The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #152346   Message #3562663
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
30-Sep-13 - 12:35 AM
Thread Name: 'Obscenity' in Chanties/Shanties
Subject: RE: 'Obscenity' in Chanties/Shanties

    On this note: There may again have been correlations between ethnicity or cultural background of singers and the types of lyrics sung. Whereas French sailor songs are frequently full of double entendre statements about sex, and English sailor songs are known to be often coy yet equally bawdy, the American chanties from the classic era tended to be sad or else silly—echoes of slave songs or echoes of minstrelsy. While there is good reason why early commenters would not have printed obscene verses, they did also not make such remarks on the "unprintable" nature of lyrics as some of the later writers (i.e. Russell, 1889 among the first) did. The style of chanties changed with the widening of repertoire to songs of cultures outside that mainly African-American core. Perceptions of the degree of obscenity in the chanty repertoire were likely influenced when certain slices of the repertoire reflected on the genre as a whole. Such standout examples would have struck some observers—increasingly—as evidence that chanties were mainly in the spirit of visits to prostitutes on the Ratcliffe Highway, whereas sailors shipping in vessels where the songs were more romantic odes to "Sweet Roseanne, my darlin' chile" could remain reasonably dismissive of the lewd songs sung by some individuals. For example, Hugill points out again and again that the chanties associated with pumping tended to be more bawdy. These, too, seem to have been songs adapted from prior shore material in the English (or Anglo-American) tradition, which were easily adapted to this task. What Hugill calls "Slack Away Your Reefy Tackle," for instance, was a variation on older English bawdry (i.e. the late 17th c. ballad, "A Ship-load of Waggery" ). In a version heard in the docks of London, the song begins,

>>Every ship has a cabin

Every cabin has doors

Every sailor likes a nice girl

With nice pretty drawers.

Lower away your main t'gallant sail

Lower away your main t'gallant sail
You son of a whore. <<

The entire object of the song is to present verses, pertaining to sailing life, which end with an explicit or veiled bawdy image; the curse in the chorus merely adds to the coarse tone of the song. Songs on this pattern, however, appear to have been non-existent among the earlier chanty repertoire. My theory, restated, is that as the chanty genre grew, more and more bawdy songs from the English tradition—a part of the cultural tradition of sailors, rather than the musical-cultural heritage of the chanty genre—were brought into use as chanties. These songs were naughty by their very nature; that is, it was not the singer's incidental choice to make his lyrics, when improvising, of an obscene nature. The presence of these songs gave chanty singing by that time the appearance of being at least partially focused on bawdy themes.