Sunday 27 May 2012

50: Blow the Man Down

For the 50th song on this blog, I thought I'd go back to the very first Liverpool folk song I knew of - I've had the chorus of this song rattling around in my head since I was 7: "Blow the man down, bullies, blow the man down, to me whey hey blow the man down, Blow him right back into Liverpool town, gimme some time to blow the man down!" The tune I sing here is the one I've known since then, at slight variance in its 2nd half to most of the tunes I've seen written down... this is almost certainly because of the distorting effects of memory recall, but I see no point in 'correcting' my childhood memory of the tune in the interests of some false authenticity.

That said (getting off my high horse now), apart from that chorus I don't really know what other words I learned as a child, although I definitely remember the reference to Paradise Street, because the song would go through my head whenever I walked down there. There are numerous versions of this halyard shanty, but I can state with 100% certainty that the words I'm using here, based on the singing of Stan Hugill, aren't the ones I was taught as a child. They tell the story of an assault on a police officer; the protagonist in the song is accused of being a thief sailing aboard the trans-Atlantic Black Ball line, but protests that he is a victim of mistaken identity, and is actually a 'flying fish sailor'. According to Hugill this meant "a John who preferred the lands of the East and the warmth of the Trade Winds to the cold and misery of the Western Ocean" - such flying fish sailors were seen as softies in comparison to those who sailed under the harsh conditions of the Black Ball Line.

Paradise Street, once at the heart of Liverpool's sailortown, is now almost entirely engulfed by the monument to chain-store consumerism that is Liverpool One. Nevertheless, if you do find yourself 'rolling down Paradise Street' for some reason, you'll see the beautiful gates of the Sailor's Home (pictured above) have been installed there as some kind of reminder of the street's maritime history.

The various versions of Blow the Man Down are all #2624 in the Roud folksong index.

Saturday 19 May 2012

49: Go To Sea Once More

A cautionary tale from Mersey shantyman Stan Hugill's Shanties of the Seven Seas. Versions of this song were also collected from American sailors by W.M. Doerflinger, W. Roy Mackenzie and others, and it's been recorded by Jerry Garcia out of the Grateful Dead so perhaps because of that I get the impression that a lot of people think of it as more of an Northern American song - but like many sea songs, it's something that spread from port to port across the world, and this is the version that Hugill says was "very popular with Liverpool seamen". Hugill also remarks on the fact that the tune is somewhat reminiscent of Greensleeves (which I suppose it is) and that this version of the song was a forbitter (i.e. a song for entertainment rather than a work song) "since it had no all-hands-in chorus".

A.L. Lloyd, who recorded versions of this song which he had collected from Wales, writes in the sleeve notes to "Leviathan!": "Who was Rapper Brown, the villain of the piece? Particularly during the latter days of sail, many lodging house keepers encouraged seamen to fall in debt to them, then signed them aboard a hardcase ship in return for the “advance note” loaned by the company to the sailor ostensibly to buy gear for the voyage. Paddy West of Great Howard Street, Liverpool, was well-known for this" (we have, of course, already heard about Paddy West...)

One of the interesting aspects of the song is its reference to the whaling trade: on the Liverpool museums website, Stephen Guy writes that "Today scant remains to remind us of this little-known period which ran parallel with the early growth of Liverpool. One place is Greenland Street, off Jamaica Street in the city centre. The waters off Greenland were among the places the Liverpool whalers hunted lucrative sperm whales and other species valuable for their oil-rich blubber and baleen - whalebone used for making ladies’ corsets (stays). It is likely that Greenland Street got its name because it housed the warehouses, counting houses and offices linked to the whaling industry... Whaling was dangerous, particularly when icebergs were around, and in 1789 it was recorded that four Liverpool whalers were lost. In 1827 only one whaler, The Baffin, was operating full-time out of Liverpool and by 1830 there was no more trade out of the port." The picture I'm using above, "Success to the James of Liverpool" is one of the few known paintings of a whaling ship operating out of Liverpool and dates from c.1810-1820.

In the Roud folksong index, this is #644

Sunday 13 May 2012

48: A Double Thick Marmalade Butty

An affectionate tribute to childhood malnutrition by Frank Lewis, a Merseyside teacher, I think this was written for and first recorded in the mid-70s by The Jacksons. This was for a long time a part of the repetoire of Billy Maher and Jacqui and Bridie, and like many songs here, it plays into the tongue in cheek nostalgia that characterised the Liverpool folk revival. Gerry Jones' excellent Liverpool Lyrics website has a set of words to the song provided by Frank's daughter Sarah; Gerry's website also includes a tribute from a former pupil, who says "around 1982-85, Frank Lewis was my teacher in Primary School. He was from Liverpool,and he would get his guitar out and sing it to us".

Since recording this earlier today, I've found a youtube video apparently featuring Frank Lewis with Roy Brobyne singing this song in what looks like a fine living-room singalong!

The image above is a still from the 1965 BBC documentary "The Singing City", and shows 3 kids having a picnic on the traffic island in front of the entrance to Lewis's department store.

Saturday 5 May 2012

47: Every Other Saturday

Seeing as it's the FA cup final later today, I really thought I should add something appropriate. This is a massively popular Liverpool F.C. song, and you can hear it most matchdays in The Albert pub - any 'errors' can and should be blamed on the people drinking there, as that's what I'm basing the version here on! It should be said that this was originally a Rangers F.C. song (cue disparaging comments about how Scousers will steal anything and everything). But of course, the nature of folk music is that it travels and is adapted to new contexts. This version has become pretty solidly rooted in Liverpool F.C. traditions, to the extent quite a lot of Liverpool fans do express surprise when they find out that this is a song borrowed from the singing of Rangers fans. Certainly its been adapted to our needs both melodically and lyrically. The final words of the song ("I'd walk a million miles for one of your goals"), to a tune borrowed from 'My Mammy', pay tribute to Kenny Dalglish, former star player and currently manager.

It should be noted that some people might wonder whether the very idea of talking about "Every other saturday" off is completely obsolete given that most of Liverpool's matches are played on a Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, any other time than Saturday! And can any working person really afford the ticket price on their 'half day off'?