Friday, 5 October 2012

Charles Dibdin’s Grieving’s a Folly

Sketch by G Cruikshank in Songs of the Late Charles Dibdin

Throughout Lowry's novel Ultramarine, when the crew gather below decks, they sing songs to while away the time. Whether this is an accurate reflection of Lowry’s experience on board Pyrrhus is perhaps doubtful given the difficult time he reportedly had on the journey.  The singing of ‘wild songs’ owes more to the idea of the forecastle that Lowry created from his reading of sea literature, including Herman Melville’s White Jacket. The most significant chapter in White Jacket for this idea of male bonding through the singing of ‘wild songs’ is ‘The World in a Man-of-War’. Melville refers to the singing of songs written by Charles Dibdin on board British and American ships, saying that Dibdin’s songs ‘breathe the very poetry of the ocean’. In Chapter 6 of Ultramarine, the crew gather below decks and tell stories of past voyages, argue and break into song from time to time. One of the crew breaks into one of Dibdin’s songs, ‘Grieving’s a Folly’:

‘And Jack went aloft for hand the top-ga’t sail.
A spray washed him off and we ne’er saw him no more.
But grieving’s a folly,
Come, let us be jolly,
If we’ve troubles at sea, boys, we’ve pleasures ashore.’ (Pg. 163)

Refrains from this song recur throughout Chapter 6, acting as an aural backdrop to the idle banter of the crew passing time between watches. (See Pgs. 163, 164 and 167)

Spanking Jack was so comely, so pleasant, so jolly,
Though winds blew great guns, still he'd whistle and sing,
For Jack loved his friend, and was true to his Molly,
And, if honor gives greatness, was great as a king.
One night as we drove with two reefs in the mainsail,
And the scud came on low'ring upon a lee shore,
Jack went up aloft for to hand the topg'ant sail --,
A spray washed him off, and we ne' er saw him more:
But grieving's a folly,
Come let us be jolly;
If we've troubles on sea, boys, we've pleasures on shore.

Whiffling Tom, still of mischief or fun in the middle,
Through life in all weathers at random would jog;
He'd dance, and he'd sing, and he'd play on the fiddle,
And swig with an air his allowance of grog:
'Longside of a Don, in the " Terrible" frigate,
As yardarm and yardarm we layoff the shore,
In and out whiffling Tom did so caper and jig it,
That his head was shot off, and we ne'er saw him more:
But grieving's a folly,
Come let us be jolly;
If we've troubles on sea, boys, we've pleasures on shore.

Bonny Ben was to each jolly messmate a brother,
He was manly and honest, good-natured and free;
If ever one tar was more true than another
To his friend and his duty, that sailor was he:
One day with the davit to weigh the kedge anchor,
Ben went in the boat on a bold craggy shore
He overboard tipped, when a shark and a spanker
Soon nipped him in two, and we ne'er saw him more:
But grieving's a folly,
Come let us be jolly;
If we've troubles on sea, boys, we've pleasures on shore.

But what of it all, lads? shall we be downhearted
Because that mayhap we now take our last sup?
Life's cable must one day or other be parted,
And Death in safe moorings will bring us all up.
But 'tis always the way on't -- one scarce finds a brother
Fond as pitch, honest, hearty, and true to the core,
But by battle, or storm, or some damned thing or other,
He's popped off the hooks, and we ne'er see him more!
But grieving's a folly,
Come let us be jolly;
If we've troubles on sea, boys, we've pleasures on shore.

If The River Was Whiskey

‘And if the river were whisky
And ah was a duck,
Ah’d go down to the BOTTERN
An ah’d never come up. No sir,
Ah’d never come up.’

The above refrain is sung by one of the crew of Oedipus Tyrannus in Chapter 6 of Ultramarine (Pg. 176). The refrain is from a song variously known as ‘Hesitation Blues’, ‘Hesitating Blues’, ‘If The River Was Whiskey’ or ‘Divin’ Duck Blues’.

The exact origins of this song are lost in the mists of time. The traditional tune was arranged by W. C. Handy and published in 1915 as ‘Hesitating Blues’. The lyrics were entirely different from those of ‘Hesitation Blues’, and seldom used. In his Blues Anthology Handy stated that the tune was from an old spiritual.

‘Hesitation Blues’ was written/adapted by Billy Smythe and Scott Middleton. One of the first popular recordings of this song was an instrumental version by the Victor Military Band, with authorship attributed solely to Billy Smythe. It was recorded in 1915 at the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey. Later, a dispute over the credits was resolved by adding Art Gillham to the credits. Gillham, who was probably responsible for the lyrics, Gillham performed the song on radio and on 25 February 1925 recorded it for Columbia Records. The song was re-published in 1926 giving credit to the three writers. The 1926 publication was a different arrangement from the 1915 publication and featured different lyrics. Because the tune is traditional, many artists have recorded ‘Hesitation Blues’ crediting themselves as writer, though the lyrics of the 1926 publication are frequently used.

Charlie Poole and His North Carolina Ramblers
Versions of the lyrics vary widely, though the refrain is usually mostly consistent with the original. So which version did Lowry hear? The nearest version of the song I can find with the lyrics is ‘If The River Was Whiskey’ by Charlie Poole, which sounds like a speeded-up version of Jelly Roll Morton’s ‘Hesitation Blues’, but Morton’s version lacks the phrase ‘If the river was whiskey’. Charlie Poole was an American old-time banjo player and country musician and the leader of the North Carolina Ramblers, an American old-time string band that recorded many popular songs between 1925 and 1930. The band recorded ‘If The River Was Whiskey’ in 1930 for Columbia, which means that either Lowry heard this while writing Ultramarine or he is referring to an as yet unidentified version. One can see the attraction of the lyrics for a budding alcoholic like Lowry! The song has parallels with the story of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, who is reputed to have been drowned in a vat of Malmsey wine in 1478. The tradition may have originated in a joke, based on his reputation as a heavy drinker. Lowry, of course, would adopt the Plantagenet name for his alter ego in the novella Lunar Caustic.

In Ultramarine, the refrain from ‘Hesitating Blues’ comes while the crew are talking about black sailors. These discussions may not be based on notes made by Lowry on the voyage to the East but may have more to do with his first voyage to America via the Caribbean in 1928 to visit Conrad Aiken. One of the crew talks about hearing black bands in the Milk Market area of Bridgetown, Barbados, which Lowry visited on the voyage to America. This was probably Lowry’s first exposure to African American and Caribbean American music. Up to this point, all the documented jazz and blues that he had heard would have been white American interpretations of the idioms.


Lowry refers to the song Shenandoah in his novel Ultramarine;

‘Come on, Paddy, boy, give us a song.’
‘Yes, Paddy – good old Paddy – ’
‘Paddy – give us Paddy McGulligan’s daughter, Mary Ann.’ […]
‘Seraphina’s got no drawers, I been down and seen her, Ser-a-phina!’
‘No, that’s no good as a song; we want one of them old sea shanties, one of the real old timers.’
‘Shenandoah.’ (Pg 64)

‘Oh Shenandoah’ (also called simply ‘Shenandoah’, or ‘Across the Wide Missouri’) is a traditional American folk song, dating from at least the early nineteenth century. The lyrics may tell the story of a roving trader in love with the daughter of an Indian chief. Other interpretations tell of a pioneer’s nostalgia for the Shenandoah river, and a young woman who is its daughter; or of a Union soldier in the American Civil War, dreaming of his country home to the west of the Missouri river. The song is also associated with escaped slaves, who sang it in gratitude because the river allowed their tracks to be lost.

‘Shenandoah’ was first printed as part of William L. Alden’s ‘Sailor Songs’, in the July 1882 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. The song had become popular as a sea shanty with British sailors by the 1880s.  The lyrics were printed in Sea Songs and Shanties, collected by W. B. Whall, Master Mariner (1910). A Mr J. E. Laidlaw of San Francisco reported hearing a version sung by a black Barbadian sailor aboard the Glasgow ship Harland in 1894, which went:

Oh, Shenandoah! I hear you calling!
Away, you rolling river!
Yes, far away I hear you calling,
Ha, Ha! I’m bound away across the wide Missouri.
My girl, she’s gone far from the river,
Away, you rolling river!
An’ I ain’t goin’ to see her never.
Ha, Ha! I’m bound away,’ &c

The above lyrics may be near to what Lowry knew or heard on board Pyrrhus.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Mick McGilligan’s Daughter, Mary Anne

Lowry refers to the song Mick McGilligan’s Daughter, Mary Anne in his novel Ultramarine; "Paddy - give us Paddy McGulligan's daughter, Mary Ann." (Pg. 64).

Mick McGilligan’s Daughter, Mary Anne is an anonymous Irish bawdy song, which only exists in print in Louis Tierney’s cleaned-up version:

I’m a gallant Irishman
I’ve a daughter Mary Anne
She’s the sweetest, neatest, colleen in the Isle
Though she can’t now purchase satin
She’s a wonder at bog latin
In a fluent, fascinatin’ sort of style
When she’s sellin’ fruit or fish
Sure, it is her fondest wish
For to capture with her charm some handsome man
Ah! no matter where she goes
Sure, everybody knows
That she’s Mick McGilligan’s daughter Mary Anne

She’s a darlin’, she’s a daisy
And she’s set the city crazy
Though in build, and talk, and manner, like a man
When me precious love draws near
You can hear the people cheer
For Mick McGilligan’s daughter Mary Anne

Alternative chorus:
She’s me darlin’, she’s me daisy
She damn near drives me crazy
She’s got hairs upon her chest like any man
And you know she’s on the rocks
When she’s wearin’ cotton socks
Mick McGilligan’s daughter, Mary Anne

There are eight more verses, which elaborate on the masculine qualities of Mary Anne. This has resonance in Ultramarine, for the underlying theme is that Dana is a ‘nancy’, i.e. effeminate and not a ‘real man’. James Joyce also alludes to this song in Ulysses; this may be a coincidence, but Lowry includes further allusions to Ulysses in Ultramarine, so it seems that he certainly was aware of Joyce’s reference to the song. Another possible influence is Conrad Aiken’s Blue Voyage, Chapter 3, when the gambler sings about a girl who ‘can’t keep her petticoat down’.

This song is not to be confused with another song The Great Big Wheel with another Mary Annwhich Lowry refers to in an untitled poem (Collected Poetry 265.1) and in his film script for Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night (Pg. 223). Lowry stated that he heard The Great Big Wheel from a neighbour; "The song about Mary Ann and the Ferris Wheel was sung for us, out of the blue, on New year's Eve, by one of our neighbours, a Guernsey fisherman of 75, who had come to visit us while we were revising the scene. He did not know what we were writing about. The song was probably written about 1890, is English, forgotten, if ever remembered, and even if ever published, which is doubtful, can be no longer copyright." (Notes on a Screenplay for F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night Pg. 72). This song is a different one to the one written by E. W. Rogers in June 1895, and sung by Arthur Lennard (1867-1954).

Blow the Man Down

Lowry refers to a refrain from the sea shanty ‘Blow the Man Down’ being sung in his novel Ultramarine while Dana is in the red light district of Dairen; ‘As I was a-walking down Paradise Street’ (Pg. 113).

The lyric ‘Blow the man down’ refers to the act of knocking a man to the ground in a fight. A traditional explanation of its origins is that the Black Ballers were fast packet ships of the American Black Ball Line that sailed between New York and Liverpool towards the end of the nineteenth century. Lowry may have known the shanty from his time on Pyrrhus as the shanty was popular on Merseyside due to the local references in the lyrics. Lowry has introduced the refrain to draw attention to the similarities which he is creating between the ‘sailortown’ of Dairen and the ‘sailortown’ of Liverpool, whose epicentre was around Paradise Street, referred to in the shanty. Lowry was drawing here upon a mythology of Paradise Street, which was both imagined and real. The imagined temptations of drink and prostitutes were alluded to by Melville in his novel Redburn, which – narrating as it does the first voyage of an ‘innocent abroad’ – has many resonances with Ultramarine. Lowry knew Paradise Street as a youth, having visited the pubs in the area as well as the notorious Anatomy Museum, excerpts from whose catalogue he ‘borrowed’ for Ultramarine.


Oh, blow the man down, bullies, blow the man down
Way aye blow the man down
Oh, blow the man down, bullies, blow him away
Give me some time to blow the man down!

As I was a-walking down Paradise Street
Way aye blow the man dow
A pretty young damsel I chanced for to meet.
Give me some time to blow the man down!


She was round in the counter and bluff in the bow,
Way aye blow the man down
So I took in all sail and cried, ‘Way enough now’.
Give me some time to blow the man down!


So I tailed her my flipper and took her in tow
Way aye blow the man down
And yardarm to yardarm away we did go.
Give me some time to blow the man down!


But as we were going she said unto me
Way aye blow the man down
There’s a spanking full-rigger just ready for sea.
Give me some time to blow the man down!


But as soon as that packet was clear of the bar
Way aye blow the man down
The mate knocked me down with the end of a spar.
Give me some time to blow the man down!


Its starboard and larboard on deck you will sprawl
Way aye blow the man down
For Kicking Jack Williams commands the Black Ball.
Give me some time to blow the man down!

Bollocky Bill

Lowry refers to Bollocky Bill in his novel Ultramarine; "Bollocky Bill, aspiring writer, drawn magically from the groves of the Muses by Poseidon." (Pg. 92).

The mythical Bollocky Bill – reputed to have been most generously testicled – was commemorated in the bawdy ballad ‘Bollocky Bill the Sailor’, a traditional folk song originally titled ‘Abraham Brown’. ‘Bollocky’ is pronounced and occasionally spelt ‘bollicky’, and may also be a reference to being left-handed or clumsy.

There are several versions of the bawdy song in the Gordon ‘Inferno’ Collection in the US Library of Congress. The first printed version of the song is in the public domain book Immortalia (1927). Later versions feature the eponymous ‘Barnacle Bill’, a fictional character very loosely based on a nineteenth-century San Francisco sailor and Gold Rush miner, William Bernard. There are also known versions in England and Scotland from the early twentieth century.

Again it is impossible to determine when Lowry first heard the song. The earliest known recording is an expurgated adaptation written by Frank Luther and Carson Robison, performed and recorded on 21 May 1930 by one of Lowry’s heroes, Bix Beiderbecke, featuring the vocal of Hoagy Carmichael, with another Lowry jazz hero Joe Venuti on the session. This recording, made during the writing of Ultramarine, may have prompted Lowry to adapt the persona of the mythical seaman.

One version of ‘Barnacle Bill’ refers to an exchange between Bill and a ‘fair young maiden’. Each verse opens with inquiries by the maiden, sung by women, or by men in falsetto, and continues with Bill’s profane responses, sung by men:

‘Who’s that knocking at my door? Who’s that knocking at my door?
Who’s that knocking at my door?’ said the fair Young Maiden…
‘It’s me and my crew and we’ve come for a screw!’ said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.
‘It’s me and my crew and we’ve come for a screw!’ said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

Alternative responses:
‘It’s only me from over the sea’ said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.
‘It’s only me from over the sea’ said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

‘Open the door, you pox-ridden whore!’ said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.
‘Open the door, you pox-ridden whore!’ said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

‘Open the door, you dirty whore!’ said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.
‘Open the door, you dirty whore!’ said Barnacle Bill the Sailor.

This version of the song would suit the character of Dana at the point in Ultramarine at which he prepares to lose his virginity in the brothels of Dairen. Dana’s obsession, besides his guilt at the prospect of being unfaithful to his love Janet, is that he will catch syphilis from a prostitute. Another dimension to the introduction of the Bollocky Bill persona is that Lowry considered himself to be clumsy. Lowry endows Dana with the same clumsiness, which is constantly being reinforced by the crew of the ship.

Der Hauptmann von Köpenick 1931

Lowry refers to the film in a letter to Clemens ten Holder dated 31/10/1951; "I think I have seen nearly all the great German films.....and other late masterpieces like the Kapitan von Kopernick..." (Collected Letters Vol 2 Pg. 445). Sherrill Grace's annotation in the Collected Letters states that Lowry was referring to the play of the same name. However, Lowry is referring to the 1931 film version which we must assume he saw at the time of release.

The Captain from Köpenick (German: Der Hauptmann von Köpenick) is a 1931 German comedy film directed by Richard Oswald and produced by Gabriel Pascal. It is one of several films based on the 1931 play by the same name written by Carl Zuckmayer. The story centers around the Hauptmann von Köpenick affair in 1906.

Der Hauptmann von Köpenick is based on a true story that took place in Germany in 1906. A poor cobbler named Wilhelm Voigt purchased the second-hand uniform of a Prussian infantry captain. Wearing this, he travelled to the borough of Köpenick and ordered a troop of guardsmen to place themselves under his command. He then declared the town hall to be under military law, ordering the arrest of the mayor and treasurer and confiscating all the funds in the exchequer. In this film version it's a considerable sum of 4,000 reichsmarks. Voigt's orders were obeyed without question and he temporarily got away with the caper, although he was eventually caught. Wikipedia