Week 198 – Warlike Seamen

A song of naval derring-do from the Copper Family. My friend Mike and I used to sing this many many years ago. We learned it from the paperback of A Song For Every Season but I think we may also have heard Bob and Ron singing it on Sailormen and Servingmaids (Volume 6 in the Topic/Caedmon series, The Folk Songs of Britain)

Looking at the various versions of the song in the Full English archive it seems that the gist of the story stays fairly constant, but there’s tremendous variation in the details: the ship may start from Liverpool Straits, Spithead or Plymouth Sound; and while the Coppers have the action set on 8th June, other versions have the date as 4th April, 15th September, 4th November, 18th November etc. etc.

A.L. Lloyd provides this background on the song:

The song began its life in the seventeenth century and concerned the little merchant ship Marigold, 70 tons, owned by a Mr Ellis of Bristol, which fought a brisk and successful skirmish with “Turkish” pirates off the coast of Algiers. At the end of the eighteenth century the song was re-jigged to suit the times, and now it dealt with an encounter with the French, fought by a ship variously called the Nottingham and the London (the London was one of the ships involved in the Spithead mutiny, and it poked its bowsprit into several songs of the time, through being in the news). For some reason the ballad has been particularly well liked in East Anglia (Harry Cox has a version called Liverpool Play; Sam Larner called his set The Dolphin).

Notes to the Topic anthology Round Cape Horn: Traditional Songs of Sailors, Ships and the Sea, quoted at https://mainlynorfolk.info/peter.bellamy/songs/warlikeseamen.html

 

'The Irish Captain' as notated by Francis Collinson.

‘The Irish Captain’ as notated by Francis Collinson.

 

If you look at the Full English archive you’ll also find a couple of versions of a related song called ‘Lord Exmouth’ (including one, tune only, collected at Wittersham in Kent). The Lord Exmouth in question is this chap who led an Anglo-Dutch fleet against the Barbary states in 1816, and whose successful bombardment of Algiers secured the release of 1200 Christian slaves. There’s an article by Roly Brown on that battle, and the resulting ballad, on the Musical Traditions site.

It would seem that ‘Lord Exmouth’ was not taken up – or at least not preserved – in the oral tradition to the same extent as the more generic tale of a naval skirmish. The only collected set of words starts off with the first verse and chorus of the ‘Lord Exmouth’ broadside shown below, but subsequent verses are very much in the ‘Warlike Seamen’ mould.

The battle of Algiers - ballad sheet printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials, between 1813 and 1838; from Broadside Ballads Online. The battle of Algiers – ballad sheet printed by J. Catnach, Seven Dials, between 1813 and 1838; from Broadside Ballads Online.

 

Warlike Seamen

Andy Turner – vocal, G/D anglo-concertina

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