21 December 2011

#74-78 Hooraw for the Blackball Line

This was a moderately common chanty, for which I have some affection. I guess there’s just something about the idea of “The Black Ball Line”…how it’s presented…that is fun to sing about or inspiring or. in the very least, filled with typical “chanty” sentiments—those that are part of the genre’s charm.

Let’s see…my records note the time-period mapping of this chanty as follows: Once in the 1850s, thrice in the 60s, 7 times in 1870s (the “zenith of chanties”!), twice in 1880s, once in 1890s (dying off?), 3 times in 1900s (now the folkloric collection era begins), and twice in the catch-all “by the 1920s or any time earlier” period.

The Black Ball Line of trans-Altlantic packet ships started in 1916. Though the type of methods and lifestyle in these ships was supposed to have inspired chanties, the modern shanties don’t really get cooking until the 1840s.

The earliest that the direct evidence (well, the evidence that I know of) can suggest this song to have been around is the late 1850s. That’s purely speculation based on the fact that John Short, whose sea career spanned 1858-1875, sang it for Cecil Sharp in 1914. The version presented by Sharp is most likely a composite, combining Short’s tune and some lyrics with lyrics from one or more others. Here’s the text:

In Tapscott's line we're bound to shine ;
     A way, Hooray, Yah;
In Tapscott’s line we’re bound for to shine,
     Hooray for the Black Ball Line.

In the Black Ball Line I served my time.

We sailed away from Liverpool Bay.

We sailed away for Mobile Bay.

It was there we discharged our cargo, boys.

We loaded cotton for the homeward bound.

And when we arrived at the Liverpool Dock.

We ran our lines on to the pier.

We made her fast all snug and taut.

The skipper said: That will do, my boys.

The funny thing is that he has it as a heaving chanty.

Cecil Sharp also got it as a capstan chanty from a Charles Robbins of Liverpool in 1908. Best guess is that Robbins’ career was sometime in the 1860s-80s. Anyway, it looks like some of these lyrics were probably mixed into the 1914 text, above. Robbins sang:

O the Black Ball Line I served my time,
     Haul a way, Haul away O,
The Black Ball Line I served my time,
     Then Hurrah! for the Black Ball Line.

O the Black Ball line is the line for to shine, etc.

We sailed away from Liverpool Bay, etc.

We sailed away with spirits light and gay, etc.

We sailed away for Mobile Bay, etc.

It was there we discharged our cargo, boys, etc.

And we loaded cotton for the homeward bound, etc.

We sailed away with spirits light and gay, etc.

Up aloft this yard must go, etc.

And when we arrived at Liverpool Docks, etc.

We ran our lines unto the pier, etc.

We have around with the same ordle (old) song, etc.

We made her fast all snug and taut, etc.

Now the skipper said, " Now that will do my boys," etc.

Whall, who started his career in the 1860s, didn’t present it until his 1920 expanded collection. For windlass (heaving again!):

In the Black Ball I served my time
     To my way, hoo-ro-ya!
In the Black Ball I served my time
     Hoorah for the Black Ball Line!

1868’s “On Shanties” article is the first actual mention of the chanty in print that I find.

For the 1870s, we have Capt. Robinson’s memory (looking back from 1917)—again a heaving chanty:

I served my time in the Blackball line.
     To my way…Hurrah yah!
In the Blackball line I served my time;
     Hurrah! for the Blackball line.

I've crossed the line full many a time, 

And have seen the line both rise and shine.

You will surely find a rich gold mine, 

Just take a trip in the Blackball Line.

The ships are fast, they make good time. 

With clean long runs and entrance fine.

I’ve sailed the seas full many a mile
In wintry cold and sultry clime.

A few more pulls, and that will do.
A few more pulls to pull her through.”

Symondson, 1876, related an episode of the anchor being weighed to,

“I served my time in the Black Ball Line”.

In 1883, W. Clark Russell phrased it as,

“I served my time in the Blackwall Line”.

And in 1887, Davis and Tozer had the following. It’s likely that after the first few verses the rest was made up for publication.

In the Black Ball Line I serv'd my time
     Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!
In the Black Ball Line I serv'd my time
     Hurrah for the Black Ball Line!

The Black Ball ships are good and true,
They are the ships for me and you.

For once there was a Black Ball ship,
That fourteen knots an hour could slip,

Her yards were square, her gear all new,
She had a good and gallant crew,

One day whilst sailing on the sea,
They saw a vessel on their lee,

They knew it was a pirate craft,
All armed with guns before and aft,

She fired a shot across their bow,
Which was not kind you must allow,

They did not fear as you may think
But made the pirates water drink,

They gave that vessel their sharp stem,
And cut her through; more praise to them,

They seized the pirates' wicked mate,
He was so bad they broke his pate,

The skipper and his wicked crew,
They sunk beneath the waters blue,

It was a plucky thing to do
To cut the Pirate vessel through,

Then drink success to the Black Ball Line,
Their ships are good, their men are fine.

Luce’s version from Naval Songs (revised, 1902) had the regulation verse about “served my time,” but the melody has quite a variation that does not turn up in any other print or recorded version I know of—a bit like Foster’s “Dixie.”

Whitmarsh (1903), finally, clearly indicates it as a halyard chanty.

All these have varations in the melody, which Stan Hugill sought to note in Shanties from the Seven Seas. The following video demonstrates each of the sample variations that Hugill offered.

The “Liverpool” variation, as I noted in the infobox when I posted the video, is similar to what Colcord had in her 1924 collection. Comparing it now to Robinson’s, above, I think that may have been the original source, as we know Colcord to have made great use of Robinson’s articles. Further, I believe that Ewan MacColl and company (on the album The Black Ball Line, 1957), in creating their Revival rendition, may have used Colcord’s text to prepare what we hear here. 

I don’t know the source of  “variation (a).”
“Variation (b)” matches the version in Sharp’s English Folk-Chanteys, mentioned above.
“Variation (c)” corresponds to Whall’s.

Hugill’s main version has yet another melody, not found in prior texts. Sounds a bit like "Sacramento" at the beginning. 

The above was a revision, my attempt to render Hugill’s version more accurately. However, I had first recorded this chanty much earlier—one of the first in this project. At that time, I was more interested in working up versions using the lyrics offered by Hugill, and didn’t mind so much when my melodies, as in this case, slipped into the popular revival forms!

 Hugill got his version from an actual sailor who had once shipped in the Black Ball Line, Paddy Delaney. Delaney said it was a windlass or capstan song. However, for some reason I’ve gotten the impression it was more of a halyard song—probably because it has the typical halyard form. I’ll end with an excellent visual of the song being used as a halyard chanty. Here’s Bay Area chantyman Peter Kasin leading it on the Joseph Conrad at Mystic Seaport.

 Direct from that Yankee School,

Ranzo :{

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