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Launch Out On The Deep

Danny Spooner

DS005, 2002

Tracks

1. The Banks of Newfoundland
2. Little Fish
3. The Mingulay Boat Song
4. Culler Herrin'
5. The Sailor Deceived
6. The Handsome Cabin Boy
7. The Female Rambling Sailor
8. Anderson's Coast
9. Farewell Tae Tarwathie
10. The Whale Catchers
11. The Antarctic Fleet
12. The Last Of The Great Whales
13. Jack The Jolly Tar
14. Rowing Song
15. The Dark Old Waters
16. Fiddler's Green

Note

It has been many years since I have worked on the sea but with very little effort I can still recall the movements of a vessel through the ocean, and the messages conveyed through the spokes of the wheel as she copes with whatever the sea chooses to throw at her. I still have great respect for both the power and the lure of the sea. The sea makes philosophers of us all and brings us face to face with ourselves.
After a particularly bad experience in which I could have lost my vessel, an old seaman was heard to say: If he'd lost 'is boat it'd be 'is fault not the seas's fault. The sea didn't invite - yer don't expect any sympathy.
When I spent a short time working under sail, and later in powerful deep-sea tugs, we didn't sport the amazing array of technology available today, and so we engaged more with the elements.
I still miss the sea, and this record is my small attempt to recreate some of the experiences of those who conducted their Business in Great Waters. I hope you enjoy it and most importantly I hope you learn to sing the songs.
Cheers, Danny Spooner

Songs

1. The Banks of Newfoundland
The North Atlantic in winter can be a frightening bit of water. For the packet rat life was tough. The weather was often murderous with big seas, freezing winds and ice on the sails and in the rigging. Companies drove the skippers, skippers drove the mates and the mates drove the sailors. This forebitter has been collected from various sources. I got this one from Freddy Graves, a roads-man on the Thames.
2. Little Fish
I first heard this sung by Spencer Tracy in the film Captains Courageous and I have sung it to the children of many of my friends over the years, some of whom now sing it to their own children. Like many itinerant songs of the sea this beautiful lullaby, collected in Australia by John Meredith, also appears in Britain and America.
3. The Mingulay Boat Song
A popular song for the singing session, this was originally a traditional Gaelic rowing song. When I first came to Melbourne in the 1960s a dear friend, Gordon McIntyre, made me a present of a wonderful little book 101 Scottish Songs selected by Norman Buchan and published in 1962 by Collins. This is one of the gems from that collection.
4. Culler Herrin'
I first heard this from a friend of my mother's, a Mrs McColl (no relation to Ewan). It is said that the words are by Lady Nairn and reflect her great regard for the Scottish fisher-folk. ''Culler herrin''' or fresh herring was the cry of the fisher women as they paraded the day's catch for sale.
5. The Sailor Deceived
Frank Purslow included this in his selection from the Hammond and Gardiner MSS for the EFDS publication Marrow Bones (1965). While the three verses form a poignant and complete story in themselves, they do appear as part of a longer ballad noted by Gavin Greig in Folksongs of the North East.
6. The Handsome Cabin Boy
This came to me from the singing of Gary Greenwood when we lived in Sydney shortly after I arrived in Australia. Roy Palmer says it appeared many times on broadsides and I'm not surprised. The perennial fantasy of sailors hoping to find a buxom wench in the next hammock was and is alive and well.
7. The Female Rambling Sailor
That women often dressed as men and went to sea is not only a fantasy of sailors, it is also well documented. This glorious song was recorded in Australia by Norm O'Connor from a Mrs Katherine Petrie and I learned it from the singing of a friend, Shayna Carlin, in the 1970s.
8. Anderson's Coast
One of the best singer/songwnters I've ever heard is John Warner. He resides in Sydney and his passion for folksongs is only exceeded by his passion for the stories of early Australia which form the basis of much of his writing. To escape from a penal station usually meant death but this didn't prevent many convicts trying. This group got away from Van Dieman's Land to the Gippsland coast. While there was no chance of rescue for them, the convicts of this song saved the life of Count Strzelecki and his party in 1840, when they led the starving explorers to a pioneer settler at Tooradin.
9. Farewell Tae Tarwathie
Whaling at any time was a hard caper but in the days of sail it was a particularly rough and tough trade which required a tough breed of men Yet a song like Farewell to Tarwathie reminds us that even the toughest of men might be touched by gentleness especially when separated from loved ones.
10. The Whale Catchers
At six o'clock on those freezing London mornings, waiting to lock out of the Greenland Dock with a barge load of Baltic pine, I would often wonder what it must have been like for the old whalers who left from this dock in the 18th and 19th centuries. This song which I learned from The Penguin Book of English folksongs (1958), brief as it is, details the harshness of the Arctic whale fishery.
11. The Antarctic Fleet
Harry Robertson was born at Barrhead in Scotland and was a typical Scots engineer, tough, resilient and capable. He was also a great singer/songwriter. He spent time in Royal Naval tugs, tankers, whalers, and did time in the graving docks of Brisbane. Like many of his songs, this one explores just a part of his many seafaring experiences. Harry was a good friend and he lives on through his songs.
12. The Last Of The Great Whales
Having spent a short time in the whaling trade and a long time working towards the abolition of this carnage, I'm deeply moved by Andy Barnes' song. Written in 1986 it forces us to confront, not only the potential extinction of this wondrous creature, but the other damage being perpetrated on this small and beautiful planet by monstrous greed. I must thank Martin Carthy for this gem.
13. Jack The Jolly Tar
Said to have been a popular ballad among East-Indiamen, this has not appeared often in print. It tells the common sailor's story about the welcome while the money flows - but it's very quickly 'Get up Jack, let John sit down' when it's gone. Hey ho!
14. Rowing Song
Martin Wyndham-Read taught me this song on one of his many visits to Australia. The words are a fusion of love and anxiety that must have been the constant companion of coastal families who gained their living from the sea. I think it originates from North America and while the words are old the tune is contemporary. It's a great song to sing.
15. The Dark Old Waters
Boat-builders are a unique group of people and the depth of their feelings for their craft and their creations can appear, at times, in the words of Kipling, 'beyond the love of women'. This song was written by Gordon Bok, and was given to me by an American singer Roz Brown. Over the years I've sort of Englished it.
16. Fiddler's Green
Written by John Conolly in 1966, this song has become so much a part of the folksong culture that it's often referred to as a traditional song - a great compliment indeed. Fiddler's Green was a name for areas of docklands and ports frequented by sailors ashore. But over time the sailor's imagination turned those districts into Utopia or even Heaven. Wouldn't it be nice?

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