Life of Brine

Life of Brine

“well chosen material, well sung and arranged and very well recorded” – Bob Fagan.
Click for more reviews of Life of Brine or for CD Purchasing info

Life of Brine — song list
1 Wool Fleet Chorus Listen 2 Batavia Listen
3 Johnny, Come Down to Hilo 4 Waterwitch Listen
5 Stormalong Listen 6 Lee Fore Brace
7 Mainsail Haul Listen 8 Cheerily Men Listen
9 Shawneetown Listen 10 Davy Lowston Listen
11 The Day’s Work Listen 12 Ballina Whalers Listen
13 Bound for Darling Harbour 14 A Channel Rhyme
15 Bully in the Alley 16 Yarmouth Town
17 John Cherokee 18 Larry Marr Listen
19 Heave Away (To the South) Listen 20 Marco Polo
21 The Old Moke Pickin’ on a Banjo Listen 22 Randy Dandy O!
23 Seamen’s Hymn
Please note: to make downloading quick and easy, these sound bites have been converted
to MP3 and are only 11025Hz stereo. i.e. lower sound quality than the actual CD.

Notes about the songs on LIFE OF BRINE

Shanties are sailors’ work songs used to synchronise the work of hauling on ropes, heaving capstans, working pumps etc. Forebitters are the songs sailors sang when off watch at the bow (fore of the bitts). The language and the tunes are rough and raw and recall a special era of nautical history. Half the songs on this CD by Sydney‘s foremost shanty group have Australian content/authorship.
* Australian author/composer/arranger, # Australian reference in the text, Click song title for lyrics.

  1. A Wool Fleet Chorus# Words: Cicely Fox Smith; Tune: Barrie Temple (Margaret)
    A Tribute to the Cutty Sark which made record breaking times on the wool run from Australia to England for the London markets in the late 1800s. Cicely Fox Smith (1882-1954) was a Victorian gentlewoman who spent nine years in Victoria, British Colombia, making intimate observations of life in the lumber mills and shipping ports on the North West Pacific coast as well as the London docks.
  2. Batavia*# Words and Tune: John Warner (John)
    The Batavia sailed with a convoy to Java on her maiden voyage in 1628, laden with jewels and gold for the Dutch East India Company (the VOC). In a plot by Jeronimus Cornelisz the vessel was parted from the fleet and inadvertently wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Western Australia. Over a two-month period Cornelisz and his companions slaughtered 125 of the 200 survivors of the wreck, planning to seize the rescue vessel and turn pirate. He was foiled by a group of loyal soldiers led by Wiebbe Hayes and a dreadful justice was finally meted out to Cornelisz and the other mutineers.
  3. Johnny, Come Down to Hilo Traditional (Tom)
    Tom was attracted by the humour of this song which he collected at Paimpol, Brittany, in 1991 from the Mystic Sea Port Shanty Crew. Sailors would mutiny if expected to work with this capstan shanty at the pace it is usually sung at these days.
  4. Waterwitch*# Traditional (Don)
    The whaling ship, the Waterwitch, sailed from the 1840s till the 1890s in the Tasmanian fisheries and is recorded in a number of logs and in Will Lawson’s book Harpoons Ahoy. She sailed in both the Middle grounds of the Pacific and later the Antarctic grounds off south-west Tasmania. From the singing of Jack Davies of New Town in Hobart.
  5. Stormalong Traditional (Robin)
    Stormalong was a mythical hero to the American sailors, said to be 30 ft high. His ship was so large that it had hinged masts which could be lowered to avoid the moon. He and his exploits feature in a number of tales, and he became identified with the American general (later President) Zachary Taylor, who defeated the Mexican general Santa Anna at the battle of Molina Del Ray. This version combines one of the common sets of words for the capstan shanty General Taylor with a tune of the halyard shanty, “Stormalong”.
  6. Lee Fore Brace* Words: Cicely Fox Smith; Tune: Gerry Hallom (Margaret)
    Changing the position of the fore-sail on the lee side of the ship in heavy seas meant sailors were thoroughly doused and the task was particularly hazardous in the icy conditions around Cape Horn. Charlie Ipcar heard Gerry Hallom’s setting to Henry Lawson’s poem The Outside Track and set that tune to Cicely’s words. Margaret rearranged it slightly. The phrase “Mile-long greybeards” refers to large foam-topped waves.
  7. Mainsail Haul* Words: Cicely Fox Smith; Tune: Traditional. (John)
    This poignant poem of Cicely’s about the distribution of a sailor’s effects after his death was set to the tune of Paddy West by John Warner.
  8. Cheerily Men Traditional (Robin)
    “Cheerily” means “with a will” or “enthusiastically.” This “whore’s register” would boost morale during the dreary task of hauling on the halyards. It includes the singable and not entirely obscene set of Sally Racket words similar to those collected by A.L Lloyd and sung by Steeleye Span.
  9. Shawneetown Words: Dillon Bustin; Tune: Traditional. (Tom)
    Dillon Bustin put this song together from various sources, including fragments in Riverboat Days, and added a few verses himself.
  10. Davy Lowston*# Traditional (Tom/Don)
    This song of the sealing industry comes to us by way of America and New Zealand in Coulquhoun‘s collection. It recounts the trials of the sealers from the ship Active under Captain Bader. They were left marooned off the coast of New Zealand for four years before being accidently found and rescued by the Governor Bligh. The tune is known as Sam Hall or Captain Kidd.
  11. The Day’s Work Words: Cicely Fox Smith; Tune: Traditional (Don)
    A catalogue of the miserable jobs that sailors had to do on a steel-hulled sailing ship. The setting of the tune – used variously for Roving Journeyman/Jack of All Trades and Tumba-Bloody-Rumba – was arranged by John Warner.
  12. Ballina Whalers*# Words and Tune: Harry Robertson (Robin)
    Harry was a Scotsman who came to Australia in the 1950s. He whaled out of Ballina, Queensland and Norfolk Island when the industry had become more mechanised in ex-World War 2 Fairmiles. Harry was a prolific songwriter with an acute sense of the maritime tradition and history.
  13. Bound for Darling Harbour*# Words: Merv Lilley; Tune: Traditional (Margaret)
    Written in the 1950s when Merv was working on coastal vessels around Australia. It reminds us that the tourist mecca of Darling Harbour in Sydney was once the industrial port of Sydney.
  14. A Channel Rhyme* Words Cicely Fox Smith; Chorus and Tune: John Warner (John)
    Cicely’s verses give a list of the hazardous places along the English Channel from Cornwall to Essex where countless ships and sailors have met their doom. John added the chorus.
  15. Bully in the Alley Traditional (Don)
    A halyard shanty of Negro origin which Hugill heard in the West Indies. There is a Shinbone Alley in Bermuda and several other locations, and a town of Shinbone in Alabama.
  16. Yarmouth Town Traditional (Robin)
    This forebitter seems to be first recorded by Peter Bellamy, who attributed it to the singing of Peter Bullen of Norwich, of whom little is known, although there are other songs with broadly similar stories. It sounds as though it might have been a music hall song. It is a good song to elaborate on in traditional style.
  17. John Cherokee Traditional (Tom)
    A negro slave song from the southern states, and Stan Hugill relates that it was in common use among coloured crowds in the old West Indian trading vessels; he adds it was probably introduced to seamen by way of cotton hoosiers.
  18. Larry Marr Traditional (Margaret)
    From the singing of Stan Hugill; taped for Margaret at a folk club in Brighton by Val Wagstaff in the early 1980s. Stan’s introduction mentioned runners rowing out to greet sailing ships before they even arrived in port, promising the sailors accommodation and good times on shore. But they ended up in the seedy area of San Francisco known as the Barbary Coast, plied with dope and at the mercy of crimps like Larry Marr.
  19. Heave Away (To the South)* Words and Tune: Harry Robertson (Don)
    This tale is set on the Britannia, one of the ships of the Third Fleet, in 1791. She was the first British whaling ship in New South Wales waters and the Tasman Sea. The “live lumber” in her hold was the description used by Captain Thomas Melville of her convict passengers, 21 of whom died on the voyage.
  20. Marco Polo# Words and Tune: Hugh E. Jones (John)
    John heard this set of words at a singing session in the 1970s and learned later that it was the writing of Hugh E. Jones – but by then the words had been thoroughly “folk-processed”. Bully Forbes was renowned for his courage, determination and duplicity in the handling of his men. James Baines was an American who owned the Black Ball shipping line.
  21. The Old Moke Pickin’ on a Banjo Traditional (Margaret)
    The pace and drudgery of work onboard ship isn’t too different from that work on the railroad in America where “pickin’ on a banjo” was a euphemism for digging with a shovel. Margaret originally heard this song sung at a folk club in Brighton, UK in 1980(?) by a group called the Songwainers.
  22. Randy Dandy O! Traditional (Tom)
    Used at the pumps and the capstan, this shanty has had its original bawdy verses camouflaged by Hugill and some of his sources. The words “heave a pawl” and “warping her out through the locks” certainly indicate it would have been used as a capstan shanty.
  23. Seamen’s Hymn Words: A.L. Lloyd; Tune: Traditional (All)
    Apparently folklorist Bert Lloyd wrote this for a BBC documentary on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, using a Welsh hymn tune.

Lyrics of the songs may have been “folk processed” over the years.

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