UNCOMMON SAILOR SONGS
Track Notes

West Indies Blues - Adapted in 2001 from a popular 1920's blues song as sung by Ella Robinson Madison, including some unique Charleston verses which may go back to her days as an internationally known minstrel singer. Instead of using the original blues tune I've adapted the Southern Appalachian tune I've Been All Around This World. This is a classic song of the West Indies immigrant longing to be home.

Flying-Fish Sailor - One of several Cicely Fox Smith sea poems from the 1920's that I've adapted for singing. I did this one in 2001. The tune I use is based on the traditional contradance standard Cold Frosty Morning. Here we have a vivid picture of the tall-ship voyage from England to the China Seas and its return.

Christmas at Sea - I first heard this Robert Louis Stevenson sea poem sung by Tom Lewis and was intrigued. Then in the best tradition of Tom Lewis, in 2004, I reset it to an original tune and dropped a couple of verses. It's a classic dramatization of "Th' impervious horrors of a leeward shore."

Windlass Shanty - This song is based on a short poem by nautical novelist Lincoln Colcord, brother of sea shanty collector Joanna Colcord. In 1999, I filled out the poem by adding three more verses and modified the two original verses. My tune is original enough so I can't pin it down. It's a fine setting-out song.

Outward Bound - Another C. Fox Smith sea poem in which I've done some rewording for singing. I did this one in 2004. My tune is adapted from the traditional Blow the Candles Out. This is a classic sailortown song where the sailors have "laid around and played around" too long and it's time to ship out.

Yangtse River Shanty - Originally composed by Hamish Maclaren for his sailor's folk opera SAILOR WITH BANJO in 1930 and extensively reworked by myself in 1992; the original tune was not available and I've made use of the traditional shanty tunes Tommy's Gone to Hilo in the verse and Congo River in the chorus. This is another outward bound/lost love ballad, this time from the China Shore.

Shanghai Passage - Danny McLeod in the UK first adapted this C. Fox Smith sea poem for singing. I reset it in 2001 to a different tune, another one from the Southern Appalachians, and I've done some additional rewording for ease of singing. Here we have Shanghai Brown's old crimping pals reminiscing about the tricks he used to recruit crews in San Francisco's notorious Barbary Coast for outward bound ships.

Hell's Pavement - I was rereading Stan Hugill's SAILORTOWN when I noticed this prefacing poem by John Masefield in 2004. I found myself singing it to some music hall tune and after adding a chorus and a few minor word changes it seemed to work rather nicely. Here we have another take on the sailor's pledge never to go to sea again, only to be shipped out "a week later with the clothes upon me back."

Limehouse Reach - I first heard a version of this C. Fox Smith sea poem sung by Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman but I thought their musical arrangement too mournful. I reset the song to a variant of Lady Margaret in 2001 and think it works closer to the spirit of the original poem. The deep-water sailor here acknowledges losing his love to a more shallow-water man. He's committed to shipping out but is still wistful.

Mariner's Compass - I found this 1808 drinking song by John Holland reprinted in John Ashton's REAL SAILOR-SONGS. It lacked a tune but in 2002 I was able to channel one that seems to be a good fit. It is quite similar to the drinking songs composed by Charles Dibden that were also commonly presented in the theatres of the day.

Widgery Wharf - Here we have a parody of the traditional Cruisin' 'Round Yarmouth sailortown ballad that I composed in 2002. In this case I was thinking of Widgery Wharf, one of the last surviving traditional commercial fishing wharfs on Portland's waterfront, and which richly deserves to be celebrated in verse, with the usual nautical double entendres.

Wake Up Susiana - This one I adapted in 2001 from Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's classic 1960's rock & roll hit Wake Up Little Suzie. It's clearly a working shanty, good for a powerful haul on the line with an appropriate grunt. Contrary to popular rumor, it was not discovered inside an old sea chest.

Swabbing Days - Here I was inspired by a 1999 newspaper account of the U.S. Coast Guard's new policy for outsourcing the traditional sailor drudgery to civilian contractors. I borrowed the tune from Vince Morash's Fishing Time Again. It's another of my songs that I'd love to hear Tom Lewis sing.

Pearl Diver - This one's an English music hall song that was sung by a long-time family friend Dennis Puleston and it's in grave danger of being forgotten. It may have been composed by Bob Weston and Bert Lee who did write The Rich Man Rides By in the 1920's which shares the same chorus, or it may be a parody of that ditty. The sharks win and the class struggle lives on.

Cowardly Act - This tragic ballad was inspired by a news columnist Dave Barry, based on an article in AIR TRANSPORT WORLD in 1998. The verses were lifted almost intact from the article but the rhymes are mine. The tune is from the traditional Irish The Son of a Gambolier. I took the liberty of naming the Japanese trawler the Kasii Maru after one of the nommes de guerre that the German commerce raider Atlantis used in the South Atlantic in early WW II.

Wreckers' Song - I ran across this song in 1999 while leafing through a copy of THE LORE OF THE WRECKERS in a used book shop. It was excerpted from a letter to noted ornithologist James Audubon by Dr. Benjamin Strobel in 1830 who described a party he had attended aboard the Key West wrecking fleet. There was no tune but it seems to fit the traditional Scot's Caledoni-o, come-all-ye ballads. I have done some minor rewording, restored the refrain, and in one case made an obvious correction.

Freedom Schooner Amistad - This song was inspired by viewing the replica slaving schooner Amistad beating up the bay off New London. I subsequently boarded her in Portland harbor in the summer of 2003, taking careful notes as the crew described the slave mutiny she represented. I sang the song to the crew during their lunch break the very next day. I'm not sure where the tune came from.

Port o' Dreams - William Pint and Felicia Dale used this C. Fox Smith poem for the title of one of their recordings. In 2004, I set the poem to a tune composed by Rhode Island's Jon Campbell for his song The Mary and I think it's a good fit. I love the pursuit of the romantic dream as told by the old salt, the recognition that the dream is an unlikely reality, but what the Hell, it's still fun to muse on!

Mariquita - This C. Fox Smith poem is unabashedly nostalgic as the old shellback recalls the love of his more youthful days. Sure, he knows that he's grown old and she's no longer the girl she used to be but he cherishes the memory. I set this to music in 2004. The tune is original or at least I haven't been able to track it down.

Pastures of Memories - This is the only song I've ever composed that came as a dream, fragments of personal memories stitched together with an apparently original tune. This song came together in 2003. Strictly speaking, it's more of a "life's passage" song rather than a sea song but it's a fine one to end this recording with.

- Charlie Ipcar, 2004


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