Monday, May 16, 2011

sons of the sea

Current work: new Medical
Listening to: Genesis, Wind & Wuthering (am not allowed to have this actually playing when car door opens to disgorge a child, LOL – officially I am now an Embarrassing Parent)
Reading: finished Milly Johnson, Here Come the Girls (very witty, very warm – v recommended)

Caught a really interesting programme yesterday on BBC4 with Gareth Malone about sea shanties. My grandparents were both in the navy (grandfather in Merchant Navy, I think, and grandmother in the WRNS) and I can remember various little bits of sailor-wisdom passed down to me through my mum (eg ‘if there’s enough blue sky to make a pair of sailor’s trousers it won’t rain’ and the reason why you have to bash in the bottom of a boiled egg’s shell once you’ve eaten the egg).

Some of the songs they sang were ones I remember from school (the most well-known ones, “What shall we do with a drunken sailor”) and some they didn’t actually sing but the music was on the screen for a few seconds (such as “Rio Grande”). And it brought back other memories: at baby music classes, we learned some sea songs, one of which I started singing to my dad (because it was new to me) and was surprised when he joined in. (Hence the title of this post: “Sons of the sea, bobbing up and down like this” – it’s a great knee-ride song for littlies.) Others I remember from school are “The Mermaid” (“One Friday morn, as we set sail, and our ship not far from the land, I there did espy a pretty, pretty maid with a comb and a glass in her hand” etc) and “Blackbird” (“If I was a blackbird, I’d whistle and sing, and follow the ship that my true love sails in”).

I particularly enjoyed hearing the 93- and 97-year-old Scotswomen singing the songs from their days as herring girls. (Local to me, that one, because Great Yarmouth – all of half an hour from here – was once THE port for herring.) I do hope that part of our musical heritage doesn’t disappear, because it doesn’t seem to be part of the curriculum any more.

Does anyone out there have favourite “sea” songs they remember singing at school as a child?


Jill said...

In my class in the US we learned the shanty "Pat Works on the Railway." I don't remember the whole thing, but the chorus is "Pat do this and Pat do that/without a stocking or cravat/ and nothing but an old straw hat/ while working on the railway." It's quite a jaunty tune.
It's not a sea shanty, but it's definitely a shanty. I doubt it's taught any more b/c it's probably viewed as "politically incorrect." ;-)

Kate Hardy said...

Jill - I've not heard that one but will go and look it up :o)

Gareth Malone was saying that the shanties were written as work songs, so the rhythm of the sea shanties is the same as hauling the ropes, so I guess this one would be in the same rhythm of construction work.

It'd be nice if this sort of thing was included in history so, even if it's nowadays "politically incorrect", kids can understand why views have changed. (It would be even nicer if history was joined up properly in schools, instead of being topics taught as separate modules with no links between them - and I bet all the history teachers are really frustrated and feel the same way!)