There a numerous little valleys in Stan Hugill’s Shanties from the Seven Seas, between the towering “classic” and widely sourced chanties, in which we find the real gems that Hugill contributed as a collector of chanties.
I am often uncomfortable uncritically taking the word of Hugill when he is speaking as a historian or scholar of chanties, so sometimes I find his presentation of the “big” chanties to be off. It’s for this reason that I think the major contribution of his text is the rarely or never before published chanties it presents, without the speculative notes, plainly and as he gathered them from personal informants. This material largely consists of chanties gathered from West Indian informants, and the one among them who contributed the most (at least 37 chanties) was Harding the Barbadian Barbarian.
We are presently in one of these “valleys” of the text, having just seen the unique “Where Am I to Go, M'Johnnies” from Harding and now another one-souce chanty from that individual, “Roll, Boys, Roll.”
The lyrics, on a rough “Sally Brown” theme, have what we’ve come to perceive as a rather Caribbean air. Hugill noted that when Harding say this “it had its full compliment of grace notes and yells.” I may have gone a bit overboard in interpreting that!
As with “Where Am I to Go,” Hugill’s text has been the one source for revival interpretations of “Roll, Boys, Roll.” Tom Sullivan may have been the first to do it, with his working version of 1980. Here’s a comparison of a couple styles available for full hearing.
1. Led by Tony Latimer at an informal session in British Columbia. Much like with “Where Am I to Go,” this scene of singers has evidently interpreted the choruses to have an awkward pause in them that doesn’t make rhythmic sense to me. I am sure they find it makes sense in the swinging fun they are having, so more power to them! But let’s be honest: it would not function as a halyard chanty.
2. This rendition by Shantygruppe Breitling, by contrast to the above, shows how the proper notated rhythm is necessary for hauling halyards.
En route to Sally's bungalow,