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.

13 May

The Gallagher Boys

Come all brother sailors I hope you’ll draw nigh,
For to hear of the sad news, it will cause you to cry,
Of noble Johnny Gallagher, who sailed to and fro,
He was lost on Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

It was in October in seventy three,
We left Beaver harbor and had a calm sea,
Bound away to Traverse City, our destination to go,
We were crossing Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

We left Traverse City at nine the next day
And down to Elk Rapids we then bore our way,
We took in our store and to sea we did go,
We were crossing Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

At nine that same night a light we did spy,
That is Beaver Island, we are drawing nigh,
We carried all sails, the Lookout, she did go,
We were crossing Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

Oh Johnny got up and he spoke to his crew,
He says, “My brave boys, now be steady and true,
Stand by your fore halyards, let your main halyards to,
There’s a squall on Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.”

The Lookout’s she’s a-runnin’ before a hard gale.
Upset went her rudder and overboard went her sail,
The billows were foaming like mountains of snow.
We shall ne’er cross Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.

Says Owen, “Brother Johnny, it grieves my heart sore,
To think we will never return to the shore,
God help our poor parents, their tears down will flow,
For we’ll sleep in Lake Michigan where the stormy winds blow.”

I am looking forward to a talk on the Irish music of Beaver Island, Michigan that I will be giving in June at the Center for Irish Music’s Minnesota Irish Music Weekend! In anticipation of that, I thought I would share song composed on Beaver Island this month: “The Gallagher Boys.”

Island singer Dominick Gallagher was six years old in 1873 when word came to the island that a boat went down in a gale while making the 70 mile return trip from a supply run to Traverse City. Dominick’s own father, Dominick Sr., had left on the same boat and was assumed to be among the lost.

“…when the news came and the report was that all hands was lost, I remember runnin’ and hangin’ around mother. I couldn’t realize what they were all cryin’ about. I had six sisters and they were all home and they were all cryin’, too. That night they had a wake and all, just as though he was there, and all the next day the neighbors came around.”
-Dominick Gallagher to Alan Lomax, 1938

(transcribed from this recording)

Miraculously, Dominick Sr. returned the next day. His friend Captain Roddy had also been in Traverse City and had convinced him not to make the crossing. Still, the Beaver Islanders who did venture out (including a Johnny Gallagher) were lost and the above song was composed shortly after by local song-maker Dan Malloy.

Above is my transcription of Dominick’s own melody and four verse text as sung for Lomax with the addition of three verses (1, 4 and 5 above) that were sung that same year by fellow Islander Johnny Green who had a much longer version of the song.

28 Nov

Sweet Recale

I am a rich merchant’s only son, my age is twenty-two,
I fell in love with a handsome girl, the truth I will tell you,
And because that I had riches great and she was of a low degree,
Which caused my parents for to frown and prove my destiny.

They sent me to Americay, my fortune for to seek,
I was shipwrecked on the Austria, that now lies in the deep,
But Providence to me proved kind, a plank brought me to shore,
I’m in hopes to see my handsome girl at Sweet Recale once more.

It was on the morning of the fourth just by the break of day,
This handsome girl stepped up to me and this to me did say,
“Where are you from, my nice young man, come quickly tell to me,
Or are you from the heavens above, where is your country?”

“Oh I am a stranger in this place, the truth to you I’ll tell,
For loving of a pretty fair maiden in the town of sweet Recale.
And because that I had riches great and she was of a low degree,
Which caused my parents for to frown which proved my destiny.”

“Oh come tell me are you married to that girl you left behind?”
“No, but I’m already promised and a promise that’s good and kind,
I am already promised to that girl in sweet Recale,
And except her no other fair maids will ever my favor gain.”

And this fair maid fell a-weeping tears rolled down her rosy cheeks,
“Oh here is twenty guineas in gold for to bear you o’er the sea,
For love is better, I do find, than gold or earthly store,
May heavens above return you love, to sweet Recale once more.”

In 1934, Minnesota music teacher Bessie Stanchfield put out a call for old St. Croix Valley lumbermen to send in songs for publication in the Stillwater Post-Messenger. A man living in North Dakota who said he had been a lumberjack on the St. Croix Valley fifty years before wrote saying “I spent two winters working in one of Isaac Staples’ camps on the Apple River [WI]. The foreman was Andy McGrath. Every Saturday night we had a dance. Every Sunday night we sang. Tom Harrington, the camp blacksmith, was a fiddler, and the singers included Hendy Lane, James Riley, and young Jim McGrath.” The letter writer referred to one old song once popular in the area and remarked “Jim McGrath sang it fine.”

This Jim McGrath may likely have been James E. McGrath, son of John McGrath from Wicklow, Ireland and a successful (for a time) lumber company operator for whom the town of McGrath, MN is named. In any case, singer Jim McGrath was still in the Stillwater area in 1934 and in Stanchfield’s unpublished papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, she writes that, though he was a reluctant singer, “after one old-timer, then another, dropped into the office to tell of [McGrath’s] clear tenor and his great memory for the old songs” McGrath finally relented and began recalling for her “those pleasant evenings in the bunk house” and the songs that went with them.

The Stanchfield papers include part of McGrath’s text for “Sweet Recale.” I have mixed the McGrath text with melody and text again recorded by Alan Lomax in 1938 from Beaver Island, Michigan singer John W. Green (you can listen to Green’s version online via the Library of Congress) and a few lines nabbed from a third version collected in 1935 in Alger, Michigan by Gardner and Chickering.

I have found three 19th century broadside versions of this ballad from Ireland where the place name is either Belfast, Derry or Limerick instead of Recale. Lomax spells it Raquale and Gardner spells it Recail. I assumed it was a Great Lakes place name until another version recently turned up on the Irish Traditional Music Archive from Inishowen Penninsula singer Denis McDaid who sings Rycale. I’m at a loss as to the location of this mysterious place name!