Thursday, 15 December 2011

36: Paddy Lay Back

"'Twas a cold and dreary morning in December..." Hugill, in Shanties of the Seven Seas describes this as "both a forebitter and a capstan song and a very popular one too, especially in Liverpool Ships". So close is the association between Paddy Lay Back and Liverpool, it's sometimes simply known as 'The Liverpool Song'. As a work song, it would have been used while hauling up the anchor by pushing the drum of the capstan around as in the image above (hence the line in the chorus "Take a turn around the capstan").

This version (with the line at the end of the chorus "We're bound for Vallaparaiser [i.e. Valparaiso] round the Horn" comes from the singing of Liverpool sailors engaged in the Guano trade. They'd sail to Chile around the horn to pick up Guano, which is the accumulated excrement of cave dwelling bats, birds, etc. - rich in nirates and excellent fertiliser. The mid nineteenth century rush for this resource saw ships returning to Liverpool with thousands of tonnes of the stuff.

This song is very popular in singarounds and shanty sings, and is usually accompanied by everyone in the crowd repeating the words at the end of each line: "'Twas a cold and dreary morning in December (December!) And all of my money it was spent (SPENT SPENT!)". Sitting here on my bill, I haven't attempted any of this repetition except in the chorus where I think I'd lose the timing of the thing if I hadn't. You can try it at home, but you might look a bit odd shouting "SPENT SPENT!" or "FRANCE FRANCE!" or whatever at your computer.

In the Roud folksong index, this is #653

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