The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220 Message #3185109
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
10-Jul-11 - 07:03 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
1914 Sharp, Cecil K. 1914. _ English Folk-Chanteys._ London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co. Ltd.
60 chanteys. Majority heard from John Short of Watchet, Somerset.
The format is similar to Sharp's publication in issues of the Folk Song Society journal (e.g., sort sets of verses, lots of stringing out/half-couplets), but the entries have a dual purpose in that they are set to piano arrangements, as if they are to be performed. Indeed, the notes for the items are put (inconveniently, for our purposes) in a separate section at the end.
In his intro to the collection, Sharp reveals his basic intent and biases. His a priori assumption is that this repertoire primarily belongs to a song tradition of the English people. Therefore (for example), he seeks to connect the tunes to other English folk or popular songs – not necessarily a bad move in all cases, but an assumption, nonetheless, that closes the door on other possibilities. He talks about songs exhibiting "Negro influence", which seems to me a way of assuming again that some core English repertoire is at the center, which Black songs can only "influence"; Black song traditions cannot be at the center in this sort of discussion.
What is wonderful about Sharp's collected shanties is that we have them for posterity, and more so that he has recorded the musical and lyrical peculiarities of specific singers (i.e. he has been descriptive). This is as opposed by giving a 'generic' quasi-composite version of the chanties, such as some of the earlier authors had done. However, that benefit is somewhat diminished in this particular collection; unlike in his journal articles, Sharp does create composite/ideal/prescriptive versions to some extent.
One can also critique Sharp's relative ignorance of the subject. He had gained familiarity by this point, but I think that what he didn't know about shanties comes through now and again in misperceptions of what his informants sang. (Incidentally, when Hugill went on to re-present many of these items, he "corrected" some of the lyrics to reflect what one better acquainted with the subject would assume must have been the intended words.)
The opening of the intro reflects Sharp's assumption that chanties were at the core of some ~ancient~ English song tradition. He thought they were a hold-over from a larger body of English work songs…the rest of which mysteriously vanished. He does not think that the dearth of other work songs besides chanties might indicate that they were borrowed from non-English culture!
THE sailors' chantey is, I imagine, the last of the labour-songs to survive in this country. In bygone days there must have been an enormous number of songs of this kind associated with every rhythmical form of manual labour ; but the machine killed the landsman's work-song too long ago for it now to be recoverable. The substitution, too, of the steam-engine for the sail in deep-sea craft has given the death-blow to the chantey; …
Origin ideas, with little evidence. Does not distinguish "Complaynt" from more recent work songs, and yet the issue is "beyond question."
How old the chantey may be it is impossible to say, but that the custom
amongst sailors of singing in rhythm with their work was in vogue as far back at least as the fifteenth century, the vivid description of the voyage in " The Complaynt of Scotland" (c. 1450) places beyond question.
Etymology, orthography. Doesn't use much literature to make an argument; seems just like a random decision.
Notwithstanding the antiquity of the chantey the word itself is quite
modern ; indeed, the compilers of the Oxford Dictionary are unable to cite its use in literature earlier than 1869. Moreover, although the authorities are more or less in agreement regarding the derivation of the word (Fr. chante), its spelling is still in dispute. The Oxford Dictionary (1913) gives the preference to "shanty"; Webster's New International
Dictionary (1911) to "chantey"; while the Century Dictionary (1889) prints both forms "chantey" and " shanty." Clark Russell and Kipling write it " chantey," and Henley "chanty." As the balance of expert opinion appears to favour "chantey " that spelling is adopted here.
Prior writings consulted; he seems to have looked at collections mainly, and perhaps not other articles and sources.
Considering the interest which this subject must have for antiquaries,
musicians, folk-lorists and others, its bibliography is remarkably slender. //
Mentions LA Smith, Davis/Tozer, Whall, Bullen.
Of these, the last two are at once the most recent and, in my opinion, the
most authoritative. Each is the compilation of a professional sailor and
avowedly a one-man collection, containing those chanteys only which its
author had himself heard and learned at sea. Here, of course, Mr. Whall and Mr. Bullen have the advantage of me. I have no technical or practical knowledge whatever of nautical matters ; I have never even heard a chantey sung on board ship. But then I approach the subject from its aesthetic side my concern is solely with the music of the chantey and with its value as an art-product and this I contend is quite possible even for one who is as ignorant as I am of the technical details of the
So, he is mainly interested in tune-forms, and connecting them to other folk song tunes.
Counting variants, I have collected upwards of 150 chanteys, all of which
have been taken down from the lips of old sailors now living in retirement at St. Ives, Padstow, Watchet, Bridgwater, Clevedon, Bristol, Newcastle and London.
Sharp's criteria for inclusion, which includes the funky decision not to include "popular" songs whose tunes are "not of folk-origin" – meaning that very many of the common shanties would have to be excluded…and also meaning that Sharp assumes shanties that are included do not have popular origins (for example, Haul Away Joe).
In making my selection for the purposes of this book I have been
guided by the following considerations. I have limited my choice to those
chanteys which I had definite evidence were actually used within living
memory as working-songs on board ship; I have excluded every example
of the sea-song or ballad, which is, of course, not a labour-song at all; I have omitted certain popular and undoubtedly genuine chanteys, such as
"The Banks of the Sacramento," " Poor Paddy works on the Railway," "Can't you dance the Polka," "Good-bye, Fare you Well," etc., all of which are included, I believe, in one or other of the Collections above enumerated on the ground that the tunes are not of folk-origin, but rather the latter-day adaptations of popular, "composed" songs of small musical value; and finally, to save space, I have excluded several well-known chanteys, e.g. "Farewell and Adieu to you, Ladies of Spain," "Cawsand Bay," "The Coasts of High Barbary," etc., all of which have been repeatedly published.
On Sharp's informants.
A reference to the Notes will show that thirty-nine of the chanteys in this
Collection have already seen the light in some form or other. The remaining twenty-one are, I believe, now published for the first time.
Fifty-seven of the chanteys in my Collection, and forty-six of those in this
volume, were sung to me by Mr. John Short of Watchet, Somerset. Although seventy-six years of age he is apparently, so far as physical activity and mental alertness go, still in the prime of life. He has, too, the folk-singer's tenacious memory and, although I am sure he does not know it, very great musical ability of the uncultivated, unconscious order. He now holds the office of Town Crier in his native town, presumably on account of his voice, which is rich, resonant and powerful, and yet so flexible that he can execute trills, turns and graces with a delicacy and finish that would excite the envy of many a professed vocalist. Mr. Short has spent more than fifty years in sailing-ships and throughout the greater part of his career was a recognised chanteyman, i.e. the solo-singer who led the chanteys. It would be difficult, I imagine, to find a more experienced exponent of the art of chantey-singing, and I account myself peculiarly fortunate in having made his acquaintance in the course of my investigations and won his generous assistance. Of the other singers who have been good enough to sing to me, Mr. Perkins of St. Ives and the late Mr. Robbins of London deserve especial mention. …
A word more on John Short (1839-1933), who our friend Tom Brown has helped us to know better through the Short Sharp Shanties project. Short ("Yankee Jack") started his deepwater career circa 1857/8 and retired from that circa 1873-75.
Many of the shanties which Sharp got from Short are ones rarely collected elsewhere. Quite often, the only other version is one supplied –miraculously?—by Hugill. TomB made the following observation on Mudcat in March '09:
"It's fascinating to find that, of those shanties that Sharp/Terry published from John Short, which were not in other publications, Stan almost invariably a his own version either from 'Harding the Barbadian' or 'picked up in the West Indies'. Makes you wonder!"
The next passage, which begins a theory of the origins of worksongs, includes a phrase matching what Harlow later included as a sing outs.
…A simple way of securing this end was explained to me by a practical seaman, who told me that on such occasions he would recite, slowly and impressively and to the following rhythm, this sentence,
[musical score w/ lyrics:]
I sell brooms, squeegees and swabs.
instructing the men to make their effort on the word swabs….
On the nature of lyrics, and how the present collection treats them:
In most chanteys, e.g. " Ranzo," it is one line only in each stanza that has to be improvised, so that the demands made upon the singer's powers of invention are not overwhelming. Every chanteyman, too, has a number of stock lines, or "tags," stored up in his memory, such as
"Up aloft this yard must go," "I think I heard the old man (i.e. the captain) say"
upon which he can always draw when inspiration fails him. The
paucity of singable words vitiates to some extent the practical
value of a Collection such as this; on the other hand it should not be difficult for the amateur to emulate the chanteyman and invent words of his own. It should, perhaps, be added that the words in the text are those that were actually sung to me. I have not "edited" them in any way beyond excising a few lines and softening two or three expressions.
So, he bowdlerized a bit.
On singing style—possibly reflects how his aged informants were singing to him:
Traditionally, the chantey is sung very slowly and deliberately and the
tune embellished especially by the chanteyman himself with numberless
trills and graces, with every now and again a curious catch in the voice (a
kind of hiccough), and numerous falsetto notes. These embellishments are highly characteristic, but they are very difficult, and the amateur would be well advised not to attempt to imitate them. He must remember, however, to sing the chanteys slowly and impressively and, the majority of them at any rate, without accompaniment. Accompaniments, it is true, are given in the text, but this is only that the melodies may, if required, be played as instrumental airs.
Origins again, and Sharp's assumptions about the inherently English nature of chanties, or the essentialized English sailor.
The origin of the chantey-tune is a question beset with difficulty. A great many of the airs I should be inclined to say a majority of them must originally have been drawn from the stock of peasant-tunes with which the memory of every country-bred sailor would naturally be stored. In most cases these have, in the process of adaptation, undergone many changes, although there are instances where the folk-ballad has been "lifted " bodily into the service of the chantey without any alteration whatever, as for example "Blow away the Morning Dew " (Whall, p. 35) and "Sweet Nightingale " (Songs of the West, No. 15). The latter was given me as a capstan-chantey by Mr. Short who told me that he had himself converted it into a chantey, and that it had always become a favourite with the crews he had sailed with. Very often too for the sailors' taste is comprehensive rather than particular popular street-songs were added to the sailors' repertory of chanteys, e.g. " Champagne Charlie," "Doo-dah-day," etc. Another source, too, from which the chantey seems to have been replenished is the hymn-book ; at any rate there are many chanteys that have hymn-tune characteristics, e.g. "Leave her Johnny" (No. 3), etc.
The resemblance may be adventitious, i.e. the short, concise phrases peculiar to the chantey may have led naturally to the construction of tunes of this character ; or, on the other hand, as the sailor is a great singer of hymn-tunes of the more emotional type, it may be that he has consciously or unconsciously introduced some of the phrases of his favourite tunes into the chantey.
Lastly, there is the vexed question of negro influence. Mr. Arnold, the musical editor of Mr. Bullen's Collection, holds that " the majority of the chanteys are negroid in origin." I cannot subscribe to this opinion, although I admit that the negro has undoubtedly left his impress upon a certain number of chantey-tunes. The technical peculiarities of negroid music are not easy to define with precision. Mr. A. H. Fox Strangways has, however, drawn my attention to the prevalence in negro music of the "melodic-third," i.e. of a shape of melody which implies a preference for harmonising in thirds, instead of the fourth, which is, of course, the basic interval of European folk-song … Then there is that characteristic form of syncopated rhythm, popularly known as "rag-time," which, however, although undoubtedly negro in origin, is found very rarely, if at all, in the chantey. … That the chantey should have been affected by the negro is not surprising when we remember that sailing-ships, engaged in the Anglo-American trade, commonly carried " chequered " crews, i.e. one watch of coloured men and one of white. It is necessary, however, to distinguish between music of negroid origin and European music that has been modified by the negro.
…However, I do not wish to be dogmatic. Sufficient material has not yet
been amassed upon which to found a sound theory of the origin of the chantey-tune ; and it may be that when further evidence is available the somewhat speculative opinions above expressed will need material modification.