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 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,