05 November 2011

#8-10 So Early in the Morning (series)

De bottley oh! de bottley oh!
De neger like the bottley oh!
     Right early in the marning, de neger like the bottley oh!
A bottle o'rum, loaf a bread,
Make de neger dandy oh!
     Right early in de marning, de neger like de bottley oh!

A rowing song, attributed, in a 1833 publication, to a river trip in Guyana in 1831. The scene, in which diasporic Africans are transporting a European observer—who is fascinated by their accompanying song—is repeated in the logs of many from the late 19th century through the 1840s or so. What is striking however is that this could easily be the earliest documentation of a song better known today as the chanty, "The Sailor Likes His Bottle O."

It’s an important clue in the development of the chanty genre and repertoire. On one hand, it points to the sharing between the African-American rowing songs and sailor work songs. However, it is not enough evidence to say that this song necessarily flowed one “way” or the other. That is, it’s hard to say whether this was first sung by deepwater White sailors or by Black oarsmen.

People familiar with my opinions from elsewhere will know that I think Black work songs contributed the form that would become, initially, known as “chanty,” but that this did not occur “in full” (let’s say) until about a decade later. Yet correspondences between Black work songs of several types, with sailor songs, can also be seen in the 1830s. However, that does not mean this particular song is one that moved in that direction.

One reason I say this, is because the form of the song, though not strange, is also not entirely typical like later “chanties.” Another is that an attribution to a time not much later, 1939, puts the “sailor” version being sung…by Tahitian women.

Many of the girls at Point Venus [Tahiti] have learned the chorus songs common with sailors in heaving up the Anchor & other work...Their voices were good, and the ditties of "So early in the morning the Sailor loves his bottle oh," "Round the corner, Sally," "Tally Ho, you know" & a dozen others were often heard along the beach for half the night. (Williams, Philbrick, and Philbrick, 2004). 
If “de neger like de bottley” changed to “the sailor likes his bottle,” it must have done so a good ways earlier, I’d guess, if Tahitians had already adopted the latter. The two other songs mentioned in the above passage were also sung by Dana in the mid-1830s, corroborating them as sailor songs. And yet, “Round the corner, Sally” was also quite clearly connected to an Afro-American corn song. At this time, my inclination is to say that “So early in the morning” was a popular song—broadly spread—of that period.

Whatever the origin, the song lived on with sailors. A narration of a voyage of the packet ship SAMSON, out of Philadelphia and carrying cotton, included a stop in Rio de Janeiro in 1849 (Barra 1893).

We furled the sails, and then rigged the tackles to hoist the longboat, as she was large and heavy. When everything was ready, the mate sang out, ''Hoist away!" As the tackles were drawn taut, the men called to Stanwood: "Give a shanter, old boy!" And he sang the following hoisting song, which was chorused by the men: 
"The ladies like Madeira wine, 
The gents they like their brandy oh! 
     So early in the morning— 
     The sailor likes his bottle oh! 
His bottle oh! his bottle oh! 
The sailor likes his bottle oh! 
     So early in the morning— 
The sailor likes his bottle oh!" 

The song turns up next again in an account (Markham 1853) of an expedition in 1850-51 that went in search of the lost Sir John Franklin, who had sought the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Regions (1845). This includes, at one point, a dramatic sketch, with a stage direction:

Men sing "The sailor loves his bottle, oh!" at first in a low tone, then gradually increasing as they pass over the stage. 
Another mention: In October 1856, the crew of the American whaling barque PACIFIC, out of New Bedford, was on liberty in Albany, Western Australia. One of the crew was too drunk to make it back to the barque at night, and this scene follows:
The next day one of the crew found him, with a bottle of grog, close by a small dam on the outskirts of the town. After being thoroughly awakened by a hearty shaking he took up his line of march, which, by the way, was a very crooked one, for the beach, singing, with great energy — 
"The sailor loves his bottle, O!" 
(I also have it from Steve Gardham, via Mudcat, that Stuart Frank cites yet another [non-chanty] reference pertaining to American whalemen in 1842, in his Jolly Sailors Bold, which I’ve not yet been able to review.)

Cecil Sharp’s chantyman, John Short, may have learned his version (in Sharp 1914) as early as 1858, when he first went to sea:
So early in the morning
The sailor likes his bottle O.
A bottle of rum and a bottle of gin,
And a bottle of old Jamaica Ho!
[cho.] So early in the morning
The sailor likes his bottle O.

Similarly, Capt. Robinson, who went to sea shortly after, remembered this:
When you get to Baltimore,
Give my love to Suzanna, my dear.
[solo still] So early in the morning.
Sailors like the bottle o'.
[cho.] Bottle o'! Bottle o'!
Bottle of very good Brandy o.
So early in the morning.
Sailors like the bottle o'!

Last among these chantymen, James Wright (first at sea 1864) sang the song for JM Carpenter.

All in all, it is certainly one of the older chanties documented.

The song’s appearances in edited collections include, first, Davis and Tozer’s 2nd edition (early 1890s) – for the first time with tune. And RR Terry put it in his
The Shanty Book, Part 2 (1926), although from his comments it seems as though he may have never heard the song in a chanty context. The implication is that the song was rather old and true —as the above references seem to indicate — it may have been known only by those who had sailed by the 1860s.

A recording of the song was made based on Terry's 1926 arrangement, by John Goss and the Cathedral Male-Voice Quartet (HMV, 1928).

As for Hugill, he offers three versions of the song in

The first, version (A), is a "Liverpool-Irish one." Hugill mentions an informant, but does not name him. It's tune corresponds to the one by Short in Sharp's collection. My rendition of this one, helped along by 2 shipmates (my first collaboration in the project), has some personal touches which mark my start of a practice of personalizing the chanties I recorded.

Version (B) comes from Ezra Cobb, a Nova Scotian seaman. Its tune compares with the one in Davis/Tozer. More personalizing here.

Version (C) Hugill says was "usually heard aboard ships in the West Indian trade," but he doesn't say how he knows this. The tune compares to the one in Robinson's article. I ran with the “West Indies” thing, and for fun I tried out a very lathargic “Caribbean” style of singing it.

Ranzo :{

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