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Shanties as work songs, question

Highlandman 06 Jul 12 - 11:10 AM
Charley Noble 06 Jul 12 - 12:35 PM
Gibb Sahib 06 Jul 12 - 02:06 PM
Highlandman 06 Jul 12 - 02:24 PM
Gibb Sahib 06 Jul 12 - 02:46 PM
RTim 06 Jul 12 - 03:19 PM
Dead Horse 06 Jul 12 - 03:34 PM
Gibb Sahib 06 Jul 12 - 06:38 PM
Steve Gardham 07 Jul 12 - 01:25 PM
Leadfingers 07 Jul 12 - 01:55 PM
Nancy King 07 Jul 12 - 02:07 PM
RTim 07 Jul 12 - 02:22 PM
Richard Bridge 07 Jul 12 - 02:28 PM
Gibb Sahib 08 Jul 12 - 02:53 AM
Steve Gardham 08 Jul 12 - 09:07 AM
Gibb Sahib 08 Jul 12 - 01:39 PM
Steve Gardham 08 Jul 12 - 03:23 PM
Mr Red 09 Jul 12 - 12:09 PM
GUEST,Lighter 09 Jul 12 - 01:14 PM
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Subject: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Highlandman
Date: 06 Jul 12 - 11:10 AM

I just got through Joanna Colcord's Songs of the American Sailorman, and it left me with a couple of puzzling questions.
In several places she states that the choruses were designed for one or more pulls, but she doesn't go into detail. About half of her examples are obvious enough (Haul away, JOE, for instance), but in many of them I'm not sure where the natural "pulls" fall. I seem to come up with too many or too few to seem practical for a working song.
Also, in one place she quotes either Dana or Melville (don't have the book to hand) on how the sailors would begin a chorus before the shantyman was finished with the verse, and vice versa. But again she doesn't give much of a clue as to just where. Her hand drawn music notation runs the verses to completion before the choruses start. Is that just a limitation of dots, or am I missing something?
I've tried noodling the things out myself but I'm not at all confident I've got it right.
Anybody have any tips, or videos?

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Charley Noble
Date: 06 Jul 12 - 12:35 PM

There's a lot of discussion here on that topic. You might review one of Gibb Sahib's threads for something recent.

Halyard shanties were structured generally for one long pull.

Other shanties for raising light sails had many quick pulls.

Capstan shanties were basically continuous work in rhythm as the crew marched around.

Windlass shanties were similar but people did their work in place, heaving up and down.

Pumping shanties varied, depending on the type of pump. Some involved heaving and hauling, as with the shanty "South Australia."

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 06 Jul 12 - 02:06 PM


You might try starting with the Wikipedia article (I am not being facetious) and following the video links there. Especially the section on "Types".

"Haul Away Joe" is a so-called short drag chanty. One pull at the very end, on last word.

Long drag chanties, which is fairly synonymous with halyards chanties generally have (or can have) 2 pulls per each refrain. The pulls are almost always evenly spaced and occurring on the downbeats of measures. The intent is that they should be obvious--they were designed that way. If you give a specific example of one that might be a little confusing, I or someone can answer.

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Highlandman
Date: 06 Jul 12 - 02:24 PM

I think one of the things that throws me off, as a sailor of little bitty boats, is the spacing of the pulls. They seem very long between -- but then again considering how heavy the work is on these ships I suppose it makes sense.
Watching the Moby Dick video, the thing that strikes me odd is that the pulls aren't evenly spaced in Blood Red Roses... when the shantyman is singing his verses the men get a bit of a blow, I suppose, then have a couple of pulls on the chorus. Does that make sense? You're not trying to keep momentum up, but rather keep at a heavy job 'til it's done, right?
I learned all my shanties from folk song books; I'm trying to rid myself of folk-revival performance presuppositions (not that stage performance is all bad; not trying to start an argument) and understand the songs better as they were used in their natural habitat.
Thanks for the starting points, I'll spend some time there. (Wikipedia, really? hm....)

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 06 Jul 12 - 02:46 PM

Yes, Glenn, when the leader is singing, the crew is resting. Then when the crew is singing, there are two pulls. If the chorus is written down as 2 measures, then the pulls happen on the start of each measure. If written as 4 measures, the pulls come at the start of measures 1 and 3.

"Blood Red Roses" is a weird example because it was sort of reinvented. The movie form (which spawned the folk scene form) is not authentic. If you can find the authentic version of the song recorded by Alan Lomax in the Bahamas in 1935 ("Come down you bunch of roses"), you can hear that the measures are even and the downbeats -- the pulls -- are quite obvious.

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: RTim
Date: 06 Jul 12 - 03:19 PM

I asked this question on another thread, and Gibb Sahib suggested I post it here also:

A question I have is about how the singing happened.

Did the Shantyman when on board working, sing both his line AND the response,
or only his line?

Tim Radford
(Who has just recorded some shanties with a chorus)


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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Dead Horse
Date: 06 Jul 12 - 03:34 PM

The reason that information is so sketchy is because there are no hard and fast rules worth relying on.
For instance, although the description given by Gibb Sahib is correct for short drag and for long drag shanties, Haul Away Joe fits the long drag better than it does the short drag - even though given as an example of the latter.
Several lists have been made by supposed 'experts' in the genre, listing which shanties fitted which task.
They are all different and rarely agree on anything. (well, ALMOST rarely agree).
Try making a recording of someone singing the chorus ONLY, to the accompaniment of a metronome or a regular beat, then try to work out where the shantymans part would be sung.
I feel that would give you a better understanding of the songs as used for work. Todays shanty singers have got it wrong as far as I am concerned because they come at it from the other way round. They seem to think that the lead singer (shantyman) actually led the shanty, whereas it was the JOB and the effort required that did this.
THAT is where the shantyman came into his own as he was the man who knew the job, knew the state of the crew, knew the amount of effort required under the prevailing conditions, and so set the right tune for that job. Sometimes the mate would disagree and overruled him by wanting a faster tempo, and what the mate said was what was done.
I noticed just the other day that when I was singing one particular shanty I came in with the verse both before the end of the chorus AND on some verses hanging over the start of the chorus. I cant for the life of me remember which shanty it was, but did make a note to myself that I had always done it this way without realising it.
The song 'Haul on the Bowline' is one where I definatley sing the first line of the verse to coincide with the last line of the chorus, and as both words are mostly the same (Haul) nothing is lost.
Try it sometime.
P.S. How many times do you hear the words 'Timme' or 'To me' sung by the modern shanty crew at the start of the chorus?
And how many times do you think it makes me want to throw something sharp and pointy at them for doing it? :-)

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 06 Jul 12 - 06:38 PM

I think it's a good question, Tim, because its one of those things that is taken for granted. Most people, perhaps, don't even think about it, whereas others would just give these speculations based on what they imagine, kind of like the question of harmony in chanties. I am more inclined not to assume, but to see what evidence suggests.

My general sense (without having gone back to look at the evidence in detail, is that it would have varied depending on the style of the chanty. So we can say generally that both were done, i.e. the chantyman not singing the response and the chantyman singing the response, but that statement isn't very enlightening.

For clarity, let's say we will ignore the heaving chanties with a grand chorus. Just talking about those balanced call-response forms.

Beyond the two options (to sing or not sing the response) there is the question of overlap, raised by Glenn and Dead Horse. A true overlap, if it was done, implies that the chantyman did not sing the response -- or else he sang only part of it. I do think the chantyman sometimes sang only part of the response, that that would have been more like "because he felt like it", rather than because he had to sing only part in order to overlap his solo!

I am skeptical of the type of overlap that Dead Horse describes for "Bowline", but mainly because I don't remember seeing any evidence for that style. Its a style where the meter gets "chopped" short. I do know that it has been in fashion now and again with people, but I get the sense that these are people who have read passages like the one Glenn mentions and have interpreted it in their way. I also think it is unlikely because there was no need to keep such a chanty in a continuous rhythm; one could pause after each verse to set up for the next pull. But I'm mainly doubtful because, as I said, I don't remember seeing evidence of this and because I think the overlap mentioned by a couple (?) writers (let us not count the voices of those that are just repeating what they read in earlier books) and can explained differently. That being said, I believe that sort of overlap is plausible, so it comes down just a difference in opinion, I think.

We have hardly any recordings of sailors singing the chanties w/ a chorus along for the recording. One of these is the set with Capt. Leighton Robinson where, most of the time at least, he is singing the responses. Yet we do have a good number of recordings of Caribbean singers of chanties with chorus that, if you accept it, is good evidence. In most/all of these, the chantyman doesn't sing the response; it is a true "call and response." In some cases, the style of the chanty is such that there is much overlap, sometimes not so much. But it is not the sort of overlap that interferes with meter, rather it is because the chorus comes at metronomic regularity with the work, and the soloist is more layered over the top -- not really leading, as Dead Horse suggest. I disagree with DH, however, because I think that is just one of the styles. In other styles, the chantyman *does* lead or cue the crew.

I have more thoughts, but that's some for now.

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 07 Jul 12 - 01:25 PM

Whilst I heartily applaud all of the research going into how it was done, I think it's very unrealistic to criticise modern-day performers, the vast majority of whom have never set foot on a sailing ship, and why should they? They are singing a song from a certain genre, and whilst it is to be applauded if they try to get the sound as authentic as possible, their prime objective is to entertain, not to make a ship run smoothly. As Gibb says there are many variations and interpretations so let's just concentrate on how it was and leave the performers to their own interpretations.

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Leadfingers
Date: 07 Jul 12 - 01:55 PM

I recall being told about a Festival in UK ( Was It Chippenham ) where they had a 'crew' of Scouts actually Mock Working with ropes and weights while shanties were sung to show how they actually worked ! Is that an old man's dream ? or can anyone confirm that it DIOD happen ?

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Nancy King
Date: 07 Jul 12 - 02:07 PM

For many years at the Washington (DC) Folk Festival, we had a "Work Songs" workshop with various contraptions rigged to show how the songs (shanties, track-lining songs, waulking songs, etc.) were actually used. It was a lot of fun, and got the point across, but the main lesson learned was that most modern singers do them WAY too fast!

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: RTim
Date: 07 Jul 12 - 02:22 PM

As both Gibb and Charley Noble know - they sing shanties on board ship as a daily occurrence at Mystic Sea Port Museum in Connecticut, and there is always a Working Shanty session at the yearly Sea Music Festival. I personally have not pulled a rope, etc., but have seen it done.

Tim Radford

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 07 Jul 12 - 02:28 PM

Nice to see you out and about Mr Horse. When can we heckle each other?

Then of course there are odd bugger shanties like Paddy Doyle's Boots.

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Jul 12 - 02:53 AM

Trying to dig up some references to overlapping, to see what's there to be interpreted.

1906. "Sailors' Songs, Collected by Annie G. Gilchrist." Journal of the Folk-Song Society 2(9): 236-249.

Mr. Bolton refused to give me the rest of the words! "Shangadore" is a corruption of "Shenandoah "-the American river of that name. …this well known American chanty, …The tune appears to be of negro
origin; it is at least of negro character…. The tune is a difficult one to bar correctly, from the evident tendency of the chorus (as I understand in chanties generally) to overlap the solo….

1927           Gordon, Robert W. "Folk Songs of America: Work Chanteys." New York Times (16 Jan. 1927).

About boat-rowing songs in Georgia. Gordon notes that the leader sang in tenor, response in lower key. Lines overlapped "with curious effectiveness."

1906    Masefield, John, ed. A Sailor's Garland. London: Macmillan.

Of the chanties proper, the capstan chanties are the most beautiful, the halliard chanties the most commonly heard, and the sheet, tack, and bowline chanties the most ancient. In a capstan chanty the solo man begins with his single line of verse. Before he has spoken the last word of it the other men heaving at the bars break out with the first chorus. Immediately before the chorus has come to an end the solo man repeats his line of verse, to be interrupted at the last word by the second chorus, which is generally considerably longer than the first.

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Jul 12 - 09:07 AM

The Masefield passage is very curious and interesting. with most chanty and chanty tasks I could easily imagine the chantyman starting his next solo before the end of the refrain, but not the other way round, it being essential that the men working needed to keep in time precisely.

However with a slower more continuous effort such as on a capstan this would not have been quite so essential. The old hands might well come in at a place before the end of the solo if that was the custom in that crew, expecting any others to join in pdq.

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 08 Jul 12 - 01:39 PM

I went through my notes and this was all I turned up for the idea of overlap, though I've a sneaking suspicion that there are a couple more statements out there that are in the more recent books and which I did not copy down. Of course, we also must judge those as coming after the very influential Masefield text. Even the first quote, by the folklorist Gilchrist, might have been a mere reflection of Masefield, whose book had been published, I believe, within a few months before that statement. Gilchrist did not observe overlap; she is just using what she'd heard/read as an explanation for the irregular meter.

If it was a very prominent feature, it is curious that people did not remark on it more.

I have also felt, like Gilchrist, that some overlap was implied in the way singers alone gave their songs to collectors or how people were "forced" to notate them. This isn't direct evidence of overlap, but rather a reasoning that it may have been there since otherwise the meter gets screwed up. I took this approach on an experiment with bringing to life Harlow's "Sun Down Below". If one interprets the song exactly as written (as has been done in the Revival version), we come we an irregular meter. This is not to say that irregular meter could not have existed; it actually sounds plausible and OK to me. But I thought about how the Caribbean shanties (in which this is included) tend to have a choral response that comes in like clockwork, to a regular beat. So I interpreted the rests and barred-notes at the ends of phrases as overlap. It's this sort of overlap -- in perfect time and not giving short shrift to the meter -- that I imagine would have been the case in Gordon's reference above about the boat rowers.

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Jul 12 - 03:23 PM

I wonder if overlap in some of the slower chanties is just natural. I've heard something like with chanties like Mr Stormalong being sung just by your everyday revival group who can't have ever sung a chanty as work song, the chorus coming in quick and sharp before the lead drawl is finished.

Regarding overlap from the chantyman with the lead, remember his job was at least 3-fold:
To keep the men in time
Inspire them to great effort
Get the job done as quickly as possible, drive it along.

In the case of the last of these one can easily imagine the chantyman coming in during the final note of the refrain.

Also remember that at the height of the days of chantying ordinary seamen were practically slaves and if they didn't respond smartish to any command a rope's end would be the least of their worries. There was also competition between watches.

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: Mr Red
Date: 09 Jul 12 - 12:09 PM

What I read and have been told is:

1) Versions were customised to things the singers knew, the ones we have are just a snapshot.
2) the "pulls" were dependent on the work to hand. See Bunty shanties particularly for illustration.
3) the songs lasted as long as the the work. They didn't sing on if there was no more rope.
4) look at Stan Huill videos and you will hear fewer words eg We now sing "Ranzo me boys Ranzo" - while he is preserving breath and making the rhythm more explicit he sings "Ranzo boys Ranzo". He on the down pull (one of three strands - think pulleys) and two (no more) are on the tail rope.
5) the point of shanties was to get more work out of less men - so there weren't huge gangs.
6) Stan Hugill states that his printed versions were camouflaged (ie bowdlerised) due to the mores of the day.

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Subject: RE: Shanties as work songs, question
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 09 Jul 12 - 01:14 PM

A fair enough summary.

But Hugill had to "camouflage" only a small number of shanties.

The majority were "clean," except at the whim of the shantyman when there were no passengers on board.

Any shanty could be made "dirty" just by ad-libbing. Remember that the lines didn't even have to rhyme.

When I hauled a couple of ropes at Mystic Seaport in the '80s (along with a bunch of other visitors) the sail was raised and the call to "Belay!" came in the middle of a line. Everybody belayed immediately and that was that.

Needless to say, the experience seemed *nothing* like a "musical performance." The point was to raise sail, not to impress anyone with our singing skills.

Two more points of interest: as Hugill said frequently, shanties weren't sung every day. Depending on the weather and the ship's course, there could be a week or more between shanties. And the versions sung today are sometimes far longer than necessary to get a job done. ("Haul Away, Joe," "Paddy Doyle," and "Haul on the Bowline" rarely required more than one or two verses.)

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