The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #152346   Message #3562899
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
30-Sep-13 - 01:30 PM
Thread Name: 'Obscenity' in Chanties/Shanties
Subject: RE: 'Obscenity' in Chanties/Shanties
Thanks for the feedback, guys.


It's an interesting question. I think (IIRC) it was Stan Hugill who emphasized that the body of pumping chanties contained a higher percentage of bawdy songs than the body of chanties ascribed to other tasks. I think this is a smart way of looking at it - i.e. breaking down the rather catch-all category of "chanties" into smaller repertories. That is one of the things that I am doing. In Hugill's case, I believe he reasoned that pumping was such constant, boring drudgery - not necessarily as hard a labor as other tasks, just boring - that sailors were inclined to bring in bawdy material out of desperation to relieve the boredom and have some laughs. I think it is a fairly common idea among current chanty enthusiasts, too, that pump chanties would be more bawdy, though I think that probably reflects a consensus developed from people reading Hugill and such.

I think it's a reasonable idea, though not particularly strong as an explanation. It's similar (in it's explaining power!) to my statement that the guano trade inspired bawdier songs.

My explanation is different. I believe there are songs (and forms, methods, etc) more "native" to the chanty genre and those that are like "immigrant" songs. By analogy, if you took the country of, say, Germany, you'd find many people that should be called "German" on the basis of their citizenship. However, among those there is a set of people that most would recognize as "German" based on their ethnicity or long established family history in the country. No liberal-minded person would excluded the more recent immigrants from full consideration as German citizens, but we'd be in a wacky world if we also did not recognize the historical dimension of "native Germans" as a "people." I think the later-developed definition of "chanty" as something encompassing every song that was ever sung during sailors' work is like German citizenship (or whatever). I'm happy to recognize all the songs as "citizens," but when it comes to making a cultural/historical analysis, I distinguish the "natives" and "recent immigrants." (Hence my assumption of a "core" to the genre.)

Anyway! The simplest way to explain, with that analogy in place, is that certain tasks were more open to admitting "immigrant" songs. Halyard hauling did *not* admit them. Percentage-wise, halyard chanties are the "purest" in having the distinct quality and repertoire of chanties. They borrowed many ideas from elsewhere, yes, but it all had to be smelted dow and assimilated into halyard chanty form. By contrast (and here I'm finally getting to the point!) the tasks of pumping (*especially at the type called a Downton pump) and capstan, according to my belief, were most admitting of "immigrants." Lots of material could be borrowed from "shore" unchanged, because the form of song needed for these tasks was not very particular.

These "open door" tasks were the ones that tended to let in songs from a different "culture" - some of which were songs that were bawdy by nature. The "native" culture did not tend to produce bawdy songs. Lewd, obscene, etc lines were incidental, and a result of the tendency to speak directly.