The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #145654   Message #3373504
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
08-Jul-12 - 12:48 AM
Thread Name: A.L.Lloyd & Sea Chanties
Subject: RE: A.L.Lloyd & Sea Chanties
My purpose in listing and providing short notes with the Lloyd/MacColl shanties was to consider them in concrete terms, rather than as a vague impression. Now, people who know me might know that I am not a huge fan of some of the stuff they did with/to chanties. But I think those are separate issues. The issue for me at the moment is Hugill's criticism of them, which I have come to the conclusion is largely bullshit.

All the weird shanties they put over are good, perhaps, depending on which way you look at them. But for Bert they had to be modal, they had to be Mixolydian, they had to be Dorian.

After looking at the individual songs, I don't see much that could be considered modal. More importantly, the songs -- the great majority, if not perhaps all -- seems as though they were probably worked up from one of a few common media sources. These sources contained reasonably common and acceptable melody forms, of which Hugill gives tacit approval by also putting them in his book. They are not funky variations from left field, or, at least, they were sung by someone in tradition.

That being said, some of Lloyd/MacColl's renditions differed melodically from their sources in one of two ways. The first was if they inadvertently mis-read the notation. If this was the case, they might subject the melody to their own preferred sort of melody. An example of this is "Hilo John Brown" (which I noted above I had not heard, but now I have). Lloyd changes the ending melodic figure into something (which I've noted in several revival interpretations of chanties now) that might be called sort of "modal".

The second was, I think, they approached the reading of notation very roughly. There will be those who argue that their melodies differ from print sources because they were learned differently, in oral tradition. But I think it is more likely that they used the book sources and yet felt it wasn't all that important to follow the melodies precisely. They just didnt make the effort, perhaps being of the opinion that it didnt matter much. (Does it?) A fairly extreme example of this is their "South Australia". Let's face it -- the hyper-detailed and -variable melody in Doerflinger isn't all that easy to render if your sight-reading skills aren't great. Yet Hugill also did this "make up any melody you want" thing, e.g. in his "Shiny O". Yet whatever L/M made up/fudged by way of melody, I still don't hear much "weird/modal" stuff.

An additional irony may be that numerous notations in Hugill's book are messed up. He has certain phrases of songs (.e.g. in "Hilo Johnny Brown") misplaced, on the wrong ledger lines. Anyone who would try to sing from those notations would come up with a weird or modal tune!

The one place where I can try to agree with this criticism of Hugill's in in the harmonizing done by L/M. I think the style of harmony they used may not have been characteristic of historic chanteying and, to my ears, gives it a weird sound.

They never sang the songs the real sailors sang: 'The Rio Grande', 'Shenandoah', 'The Banks of the Sacramento'… Those were the songs the sailors sang but they never looked at them.

This is a valid observation. L/M did ca.26/27 shanties. I have my own list of the ca. 27 most noted chanties. The overlap is 5 items. That does seem a bit low.

Bert did 'Sally Brown' but not the normal version, not the way any sailor ever did it.

I've explained in the post above why this was an incorrect and perhaps hypocritical statement.

He sang a Bahamian boatman's rowing song as a deepwater shanty, but it was never sung in deepwater. It was only collected once in the early '60s but Bert's version had extra verses that he must have written.

Lloyd didn't do this until the 70s. By this time, we had Harlow's book with stevedore songs, Abrahams' and Beck's books with Caribbean songs, Lomax's recordings from the 60s and more awareness of his 30s recordings, etc. Revival performers since then have many times performed non-deepwater worksongs that they discovered in various sources. Perhaps people became more willing to include these songs under the larger rubric of "shanty." Perhaps, too, they are excited and inspired by the availability of actual recordings -- a way to learn from authentic performances. If Lloyd wanted to sing some of these songs, why not? Didn't Hugill include someone of these *seeming* marginal songs in his collection? And why wouldn't they add they own lyrics? Isn't that what Hugill does all throughout his book?

'Little Sally Racket' came from a collection of Jamaican folk songs and, again, was not the version sung by sailors."

I've not yet found the collection he is referring to. Lloyd used the "Hilly and Gully" melody. But when Hugill presents the song, he also says it is similar to "Hill and Gully." Hugill indicates only that he got it from Harding, so to say "sung by sailors" seems disingenuous.

Leaving aside Hugill's criticism, I personally think the shanties most tinkered with or mis-interpreted, in a regrettable way (although all not equally so) by L/M are:

Wild Goose Shanty
South Australia
Rise Her Up (so-called Whiskey Johnny)
Bring 'em Down
Blood Red Roses
Hilo John Brown

Others may not be historically authentic, but they are quite acceptable (and good, IMO) as what they are: revival performances.

I'd be glad to elaborate on any of those.