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Origins: 'The Shaver'

JFloyd1 24 Feb 16 - 04:34 PM
Steve Gardham 24 Feb 16 - 05:43 PM
Steve Gardham 24 Feb 16 - 05:51 PM
GUEST,Gibb Sahib 25 Feb 16 - 12:00 AM
JFloyd1 25 Feb 16 - 08:47 AM
GUEST,Lighter 26 Feb 16 - 07:41 AM
Gibb Sahib 26 Feb 16 - 04:06 PM
Gibb Sahib 26 Feb 16 - 04:19 PM
GUEST,Lighter 26 Feb 16 - 06:25 PM
Steve Gardham 26 Feb 16 - 06:29 PM
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Subject: Origins: 'The Shaver'
From: JFloyd1
Date: 24 Feb 16 - 04:34 PM

My name is Jessica Floyd and I am a PhD student who is researching shanties. I will beginning work on my dissertation this summer. I am in the process of trying to track down information about three shanties, one of which is listed above. I will be opening another thread concerning another song of interest: "The Good Ship Venus."

In terms of "The Shaver," I am interested in learning more about its possible origins or of other possible versions/texts. I have a copy of Terry's The Way of the Ship, which contains a version of this song and I am also familiar with Hugill's version. I have not, as yet, been able to track down any other versions of this piece. I am aware of at least one similar version that is titled "The Bum Boy"; however, I am not aware of any others. Has anyone come across this shanty or know anything more about it? I have consulted Immortalia, Vance Randolph, Gershon Legman, The Roud Index, the Horntip collection, the Carpenter Collection, and the Inferno Collection. The Roud index took me to the Terry version.

Are there any other repositories of unexpurgated shanties that someone might know of that I have not consulted? Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you for your time.


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Subject: RE: Origins: 'The Shaver'
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 24 Feb 16 - 05:43 PM

As you must already know the era of shanty recording largely done by relatively sophisticated people was one where the printing of unexpurgated shanties was not the done thing. The only thing we have that tells us that some of the shanties were crude is witness accounts of the time and even then these are in short supply. There are several mentions in the shanty threads here that Stan knew quite a lot but even he in the 50s and 60s, when his knowledge was being revealed, was very careful about where and when he would reveal them. There are some claims that his versions do survive in private hands but so far these haven't surfaced. If Stan was in the Merchant Navy or even the RN he can't have failed to have heard and even sung what we now mostly call bawdy ballads/rugby songs which have always been part of the staple repertoire of HM Forces and thrived during both world wars. How much overlap there was between the forces songs and those sung during the 19th century aboard merchant ships will probably never be known, but one imagines there must have been some.


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Subject: RE: Origins: 'The Shaver'
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 24 Feb 16 - 05:51 PM

As for 'The Shaver' I'm only aware of Terry's version which the others are derived from and I find the whole thing highly suspicious for reasons I won't go into here. If you want to pm me I'll tell you why I think that.


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Subject: RE: Origins: 'The Shaver'
From: GUEST,Gibb Sahib
Date: 25 Feb 16 - 12:00 AM

Jessica,

To underscore Steve's comment (and add my own thoughts): There is only one (currently known) source of "The Shaver" (though it would be cool if you found another!). RR Terry presents it in two of his publications (the second of which merely reproduced the first). As RR Terry notes, he learned it from his maternal uncle, James Runciman. James (1852-1891) was a journalist and writer of sea stories. He was probably not the most authoritative source. There is reason to suspect that James may have composed some songs, i.e. as opposed to having learned them from practical experience with a tradition of sailor songs. Nor was Richard Runciman Terry the best judge of what material was "authentic" (though he cited his maternal ancestors' seafaring experience as supposed validation of his relative authority?an authority that was articulated in relation to his peers in academic music circles).

Hugill was fairly liberal in accepting things he read in works like Terry's as possible traditional material. Due to the sense of authority ascribed to Hugill?here again relative to the people with whom he was interacting in the latter half of the 20th?the material he produced/reproduced has sometimes been received as more authentic (in the historical sense) than it really was.

As I mentioned, it would be interesting indeed to know more about "The Shaver" as an individual song. However, because there is no (currently) corroborating evidence that it was an item of repertoire -- significant or otherwise -- of the genre of chanty songs, I would caution against making any broad conclusions about the chanty genre based on this one item. Even the seemingly innocuous conclusion that "There were bawdy chanties," if this item is submitted as evidence, is dubious in my opinion.

In my opinion, the idea of a category of "bawdy chanties" as such may not be justified. Rather, the chanty genre is an open format; one can invent lyrics of a sexual nature as one wishes, in the moment, without there being fixed "bawdy chanties."

For a balanced impression of the chanty repertoire (it's style, form, inventory of common items) as known to an English chantyman of the 1870s?in a single work (i.e. without collating the entire mass of evidence from many scattered sources)?I recommend Frank Bullen's _Songs of Sea Labor_ (1914). He was very firm about presenting only the core repertoire of his own experience.


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Subject: RE: Origins: 'The Shaver'
From: JFloyd1
Date: 25 Feb 16 - 08:47 AM

Hi, Gibb!

Thank you for your post. It is incredibly helpful.


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Subject: RE: Origins: 'The Shaver'
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 26 Feb 16 - 07:41 AM

Hi, Gibb, Steve, and Jessica.

Though his account is, strictly speaking, somewhat ambiguous, Hugill seems to say that he learned the song from "an old Irish seaman, Spike Sennit."

He tends to disagree with Terry that even "the first two verses are printable," and his version has more stanzas than Terry's. It also has, prominently, the post-1900 expression "fed up" where Terry, who apparently learned the song before that, gives "weary."

The preponderance of evidence seems to be that Hugill's version is not simply his own recollection of Terry's.


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Subject: RE: Origins: 'The Shaver'
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 26 Feb 16 - 04:06 PM

Let's add some perspective. Terry, writing in 1920 (and having perhaps only been interested in chanties for the previous 5 years or so), says he learned "The Shaver" from James Runciman, who died in 1891. So Terry was 16 or younger when he learned this obscene and homoerotic song from his uncle. The uncle (James) in turn, is supposed to have told Terry back then (before 1891) that he in turn had learned it from his (James') great-uncle. Well, that's what he says in 1920. In his 1926 work it says James learned it from an unnamed (and evidently unknown to Terry) great-uncle of Terry.

It sound to me like we're talking about a song from a time before the Terrys/Runcimans knew chanties. A Navy song, perhaps. Terry is making a chanty connection due to the "Paddy On the Railway" tune.

Hugill goes to sea 1922-1945 and at some point during that time meets "Spike Sennit" of Liverpool. In the 1950s he works on SfSS, reads Terry's writing.

He does not read Terry all that well -- "Terry vouches for the antiquity of this next shanty and claims that his great-uncle often sang it." No, he doesn't. No claim of antiquity, no "often." "He thinks that the Christy Minstrels 'pinched' the tune of Poor Paddy from this earlier capstan song." No, Terry did not say it was a capstan song. All Terry did was assume it was a chanty.

Hugill goes on, "From an old Irish seaman, Spike Sennit, I learnt that this was one of the very few shanties in which the obscenity took a homosexual form." (p.339, SfSS). So, oddly, he does not directly say that he learned this from Sennit. Technically, he could have presented the song (e.g. via Terry's work) to Sennit and gotten Sennit's comment. Not that I think that's what happened. But there is this pattern of vague language being used by Hugill that obscures, rather than reveals, his source.

While we're at it: Why did Hugill need to learn from Sennit that this was "one of the very few shanties...homosexual form"? Hadn't Hugill done his own survey of the chanty repertoire so as to come to a conclusion on this, or did he believe he should voice that conclusion in the mouth of Sennit?

Hugill pairs "Railway" and "Shaver," as Terry did, in his presentation. Why, I wonder, does Hugill produce the same "Railway" tune in F major?

What of the "additional" verses? Didn't Hugill add verses to any/all the chanties he presented, at the time of writing SfSS, to flesh them out as needed? When an additional verse is, "An' when we lollop'd around Cape Horn / I wisht to hell I'd niver been born" (verse nabbed by Bert Lloyd for his "South Australia") does that sound like a fixed verse or an improv? I say improv.

So Lighter, I disagree that, "The preponderance of evidence seems to be that Hugill's version is not simply his own recollection of Terry's." All I see are vague implications by Hugill, through his shifty language, that he had heard the song independently of Terry. Whatever additional info might have been provided by that hearing is terribly compromised in SfSS.


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Subject: RE: Origins: 'The Shaver'
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 26 Feb 16 - 04:19 PM

Compare Hugill's statement:
"Terry vouches for the antiquity of this next shanty and claims that his great-uncle often sang it."

To Colcord's:
"He vouches for the antiquity of this earlier form and says that his great-uncle used to sing it."

These writers were not very careful with their words; they obscured the assumptions they were making, leading readers to not notice them!


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Subject: RE: Origins: 'The Shaver'
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 26 Feb 16 - 06:25 PM

The main issue, it seems to me, isn't whether Hugill cribbed from or misconstrued the words of Terry, but whether he learned a version independently at sea.

What he "learned" from Spike Sennit was presumably the unbowdlerized form of the chantey, which itself would have explicated the obscured theme of Terry's printable version.

To dismiss this idea would be to assert, without evidence, that "Spike Sennit" was imaginary and that Hugill himself composed most of the lyrics he printed, based on what he found in Terry.

While Hugill could easily have elaborated the song on his own, the invention of a *named* fake source would hardly have been worth the trouble. Since Hugill's publishers forced him to "camouflage" throughout his collection, why on earth would he have cooked up a new version of a song he'd simply learned from someone else's book - a version he'd have to describe as "camouflaged" and inauthentic?

Whether any version was widely known, of course, is an unanswerable question.


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Subject: RE: Origins: 'The Shaver'
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 26 Feb 16 - 06:29 PM

I'm with Gibb.


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