The Johnson Girls - Fire Down Below :
New On CD
Archie Fisher lands honour
CD & Song List
Bok, Muir & Trickett - TURNING TOWARD THE MORNING
Ed Trickett - The Telling Takes Me Home
Helen Schneyer - Ballads, Broadsides and Hymns
Bok, Muir, Trickett - A Water Over Stone
Bok, Muir, Trickett - The Ways of Man
The Johnson Girls - Fire Down Below
Heave Her Up
Fire Down Below
Rolling Down the River
One More Day
Heave Her Up
Swing Your Tail
Fire Down Below
Tailor in the Chest
Shove Around the Jug
Sun Down Below
Rolling Down the River
Three Foot Seam
One More Day
Mary, Come Join the Religion
The Johnson Girls
Fire down Below
Pity the lads who suffer the hazardous consequences of "fire down below" in our third collection, whether on board a wooden ship, mining underground, meeting the wrong kind of woman in port, or otherwise experiencing a "naughtical" adventure. But fortunate are we who can sing about their lot! For eleven years the Johnson Girls have enjoyed digging deep into the treasure chest of song collections and field recordings to share and preserve this rich musical history. Thank you for listening. Enjoy singing along, and, if you haven't already, check out our first and second recordings, The Johnson Girls and On the Rocks (Folk Legacy #133).
Heave Her Up and Bust Her -Deirdre
(Words - traditional; Tune - Jonathan Eberhardt)
A version of this capstan chantey is found in Ivan Walton's hook Windjammers: Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors (2002). The late Jonathan Eberhardt of The Boarding Party set the tune. The capstan is a shipboard device used for weighing (or raising) anchor. Sailors provided the raw labor to push or "heave" on bars that turned the capstan around in order to wind in the anchor chain. The vessel would be brought directly over the anchor in order to "bust" it out from the muddy bottom.
Shallow Brown ~ Alison
In Shantymen and Shantyboys:Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman (1951), William Main Doerflinger quotes his deck source, Dick Maitland (of "The Leaving of Liverpool” fame) as calling this a song for "bowsing down tacks and hauling aft sheets." We sing our version as a double pull halyard chantey (for hoisting sail) with the emphasis on: Shal-low, Shal-low Brown in the chorus. The word "shallow" derives from a West Indian word, challo meaning half-caste.
In 1886, James Tall Hatfield shipped out from Pensacola, Florida to Nice, France on a three-masted barque. Her foremast hands were eight Jamaicans who had a great repertoire of work songs. Hatfield learned every note and word from his Jamaican shipmates and his daughter carefully transcribed them so that we still have them today. It took the careful eye of folks interested in chanteys to unearth this treasure. In 1972 Stan Hugill (U.K.) received copies of several journal articles from John Lyman (U.S.A.), one of which included "Shiny-O." Stan subsequently brought it to new light in the aforementioned Bosun's Locker.
Many songs have recounted the tragic event of Titanic's sinking on April 14,1912. Had she landed in New York City, it would have been a few short blocks from our Chelsea rehearsal spot where still faintly visible on (he steel overhead structure of the pier read the words: Cunard White Star Line. Our arrangement was inspired by an Alan Lomax field recording of Bessie Jones and the verse order from the late Tom Gibney. We dedicate our version to Tom's memory.
Swing Your Tail ~Bonnie
Thanks to Peter Kasin & Richard Adrianowicz for turning our heads and swinging our tails with another capstan chantey. In The Bosun's Locker (2006), Stan Hugill printed a small snippet found in Shanties by Marston and Allen. It was attributed to a black crew and transcribed in dialect. Bonnie had fun creating a few verses to swing it out a bit more.
Fire! Down Below -Deirdre
(Words and tune traditional, Adapted by Dan Milner, 1983)
As a public service announcement appropriate for country lads visiting the big city for the first time, this song is a warning that they might come away with more than they bargained for. From a broadside reprinted in Dan Milner's book, The Bonnie Bunch of Roses (1983), it conjures up images of wild shenanigans and their sobering aftermath. The tune is an adaptation of one found in Stan Hugill's Shanties from the Seven Seas (1971).
Tailor in the Chest ~Joy
Heard on a recording by Helena Triplett and titled "The Wealthy Merchant" in The West Virginia Songbug (1974), we have a song rich in history on both sides of the Atlantic. Mr. A. F. Goff from Glenville, Gilmer County contributed this version to the "Songbag." It was learned from Hunter Bell in 1918 and brought into Glenville from the mountains by a horse trader named Miller. An Irish version, "The Tailor in the Tea Chest" collected by Sam Henry in Bushmills, Co. Antrim can be heard on The Johnson Girls' second CD, On The Rocks.
Shove Around the Jug ~ Bonnie
Morris dancing circles often foster opportunities to find good drinking songs, some with a maritime theme, and it is to John Mayberry of the Toronto Morris Men that we owe this version. It can be found as "Shore Around the Grog" in Folk Songs of the Catskills (1982). When John first heard it, he misremembered some of the verses, so he created a few of his own and changed the chorus. Most of the places mentioned are situated on the Erie Canal and it is told from the perspective of an Irish immigrant working on the canal. Slainte!
Nantucket Lullabye ~Deirdre& Alison
Deirdre found this anonymously penned whaling song that appears in A Treasury of New England Folklore (1947), edited by B. A. Botkin. The whaling trade, during its height in New England, provided the single most important source of wealth, and perhaps danger, to its participants. Hard work, long voyages, and long waits for the families on shore are captured in this poignant lullaby.
(Words and tune - traditional; Arrangement - Joy Bennett, © 2003)
Joy struck it rich in Bob Walser's workshop "Digging for Gold in the |James| Carpenter Collection" at Pinewoods camp in 2003, when she found a few verses, expanded the chorus, and then rounded out the rest of the song with lines from "The Maid of Amsterdam." The anatomical progression plays nicely into a "naughtical" theme.
Sun Down Below ~ Alison
Frederick Pease Harlow in his Chanteying Aboard American Ships (1962) gives this as a West Indian chantey for hoisting cargo from a ship's hold. There is also a version in Lydia Parrish's Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands (1942). The significance of "sun down below," meant it was time for the day's work to be done and the men to pack up and go home when the sun's light no longer reached below decks.
Baidin Fheilimidh ~Deirdre
Jimmy McBride, a wonderful singer, song collector, and native Irish speaker originally from Gweedore, taught us this West Donegal song in Irish Gaelic. The jaunty tune belies the tragedy until the very last lines. Baidin means boat and the story is essentially about a young man, Fheilimidh, who goes out in his "small, bright, bonnie, and agreeable" vessel. He sails to Gola and Tory islands off the coast of Donegal. Unfortunately, his handsome craft breaks up on Tory and sinks.
Rolling Down the River ~Deirdre
(Jack Forbes, © 2005)
A modern day chantey, the colorful action and characters are set in Tilbury, the container port for London. The acronyms OCX and TEU denote Overseas Container Line and Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit, respectively. What had once taken days to unload/load and shift aboard a vessel is now only a 24-hour process. As an ever-present theme of any shipping port or Sailor Town, whether modern day or old, the dockside environment offered many after work distractions.
Santianno or The Plains of Mexico -Alison
A brake-windlass and brake-pump chantey, referring to General Antonio Lopez de Santa
Anna, it dates to the time of the Mexican War (1846-1848). Several tunes are known and
many texts diverge from the historical events. Ours focuses on temptations offered by exotic and treacherous women in foreign ports. As a child, Alison learned a version of this chantey from the X-Seamen's Institute in our homeport of South Street Seaport. Scandinavian, Irish, and Breton roots are thought to have been antecedents - another example of sea music as the first world music.
Three Foot Seam -Joy
Gary and Vera Aspey (U.K.) recorded this union song on their 1975 Topic LP, From the North. Thanks to Tom Perry and Clive Brooks of The Shellback Chorus for bringing it across the Atlantic. Written around 1893-1896, or earlier, it is believed to be associated with the Lancashire Miners Federation. Cramped as it may seem, some reports from miners considered a three-foot seam almost spacious in comparison with most in which they had to toil. The work was long, hard, filthy, and occasionally prone to its own "fire down below," much like their counterparts on the seven seas.
Cornish Lads -Bonnie
On our first visit to Cornwall (U.K.) in 2000 we heard this gem from Roger Bryant. A tribute to the closing of the last tin mine, Crofty, in Cornwall and to the demise of the fishing industry, this song comes as close to being a national anthem for the Cornish people as any could. The words of its chorus were written on a stone wall just outside the mine when it closed. It is indelibly etched on our minds and in our hearts (and on this CD) forever.
One More Day -Alison and Deirdre, The J Girls & Chanteymen
The penultimate chantey before the end of a voyage, ("Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her" being the last), was sung just before a ship came into a port where the crew would be paid off for their work. Stan Hugill felt it was from the Southern States and thought it may have come from the cotton hoosiers (stevedores) of Mobile, possibly having been a river song, before being taken up by deepwater seamen. The phrase, "rock n' roll," indeed had its origins in the great day of sail.
Mary, Come Join the Religion -Bonnie
Originally an anthem, it was re-inscribed as a unique work chantey used by sponge fishermen in the Caribbean. Alan Lomax recorded it in 1935. His singers were a group of men from Andros Islands led by David Pryor. In 1938, blight killed off the sponges, but the song survived. Thanks again to Peter Kasin and Richard Adrianowicz for leading us to this one.
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