Rio Grande – Sea shanty collector and writer Cicely Fox Smith (1882-1954) composed some of the finest nautical poems, in the early years of the 20th century. This one I've adapted for singing by making use of a 19th century gospel song called Little Black Train. Now it's another fine outward-bound song with a rousing chorus.
Lee Fore Brace – I first heard Danny McLeod (UK) lead this C. Fox Smith poem in 2000; he recorded it with Pinch o' Salt on their CD SEA BOOT DUFF & HANDSPIKE GRUEL. I've reset it to Gerry Hallom's tune for Henry Lawson's Outside Track. One wonders if the sailor Dan, whose name appears in many more of Smith's poems, was a close personal friend. Dan certainly was one of her favorite nautical informants.
Lumber – C. Fox Smith was resident in the Pacific Northwest from 1904 to 1914, primarily in Victoria, BC. I've adapted this poem to the traditional Irish song The Boys Won't Leave the Girls Alone. Here we have someone waxing nostalgic about the hard work of loading the lumber ships when he was young, and the comradeship with his fellow workers. Steveston was a shipping port for lumber near Vancouver, BC.
Hastings Mill – This C. Fox Smith poem I've set to music using the traditional tune Cherokee Shuffle. Hastings Mill was the primary lumber mill and lumber shipping wharf for Vancouver, BC. The "rowdy Union Wharf" was adjacent. After her work as a typist in a law office, Smith used to walk along the Victoria waterfront to a nearby lumber yard and muse over the ships being loaded there for faraway ports.
Old Fiddle – This C. Fox Smith poem takes us into the Twilight Zone of the nautical junk shop, immersing us in dream-like images of ships and crewmates. The tune I've channeled for this poem is as original as a tune can be, full of familiar elements but hard to pin down. The song is rather long but there is not a verse I could drop.
Haul Away the Nets – This rousing song is composed by Vince Morash of Nova Scotia, © 1997, used with permission. Vince grew up in the fishing village of Peggy's Cove and was a trawlerman in his more youthful days. He is now a fine singer and songwriter. Clearly this song was composed when the fisheries were not in distress. What Vince captures so well in this song is the comical banter between the crewmen.
Capt. Bailey's Mistake – For years I wondered about the name of a cove, Bailey's Mistake, on the nautical chart of far Downeast Maine. I finally got the bones of the story from a newspaper article and corresponded with the writer for additional historical information. There was indeed a Capt. Bailey in the early 1800's and he did wreck his ship, with a load of lumber near Lubec. The song practically wrote itself. The tune is from Ian Robb's fine drinking song The Old Rose and Crown, © 1977 SOCAN, used with permission.
Dead Dog Cider – This is not exactly a nautical song although poor Bendigo drowns. It was written and recorded by the late Trevor Crozier (UK), © 1977, as Dead Dog Scrumpy. "Scrumpy" is what folks in Devon call hard cider. I first heard this song sung in a smoky folk club while visiting friends in Bristol (UK). In 1998 I composed the chorus and reset the song to the traditional tune Eight More Miles to Louisville. By now the chorus should have worked its way back to Bristol.
Pirates' Own Song – One of my favorite books as a child was THE PIRATES' OWN BOOK and this swashbuckling song was at the end. I have since learned that it was composed by a L.E.L., with music by Horatio D. Hewitt, in 1846. I've done some major word changes and fitted it to the traditional tune King John & the Abbot of Canterbury which is similar to the tune of a more familiar lumberjack song called Blue Mountain Lake. Arrggghh!
Rodent Mariners – I've largely based this song on a poem called The Song of the Brown Sea Rat by Hamish Maclaren, composed in 1929 and included in his wonderful sailors' folk opera SAILOR WITH BANJO. Maclaren was a Royal Navy officer in WW I and WW II and he authored two other major literary works. To sing it I've adapted the traditional tune Blow the Candle Out. It makes a fine children's song.
Old She-Crab – Balladeer Richard Dyer-Bennet used to attend some of my family's folk song parties back in the 1940's and 1950's. I have fond memories of him leading this song late at night, when my brother and I were supposed to be asleep. It's an old traditional song with many variants that can be traced back hundreds of years. We took great delight in the successful escape of the old she-crab.
Dr. Dogbody's Leg – Here I was inspired by a book of short stories called DR. DOGBODY'S LEG by James Norman Hall, co-author of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY. Each tale of how the surgeon lost his "larboard" leg is a jewel and never fails to break me up. I hope that I've been able to recapture some of the spirit of those wonderful evenings at Will Tunn's Cheerful Tortoise taproom. The tune is one I've adapted from the traditional forebitter Paddy West.
Anderson's Coast – This powerful historical ballad was composed by Australia's John Warner, © 1993, used with permission. The escape of convicts from Tasmania across the wild Bass Straits, and their subsequent plight after becoming shipwrecked east of Melbourne, is described in graphic detail. I first heard Warner sing this song at a private party in Sydney back in 2001. It is a song of utter hopelessness but with a lovely chorus. Warner recorded it with Margaret Walters on their fine CD PITHEAD IN THE FERN.
Rosario – I first came across a fragment of this poem in a letter written by shanty collector and editor Joanna Colcord, who was a literary friend of C. Fox Smith. With the help of Danny McLeod I was able to get the full words and then I adapted it into a setting-out song. The tune I've come up with is inspired by the traditional shanty Johnny Come Down to Hilo. Rosario is a small port in Argentina up the Rio de la Plata.
Pacific Coast – This is another Pacific Northwest poem by C. Fox Smith. Here she is wistfully thinking back to her days in Victoria after her return to England. I've adapted the poem for singing, making use of the traditional forebitter Rolling Home which seems a perfect fit. I have also been to the site of the old Outer Wharfs in Victoria at sunset and it was just as she describes.
So Long (All Coiled Down) – Here we have a final C. Fox Smith sea poem as musically arranged by Alan Fitzsimmons, © 1998, used with permission. I first heard this sung by Danny and Joyce McLeod at a Maine concert in 2002; it's recorded by them on their fine CD NEVER A CROSS WORD. It's a great farewell to the ship and one's shipmates after a long voyage.
- Charlie Ipcar, 2005