Almost certainly the song which I have been singing for the longest time. I first learned this c1968 from the BBC Schools Radio programme Singing Together (or was it Time and Tune?). Then a decade or so later, when I got into folk music, my Mum (a primary school teacher) managed to get hold of a copy of the booklet which accompanied the series, and I relearned the song. It’s stayed in my repertoire ever since.
I know that various other people sing this song, including Keith Kendrick, who says that he learned it from John Adams – who learned it from a Singing Together booklet. On a Mudcat thread Keith writes
I have every reason to believe that it was not a ‘maritime’ song – as such – but a novelty item used in the English Music Halls in the 1800’s, but Johnny found it in a Children’s Radio broadcast support publication called ‘Singing Together for Schools’ in 1970.
There’s actually an index of songs included in Singing Together and this song doesn’t appear to be listed. Be that as it may, I definitely learned it from a schools radio programme, and it was before Autumn 1971, because that’s when I moved up to secondary school.
I’ve always felt, like Keith, that it’s not a “proper traditional song” (and I notice it’s not in the Roud index), but it’s great fun to sing.
And it’s also been great fun this evening finding so many nostalgic references to Singing Together on the web – lists of songs (‘Mango Walk’, ‘The Yellow Sheepskin’, ‘Rio Grande’) and those wonderful front covers (I remember the one pictured here so well – it must surely have included ‘Dance Boatmen Dance’ and ‘Old Dan Tucker’).
The East Indiaman