got down and dirty last night,
Sally got down and she spliced(5),
The sailors left last night,
The sailors got a ball of wax(6),

5) in slang to splice it means having sex (uniting parts of the body in sexual activity) but also uniting with marriage
6) It is an idiom that means the totality of something; a hypothesis on the origin of the term: This is a form of initiation of freemasons. The freemasons took it from the scarab beetle, which is said to roll a ball of earth, which is a microcosm of the universe. I believe it is thought to spring from the ancient mysteries of Egypt. There was much amateur Egyptology during the 19th and early 20th century. The ball of wax has transcendental meaning. It represents a mystery of human godlike creativity which a person aspiring to the mystery of masonic lore carries with him. In the initiation, the person was given a small ball of earwax or some such, which would represent the cosmos. Reference to this ball of wax was a secret symbol of brotherhood. (from here)

Paddy and the Rats


Hanging Johnny : hang, boys, hang

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“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


Windy old weather (Fishes Lamentation)

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The songs of the sea run from shore to shore, in particular “Windy old weather”, which according to Stan Hugill is a song by Scottish fishermen entitled “The Fish of the Sea”, also popular on the North-East coasts of the USA and Canada.
TITLES: Fishes Lamentation, Fish in the Sea, Haisboro Light Song (Up Jumped the Herring), The Boston Come-All-Ye, Blow Ye Winds Westerly, Windy old weather

A forebitter sung occasionally as a sea shanty, redating back to 1700 and probably coming from some broadsides with the title “The Fishes’ Lamentation“. “This song appears on some broadsides as The Fishes’ Lamentation and seems to have survived as a sailor’s chantey or fisherman’s song. Whall (1910), Colcord (1938) and Hugill (1964) include it in their chantey books. We also recorded it from Bob Roberts on board his Thames barge, The Cambria. It also appears in the Newfoundland and Nova Scotia collections of Ken Peacock and Helen Creighton“. (from here)

A fishing ship is practicing trawling on a full moon night, and as if by magic, the fishes start talking and warning sailors about the arrival of a storm. The fishes described are all belonging to the Atlantic Ocean and are quite commonly found in the English Channel and the North Sea (as well as in the Mediterranean Sea).
The variants can be grouped into two versions

FIRST VERSION  Blow the Man down tune

In this version the fish warn (or threaten) the fishermen on the arrival of the storm, urging them to head to the ground. The text is reported in “Oxford Book of Sea Songs”, Roy Palmer

Bob Roberts, from Windy old weather, 1958

David Tinervia · Nils Brown · Sean Dagher · Clayton Kennedy · David Gossage from Assassin’s Creed – Black Flag
“Windy Old Weather”

Dan Zanes &  Festival Five Folk from Sea Music 2003 a fresh version between country and old time.

As we were a-fishing
off Happisburgh(1) light
Shooting and hauling
and trawling all night,
In the windy old weather,
stormy old weather
When the wind blows
we all pull together
When up jumped a herring,
the queen (king) of the sea(2)
Says “Now, old skipper,
you cannot catch me,”
We sighted a Thresher(3)
-a-slashin’ his tail,
“Time now Old Skipper
to hoist up your sail.”
IV (4)
And up jumps a Slipsole
as strong as a horse(5),
Says now, “Old Skipper
you’re miles off course.”
Then along comes plaice
-who’s got spots on his side,
Says “Not much longer
-these seas you can ride.”
Then up rears a conger(6)
-as long as a mile,
“Winds coming east’ly”
-he says with a smile.
I think what these fishes
are sayin’ is right,
We’ll haul up our gear(7)
now an’ steer for the light.

1) Happisburgh lighthouse (“Hazeboro”) is located in the English county of ​​Norfolk, it was built in 1790 and painted in white and red stripes; It is managed by a foundation that deals with the maintenance of more than one hundred lighthouses throughout Great Britain. 112 are the steps to reach the tower that still works without the help of man. The headlights at the beginning were two but the lower one was dismantled in 1883 due to coastal erosion. The two lighthouses marked a safe passage through the Haagborough Sands
2) In the Nordic countries herrings (fresh or better in brine or smoked) are served in all sauces from breakfast to dinner. “It is a fish that loves cold seas and lives in numerous herds.The herring fishing in the North Seas has been widespread since the Middle Ages.It is clearly facilitated by the quantity of fish and the limited range of their movements. trawlers and start the fishing season on May 1, to close it after two months.In all the countries of North America and Northern Europe this fishing has an almost sacred character, because it has been for years the providence of fishermen and is a real natural wealth In the Netherlands and Sweden, for example, the first day of herring fishing is organized in honor of the queen and is proclaimed a national holiday ” (from here)
3) Thresher shark thresher, thrasher, fox shark, alopius vulpinus.with a characteristic tail with a very elongated upper part (almost as much as the length of the body) that the animal uses as a whip to stun and overwhelm its prey. The name comes from Aristotle who considered this fish very clever, because he was skilled in escaping from the fishermen
4) the mackerel stanza is missing:
then along comes a mackerel with strips on his back
“Time now, old skipper, to shift yout main tack”
5) perhaps refers to halibut or halibut, of considerable size, has an oval and flattened body, similar to that of a large sole, with the eyes on the right side
6) the “conger” is a fish with an elongated body similar to eel but more robust, can reach a length of two or three meters and exceeds ten kilos of weight. It is a fundamental ingredient in the Livorno cacciucco dish!
7) another translation of the sentence could be: we recover our networks

SCOTTISH VERSION, Blaw the Wind Southerly tune

In this version the fish take possession of the ship, it seems the description of the ghost ship of “Davy Jone”, the evil spirit of the waters made so vividly in the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean”. An old Scottish melody accompanies a series of variations of the same song.


Quadriga Consort from Ship Ahoy, 2011 ♪ 

Michiel Schrey, Sean Dagher, Nils Brown from, Assasin’s Creed – Black Flag  titled “Fish in the sea” (stanzas from I to III and VIII)

Come all you young sailor men,
listen to me,
I’ll sing you a song
of the fish in the sea;
And it’s…Windy weather, boys,
stormy weather, boys,
When the wind blows,
we’re all together, boys;
Blow ye winds westerly,
blow ye winds, blow,
Jolly sou’wester, boys,
steady she goes.
Up jumps the eel
with his slippery tail,
Climbs up aloft
and reefs the topsail.
Then up jumps the shark
with his nine rows of teeth,
Saying, “You eat the dough boys,
and I’ll eat the beef!”
Up jumps the lobster
with his heavy claws,
Bites the main boom
right off by the jaws!
Up jumps the halibut,
lies flat on the deck
He says, ‘Mister Captain,
don’t step on my neck!’
Up jumps the herring,
the king of the sea,
Saying, ‘All other fishes,
now you follow me!’
Up jumps the codfish
with his chuckle-head (1),
He runs out up forward
and throws out the lead!
Up jumps the whale
the largest of all,
“If you want any wind,
well, I’ll blow ye a squall(2)!”

1) literally “stupid head” is a common saying among the fishermen that the cod is stupid, because it does not recognize the bait and lets himself hoist docilely on board.
2) the fishermen were / are very superstitious men, in all latitudes, it takes little or nothing to attract misfortune in the sea, it is still a widespread belief that the devil or the evil spirit has power over the sea and storms.


Of the second version, the best-known in America bears the title “The Boston as-all-ye” as collected by Joanna Colcord in her “Songs of American Sailormen” which she writes”There can be little doubt that [this] song, although it was sung throughout the merchant service, began life with the fishing fleet. We have the testimony of Kipling in Captains Courageous that it was a favourite within recent years of the Banks fishermen. It is known as The Fishes and also by its more American title of The Boston Come-All-Ye. The chorus finds its origin in a Scottish fishing song Blaw the Wind Southerly. A curious fact is that Captain Whall, a Scotchman himself, prints this song with an entirely different tune, and one that has no connection with the air of the Tyneside keelmen to which our own Gloucester fishermen sing it. The version given here was sung by Captain Frank Seeley.”

Peggy Seeger from  Whaler Out of New Bedford, 1962

Come all ye young sailormen
listen to me,
I’ll sing you a song
of the fish of the sea.
Then blow ye winds westerly,
westerly blow;
we’re bound to the southward,
so steady she goes
Oh, first came the whale,
he’s the biggest of all,
he clumb up aloft,
and let every sail fall.
Next came the mackerel
with his striped back,
he hauled aft the sheets
and boarded each tack(1).
The porpoise(2) came next
with his little snout,
he grabbed the wheel,
calling “Ready? About!(3”
Then came the smelt(4),
the smallest of all,
he jumped to the poop
and sung out, “Topsail, haul!”
The herring came saying,
“I’m king of the seas!
If you want any wind,
I’ll blow you a breeze.”
Next came the cod
with his chucklehead (5),
he went to the main-chains
to heave to the lead.
Last come the flounder(6)
as flat as the ground,
saying, “Damn your eyes, chucklehead, mind how you sound”!

1) In sailing, tack is a corner of a sail on the lower leading edge. Separately, tack describes which side of a sailing vessel the wind is coming from while under way—port or starboard. Tacking is the maneuver of turning between starboard and port tack by bringing the bow (the forward part of the boat) through the wind. (from Wiki)
2) porpoise is often considered as a small dolphin, has a distinctive rounded snout and has no beak like dolphins
3) it  is the helmsman shouting
4 ) smelt it (osmero) is a small fish that lives in the Channel and in the North Sea; its name derives from the fact that its flesh gives off an unpleasant odor
5) literally “stupid head” is a common saying among the fishermen that the cod is stupid, because it does not recognize the bait and lets himself hoist docilely on board.

Blow the Wind Southerly


The Young (Baffled) knight: Down deary down

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A young knight strolls through the countryside meets a girl (sometimes he surprises her while she is intent on bathing in a river) and asks her to have sex.


Child ballad #112 B

The girl of this version is a lady, testifying that it was not advisable for the honest girls of the past, to go around unaccompanied; in fact, no girl from a good family would have ventured alone in public places (and less so for woods and fields that were not in the family estate), and although Jane Austen a century later, she used to see the English countryside populated by young girls who walk, rarely they were alone.

In the most ancient version of the ballad, a young and inexperienced knight meets a girl in the fields and asks her to have sex, but the girl makes fun of his inexperience in love and tricks him into a ploy. Throughout the centuries and the oral transmission the context of the ballad becomes more prosaic and the girl is no longer playing with fire, but she is all intent on preserving her virtue from a rape.

The text, which sums up version A, is reported by Thomas D’Urfey in Pills to Purge Melancholy, V, 112, 1719, but we see that with a different melody and some cut, the version lends itself very well at a more current or at least nineteenth-century reading, set in the American Far West!
Nina Simone live at the Carnegie Hall in New York, 1963 (from the album “Folksy Nina” 1964).
Nina had a great success in the 80s (after Chanel selected one of her songs, dating back almost 30 years earlier for a television commercial). Despite being a jazz singer – blues – soul she has ventured into folk or better in American balladry. The melody written by Joseph Hathaway and Charles Kingsley, with its sore movement and the pizzicato of the strings, is perfect for a “murder ballad” so in my opinion, the music casts a sinister light on the encounter revealing it for what it is: one failed rape!

There was a knight (1) and he was young a-riding along the way Sir
And there he met a lady fair
among the stacks of hay (2) Sir
(Down deary down)
Quote he “shall you and I, Lady
among the grass lay down oh
And I will take a special care
of the rumpling of your gown(3) oh”
“So -she told him-
If you will go along with me
into my father’s hall Sir
You shall enjoy my maiden’s head
and my estate and all Sir”
Down deary down
So he mounted her on a milk white steed himself upon another
And then they rid upon the road like sister and like brother
Down deary down 
And when they came to father’s home all moulded all about Sir
She stepped straight within the gate and shut the young man out Sir
Down deary down
“Here is a pursue of gold -she said-
take it for your pain Sir
And I will send my father’s men
to go home with you again Sir
And if you meet a lady fair
as you go by the town Sir
You must not fear the dewy grass or
The rumpling grass of her gown Sir”
Down deary down
And if you meet a lady gay
as you go by the hill Sir
Here is the moral of the story
“If you will not when you may
you shall not when you will Sir”

1) the knight could very well be a cow-boy of the Wild West
2) the girl is configured in this setting if not just like a peasant at least as the wealthy daughter of the owner of a large ranch
3) evidently the young man does not know the saying of the previous version” When you have you owne true-love a mile or two out of the town, spare not for her gay clothing, but lay her body flat on the ground


TITOLI: The Baffled Lover (knight),  Yonder comes a courteous knight, The Lady’s Policy, The Disappointed Lover, The (Bonny) Shepherd Lad (laddie), Blow away the morning dew, Blow Ye Winds High-O, Clear Away the Morning Dew
Child #112 A (Tudor Ballad): yonder comes a courteous knight
Child #112 B
Child #112 D ( Cecil Sharp)
Child #112 D (Sheperd Lad)
Blow Away The Morning Dew (sea shanty)


Rolling Sally Brown!

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)


Roll, boys! Roll boys roll!

In this version the chorus doubles in two short sentences repeated by the crew in sequence after each line of the shantyman, here the work done is the loading of the ship
Roll, boys! Roll boys roll!
Way high, Miss Sally Brown!

Sean Dagher · Clayton Kennedy · Nils Brown from Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag (Sea Shanty Edition, Vol. 2)

Oh! Sally Brown, she’s the gal for me boys
Roll, boys! Roll boys roll!
Oh! Sally Brown, she’s the gal for me boys
Way high, Miss Sally Brown!
(Oh way down South, way down South boys
Oh bound away, with a bone(1) in her mouth boys)
It’s down to Trinidad(2) to see Sally Brown boys,
She’s lovely on the foreyard, an’ she’s lovely down below boys,
She’s lovely ‘cause she loves me, that’s all I want to know boys,
Ol’ Captain Baker, how do you store yer cargo?
Some I stow for’ard (3) boys, an’ some I stow a’ter
Forty fathoms or more below boys,
There’s forty fathoms or more below boys,
Oh, way high ya, an’ up she rises,
Way high ya, and the blocks (4) is different sizes,
Oh, one more pull, don’t ya hear the mate a-bawlin?
Oh, one more pull, that’s the end of all the hawlin’
Sally Brown she’s the gal for me boys

1) “Bone in her teeth” is the expression used for a bow wave, usually implying that the vessel in question was moving pretty fast. (see more here)
2) the southernmost of the Caribbean islands
3) the front and the back of a ship have a specific terminology
4) In sailing, a block is a single or multiple pulley


Not to be confused with “Spent My Money On Sally Brown”. Cecil Sharp ranks as capstan shanty.
In Short Sharp Shanties the project’s curators write”A
lthough, by Hugill’s time, ‘this shanty had only one theme – Sally and her daughter’, Short’s text is not on this ‘one theme’ – it is based around a less overtly sexual relationship.  Short gave Sharp more text than he actually published. It is always possible that Short may be self censoring – but there is no indication that this is the case, and from other textual evidence in Sharp’s field notebooks (e.g. see the notes to Hanging Johnny), rather the reverse. We have added just two floating verses at the end

Roger Watson from Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 2

Way, hey, roll and go

Oh Sally Brown, Oh Sally Brown
a long time ago
She promised for to marry me
Way, hey, roll and go
She promised for to marry me.
a long time ago

Oh Sally Brown is the girl for me
Oh Sally Brown has slighted me.
As I walked down one morning fair
it’s there I met her I do declare.
And I asked for to marry me
to marry me or let me be.
She spent me pay all around the town
she left me broken bad and dow.
Than I will pack me bags and go to sea
and I’ll leave my Sally on the quey


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