21 Jun

The Wind Sou’west

You gentlemen of England far and near,
Who live at ease free from all care,
It’s little do you think and it’s little do you know,
What we poor seamen undergo,

Chorus:

With the wind sou’west and a dismal sky,
And the ruffling seas rolled mountains high.

On the second day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When our captain called us all away,
He took us from our native shore,
While the wind sou’west and loud did roar.

On the fifth day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When we spied land on the lo’ward lay,
We saw three ships to the bottom go,
While we, poor souls, tossed to and fro.

On the sixth day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When our capstan and foremast washed away,
Our mast being gone, the ship sprang a leak,
And we thought we should sink in the watery deep.

The second mate and eighteen more,
Got into the longboat and rowed for shore,
But what must have been for their poor wives,
A-losing their husbands’ precious lives?

On the seventh day of April, ‘twas on that day,
When we arrived in Plymouth Bay,
What a dismal tale had we for to tell,
Of how we acted in the gale.

We return this month to the fantastic repertoire of singer Carrie Grover (1879-1959) who grew up in Nova Scotia and lived her adult life in Maine. “The Wind Sou’west” appears in her published songbook “A Heritage of Songs” where she classifies it as one of her father’s songs. Her father, George Craft Spinney, was born in 1837 and spent many years working on merchant vessels where he learned many sea songs. This song appears to be a variant of an English song dating to the late 18th century often titled “You Gentlemen of England” but Grover’s version is pretty unique with a localized New England reference to Plymouth Bay. No English versions I have seen include a chorus.

Thanks to the incredible work of singer and researcher Julie Mainstone Savas, we now have the website The Carrie Grover Project which includes transcriptions of all the songs in “Heritage of Songs” and more plus some audio recordings of Grover. The site is well worth checking out. There you can hear a recording of Grover singing the above (from which I made my own transcription). In it, Grover makes masterful use of the traditional singer’s trick of singing an “in between” third scale degree – somewhere between major and minor – that, to me, gives the song a perfect haunting quality.

19 Nov

Our Captain Says “Away”

Our captain says “Away, all hands, tomorrow,”
Leaving you girls behind in sad grief and sorrow,
Dry up those briny tears and don’t be a-weeping,
For so happy we will be, my love, at our next meeting.

She threw her arms abroad like one a-dying,
With the wringing of her hands, and a-crying and sighing,
“What makes you roam abroad a-fighting for strangers?
Oh stay at home with me, my love, and be free from dangers.

“When I had gold in store, you seemed to like me,
But now I am growing poor, you seem for to slight me,
You courted me awhile just for to deceive me,
And now my tender heart you have won you are going for to leave me.”

“Oh, fare you well, father, and fare you well, mother,
For I am your daughter dear and you have no other,
For to weep it is all in vain, for I am a-going,
To the lad that I so dearly love, the one who has proved my ruin.”

“There is no believing men, no, not your own brother,
There is no believing men, no, not your true lover,
Your favor they will gain, then turn to some other,
So, young girls, if you can love, be sure to love one another.”

Last month, I had the honor of attending the annual Getaway weekend of the Folksong Society of Greater Washington near Washington, DC as a guest. While there, I got to talk northwoods songs with DC area singers Lisa Null and Steve Woodbury. A couple years ago, Lisa and Steve introduced me to the wonderful repertoire of Maine singer Carrie Grover and gave me a copy of Grover’s “Heritage of Songs” book. Lisa was also partly responsible for Irish singer Paul Brady’s 1973 introduction to the Grover collection from which he adapted his iconic versions of both “Arthur McBride” and “The Jolly Soldier!” (see Northwoods Songs #66). While in DC, I decided to spend some time at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress listening to their large collection of recordings of Carrie Grover singing and playing fiddle.

How wonderful and insightful to hear these recordings! Carrie Grover (1879-1959) turns out to have been a very skilled singer with a store of complex and beautiful melodies and vocal techniques to match her rich repertoire. I fell in love with her singing and transcribed as many songs as I could from her 1941 session with collector Sidney Robertson.

Grover titles the above song “The False Lover” in her book. She learned it from her mother whose grandfather William Long came from Ireland to Nova Scotia where Carrie herself was born. Other than a version collected in Newfoundland by Kenneth Peacock, the song seems to have been found primarily in England where Martin Carthy and others have sourced their renditions of it. Most other versions I found use melodies similar to Grover’s though I find the freedom of her timing and some of her notes to be especially haunting. The above is my transcription of Grover with a few lines borrowed from the Newfoundland version.

06 Mar

Barney Flew Over the Hills

’Twas a cold winter’s night and the tempest was snarling,
The snow like a sheet covered cabin and stile,
When Barney flew over the hills to his darling,
And tapped at the window where Katie did lie.

“Arrah jewel,” says he, “are you sleeping or waking?
The night’s bitter cold and my coat it is thin,
Oh the storm is a-brewing and the frost is a-baking,
Oh Katie avourneen you must let me in.”

“Barney,” cried she as she spoke through the window,
“How could you be taking me out of my bed,
To come at this time is a sin and a shame too,
It’s whiskey not love that’s got into your head.”

“If your heart it was true of my fame you’d be tender,
Consider the time and there’s nobody in,
Oh, what has a poor girl but her name to defend her,
No Barney avourneen I won’t let you in.”

“Acushla,” cried he, “it’s my heart is a fountain,
That weeps for the wrong it might lay at your door,
Your name is more white than the snow on the mountain,
And Barney would die to preserve it as pure.”

“I’ll go to my home though the winter wind slays me,
I’ll whistle the notes for I’m happy within,
And the words of my Kathleen will comfort and bless me,
‘Oh Barney, mavourneen I won’t let you in.’”

Canadian folk song collector Helen Creighton recorded this song in 1948 from fisherman Amos Jollimore of Terence Bay, Nova Scotia. In addition to the Canadian Maritimes, it was sung in Ireland and New England and it even travelled west where versions were collected in Ohio and Utah. Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill recorded a version with the band Relativity in the 1980s.

Though it begins like many other “night-visiting” songs, Katie’s good reputation and Barney’s threat to it play a bigger role in this story than most. His attempt at “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is met with a well-reasoned plea for restraint and, in the end, no means no and Barney proves to be a respectful suitor.