02 November 2011

#6 The Gals o' Chile

In point of fact, many of the original words were quite unprintable, and never intended for delicate ears. For instance, in "Bangidero," "Galloping Randy Dandy" and "Slav Ho," the words of some verses were really shocking, and the choruses quite unfit to be written, yet they were three good chanties, too. I never heard these except upon the coasts of Chile, Bolivia and Peru. 

The above quote comes from one of Captain John Robinson's articles in The Bellman, July 1917. Robinson's sea career spanned 1859 to 1909. In 1864 he started shipping regularly 'round the Horn to Chile for a couple years.

Much has been made of the supposed "obscenity" of chanty lyrics, and the evidence goes for and against this -- even leaving aside the issue of the standards by which one is judging obscenity. One one hand, although there is always the possibility that the mediators of chanties censored/self-censored lyrics, there is not much out there that is truly "dirty" -- more like just a few naughty songs in the bunch. In most cases, chanties with this quality that we might hear performed today are re-imagined versions, deliberately made dirty because, well, the performers have in their mind that it is supposed to be that way. And these seem to just as easily be from the repertoire of "forebitters," i.e. there is nothing particularly related between chanties and rough lyrics. On the other hand, a few writers have emphasized that chanties were "dirty." FP Harlow, an American sailor of the 1870s, was one who said (to greatly paraphrase!) that basically all chanties were sung so as to be unprintable...which means he must have done some pretty heavy editing in his collection! And so Robinson, here, also makes a note of the "unprintable" side of the genre. I think, however, there must have been some specific times, places, people, and repertoire where this was especially the case. In this case, the idea is that the vessels in the guano trade -- on one of which Robinson was an officer -- from Britain to the west coast of South America, fostered an environment where "dirty" chanty lyrics were popular. "The Gals o' Chile" was one such chanty.

Before Stan Hugill included it in SfSS, the song was only attested by Robinson, who called it "Bangidero." (Colcord 1924 subsequently reprinted the chanty as per Robinson.) In bowdlerized form, Robinson gave the first verse as follows:

To Chili's coast, we are bound away,
    To my Hero Bangidero.
To Chili's coast we are bound away,
    To drink and dance fandango
To Chili's coast we are bound away,
Where the Spanish girls are so bright and gay!
    To my Hero Bangidero!
Singing Hey for a gay Hash girl!

Hugill's version does something similar, but chooses to "camouflage" the lyrics differently. Can you guess the original/intended lyrics?

Ranzo  :{

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