Sea Shanties

The following information was compiled from Lesley Nelson (aka the Contemplator)'s Child Ballad Website.

Sea Shanties (chanties): The word "chanty" (or shanty) is probably derived from the French word "chanter" - to sing.

The Blarney Band!
The Blarney Band is a three-man Irish band of extraordinary talent, including Keith Shannon, Bob Nehls, and Dan Shannon. They joined the Privateers of the Dauntless last season, singing on our dock and aboard our ship at faires during our regular season, as well as at private parties and our end-of-season "Abandon Ship" party. They sing period songs (as well as some modern ones), and use period instruments, so they have a wonderfully authentic sound.

If you're of a mind to find out how shanties might have sounded, or you're interested in finding a band to play at your next party, have a gander at their site, and a listen to their songs. You'll be glad you did.
www.blarneyband.com

Also, look forward to seeing them perform again on the dock of the Dauntless at a faire site near you soon!

  Shanties were originally shouted out, with emphasis on a syllable or word as sailors performed their work.  Shanties developed separate rhythms for the various chores at sea - for raising the anchor (which was done by marching around the capstan), hauling ropes, etc.   

Most songs involved a lead singer and a choral response. The words were called out by a shantyman and the men joined in on the chorus. The words of the chorus usually coincided with a heave, or pull.

Shanties served both as a mental diversion and synchronized teamwork. They also provided an outlet for sailors to express their opinions in a manner which would not cause punishment. The "golden age" of shanties was from approximately 1820 1920.  Steam and diesel-powered ships killed the job of the shantyman.  Now, only singing groups continue the tradition.

Types of Shanties:

Capstan shanties: The capstan was a mushroom shaped object with holes along the top. Sailors inserted bars into the holes and marched around the capstan to raise the anchor. Capstan shanties had steady rhythms and usually told stories because of the length of time (which could be hours) it took to raise the anchor. Sailors would stamp on the deck on the words. This gave rise to the term, "stamp and go chanties."

Halyard shanties (Long Drag Shanty): Halyard shanties were sung to the raising and lowering of sails. Sails hung from wooden cross-pieces called yards. With the canvas and wood, sails could weigh between 1,000 and 2,500 pounds. To set sail a member of the crew would climb the rigging to loosen the canvas. On deck the crew would take hold of a line called the halyard (for haul + yard). The crew would rest during the verse and haul during the chorus. Depending on the weight of the sail, crews could pull one (for heavy jobs) to three (for lighter jobs) times per chorus.

Short drag shanties: Very difficult tasks meant crews could pull less. Short drag shanties were used for such tasks - such as trimming the sails or raising the masthead.

Windlass and pumping shanties: the windlass is also used to raise the anchor. Sailors would pump handles up and down, making the barrel of the windlass rotate to bring the anchor chain up. Pumps were fitting in ships to empty the bilge (the lowest part of the ship) of water. Wooden ships leaked, but not so fast that the crew could not pump the water out. There were several different types of pumps, which accounts for the variation in the timing of pumping shanties.

Ceremonial shanties and forecastle songs: Ceremonial and forecastle (the crews quarters) songs were those sung by sailors on their time off (of which they didn't have a great deal). These usually told stories of famous battles, romance or of their longing for home. Ceremonial shanties were for times of celebration, such as when the sailor paid off his debt to the ship or when they crossed the equator.

For more information see the International Shanty and Seasong Association.

Notes:

(1) From the The Folk Music Resource Book, Larry Sandberg and Dick Weissman, Da Capo Press, New York, 1976.

(2) This information is from Songs of the Sailor, Compiled and edited by Glenn Grasso, published by Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic Connecticut, 1998. There is a companion cassette on which shanties are sung as they would be on board ship.

  

MAID OF AMSTERDAM

According to the Burl Ives Song Book "This song, first appearing in 1608 in a London play by Robert Heywood - 'The Rape of Lucrece' became very popular with colonial sailors." Stan Hugill discounts this. He notes some scholars claim it dates to Elizabethan times. Shore version of the song are found in Great Britain, Denmark, and France.*

As a shanty the song was at the pumps and windlass.

 In Amsterdam there lived a maid
Mark you well what I say!
In Amsterdam there lives a maid,
And this fair maid my trust betrayed.

Chorus
I'll go no more a rovin, with you fair maid.
A roving, A roving, since roving's been my ru-i-in,
I'll go no more a roving, with you fair maid.

Her eyes are like two stars so bright
Mark you well what I say
Her eyes are like two stars so bright,
Her face is fair, her step is light.

Chorus

I asked this fair maid to take a walk,
Mark well what I do say
I asked this maid out for a walk
That we might have some private talk.

Chorus

Then I took this fair maid's lily white hand,
Mark well what I do say
I took this fair maid's lily white hand
In mine as we walked along the strand.

Chorus

Then I put my arm around her waist
Mark well what I do say!
For I put my arm around her waist
And from her lips snatched a kiss in haste!

Chorus

Then a great big Dutchman rammed my bow
Mark well what I do say
For a great big Dutchman rammed my bow,
And said, "Young man, dis bin mein vrow!"

Chorus

Then take warning boys, from me,
Mark well what I do say!
So take a warning, boys, from me,
With other men's wives don't make too free.

Chorus

For if you do you will surely rue
Mark well what I do say!
For if you do you will surely rue
Your act, and find my words come true.

Chorus

 

THE GOLDEN VANITY

 An early version of this ballad appears circa 1635 as Sir Walter Raleigh Sailing In The Lowlands (Showing how the famous Ship called the Sweet Trinity was taken by a false Galley & how it was again restored by the craft of a little Sea-boy, who sunk the Galley. The ballad was first licensed in June-November 1685.  The tune is about a famous ship The Sweet Trinity that was taken by a fake galley and was recovered.  In the tune Raleigh is portrayed as arrogant, selfish and ungrateful.  Quite a contrast to the courtier placing the cloak over the puddle for the Queen.

Although not generally considered a shanty, Stan Hugill sang it as a pump and capstan shanty.

There was a ship that sailed
all on the Lowland Sea,
and the name of our ship
was the Golden Vanity
and we feared she would be taken
by the Spanish enemy
as she sailed in the Lowland,
Lowland, low
as she sailed in the Lowland sea.

Then up stepped our cabin boy
and boldly outspoke he
and he said to our captain
"what would you give to me
If I would swim along side
of the Spanish enemy
and sink her in the Lowland,
Lowland, low
and sink her in the Lowland, sea

"Oh, I would give you silver
and I would give you gold,
And my own fairest daughter
your bonny bride shall be,
If you will swim along side
of the Spanish enemy
and sink her in the Lowland,
Lowland low
And sink her in the Lowland sea.

The boy he made him read
And overboard sprang he
and he swam alongside
of the Spanish enemy
And with his brace and auger
in her side he bored holes three,
And he sunk her in the Lowland,
Lowland Low,
And he sunk her in the Lowland Sea.

Then quickly he swam back
to the cheering of the crew
But the captain would not heed him
for his promise he did rue,
and he scorned his poor entreatings
when loudly he did sue,
And he left him in the Lowland,
Lowland, Low
And he left him in the Lowland Sea.

Then quickly he swam round
to the port side
And up to his messmates
full bitterly he cried,
"Oh, messmates, draw me up
for I'm drifting with the tide,
And I'm sinking in the Lowland,
Lowland, Low
I'm sinking in the lowland sea."

Then his messmates drew him up,
But on the deck he died,
And they stitched him in his hammock
Which was so fair and wide,
And they lowered him overboard
And he drifted with the tide,
And he sank in the Lowland,
Lowland, low
And he sank in the Lowland sea.

 

 DRUNKEN SAILOR

The capstan shanty was a moderate tune sung to raising the anchor. In order to raise the anchor bars were inserted into the capstan and sailors would walk around it, turning the capstan to raise the anchor. Sailors would stamp on the deck on the words "Way Hay and Up She Rises."

Chorus
Way, hay up she rises,
Way, hay, up she rises,
Way, hay, up she rises,
Earlye in the morning!

What will we do with the drunken sailor?
What will we do with the drunken sailor?
What will we do with the drunken sailor?
Earlye in the morning?

Put him in the scuppers with the hose pipe on him
Hoist him aboard with a running bowline
Put him in the brig until he's sober.
Make him turn to at shining bright work.
Put him in a boat and row him over
Hoist him up to the topsail yardarm
Make him clean out all the spit-kids

That's what you do with a drunken sailor
(The last line of this verse is followed
by "Amen")

 

THE MERMAID

This ballad dates back at least to the mid 1700s. It is also known as Waves on the Sea and The Wrecked Ship. As the ballad indicates, the sight of a mermaid was a portent of a shipwreck.

This ballad dates back at least to the mid 1700s. It is also known as Waves on the Sea and The Wrecked Ship.

This ballad is Child Ballad #289.

For a complete list of Child Ballads at this site go to Francis J. Child Ballads.

As the ballad indicates, the sight of a mermaid was a portent of a shipwreck. (See below for Encylopedia Mythica article and related links.)

'Twas Friday morn when we set sail,
And we had not got far from land,
When the Captain, he spied a lovely mermaid,
With a comb and a glass in her hand.

Chorus
Oh the ocean waves may roll,
And the stormy winds may blow,
While we poor sailors go skipping aloft
And the land lubbers lay down below, below, below
And the land lubbers lay down below.

Then up spoke the Captain of our gallant ship,
And a jolly old Captain was he;
"I have a wife in Salem town,
But tonight a widow she will be."

Chorus

Then up spoke the Cook of our gallant ship,
And a greasy old Cook was he;
"I care more for my kettles and my pots,
Than I do for the roaring of the sea."

Chorus

Then up spoke the Cabin-boy of our gallant ship,
And a dirty little brat was he;
"I have friends in Boston town
That don't care a ha' penny for me."

Chorus

Then three times 'round went our gallant ship,
And three times 'round went she,
And the third time that she
went 'round
She sank to the bottom of the sea.

Chorus

'Twas Friday morn when we set sail,
And we had not got far from land,

When the Captain, he spied a lovely mermaid,
With a comb and a glass in her hand.

Chorus
Oh the ocean waves may roll,
And the stormy winds may blow,
While we poor sailors go skipping aloft
And the land lubbers lay down below, below, below
And the land lubbers lay down below.

Then up spoke the Captain of our gallant ship,
And a jolly old Captain was he;
"I have a wife in Salem town,
But tonight a widow she will be."

Chorus

Then up spoke the Cook of our gallant ship,
And a greasy old Cook was he;
"I care more for my kettles and my pots,
Than I do for the roaring of the sea."

Chorus

Then up spoke the Cabin-boy of our gallant ship,
And a dirty little brat was he;
"I have friends in Boston town
That don't care a ha' penny for me."

Chorus

Then three times 'round went our gallant ship,
And three times 'round went she,
And the third time that she went 'round
She sank to the bottom of the sea.

Chorus