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 Home. His 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,