One of the great English songs, learned from Pop Maynard, a singer whose repertoire contained quite a number of great songs. I first heard the song in the late seventies or early eighties on the Topic LP Ye Subjects of England and learned it from there, with assistance from a slim EFDSS pamphlet, The Life and Songs of George Maynard (a reprint of Ken Stubbs’ article in the 1963 Journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society). It must have been around the same time that I heard what I still regard as the folk revival’s finest take on the song, that by Martin Carthy on Prince Heathen.
Of course Pop Maynard wasn’t the only singer with this song in his repertoire. When we played together in the trio Saint Monday, Dave Parry used to sing ‘Bold Carter’, a version collected by Vaughan Williams in Norfolk. ‘Bold Carter’ was included in Roy Palmer’s Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, where the notes say
Under the title of ‘The Valiant Sailor’, this first appeared in 1744 as one of ‘three excellent New Songs’ in ‘The Irish Boy’s GARLAND (EDINBURGH, Printed and Sold in Swan Close, a little below the Cross-Well, North-side of the Street’). Through the long period of oral transmission since then the song has kept remarkably close to the same powerful text, and has usually been found with fine, soaring tunes.
Polly on the Shore