30 June 2012

#121 A-rollin’ Down the River (and “The Saucy Rosabella”)

Also known as “The Arabella,” this is in the vein of these “say something three times” songs like “Drunken Sailor” and “Roll the Old Chariot.” Such a song works well to pass a great deal of working time —e.g. for pumping out ship— without demanding much by way of creativity from the chantyman.

During my YouTube project, one of the interesting things I found about this chanty, as it appears in Stan Hugill’s Shanties from the Seven Seas, is the great degree of transcription error. The transcription goes through three different keys, for some reason, and also changes meter!  It presents a case where I believe the errors are so obvious that we should be wary of many of the other tunes presented by Hugill for which there is no other source to compare to.

When Hugill performed this chanty at Mystic Seaport in 1988, he mentioned that it had not yet been learned over there. He stressed that it was a very “American” chanty…which doesn’t mean a lot to me because I consider most to be rather American, ha! He finished his “Next time I come over here, I want to hear you all doin’ it!”

Here’s from my YouTube series:

“The Arabella” seems reasonably related (i.e. in the same stylistic family) to another chanty, known as “The Rosabella.” This is one that Hugill did not include in his collection, but has become known to audiences through other sources. The name of the vessel is similar, the melody is kind of similar, and they both have a “say a line 3 times” thing going on.

“The Saucy Rosabella” was mentioned by John Hutcheson in a letter to the Wellington Evening Post, 1934. Hutcheson had begun a sailing career in the Atlantic Ocean trade in 1871, and among the site he remembered,

            …I’ve heard the Jamaica niggers sing ‘The Saucy Rosabella’ or ‘Waitin’
for de Steamboat,’ or ‘Jimmy Riley,’ etc., as they rolled the big hogsheads of raw sugar or hove at the winch discharging their coastal drogher….

It’s interesting that he mentions Jamaica. Folklorist Horace Beck heard the chanty later on, in the 1950s, when he was discovering the still extant tradition in the Caribbean. It appears in his book Folklore and the Sea (1973).

There are field recordings of “The Rosabella,” made by JM Carpenter.  The first, made in 1929, is of JS Scott. Scott’s career had started in 1863, but he was active until 1903. The cylinder recording is available from Folktrax. The second is of John McPherson (first went to sea 1880) singing “I shipped on board the Rosabella.”

“The Rosabella” was revived based in Scott’s rendition. It appears especially popular among Continental European choirsYet it has also been sung by many in Anglophone countries, such as Holdstock and Macleodand is well known enough to become established as a chanty one may use for working demonstrations at Mystic Seaport.

The song’s “Revival” origins begin with Tom and Barbara Brown, who came upon an unpublished manuscript of Cecil Sharp. Sharp had collected the song from his main chanty informant, John Short (sea career 1858-1875) in 1914. The verses included were as follows.

I’m going on board the Rosabella
I’m going on board the Rosabella
I’m going on board, right down to board
The saucy Rosabella

O one Monday morning in the month of May
One Monday morning in the month of May
I thought I heard our captain say
            The Rosabella will sail today [Notes from Tom Brown, on Mudcat]

According to Tom, they first recorded a revived rendition of the song (with added lyrics) on the North Devon Maritime Museum’s cassette Over The Bar in 1979. After this, the well-known chanty duo of Johnny Collins and Jim Mageean picked it up. All this was done at the time in isolation from the few other sources I have noted above.

After considering these sources, however, and releasing the third volume of the Short Sharp Shanties project CDs (2012), folks synthesized a rendition that included bits of them all. Here it is, sung by Sam Lee.

I decided to try my hand at the “Rosabella” chanty, but because it had not really been tackled, I tried rendering Beck’s text. Beck doesn’t say where specifically he heard the version he presents, though it seems from other notes in the book that it was probably in Bequia (the Genadines) or Carriacou (Grenada). Then again, he doesn’t cite the work being performed. It might have been hauling in or pushing out a boat from/to sea, or working cargo, perhaps. There are spoken interjections of “heave away” that Beck has transcribed, however it seems like a hauling action (I’ve noticed that, unlike the case with deepwater sailors, “heave” has been used in the Caribbean to emphasize pulls). It’s not clear whether the workers paused when these directions and words of encouragement were spoken (i.e. somewhat like the style of the Menhaden fishermen and their chanteys), or if the beat was continuous. I picked the latter. The recurring “heave away” is actually reminiscent of another chanty about a vessel presented by Hugill, “The Albertina.” The result is completely unauthentic, but hopefully would help us get a step closer towards envisioning this chanty.

With mouth watering for dat bulgine pie,

Ranzo :{

24 June 2012

#119 Shenandoah (Bullen) (/Shiny-O / Down Trinidad)

This is not the “main” Shenandoah (which I’ve already blogged about), yet like “Sally Brown,” it probably has some fundamental relationship to it. Just as we find that the name “Shenandoah” seems to have been related to, or at least crossed with, “Sally Brown” and her friend “Shallow Brown” (to come later), the present chanty set offers some variations: “Shenandoh,” “Shiny O,” and “Sunny Dore,” etc.

The present is a chanty that has yet to take any sort of standard or codified form within the Revival era. There was simply not enough evidence of it for it to form a class of its own as one of the clear items of the chanty repertoire. As such, Stan Hugill included it in Shanties from the Seven Seas, but simply as he’d found it in Frank Bullen’s collection and put it alongside the usual “Shenandoah.” When I came across it during my Shanties from the Seven Seas YouTube project, I could not find evidence that anyone else had ever tried to recreate the song from the text. In other words, the chanty was one that had never (to my current knowledge) been revived. Here was my rendition of the time.

YouTuber “StatenIslandFolkie” was inspired by the beauty of the chanty, and a year and a half later came out with this great expanded version.

 What we know of this particular variation all comes from Bullen’s Songs of Sea Labour (1914). He learned it from local stevedores in Demerara in 1869, at the very start of his career. Bullen chose only to present one verse of each chanty, since he reasoned that chanties were variable and/or improvised and to give the idea of any set song form would be disingenuous. Here’s the verse he gave:

Oh Shenandoh my bully boy I long to hear you holler;
Way ay ay ay ay Shenandoh
I lub ter bring er tot er rum en see ye make a swoller;
Way ay ay ay Shenandoh!

Because Bullen’s “Shenandoah” was never revived, and perhaps never really studied much, I am not aware that people have made the connection between this and two other chanties that have had some life in the Revival era. Neither, however, appeared in Hugill’s collection.

The first of these has gone under the title of “Shiny O.” Though it appeared in a 1946 article, Hugill had not seen that before his 1961 SfSS. He later introduced the wider Revival audience to this source in one of his SPIN magazine articles.

The original article was by James Tate Hatfield in the Journal of American Folklore. In it, Hatfield recalls chanties he’d heard on a barque from Pensacaloa to Nice, all the way back in 1886. However, Hatfield noted down the chantymen’s songs at the time. They are reproduced with a few obvious notational errors. The crew of the barque was all Jamaican.

Along with melody, Hatfield presents the following text:

Captain, Captain, you love your brandy,
A-a-a-a-a-ay, shiny O!
Captain, Captain, I love your daughter,
A-a-a-a-a-ay, Shiny O!

O ferryman, ferryman, won't you ferry me over?
Won't you ferry me from Queenstown across over to Dover?

O from Queenstown to Dover's a hundred miles or over;
From Queenstown to Dover's a hundred miles or over!

Captain, Captain, how deep is the water?
She measures one inch, six feet and a quarter.

The Hen and the Chickens were all flying over,
And when she pitches, she pitches into Dover.

O Captain, Captain, what is the matter?
I lose my wife and my pretty little daughter.

O rivers, rivers, rivers are rolling;
Rivers are rolling and I can't get over!

I am not sure who was very first to actually attempt to sing this “Shiny O” in the Revival era. Stan Hugill did begin to perform it himself at some point in the 1970s. There is a recording of him singing it on a 1979 live recording. He introduces the song rather roughly and inaccurately, saying the song “came from a White man who heard these 3 Negros singing this on a ship from Philadelphia to Genoa a good many years ago”! Close enough. He sings the lyrics from Hatfield, though he makes the first verse rhyme by inserting “dandy.” However, Hugill does not sing the melody from Hatfield, which tells us he must have made that up (since he was evidently not fluent in reading music notation). Nonetheless, this creation of Hugill went on to become one of the Revival versions of the song. Its melody can be sampled in this rendition by The Johnson Girls.

Another notable performer of “Shiny O” was the Bristol Shantymen., as on their 1987 album Clear the Decks. Their rendition is faithful to the melody and verses (with minor edits) of the Hatfield article. Incidentally, they have harmonized the song in a way that sounds very “British,” in my opinion. Certainly not how I’d imagine Jamaican chantymen to have done. (This is a good example for my point, in a discussion on Mudcat a while back, that it doesn’t make sense to just harmonize randomly according to what “sounds good” if one is hoping at all to achieve a somewhat authentic chanty style—because different styles of harmony suggest different cultural bases that may not be appropriate to the style of chanties as they were.) A more subtle critique of mine, perhaps ironically, is that I think we can see from the Hatfield lyrics that this song really had no such set verses, and that they were probably improvised.  In my opinion, singers would be better off and more “traditional” to just ad-lib their lyrics in the moment (they don’t even have to rhyme!!). I expand on the point in a post HERE.

And I did this recently to make a point when singing this for the young singers at Mystic Seaport. One of the young people had early been singing and got “stuck” 2 verses into a chanty he was leading. It turns out the chanty was one that doesn’t even have couplets; it’s just basically a non-rhyming sentence for each verse. What I wanted to suggest was that he could have sung anything, even “lalala” or “I can’t remember the words…” instead of breaking the flow.
Here’s my YouTube rendition of “Shiny O,” replete with ad-libbing:

 The other variation on the chanty under discussion is one fairly popular in American circles today.  This “Down Trinidad” is known to us through a 1928 transcription by J.M. Carpenter, of the singer Richard Warner of Wales (who learned it at some point after 1877). According to notes of Carpenter, conveyed by Bob Walser (in a 1998 issue of Folk Music Journal),  the song seems to have been ascribed to stevedores screwing cotton in Barbados and screwing cotton in the U.S. Carpenter noted that it was of Black origin and locally based. The lyrics were these:

            Oh massa stevedore, how you stow your cargo?
                        Way sing Sunny Dore!
            Oh tell me massa stevedore, how you stow your cargo?
                        Bound down Trinidad to look for Sunny Dore.

            Oh booch free me bully boys and burtoned in the archway.
                        Way, sing Sunny Dore,
Oh booch free me bully boys and burtoned in the archway,
                        Bound down Trinidad to look for Sunny Dore.

            Oh Trinidad! Oh Trinidad!
            The pretty little harbor!

            What will you do with Sunny Dore,
            If ever you should find her?

            Oh, roll her in the grass me boys,
            And all amongst the clover.

Bob Walser went on to introduce this to the sea music scene on his 1999 album, When Our Ship Comes HomeHis rendition adds lyrics culled from a couple other sources. This version of the song is especially popular in the scene revolving around Mystic Seaport, where it was taken up by Forebitter and where in the last few years I’ve heard program director Geoff Kaufmann sing it many times.

 These variations can be connected (as also suggested by Bob Walser) even further to a set of “Sing Sally-O” chanties that Hugill did include in his collection. Yet for that reason, they will be discussed at the proper time. Until then…

Longing to hear ya holler,

Ranzo :{