Sailortown Days : Sea Songs

Track Notes

Sea Traders Based on a poem composed by Burt Franklin Jenness (US). The tune is inspired by the traditional contradance tune Waiting for Nancy. This is a song sailors would appreciate if they'd been running back and forth from the Florida Cays to Rio de Janeiro and points south to Terra del Fuego. Jenness served in the U.S. Navy as a medical officer in World War 1.

Mobile Bay Based on a poem by Cicely Fox Smith (UK), here we have an old sailor reminiscing about his experience in the cotton port of Mobile, Alabama, where something bad evidently went down. This poem contains phrases from the traditional stevedore/halliard shanty Roll the Cotton Down, a version of which the poet collected and published in A Book of Shanties.

Tramps (Chantey for Steam) This song composed by Ron Baxter UK) with tune by Chris Lock (UK), 2008, used with permission, does a great job of describing the old steamships which used to "tramp" round the world. Baxter himself is a retired merchant mariner and knew many of the older firemen and engineers from these ships.

Auckland to the Bluff Rudy Sunde (NZ) composed this jewel of a song, 1981, used with permission, as recorded with the Maritime Crew in 2005. The song vividly describes the experiences of a young man going to sea for the first, and last time!

A Ballad of the Old Navy This drinking song by Jenness provides a graphic description of the spree ashore in the old South Street area of New York City. The traditional tune collected by Frederick Pease Harlow from the whaling shanty It's Advertised in Boston fits it to a "T."

News in Daly's Bar In this dramatic ballad by C. Fox Smith we learn that an old shipmate has died, and the person hearing the news just can't quite believe it, hoping that somehow the news is incorrect. The pain and shock expressed in this poem may be no idle poetic exercise and the poem could be a veiled reference to the loss of the poet's own nautical informant and close friend "Dan."

By the Old Pagoda Anchorage This poem by C. Fox Smith commemorates the tea clippers that used to race between China and London in the 19th century. The Pagoda Anchorage at Mawei was twenty-five miles from the entrance to the Min River and twelve miles below the City of Foochow (Fuzhou) in Southern China.

Frederick's of Wooloomooloo This song is largely based on Jon Campbell's (US) song Frederick's of Galilee, 2000, used with permission, with a few changes to better adapt it for the Sydney, Australia, crowd. Wooloomooloo is an older commercial waterfront area whose long finger pier is now resplendent with luxury condominiums. The tune is similar to the traditional Irish song Peggy Lettermore.

Concrete & Glass My protest song for Portland, Maine's working waterfront is based on a similar protest song Across the Western Suburbs by two Australian neighborhood organizers Denis Kevans and Seamus Gill, which in turn is a parody of the old sailors' drinking song All for Me Grog.

The Traveller This poem by C. Fox Smith was inspired by a tramp she met on the Victoria docks when she was resident there in British Columbia from 1904 to 1913. She would often go down to the Outer Wharfs after work and pretend to fish while in fact harvesting stories from the sailors, stevedores and other residents.

Wreck of the Lady Washington This song is based on a true incident involving a tall-ship replica's unfortunate encounter with a railroad bridge on the upper Columbia River. Micki Perry (US) knew members of the crew and composed this memorable ballad, 1991, used with permission. The tune is based on the traditional whaling ballad Greenland Fisheries.

Sailor's Farewell What's behind this poem may be revealed in a short story that C. Fox Smith wrote called "Oranges" from Tales of the Clipper Ships; the story describes how a young sailor ashore in a Spanish port is invited by a lovely young woman to join a picnic in the hills, and how later that evening she is brutally murdered by her jealous lover.

Mother Carey I've sometimes wondered about Davy Jones consort Mother Carey and owe a debt of thanks to John Masefield (UK) for fleshing her out. My tune is inspired by the traditional Scottish ballad Johnny Cox/Johnnie o' Breadisley. A "brassbounder" is a nickname for an apprentice officer on the old tall-ships in the late 19th century.

Outside Track Based on a poem by the late 19th century Australian poet Henry Lawson as set to music by Gerry Hallom (UK), 1982, used with permission. In this leaving song the old gang breaks up as one of its members returns to England. Those left behind feel the loss strongly, and as their numbers diminish year by year, they become increasingly bitter.

Leave Her Johnnie Bob Zentz (US) set this World War 1 poem by C. Fox Smith to the traditional pumping shanty tune Leave Her Johnny Leave Her, 2008, used with permission. The song describes a crew of old shellbacks abandoning their ship after it has been mined or torpedoed off Longships Light on England's Southwest Coast.

Evening Shadows Fall This song was inspired by a recent revisit to Ethiopia where I served as a Peace Corps teacher from 1965-68 (details here) . The words came to me on the long flight home and recall the old ceremonies that used to take place in the sacred groves in the Gurage tribal area. The tune is related to Sail Away Ladies Sail Away. It makes for a fine song to sing around the camp fire.

- Charlie Ipcar, 2009


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