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.

20 Jun

Jessie Monroe

As I went a-walking one fine summer’s morning,
Down by Leinster market I happened to go,
I spied a young female that pleas-ed my fancy,
I’ll tell you about her as far as I know.

Cho:     Right fol duh die ay, right fol duh die addee
             For she is my darling wherever I go.

I stepp-ed up to her saying “where are you going?
Who is your father I feign would know?”
“My father’s a blacksmith in the village of Leinster,
And I am his daughter young Jessie Monroe.”

I said now “miss Jessie it’s I have fine buildings,
They’ll all be on your side as well you know,
If you will consent for to lie in my arrums,
A lamb of my bosom young Jessie Monroe.”

Oh she said “Now young Johnny go away with your flattering,
For you have a sweetheart wherever you go,
Your buildings are haunted likewise they’re enchanted,
There’s a handsomer young man for Jessie Monroe.”

Oh I said “now miss Jessie since you’ve been so saucy,
Once more to my lovely Maggie I’ll go,
She’s ne’er quite so bonnie, she’s better for Johnny,
So go your way wandering young Jessie Monroe.”

We have a nice lilty story song of unrequited love this month that, again, comes from the wonderful repertoire of Charles Finnemore of Bridgewater, Maine who was recorded by Helen Flanders. The 1941 recording of Finnemore singing “Jessie Monroe” is freely available to listen to online as part of the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection on archive.org.

Finnemore’s melody here resembles the air sung in Ireland for the song “Bold Doherty.” Jessie Monroe (Munroe or Munro in other transcriptions) was collected from a handful of other singers around the Canadian Maritimes. Other versions have the place name Leicester instead of Leinster.

09 Mar

Black-Eyed Susan

Source Recording from archive.org (song starts at 19:21)

All in the Downs the fleet lay moored,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came on board,
Saying “Where shall I my true-love find?
Tell me you jovial sailors, tell me true,
Does my sweet Willy, does my sweet Willy sail among your crew?”

Willy who high upon the yard,
Rocked by the billows to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sighed and cast his eyes below.
The cord glides slides swiftly through his glowing hands,
And quick as lightning, and quick as lightning on the deck he stands.

 “Oh Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
My vows will ever true remain,
Let me kiss off those falling tears,
We only part to meet again,
The noblest captain of all that British fleet,
Might envy Willy, might envy Willy’s lips those kisses sweet.

Believe not what the landsmen say,
They’ll tempt with thee thy constant mind,
They’ll say that sailors, when away,
In every port a mistress find,
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For thou art present, for thou art present whereso’er I go.”

“If to fair India’s coast I sail,
Thine eyes are seen in diamonds bright,
Thy breath is Africa’s spicy gale,
Your skin is ivory so white,
The pleasant breezes whereso’er they blow,
They bring me memories, they bring me memories of my lovely Sue.”

The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
The sails their swelling bosom spread,
No longer could she stay on board,
He turned, she sighed, and hung her head.
Her little boat unwilling rowed to land,
“Adieu”, she cried, “Adieu”, she cried and waved her lily hand.

We have another fascinating song from the repertoire of Charles Finnemore of Bridgewater, Maine this month. Again, Finnemore’s 1943 singing of this song is available online here via the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection on archive.org. The above is my own transcription of Finnemore’s melody and words. The timing in the transcription is only an approximation so listening to the actual recording online is advised.

Black-Eyed Susan began as a poem by English poet and playwright John Gay (1685-1732) who wrote the famous Beggar’s Opera and was a friend of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Gay’s poem was put to music by English singer and composer Richard Leveridge and printed (complete with sheet music) in 1750. It became a much-printed and quite popular song in England.

The song has a long history in Ireland as well where Leveridge’s melody was reworked and popular as an instrumental air. Cork-born collector William Forde took down a version played on the uilleann pipes in 1846 by Hugh O’Beirne of Mohill, Co. Leitrim. Perhaps concerned about the melody’s origins, Forde wrote that “O’Beirne swears that this is Irish.” When Scottish-born musicologist Alfred E. Moffat used the air for a song in his 1898 Minstrelsy of Ireland he commented that “a century’s residence in the Emerald Isle has by no means proved a drawback to it.” Indeed, an additional century in the north woods of Maine and New Brunswick may have made it even better! Finnemore’s air, though certainly a variant of the 270-year-old original, is unique and quite compelling.