14 November 2011

#26 'Way Stormalong John

This "Stormalong" form shows up only twice in the historical record (before Hugill) that I am aware of.

In the first case it is only by title, and I am merely supposing, by eliminating the other possibilities as less likely, that this chanty was meant. The author, Prentice Mulford (Life by Land and Sea, 1889), recalls a voyage in 1856 on the "'round the Horn" route of a clipper ship from NY to Frisco. 
For the first six weeks all the “shanty songs” known on the sea had been sung. Regularly at each pumping exercise we had “Santy Anna,” “Bully in the Alley,” “Miranda Lee,” “Storm Along, John,” and other operatic maritime gems, some of which might have a place in our modern operas of “The Pinafore” school. There's a good deal of rough melody when these airs are rolled out, by twenty or thirty strong lungs to the accompaniment of a windlass' clank and the wild, shrill sweep of the winds in the rigging above. 
As far as I can tell, the chanty is being ascribed to use at the Downton pump. However, again, I really can't be sure this is the chanty under discussion which, furthermore, seems like it would only work at halliards.

Harlow is the editor who gives a full version, for hand over hand work at halliards, he says. Whenever Harlow refers to a "hand over hand" chanty, he seems to be alluding to songs he heard whilst in Barbados in 1878. In this case, he accompanies the chanty with the note:
Storm Along John was very popular on all merchantmen, but the ‘Badian negroes took great delight in singing the words in many variations and when once started would sing one after another, changing the air to suit their mood.
I believe that, read in context, he was not saying that this particular Stormalong form was "popular on all merchantmen"—he is giving a whole set of different forms. And it may be that this one was indeed more of a stevedore's chanty with Caribbean-specific use.

So it was that Hugill, the only other writer to give it, in his Shanties from the Seven Seas, learned it from his Barbadian friend, Harding. And Hugill does not appear to have performed it, rather he just collected it. Evidently, Hugill was not wont to perform chanties that had a strong Afro-Caribbean feel inherent to them. What was left then was only for some enthusiast to revive the song from Hugill's book notation, right? 

But here's the twist: The person to first record this—in what certainly appears to match Hugill's version—was Ewan MacColl, and he did it on the Topic Records album, The Blackball Line—from 1957. That's before SfSS was published (1961). I feel certain that Hugill's and MacColl's versions correlate, and also that Hugill did get it from Harding. This would suggest, then, that Hugill really was interacting with MacColl (and Bert Lloyd) in the late fifties. Were some manuscripts of Hugill's book already ready by then? What year was it exactly when he famously broke his leg and set to work researching? And if Hugill was sharing info with MacColl/Lloyd, were they also sharing info with him?

Well, here is the recording I made of "'Way Stormalong John," from my first collaborative session.

Ranzo :{

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