Song Information and Liner Notes
Mary, Come Down!
Mary Stanford of Rye
Wild Goose Shanty
In our view, one sign of an exceptional song or tune is its
ability to be played in a variety of styles and approaches while
maintaining its inherent quality. Many classical themes have
withstood the translation into pop songs or rock music, and ethnic
folk melodies have been turning up in classical music for many
years. We have taken songs and tunes that we like and given them
a twist in our own direction.
High Barbaree is a rousing
tale of piracy and high sea adventure. In these days where everything
relates to terrorism we look back at a pirate sneak attack (preemptive strike?) on
fellow seafarers, a big battle, and the attackers are now in
need begging for mercy in the sea. Instead of offering quarter,
the 'good guys' leave the pirates to drown violating one of
the basic rules of the sea. Justice? Revenge?
I noticed Oh Mary, Come Down! while
browsing through Stan Hugill's Shanties From the Seven Seas
one day. It was just a fragment of a hauling shanty that
Stan had picked up from another great book, Fredrick Pease Harlow's
The Making of a Sailor. There's not much to it, but we
liked it as a vehicle for harmony singing. Tania Opland and Mike
Freeman had been singing it with us at parties and the occasional
gig for a few months. While we were in Yorkshire recording the
CD, Tania and Mike just happened to be in the area. They braved
the cold blustery winds of Birdsedge to sing it with us there.
They both showed up with dreadful colds and still managed to
do a terrific job.
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The Mary Stanford of Rye came our way on a trip
through Birmingham. We were visiting friends who had told us
of a great song we needed to hear. He brought out a CD by the
British folk rock band Meet on the Ledge and played their version
of this song. The story was so moving, so tragic that we copied
down the lyrics then and there. It stayed with us for a few years
but each time we'd try to work out a version we found it difficult
to make it through the story without choking up.
The story is true, the Alice left Riga with a load of bricks
and ran into a storm off the coast of England near Rye (down
on the southern coast). The Mary Stanford's crew fought the storm
for hours trying to lauch the rescue boat. Moments after they
succeeded, but almost an hour after the fact, word came throughfrom
the coast guard that the Alice was saved. There were no survivors
from the Mary Stanford's crew., and yes, they still do go out
on the pier every November 15th to call Johnny Head home to rest.
Billy Boy is one of those folk
songs that turns up in many places. There's are a number of versions
of this in the English tradition, at least one American children's
song, and several shanties. Most shanties are designed for a
single shanty man to sing out verses and the crew to respond
with chorus and the assosciated work. Billy Boy is one of the
few that are actually intended to be sung with two shanty men
trading questions and answers in the song. We took this one and
messed with it a lot using the octave mandolin and fiddle to
give it just a hint of old timey American music. The tune at
the end is a reel called (we believe) the Kylebrack Rambler.
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Whew! Another big emotional song. We were singing at the Fylde
Festival in Northwest England and heard this as part of a
big stage production by a bunch of the local Fleetwood musicians.
It was a wonderful show with skits, and songs and multi media
slide projections. Near the end they sang Lost with visuals
of local fishing fleet members and ships -- smiling energetic
faces, wives and kids on the dockside waving at the fishing boats.
The combination of these images and the somber recitation of
ships that never returned and the sites of trecherous locations
where so very many met their end was simply unforgettable. If
Mary Stanford was tough to sing -- Lost was far tougher. We rarely
make it through this song without one or both of us struggling
to keep the voice from breaking.
We tried various approaches on the recording and thanks to
Brian's patience, were able to capture the sounds of guitar strings
vibrating simpathetically to our singing. We'd sing directly
into a guitar with an electric pick-up and add the sound to the
existing vocal track. There's also a track of air being blown
over the tuned strings like a harp in the wind, and a track of
We've been big fans of C. Fox Smith's poetry ever since we stumbled
onto it in a book belonging to Felicia's dad. The Packet Rat
is a very long poem that resisted any attempt to edit it into
a shorter form. Traditional sea song fans will notice that the
tune is adapted from the old favorite, Adieu Sweet Lovely
Nancy. It seems to capture the push/pull of the sea faring
life. After reading Tony Horowitz's book, Blue Latitudes about
the travels of Captain James Cook in the South Seas the poem
came alive with its description of the slow, pleasant life and
the restless call of the North Atlantic. Normally I might try
to edit a song a bit when it starts to hit ten minutes, but,
there didn't seem to be very much that could be deleted without
changing the tone of the piece.
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Cheerily Man is a very old shanty dating back to Henry
VIII or earlier. It is an anchor raising shanty that predates
the capstan as an anchor raising tool.Cheerily in this case refers
to a tempo for hauling, probably not as fast as our version might
lead one to think. The tune that follows is the Seven Stars,
which Felicia found in a collection of English fiddle tunes.
For some reason The Wild Goose Shanty, has always made
folks feel wistful and a little sad. Short as it is (we've never
heard any additional verses that were not written and added by
a contemporary singer) it captures a moment as well as any shanty
Again with the wistful! Heaven's a Bar is a lovely song
from the pen of Tim Laycock, who's group The
New Scorpion Band impressed us at the International Festival
of the Sea in Portsmouth, England a few years ago. This makes
a lovely companion piece to John Connoly's Fiddler's Green as
to the sailor's vision of paradise. Tim's original lyrics state,
"The figurehead dances and she never gets tired". I
noticed she was then said to "beckon a breeze from her berth
by the fire." I took a scandalous leap and slightly folk
processed what she was tirelessly doing.
The Prince's Royal Set is a lively combination of The
Prince's Royal, which is an English variation on O'Carolan's
Irish harp tune, The Princess Royal and a pair of pipe tunes
from Northumberland in the North East corner of England. Katherine
Tickell plays them at Mach 2 and we actually slowed down tunes
for about the first time ever.
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Thanks for listening!