Sunday, 31 July 2011

17: Paddy West

This song is about a boarding house keeper in Liverpool who, in addition to offering board and lodgings, trained people in the art of blagging that they were experienced seamen. The version I sing here is, I thought, the one Stan Hugill gave in Shanties from the Seven Seas; but, having looked it up again, I can see that the words I'm using seem to have picked up bits and bobs from other places (possibly as a result of hearing people singing A.L. Lloyd's version of Paddy West).

Hugill explains some of the historical background of this song in his book Sailortown, a vivid description of the maritime districts of major port cities (thanks to KathyW and Matthew Edwards for helping me locate the relevant passages): "He professed to make a greenhorn - whether yokel, with heyseed falling from ear-holes, criminal on the run, or bank clerk - into a fully fledged Able Seaman in a matter of days. This was how he worked. His house was usually full of all the bums and stiffs of the neighbourhood. When he felt they had been around too long, he started their 'tuition' so that he could sign them away aboard an outward-bounder. First he would get the aspiraing candidate accusomed, as the song hints, to deep-sea fare, dressing him in dungarees, with a 'nice clean rope-yarn for a belt'. Practice in stowing canvas came next, Paddy sending him up to the attick to furl the 'main royal', or rather the window-blind. Further seamanship was acquired in the back-yard, where Paddy had a ship's wheel rigged up. The 'apprentice' had to stand by the wheel, and before he had spun it around twice, Paddy's wife would have thrown a bucket of ice-cold water over him... The 'boyo' next was called into the 'passage', where he would have to step over a piece of string, before entering the parlour or 'front room'. Here on a table stood a cow's horn, around which the candidate was ordered to march. The explanation of this ritual was that, when the mate of the outward-bounder asked our berth-seeking hero as to what parts of the world he had sailed, he could honestly answer that he'd 'crossed the Line' [crossed the equator] and been ten times around the [Cape] Horn'. But 'Don't tell him it was a bloody cow-horn!' Paddy would caution. Then the potential seaman was handed the papers of some real sailor - one who had been knifted or clubbed, probably, in some earlier drunken brawl. Paddy would give him a sea-chest full of second-hand gear - if there were two candidates, he would furnish one suit of oilskins between the two of them, telling them, 'I'll see to it that the mate puts yiz in dhifferent watches'... Of course, Paddy didn't go to all this trouble for nothing; he always receoved the 'Paddy Wester's' advance note, a month or two's wages."

Further to this, Hugill tells us that Paddy West apparently reinvented his training to respond to new technology - as steam ships became the norm, he'd have his potential sailors tossing coal into a swinging barrel.

It's usually agreed that Paddy West was a real historical figure; the American seaman Dick Maitland said that Paddy West was active in the 1870s keeping a boarding house around London Road, although others place him on Paradise Street or (as in the version of the song I'm singing) Great Howard Street.

Hugill tells us that this was sung both as a forecastle entertainment and as a work song (apparently as a capstan shanty, for pulling up the anchor). It is #3092 in the Roud folksong index.

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