The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126347   Message #2840125
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
15-Feb-10 - 02:12 PM
Thread Name: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Subject: RE: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Hi John

Again, I'm not sure exactly where you're going with this :) But your methods are yours, so more power to ya!

I have done an "analysis" of SfSS -- HIGHLY contentious, to be sure. But anybody's is bound to be, for reasons you have listed. I too had to impose some criteria to give the data SOME kind of tangibility. My criteria were very similar to yours. I also allowed each chantey to come under multiple categories. So one that I have marked with "Black" may also be marked "Irish," for example. I also had a category of "indeterminate" for when I really did not want to skew the figures too much by allowing my biases to creep in. For example, my personal feeling is that "South Australia" comes from something of Black origin, or at least something "American" that was born out of the combined experience of Black and other cultures in my country (where the Black contribution was a key element). But I thought it would be irresponsible to label it as such without a bit more evidence, ...and I don't think it is definitely "English," I put it down as "indeterminate". Of course, MOST of the chanteys could be called of "indeterminate" origin, but if I had taken that approach, it would defeat the goal of the whole exercise. So, like you, I had to impose some positive criteria.

I am not going to post my own "list." So this is all "for what it's worth." Anyways, the count of chanteys that I tagged with "Black" (exclusive of Caribbean) was 70 (for comparison, you have about 52 here). That made, according to my reckoning, 22% of the chanteys in the collection. If I added "Caribbean" to that, I got 37%. That percentage is very low, in my opinion, because Hugill is so inclusive of chanteys that at one time or another may have been used --i.e. he includes a lot of forebitters and such that do not have core chantey characteristics-- that the numbers are skewed. And just another comparison "for what it's worth": If one looks at the abridged edition, where all the non-English language texts are removed, the Black+Caribbean percentage rises to 52%. Again, there is so much uncertainty in all this, but I do feel confident that at least a good HALF of English language chanteys were of Black derivation to some degree.

If you take a collection that is full of HARDCORE chanteys :) by which I mean true, unequivocal work songs that really sit square in the genre, not as a catch-all category, but with more coherent characteristics... then take Bullen's book. Bullen only begrudgingly allowed his editors to include two forebitters, and he makes sure to mark them off clearly -- he does not say, "Well, if you wanted to, you could also tramp around the capstan to this English shore ballad." So if you were analyze his list, you'd find the vast majority of them to be Black, and indeed his stated opinion was that most were "of Negroid origin."

I have no issue with Hugill's inclusiveness. But I encourage people to read it with that in mind. In other words, though he includes so many pieces, very many of them were probably infrequently used. If somehow we could boil down a list of the "most used" chanteys, then I think we'd find a rough balance between Black and Anglo-White influences -- the chanteys could not exist without both. My personal *interpretation* is that chanteys were born of a Black tradition -- African-American -- which no doubt in itself was the result of a culture combination that included English...but which nonetheless was distinct. The paradigm was adopted by others (non-Blacks) who had become acculturated to that culture. Once the *practice* and the model forms were adopted, they became a shell into which many more cultural influences and songs could be incorporated.

This is getting off topic. But it is to say that in 1853, the concept/definition of "chanty" had to have been much more narrow than it was by the 20th century. And, *in my opinion*, a "Black" element was part and parcel to the genre, such that it is *very* difficult to distinguished them as a separate category at that time period! Even a chantey like "Hieland Laddie," which would seem to have some obvious Scottish origin, was perhaps already transformed in a Black setting before it became a chanty. (Consider as well that much of the material in SfSS that seems decidedly non-Black was material that accrued to the genre in later eras, e.g. of the 4 masted barks of Europe, the guano trade, etc.) The probably-older chanties that seem to me less likely of Black influence are mainly short hauls. (In later years, capstan chanties are the ones adopted from other sources.) Certainly, by far the area most concentrated with Black chanties is halyard chanties. A fun challenge would be to see how many halyard (yard-hoisting) chanties we could try to name that do NOT seem to have some Black origin.