The songs on this disc we either work songs, shanties or diversionary songs, foc'sle songs or forebitters, sung during the evening dog watch, when the men gathered round a squeeze-box in the foc'sle or, in fair weather, sat round the bitts or around the fore-hatch.
The great days of sailor-singing were in the first two thirds of the nineteenth century, when the really fast ships were evolved. When 'If the men don't sing right, the ship don't move right' was the axiom, and a good shanty-man was always sure of a job on a fast clipper.
Roughly, shanties are of three kinds; capstan shanties, used for such jobs as weighing anchor; halliard shanties for hoisting the heavy yards; short drag shanties for taking in slack or hauling on sheet. and braces.
Notes based on material supplied by A. L. Lloyd and Ewan MacColl.
THE BLACK BALL LINE: Ships of this line had a red swallow tail flag with a black ball in the middle. They ran from New York to Liverpool.
DO ME AMA: A foc'sle song. This version is a little fuller than those printed.
REUBEN RANZO: A halyard shanty. Ranzo is probably a corruption of Lorenzo, and refers to men from the Azores who shipped aboard whalers.
THE HANDSOME CABIN BOY: A 19th century broadside ballad, that remained a steady seller in fairs and back streets of provincial towns for more than sixty years.
A HUNDRED YEARS AGO: A halliard shanty deriving from a mid nineteenth century minstrel song. 'A Long Time Ago'.
STORMALONG: A shanty for manning the capstan or pumps.
THE COAST OF PERU: Is a song from the hey-day of Pacific spermwhaling; between the 1790's and the 1840's.
THE GAUGER: A gauger is an exciseman. This song dates from about 150 years ago, when liquor smuggling was going strong on the South-East coast of Scotland.
SALLY RACKET: This version of the song probably comes from the ships running to the West Indies. The tune resembles the Jamaican tune Mr. Ramgoat.