02 November 2011

#1-5 A-Rovin' (series)

Hugill auspiciously began Shanties from the Seven Seas with this very distinctive, catchy, and ever well-known capstan shanty. 20th century folklore placed a rather high value on this, I think, because it fit very well into the idea of chanties having their origin in older (18th century and earlier) music of Britain. Reinforcement for this idea was the lore floated by John Masefield in his 1906 A Sailor's Garland, in which  he strongly implies that the chanty derives from a 1608 play by Heywood (much to the delight of Ren Faire people!). Though that is nonsense, FWIW I do think the tune sounds quite "old", and the famous "anatomical progression" theme, not unique to this song, appears characteristic of the Anglo/Irish traditional song tradition (i.e rather than, say, American popular songs or African-American work songs). However, to my knowledge no predecessors to this specific song outside the chanty tradition have been put forth. And despite the personal feeling I might get from the tune, unfortunately the earliest reference I can come up with to document the chanty is in Luce's Naval Songs (1883). He did not give it a title, but rather labeled it simply a "lee-gangway chorus" -- by which I believe he meant a "walkaway" or "stamp 'n' go" chanty. These were the lyrics he gave:
In Amsterdam there dwelt a maid,
And her you ought to sea.
In Amsterdam there dwelt a maid,
And making baskets was her trade.
I'll go no more a-roving with you, fair maid.
A-roving, a-roving, since roving's been my ruin,
I'll go no more a-roving with you, fair maid.
One presumes that he may have bowdlerized the text, as the song is famously in reference to a prostitute, not a basket-seller.
The song next appears in Davis & Tozer's (1887) first addition, where, I believe, it was bowdlerized and/or new verses were contrived to make it singable and presentable. After this, the chanty is referenced as one of the "shantee songs" sung during the final days of the USS Kearsarge (Walling 1894).

When Luce's Naval Songs was revised and reprinted in 1902, he gave it the actual name "A-Roving" -- presumably after having referenced Davis/Tozer or some other information source unknown to me. Funny though, at that point he called it “A favorite pumping shanty.” No mention yet of the capstan.
And finally, in 1906, it was Masefield who slapped on the new (?) title, "The Maid of Amsterdam." Most 20th century interpretations that call it that seem to descend from Masefield's presentation in some way. He called it a capstan chanty.

Some writers to mention this chanty following are:

1909 - Buryeson, Fred H. [‘El Tuerto’]. “Sea Shanties.” Coast Seamen’s Journal 22(40) (23 June).
1910 - Whall, Captain W.B. Sea Songs and Shanties. Brown, Son and Ferguson.
1914 - Bullen, Frank. T. and W.F. Arnold. Songs of Sea Labour. London: Orpheus Music Publishing.
1914 - Sharp, Cecil K.  English Folk-Chanteys.  London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. Ltd.
1917 - Robinson, Captain John. “Songs of the Chanty-Man: I.” The Bellman 23(574) (14 July 1917): 38-44.
1918 - King, Stanton H. King’s Book of Chanties. Boston and New York: Oliver Ditson Co. (as a "sea song," not a chanty)
1920 - Terry, R.R.  “Sailor Shanties (I).”  Music and Letters 1(1):35-44.
1924 - Colcord, Joanna C.  Roll and Go.  London: Heath Cranton.
1924 - Frothingham, Robert, ed. Songs of the Sea and Sailors’ Chanteys. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

1926 - Terry, Richard Runciman.  The Shanty Book, Part II.  London: J. Curwen & Sons.

In 1925, "A-Roving" was first commercial recorded by John Goss and the Cathedral Singers on HMV B.2018. This performance came from the 1914 arrangement of Cecil Sharp. Based on the singing of John Short, the lyrics of that version went:
In Plymouth town there lived a maid;
Bless you, young women;
In Plymouth town there lived a maid ;
O mind what I do say ;
In Plymouth town there lived a maid
And she was mistress of her trade;
I’ll go no more a-roving with you, fair maid.
A-roving, a-roving, Since roving’s been my ru-i-in
I’ll go no more a-roving with you, fair maid.
I took this fair maid for a walk,
And we had such a loving talk.
I took her hand within my own,
And said: I’m bound to my old home.
By 1926, the Seven Seas Club of London had "A-Rovin'" in their repertoire.

ca.1926/27, a commercial recording of the song was made by Kenneth Ellis with a quartet. I have not heard it, but I believe it was based on RR Terry's book's version.

The song was used for a dance and sing-along in the Spouter Inn in the 1956 film version of Moby Dick
In terms of earliest date of existence, although it cannot be said for sure, one might speculate that "A-roving" is at least as old as 1867. That was about the time when JM Carpenter's informant Jack Murray first went to sea, however he may have learned the song any time between then and when he was recorded singing it in the late 1920s.

When I recorded Hugill's first example of "A-Rovin'" it was early in the project. I had only recently decided that I would do the project, and though I've never learned the songs in any particular order, I did try to start at the beginning after a few of them. At that point,  I was considering each chanty to be a song with no set version – which of course I still do. However, this meant that I treated Hugill’s several sample versions as variations one could/should use to contruct one’s own interpretation.  And I still think that is the case. However however, I later decided that there was value in realizing each of the variations so as to show their particularities – as each has its own history. For performance, one will still create one’s own version, but for this project, I wanted to make sure the variations were clearly represented. So…my very first recording of this is a mix; and I did not adhere strictly to the notation.

When my methodology changed, in order to more accurately represent Hugill's version (A), I created this revision:

Version (B) is a slight variation unique to Hugill's collection, only appearing in the unabridged edition:

Version (C):
Version (D) is based in the John Short version (from Cecil Sharp's coll.), mentioned above. I note that at this point I was a year and a half into the project, and my style of singing had changed a bit since the first "A-Roving"!

The last version is the Norwegian borrowing. My first Norwegian song! -- don't mind the pronunciation. The solo verses of this were composed by poet Wergeland in 1839, but they were later fitted to the "go rowing" chorus and tune by (presumably) the editor Brochmann in 1916.

Ranzo :{


  1. Thankyou for your singing and research! it's fantastic! given me a lot of food for thought! Now which which version do I sing? I'm a bit spoiled for choice!!!!

    all the best Mazz :-)

  2. Thankyou for your singing and research! it's fantastic! given me a lot of food for thought! Now which version do I sing? I'm a bit spoiled for choice!!!!

    all the best Mazz :-)