Wednesday, 30 November 2011

34: Whip Jamboree

This cotton screwing shanty (sung while packing cotton tight into the hold of a ship), with its account of a ship coming into dock in Liverpool, is included in Hugill's Shanties of the Seven Seas, as well as several other collections of shanties (for example R.R. Terry's 1926 The Shanty Book, Vol. 2). There has long been a debate over the words, which Hugill said were too obscene to print fully, leading to various speculative attempts to re-insert the filth. I have not gone down that highly tempting route, and instead have simply followed the version that passed into popularity in the Liverpool folk revival scene of the 1960s, when The Spinners included it in their repertoire - you can see them singing it in this short film about the Liverpool Folk Music Scene from the 1960s. Most contemporary Liverpool performances, I would say, stem from this Spinners version.

Fort Perch Rock is, of course, the coastal defence battery at New Brighton (the picture I've included above, taken from the excellent history website is of ships passing the Fort Perch Rock). Dan Lowrie's was, apparently, a popular playhouse on Paradise Street; this is what John Short of Watchet told Cecil Sharp, who included the song in his English folk-chanteys (1914).

Whip Jamboree is #488 in the Roud folksong index.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

33: The Banks of the Mersey

Apologies for being so late. My voice is wrecked at the moment.
Bit of a mystery this one (to me at least) - I saw a thread on Red and White Kop where someone explained that they had a tape of their grandad singing old Liverpool songs, and this was one of them. Another thread explained that the song began "I was born on the banks of the Mersey" and that led me to a more recent recording of the song and some sets of words on some Liverpool fan websites. But I still don't know anything about the song or its origins beyond this set of words and tune, so if anybody has any information about it (such as who wrote it), I'd be glad to know.

The photo looking down Althorp St and over the River Mersey is by Aidan O'Rourke.

Monday, 14 November 2011

32: Tommy's Lot

I'd meant to put this song up during the Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday weekend, but I was delayed by work. Still, I think it's worth putting up now. It's a song about the First World War written by Dominic Williams in the early 1980s. Apparently Dominic Williams was a former teacher at the Liverpool Institute, and a well-known performer on the folk club circuit in the north west of England. I personally learned this after hearing it performed by Liverpool folk singers Alun Parry and Vinny T Spen (organisers of the Woody Guthrie folk club at the Ship and Mitre), who said that they heard Dominic Williams performing it at a coffee shop on Smithdown Road.

The picture above is of the Liverpool "Pals' Battalions" on parade outside St George's Hall before the first world war. It was figured that people would be more likely to volunteer to serve in the War if they could sign up to fight alongside their friends - Liverpool was the first city to test the theory, with Lord Derby mounting a vigorous recruitment campaign for people to join up together with their mates and work colleagues. Within days, Liverpool had enlisted enough men to form four battalions.

Derby addressed the massed troops outside St George's Hall as they waited to depart: "This should be a Battalion of Pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool. I don’t attempt to minimise to you the hardships you will suffer, the risks you will run. I don’t ask you to uphold Liverpool’s honour, it would be an insult to think that you could do anything but that. But I do thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming here tonight and showing what is the spirit of Liverpool, a spirit that ought to spread through every city and every town in the kingdom."

Thousands of these volunteers would die on the battlefields of the Somme and Passchendale.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

31: Bonnet So Blue

A broadside ballad about a woman of Liverpool who falls in love with a Scottish soldier. What I sing here is based on a broadside printed by W. Armstrong of Banastre Street, Liverpool between 1820 and 1824. (As with many broadside ballads, no indication is given of tune, so I've used a tune that was used for the singing of a version of this song collected from George Edwards in the Catskills, NY - it has the virtue of being a beautiful tune, in my opinion at least, although I admit it has the shortcoming of being a tune from abroad! Such are the difficulties of fitting broadsides to suitable music.)

Some argue that the song's 'blue bonnet' is invoked as a Jacobite symbol - this theory is clearly reinforced by the use of the name 'Charles Stewart' for the soldier who wears the bonnet, although to be frank, it appears incidental to the main thrust of the song, which is an expression of impossible love.

Bonnet so blue sometimes bears the title 'Jacket so blue', and is sometimes set in other locales in the north of England (and occasionally London), although versions of the words which feature Liverpool have made the journey across the Atlantic. It is #819 in the Roud folksong index.