22 Nov

The Gallant Brigantine

As I rode ashore last Sunday from my gallant brigantine,
In the island of Jamaica where I have lately been,
And carelessly I wandered, not caring where I went,
And toward a rich plantation my steps I slowly bent.

And the orange trees decorate the field with green and yellow buds,
And occasionally my mind is filled with melancholy thoughts,
That when I get tired of rambling I would sit me down and rest,
And I was thinking of the little ones at home, the land that I love best

Now my parents live in harmony, they are laboring at their ease,
But I am doing my foolishness to plough the raging seas,
And I am doing my foolishness to ramble night and day,
Now I’ll sing a song of old Ireland for to drive dull care away.

And when my song was at an end, I was a-feeling at my ease
I arose to pick some oranges that grew upon the trees,
And there a female form I spied that filled me with delight,
She wore the robes of innocence, her dress was snowy white.

Her dress was snowy white, my boys, bound round and trimmed with green,
And a silken scarf around her neck her shoulders for to screen,
Her hair hung o’er her shoulders as black as any sloes,
And her rolling eye attracted me, her cheeks were like the rose.

I modestly saluted her saying, “Good morning, my pretty fair maid,”
And with a kind reception, “Good morning sir,” she said,
I told her I was a sailor that lately came from sea,
And that I belonged to that brigantine that laid anchored in the Bay.

And we both got down together and we chatted for a while,
And I told her many a hard old yarn which caused her for to smile,
But when I arose to leave her, she gave me this address,
“You call in and see my husband, he will treat you to the best.”

Then I was kindly introduced to a noble-looking man,
Who kindly saluted me and took me by the hand,
And the wine was on the table and the dinner was served up soon,
And we all sat down together, spent a jovial afternoon.

The “Old Songs That Men Have Sung” column that ran in the October 20, 1922 issue of the pulp magazine Adventure (pictured) included the following request sent in by one of the column’s many avid readers:

Michael Dean (the same Irish-Minnesotan featured often in this column) was one of hundreds of American and Canadian readers of “Old Songs” who sang and pursued traditional folksongs with the help of the far-flung community of singers and amateur collectors brought together by the column and its enthusiastic editors. Dean corresponded by letter with “Old Songs” editors Robert Frothingham and Robert Winslow Gordon as well as other “Old Songs” readers and contributors (the column ran song texts sent in by readers responding to published requests). In addition to published requests and contributions, Dean swapped songs with these people directly by mail. It was this correspondence that ultimately led to Gordon travelling by train with his wax cylinder recording machine to record Dean’s singing in 1924.

We do not know if Dean ever tracked down a complete version of “The Gallant Brigantine” (he did manage to get a version of “Paul Jones, the Privateer” and sing it for collector Franz Rickaby the following summer). The version above is transcribed primarily from Alan Lomax’s 1938 recording of Beaver Island, Michigan singer Johnny W. Green with a few tweaks inspired by other versions found in the Canadian Maritimes. It is a peculiar song with an almost punchline-like ending. Not the typical conclusion to a story like this!

17 Feb

The Apprentice Boy

Near Linster [Leinster] I was born, not of a high degree,
My parents they adored me, they had no child but me;
I roved around for pleasure where’er my fancy lay,
Until I was bound apprentice, then all joys passed away.

My master and my mistress they did not use me well,
I formed a resolution not long with them to dwell;
So, unknown to friends and kindred, I slyly stole away,
And steered my course to Dublin, to me a woeful day.

I had not been in Dublin a day but only three
When an estated lady proposed to hire me;
She offered great inducement her waiting man to be,
If I would go with her to London, which proved my destiny.

Her offer I accepted, my fortune being low,
In hopes of grand promotion if along with her I’d go;
And as we sailed over-bound for that British shore,
It is little I thought I ne’er would see my native country more.

When we arrived in London to view that fine city,
My evil-minded mistress grew very fond of me;
She offered me ten thousand pounds to be paid down in hand,
If I’d agree to marry her it would be at my command.

“Oh, mistress, honored mistress, you must excuse me now,
For I am already promised upon a solemn vow;
Yes, I am already promised, and solemn vow I’ve made,
To wed with none but Jennie, your handsome waiting maid.”

In wrath and indignation my evil mistress said,
“Just see how I am slighted all for a servant maid;
Since you disdain my person and the offer that I make,
It’s of you I will have revenge though my life lay as a stake.”

“Oh, mistress, to offend thee I would be very loath,
But I can do nothing that’s contrary to my oath;
Contrary to my oath, madam, but supposing my vows were clear,
I would not part with my jewel for ten thousand pounds a year.”

One evening in the garden, a-taking in the air,
My mistress followed after me, plucking the flowers there;
Her gold repeating watch she took at the passing of me by,
And conveyed it to my pocket, for which I now must die.

I then was apprehended, to New Gate I was sent,
Where I was left in bondage, my sorrows to lament;
Where I was left in bondage until my trial day,
My mistress thought it was no harm to swear my life away.

And now I am on the gallows and I must suffer here,
Because I would not break the vows I made unto my dear;
Though far from home and kindred, I bid the world adieu,
My charming, lovely, Jennie, I die for love of you.
___________________________

Of the 47 songs documented by collector Robert Winslow Gordon from Minnesotan singers in 1924, this was the only one that was sung by both Michael Dean and Reuben Phillips. The above transcribed version is Dean’s (based on Gordon’s recording and Dean’s text published in his Flying Cloud songster). The song, dating to the late 1700s, was once popular throughout the US and Canada.

The ballad originated in England as “The Sheffield Apprentice” but in Dean’s version the place names have been changed to relocate the story to Ireland with the “evil-minded mistress” dwelling in London (other versions have her in Holland). Dean’s parents were from County Mayo and the vast majority of his repertoire was Irish or Irish-American. In contrast, Phillips’ repertoire was more closely tied to England and Scotland and in his version we find Sheffield and Holland.

St. Paul singer and bouzouki player Buddy Ferrari took the “Minnesota Folksong Challenge” and created his own version of “The Apprentice Boy” which he performs in the video posted above. You can access the archival recordings of both Dean and Phillips as well as Buddy’s video and videos of others who have taken the “Challenge” at www.minnesotafolksongcollection.com

27 Dec

What a Time on the Way (Revisited)

Now that the harvest days are through,
To old D-kotey we will bid you adieu,
Back to the jack pines we will go,
To haul these saw logs in the snow.  

Fol-da-lee-dle-o, fol-da-lee-dle-ay,
Hi-fol-da-lo, what a time on the way.

Now you might say that we felt big,
We were in a silver mounted rig,                          
For Akeley town we hoisted our sails,        
They all thought we were the Prince of Wales.

Neddy he’s a splendid cook,
Always stops beside some brook,
Scrambled eggs three times a day,
Lotsa bread and a big cuppa tay.

We jogged along til we came through,
There we met with the rest of the crew,
Handsome boys both young and stout,
The pick of the town there is no doubt.

Into the buggy we jerked our boots,
You can bet our teamster fed long oats,
As to the camp we drove along,
We all joined up in a sing song.

We stayed all winter ‘til we got through,
And started home with the same old crew.
Now we’re home, we got our pay,
We think of the time that we had on the way.

——–

“What a Time on the Way” was one of only two songs Gordon recorded from Israel Lawrence Phillips (1883-1967) who lived near Akeley, Minnesota. Israel was the son of Reuben Phillips who was also recorded by Gordon.

Israel was the first of his farming family to come to Minnesota from Iowa around 1910. He settled south of Akeley near Chamberlain. The Red River Lumber Company, whose sawmill was in Akeley, was quite active at the time so it is likely that Israel worked for them in some capacity. The mention of heading back to haul “saw logs in the snow” after working on the harvest in “old D-kotey” matches the common practice of balancing seasonal harvest work in the Dakotas with a winter job in the pineries of northern Minnesota. Lumberjack Ed Springstead of Bemidji told Franz Rickaby in 1923 that “Harvesting in Dakota was about as common a practice for the lumber jacks… …as lumbering in the winter for the farmer boys.”

Like most songs in the collection, Gordon only recorded two verses of Phillips’ version. Unlike most other songs Gordon collected, he unfortunately did not obtain a manuscript version to flesh out the full text. I featured Gordon’s two verse fragment (verses one and three above) in the October 2013 Northwoods Songs. To create the longer version above, I adapted some verses from similar songs collected in Ontario by Edith Fowke.

Special thanks to everyone that has supported The Lost Forty Project this year!  Please consider taking the Minnesota Folksong Challenge and learning a song yourself!