Song Information and Liner Notes
the Jolly Tar
of Ballyconnell/Tom of the Mountains
la Baleine/An Dro
Man/White Horses (are calling me)
the Western Ocean
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.
Cape Cod Girls was a traditional
sea shanty until we ran across the friendly little guitar run
that became a new melody for this toast to the ladies of the
Cape.Keep in mind that cod fish used to weigh in at a hundred
pounds or more so maybe sliding down hills on their heads isn't
as impossible as it sounds today.
I learned Davy Lowston years ago
from the singing of Martin Carthy who told me he got it from
Bert Lloyd. We were inspired to resurrect it after reading of
Shackleton's expedition to the South Pole which mentions Port
Stanley and paints a fearsome portrait of the kind of fate these
doomed seal hunters suffered.
Jack, the Jolly Tar was heard from Keith Kendrick, a fine
singer/concertina player we met at the Four Fools Festival
in England. We wonder about the merchant's daughter who couldn't
tell the difference between the squire and dirty, smelly ol'
Jack just because the lights were out. Hmmm.
Janie Meneely of Maryland wrote Twiddles
in answer to the age old unasked question about Sailor Jack and
his 'girl in every port'.
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From the singing of our friend, the great Louis Killen, Bring
'em Down tells of life and treatment around the dreaded Cape
"Rock 'n' roll me over boys" was heard over the ocean
waves long before Alan Freed, Elvis and the rest of them came
along on the radio waves. We couldn't resist "restoring"
One More Day with bass, drums and a rockin' hurdy-gurdy.
The Humors of Ballyconnell and Tom of the Mountains are
two hornpipes - a dance traditionally connected to the sailor
but found in many Irish fiddle tune collections. These came to
us from the wonderful Philip and Pam Boulding of Magical Strings.
Johnny Todd, usually a jolly squeezebox tune, turned more
sentimental while messing with our piano one day.The theme of
parted lovers can be found in many sailor songs.
We came across various versions of the whaleboat rowing shanty,
Pique la Baleine in books, but none took hold until we
heard the French group Les Souillés de Fond de Cale
sing it at the great Strontrace Festival in Friesland
and knew we had to work up our own version. How can you miss
with a chorus like "Ooh la la"? The other chorus means
"Strike the whale, oh handsome whaleman, Strike the whale
I will handle the boat". If you wish to translate it differently
- "Photograph the whale, oh happy whalewatcher..."
that's alright with us.We added an An Dro from Polig Monjarret's
Big Green Book of 3,000 Breton tunes, Musique Populaire de
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While looking through Brian Bedford's huge notebook of yet-to-be-arranged
Artisan songs one evening in Yorkshire, Felicia's eye
was caught by her favorite word 'horse' in White Horses are
Calling Me. Brian gets motion sickness from boats, cars,
planes etc. so his idea of a good sea song is where you stay
safe and still in bed and dream about going to sea. This
song has some lovely dreamscape imagery. In 2000 we were on tour
when we received an urgent e mail from a person whose best friend
was in the last stages of her fight with cancer. Her friend had
heard White Horses at a performance and had been so moved by
the song that she wanted to hear it again and have it played
for her memorial service. We made a copy and sent it to her.
The experience changed the song for us, adding a new layer of
meaning to Brian's lyrics.
The tune Metal Man is dedicated to the statue of a
sailor at the mechanized lighthouse of Rosses Point, at the entrance
to Sligo Harbour in Ireland. He stands twelve foot high and weighs
The shanty Across the Western Ocean dates from the great
wave of immigration to the U.S. in the 19th Century. It's said
that certain packet ship operators would load all the worldly
possessions of immigrants onto their ships and then advise the
passengers to leave the docks to find one last decent meal before
the ship's departure. The ship would then set sail without them
and keep their goods. Another version of this song can also be
found on the Victory Sings at Sea album through Victory
Leave Her Johnny is the traditional ending for most every
sea shanty festival we've ever been to. This version is slightly
less traditional. However, keep in mind that the moment you take
a shanty off the deck of a ship and sing it without hauling,
heaving or doing some other work, it ceases to be traditional.
After that it's just a matter of degree. So think of this as
a drum kit playing shanty, or an electric guitar shanty, okay?
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Last, and just possibly least, The Sea is exactly the
sort of unmitigated silliness one might expect from Brian Leo,
a wonderfully crazed songwriter living in the Chicago suburbs
a thousand miles from the nearest salt water. Brian and his wife
Diane form the comedy music duo Molly and the Tinker at
the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin.
Thanks for listening!