07 November 2011

#12-13 Larry Marr/ The Five Gallon Jar

An unfortunate aspect of Stan Hugill's Shanties from the Seven Seas is the often poor or unclear musical notation of numerous songs. The melodies were taken down by Hugill's brother, Harold; evidently Hugill's own facility with written music was not sufficient. There are many places in the work where the notations just don't make sense, as when the rhythmic values don't add up, or when a phrase begins/ends in a weird part of a measure. Even when the Hugill brothers were copying directly from prior published works, there are mistakes, in which one or more notes are transposed. When I found the first couple mistakes, I thought they were simple typos, however the number of errors and things that I suspect to be errors** is enough to make one uncertain of some tunes which otherwise would be taken at face value. Harold Hugill evidently had special difficulty when songs changed their meter or feel (rhythmic subdivision) part way through. (The most common errors in the notations are due to doubling or halving the rhythm of certain phrases).

The "correct" versions can often be ascertained by comparison with other editors' versions, however in cases where Hugill presents something unique, there is nothing to compare with.

The latter is the case with these two songs, which don't appear as chanties in other sources. The first, "Larry Marr," has an odd meter shift. The solo verses and chorus seem as if they might have once belonged to two different songs, and the notation does not make it clear how to combine them smoothly.
The chorus sounds to me like it may have belonged to a march from the Civil War era, and I wouldn't be surprised if a deep search specifically for it would turn up something. The solo verse parts, however, seem to be a ballad tacked on. I don't think Hugill ever sang this song in performance, so we'll never know for sure how it was all supposed to go together.

What Hugill did sing was a song with the tune and form of the next one, which he calls "The Five Gallon Jar" in his book, but which in performances was called "Larry Marr." This, as he explains, was not a chanty, and his presenting it is by way of showing the probable origins of the lyrical theme of the first song. My gut tells me that part of the tune for this second song was also mis-transcribed. When I try to sing what's been printed, it sounds terrible—and that's not just due to my lack of vocal skill! 

Indeed, Hugill did not sing it as it is written in his book. Moreover, in his performances of "Larry Marr," Hugill wedded the tune (sort of) of the second song to the lyrics of the first. Hugill was recorded singing this creation at Mystic Seaport in his final years. The recording has been well circulated, and since the 1990s it appears that this has been adopted as a fairly popular "chanty" within the sea music revival.

Ranzo :{

**This phrase is a play on the book's subtitle, about "work-songs and songs used as work-songs."


  1. Here's something that might be related to the chorus from a poem/song (?) called "Kearsage and Alabama":


  2. That previous comment gives the source. Here is the actual chorus:

    Hoist up the flag, and long may it wave,
    Over the Union, the home of the brave.
    Hoist up the flag, and long may it wave,
    God bless America, the home of the brave!

  3. You may have something there, John. The lines that precede the chorus do also match the scansion of "Larry Marr."

    The "jubilee" bit made me think of not just spiritual but specifically Black spirituals. Then I remembered that "Marching Through Georgia" also has a "sound the jubilee," and it too pretty much scans. And -- I found this reference (1888) to a parody (?) version of it that rhymes "sound the jubilee" with "we'll set the n***ers free":

    But then...jackpot! Found this 1908 novel _The Blue Lagoon_, with the exact song:


    Seems to be indicating it was being sung with Irish accent. Funny, there is a "Paddy" character in this, and Hugill said he learned this from his shipmate "Paddy Delaney." :-)

    BTW, here's the broadside of the *other* "Larry Marr" (the ballad):