Songs marked "SS&S" are on "Silver, Stone and Sand";
those marked "CHAR" are on "Characters"; and 
those marked "PBLG" are on "Pennbucky to Llangenny".
Unmarked songs will be on our next CD!

 

All Washed up Ashore

Bells of Santiago

Big Lil

Black and White

Bronze and Brass

Butterflies

By Harry

Captain Courtney's Mistake

Childe the Hunter

Churchman's Road

Closing Of The Day

Cobre days

 

 

All Washed up Ashore (PBLG)
© Andrew McKay

In a Swansea barque that was old before the Ark,
We were heading West by South
With a swelling sail in the harsh and bitter gale
That sprang from the skipper's mouth:
We'd been driving hard with a sail on every yard
For fifty days or more,
But when the voyage is done we'll be off to have some fun,
We'll be all washed up ashore.
   Oh it's one more day till we take our pay,
   And with cash in hand secure,
   We will swagger into town and all the girls will gather round,
   'Til we're all washed up ashore.

In Valipo there's a bar called Smoky Joe's,
Where they take a sailor's pay
Then the wine flows free and the girls sit on your knee
And believe everything you say.
But when the whisky's sold and the tales are all told,
And the next crew's banging on the door,
Then the wine stays in the racks, the girls all turn their backs,
And you're all washed up ashore.

We lay offshore in the spring of '94,
When the big gale caught us out,
And we clung to our bunks like a load of rotten drunks
As the ship was tossed about
Then our cable burst and we feared for the worst,
But we found when we came on deck once more,
We were safe from harm in the middle of a farm,
All washed up ashore.
   Yes it's one more day 'til we take our pay,
   And with cash in hand secure,
   We will swagger into town and all the girls will gather round,
   'Til we're all washed up ashore.

The typical Swansea voyage - south-west across the Atlantic and round Cape Horn.  The dangers were not just at sea - the Chilean drinking dens were pretty rough too.  One of the worst was Smoky Joe's in Valparaiso, or Valipo as the Swansea men called it.  Then there were hurricanes - one Swansea ship was swept from anchor half a mile inland and left in a cornfield.  The crew were unharmed, and enjoyed some unscheduled shore leave!

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Bells of Santiago

© Andrew McKay

  I have sailed the Southern Ocean for a dozen years or more
  But never have we carried such a cargo
  For through Atlantic gales we are scudding home to Wales
  Carrying the bells of Santiago

In Valparaiso we were moored, taking copper ore on board
When the word came through of tragedy and pity
Of the fire and the ruin and the women who were lost
That dreadful night in Santiago city
And Vivian he was there, looking out for copper ore
When he saw the blackened bells lie where they rolled
He saw that they were beautiful and heard they rang no more
And he knew they had a story to be told

So Vivian he agreed to transport the bells with speed
To the harbour where our copper barque was lying
And lashed within the trunking in the centre of our hold
Around Cape Horn the bells would soon be flying
And the bells will be shared out to the churches round about
So folks can hear them ringing and feel pity
For the fire and the ruin and the women who were lost
That dreadful night in Santiago city

Now, I'm just a common sailor, not given much to thought
But standing here, I cannot help but wonder
Why the bells of Santiago should sail half-way round the world
And if we might perhaps have made a blunder
For the folk of Santiago still have churches, I suppose
But for closure and for memory they'll still yearn
And I wonder if, some day, there will ever be a way
For the bells of Santiago to return.
  I have sailed the Southern Ocean for a dozen years or more
  But never have we carried such a cargo
  For through Atlantic gales we are scudding home to Wales
  Carrying the bells of Santiago

In December 1863 a packed church in Santiago, the capital of Chile, burnt down during a night-time service. Over 2,000 worshippers, mostly women, were burnt to death - only seven bodies could be positively identified. Graham Vivian, of the Swansea copper dynasty, was in Santiago at the time on business. He bought the old church bells, beautifully cast in pure Chilean copper, and sent them back to Swansea, where three were hung in All Saints church, Oystermouth and a fourth was given to St Thomas's, Neath. There may have been others. The four known bells were finally donated back to the people of Santiago for the 150th anniversary of the tragedy in 2013.

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Big Lil
(CHAR)
© Andrew McKay

The trawlermen of Hull are facing danger on the deep,
   Our husbands and our sons are out there still,
They're freezing off the Faeroes while the owners lie asleep,
   Well that ain't good enough says Big Lil.

When you're on the North Atlantic and you need a helping hand,
   Our husbands and our sons are out there still,
You can whistle for a doctor, it's a thousand miles to land,
   Well that ain't good enough says Big Lil.

There's all sorts of safety gear to see them through the night,
   Our husbands and our sons are out there still,
But there's no-one to check the gear and see it works all right
   Well that ain't good enough says Big Lil.

So we started a petition, seeking safety for our men,
   Our husbands and our sons are out there still,
We've ten thousand signatures to take to Number Ten,
   Well that ain't good enough says Big Lil.

Some say let the men do the work for which they're skilled,
   Our husbands and our sons are out there still,
But to stay at home and wait for our menfolk to get killed,
   Well that ain't good enough says Big Lil.

So we travelled down to London with our papers in a sack,
   Our husbands and our sons are out there still,
The trawler owners laughed and said we'd soon be comin' back,
   Well that ain't good enough says Big Lil.

The men from the Ministry they didn't know what to say,
   Our husbands and our sons are out there still,
But they gave us what we asked for, so that we would go away,
   And I guess that's good enough says Big Lil.

Big Lil (Lilian Bilocca) was the daughter, wife and mother of Hull trawlermen in the 1960s.  She campaigned for improved safety legislation, on one occasion jumping from the quayside onto a trawler to prevent it sailing with a broken radio.  She was eventually successful after getting the support of Harold Wilson's government. 

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Black and White

© Andrew McKay

I still can remember those far childhood days
When we came down to Cornwall to stay
In a cheap boarding house by the edge of the docks
Looking out over the bay
And there in the harbour, the cargo ships lay
In those days they loaded by hand
Coal shipped in black, clay shipped out white
It wasn't hard to understand
  They tell me the world isn't all black and white
  But that's how it seemed then to me
  Men dusted black: men dusted white
  Circling round on the quay

Coal shipped in black, from the mines of South Wales
To build up the heat and the steam
That was needed to power the works and the world
Through the movement of piston and beam
And there on the dockside, the pile grew and grew
Of the bags of the best anthracite
And the men and the gangways were dusty and black
As the sky on a warm summer's night.

Clay shipped out white to the pottery kilns
To be made into fine porcelain
At Meissen and Minton and Dresden and Delft
And other such places of fame
And there on the dockside the pile dwindled down
Of the bags of the kaolin clay
And the men and the gangways were powdery white
As the snow on a cold winter's day

But as I've grown older I've started to see
Life as a series of greys
Sometimes I long for the clear black and white
That I knew in those far childhood days
The coal and the clay they might ship side by side
But the difference was easy to see
Coal shipped in black; clay shipped out white
Piled up in sacks on the quay
  They tell me the world isn't all black and white
  But that's how it seemed then to me
  Men dusted black: men dusted white
  Circling round on the quay

Based on a story Andrew's father Leonard used to tell, of a childhood holiday in the 1920s. From the window of their B&B he could look down into the docks, where the sight of these two ships, one unloading coal and the other loading china clay, made a lasting impression on him. Literally, everything on one side was black with coal dust, and on the other, white with china clay. A striking image.

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Bronze and Brass
(PBLG)
© Andrew McKay

Now, Brass is the son of the Copper man who came out of the valley fair,
And Bronze is his sister neat and trim, with fire in the red of her hair.
And they both went out when the world was young, to earn their daily bread,
And they stood for hire at the autumn fair, where Old Man Stone lay dead.
  
For Gold is a king on a mighty throne, with a sceptre in his hand,
   And Silver's a queen sitting by his side, who watches over the land.
   And Iron is a man with a pike in his hand, who can answer the bugle call,
   But Bronze is the woman who sees us fed, and Brass must pay for all.

Then Gold came up from the riverside, and Silver down from the hill,
And Iron marched in from everywhere, you can hear him marching still.
And they three contended in their pride, and never a one would yield,
While Bronze she toiled below the stairs, and Brass tilled over the field.

Then Gold placed the crown upon his brow, for all the world to see,
And Silver said "I am white and pure, there is none so fair as me!"
Then Iron strode out in his uniform, with the medals at his breast,
But Bronze just smiled as she nursed the child, and Brass just longed for rest.

Now, Gold are the thoughts in a wise man's head, as he ponders how things could be,
And Silver's the tongue that can lead us on to a future that none can see.
And Iron is the strength that can stand up tall, and bring all these things to pass,
But still Bronze will be there with our daily fare, and wherever there's muck, there's Brass
   For Gold is a king on a mighty throne, with a sceptre in his hand,
   And Silver's a queen sitting by his side, who watches over the land.
   And Iron is a man with a pike in his hand, who can answer the bugle call,
   But Bronze is the woman who sees us fed, and Brass must pay for all.

Copper, the source of Swansea's prosperity, was important in its own right, but also as the main constituent of bronze and brass, the two major structural alloys of Victorian times.  Gold and silver were the aristocracy of metals, iron was used for grandiose civil and military projects, but bronze and brass were the metallurgical peasantry, used for all the everyday things of life.  They are Everywoman and Everyman, always called upon to fulfill others' dreams.

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Butterflies
(CHAR)
© Andrew McKay

The men used to fish in the bay,
With their sails of red, yellow and green,
We called them the butterflies, dancing about,
Now there's scarcely a sail to be seen.
  Where did the butterflies go?
  Where did the butterflies go?
  There once were so many, they seemed everywhere,
  Where did the butterflies go?

The oysters grew thick in the bay,
You could dredge up a fortune each tide,
But the oysters they dwindled and faded away,
The butterflies folded and died.

The men drifted back to the land,
For families still must be fed,
Back to grubbing for pennies where once they plucked pounds,
Still the butterflies danced in their heads.

The oysters one day will return,
I know that's what some people say,
But the next time that butterflies dance out to sea,
'twill be visitors coming to play.

The men used to fish in the bay,
With their sails of red, yellow and green,
We called them the butterflies, dancing about,
Now there's scarcely a sail to be seen.
   Where did the butterflies go?
   Where did the butterflies go?
   There once were so many, they seemed everywhere,
   Where did the butterflies go?

Swansea bay was famous for its oyster beds.  By 1880, the oyster fleet numbered 200 boats, whose bright-coloured sails earned them the nickname "Butterflies".  By 1920, over-fishing and pollution had weakened the stocks, and a mystery illness wiped out the beds.  Now, the bright-coloured sails in Swansea bay are all pleasure boats.

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By Harry
(PBLG)
© Andrew McKay

The Harry she sailed out of Swansea, with a cargo of coal for Brazil,
At the dawn of the day, we floated away, somehow we're floating still
The skipper was fair, but a driver, the weather fair drove us along;
We made Pennbucky Bay in 38 days, and that's where the whole thing went wrong.
   By Harry! By Harry! We're still floating, by Harry!
   Though we're down by the head,
   And the bosun's half-dead,
   We're still floating, by Harry!

Well, Yellowjack raged round the harbour, the locals had sickened or fled,
We unshipped our own coal, and we swept out the hold, then we loaded with sugar instead.
The day that we sailed from Pennbucky, Ol' Yellowjack signed on the crew,
Which settled the fate of the cook and the mate, the rest of us nearly died too.

We arrived at the Delaware River, with the yellow flag nailed to the mast;
After three weeks or more, they let us ashore; we got rid of that sugar at last.
Then we sailed on down to Georgia, and began to load raw turpentine:
We tied up at the quay at a quarter past three, the hurricane hit us at nine.

The Harry was thrown on the jetty, the timbers crashed into her side,
We stood on the mound with the waters all round, and we thought that the Harry had died.
Next morning to our amazement, the sun got up early to shine;
Though the jetty was smashed and the dock-cranes were trash, the Harry was floating and fine.

But we had to move out of the fo'c'sle, heads splitting and eyes going blind,
We set up an awning, cursing and yawning from the fumes of that raw turpentine
The taste of it got in the water, the tang of it got in the tack,
We were dizzy and faint, we were dreaming of paint, as we started the long voyage back

We were nine days out in the Atlantic, when a fresh hurricane caught us cold,
It swept off the helmsman and crippled the bo'sun, smashed open the hatches and holds.
We were broached, beam-ended and helpless, and the fishes were ready to dine
What buoyed up our boat, and kept us afloat was those barrels of raw turpentine

There was Davies and Upton and Mitchell, three sailor lads just turned sixteen,
They showed courage and fight for three days and two nights, the best thing that I've ever seen
Three days for the storm to settle, a day for to bring her around,
Two days thereabouts for to pump the holds out, thank God the old Harry was sound.

We bent on all the sails we could muster, crammed on all the speed we could stand,
And what could be finer, we overtook liners as we pointed her bows for the Strand
So drink a good health to the Harry, the schooner that wouldn't go down,
Though we're soaked through with brine and the raw turpentine, we made it to old Swansea town!
   By Harry! By Harry! We're still floating, by Harry!
   Though we're down by the head,
   And the bosun's half-dead,
   We're still floating, by Harry!

Based on the story recounted by Philip E Jones of Newquay, Ceredigion, bo'sun aboard the Harry, a 500 ton fore-and-aft rigged schooner, on her voyage from Swansea in 1893. Pennbucky, as elsewhere, was the Swansea sailors' name for the Brazilian port of Pernambuco (modern Recife).

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Captain Courtney's Mistake (SS&S)

© Andrew McKay

We rode up to Highways farm
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!
Thinking to do the smugglers harm,
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!
For Highways was home to the Arthur gang,
The slickest smugglers in all the land,
Captain Courtney swore they would hang,
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!


We got to the farm just before dawn,
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!
It looked like nothing was going on,
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!
We searched the farm for a hiding place,
Full of contraband to prove our case,
And we made our way up to the attic space,
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!


In the attic a barrel we found,
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!
 'Tis contraband, I'll wager a pound!'
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!
The barrel was full of Jamaica rum
Fresh from the Indies newly come,
'With this evidence we'll have us some fun!'
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!


But how to fetch the barrel away?
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!
The Revenue wagon's up Fairwood way,
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!
'You ride up and tell them to come,
I'll sit here and look after the rum.'
On the barrel he parked his bum,
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!

But when I got back with the Revenue men,
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!
We opened up the barrel again,
   It was Captain Courtney's mistake!
The barrel was empty, our spirits were low,
No liquor was left for to put up on show,
Just a hole drilled in from the floor below!
  It was Captain Courtney's mistake!

Apparently, during the Napoleonic Wars, there was more contraband landed on the Gower coast than anywhere else either side of the Bristol channel.  The leader of the biggest gang was one William Arthur, nicknamed 'King' Arthur, who lived at Highways Farm, Pennard - near Fairwood Common and the suggestively named Brandy Cove.  There are many local stories of how 'King' Arthur outwitted the Revenue men, this is one of them.

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Childe the Hunter
(CHAR)

© Andrew McKay

Oh Mr Childe, oh Mr Childe, though a hunting man you be,
Oh do not ride the moors today, but stay at home with me.
For the winds blow bitter from the north, and the snow lies on the moor;
Stay at home in Plymstock town, and bar the stable door.
Well, it's here upon the frozen moor, poor Mr Childe must die.
My horse I've wrapped about my bones, but it's now as cold as I,
And these are the last words that I write, on a stone with my bloody hand,
"Whoever shall bring my bones to rest, shall have my Plymstock land."
  For this is the tale of Mr Childe, who lived in Plymstock town,
  And men of God who'll know no peace, til the world turns upside down.

My Lord the Abbot of Tavistock, now listen to what I say,
For Mr Childe of Plymstock town, on the moors has passed away.
And these are the last words he did write, on a stone with his bloody hand,
"Whoever shall bring my bones to rest, shall have my Plymstock land."
My Lord the Prior of Plympton too, now hear what I've been told,
That Mr Childe of Plymstock town, on the moors has died of cold,
And these are the last words he did write, on a stone with his bloody hand,
"Whoever shall bring my bones to rest, shall have my Plymstock land."

My Lord the Abbot of Tavistock, here Mr Childe do lie,
But my Lord the Prior of Plympton and his men are drawing nigh,
And they have marched down to the ford, and there they've made a stand,
Thinking to seize these bones from us, and to claim the Plymstock land.
So Tavistock has northwards marched, where the river skirts the moor,
And there a bridge he cast across, where no bridge stood before,
For although we've prayed for many a day, for a bridge where this now stands,
The only thing to move our Lord, was the hope of Plymstock land.
  For this is the tale of Mr Childe, who lived in Plymstock town,
  And men of God who'll know no peace, til the world turns upside down.

And Plympton still this grievance hold, or so I understand,
But my Lord the Abbot of Tavistock, holds the Plymstock land.

The legend of Childe the Hunter is supposed to explain a real but mysterious long-running dispute over land titles which existed between the Benedictine monastery at Tavistock and the Cistercian priory at Plympton.  The feud only ended when both establishments were dissolved in the reign of Henry VIII.

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Churchman's Road

© Andrew McKay

The Churchman comes from dry Carmarthen
Down to the river he will ride
Though this isn't the River Jordan
He's crossing to the other side
  Riding down the road to old Glamorgan
  Crossing the river by lantern light
  Turning his back on the old church organ
  Coming for a drink tonight

Sunday evening, his sermon ended
Satan's snares snapped shut in vain
Common folk from Hell defended
He's coming down the road again

Sunday is the Day of Heaven
Doors to Hell must be shut fast
Over the river, the pubs are serving
He's coming down the road at last

The road to Heaven is steep and narrow
You have to walk, there's no room to ride
You can roll to Hell in a one-wheeled barrow
The road's so smooth and wide

The Churchman comes from dry Carmarthen
Down to the river he will ride
Though this isn't the River Jordan
He's crossing to the other side
  Riding down the road to old Glamorgan
  Crossing the river by lantern light
  Turning his back on the old church organ
  Coming for a drink tonight

The Reverend James Buckley was a Methodist minister from Llanelli in Carmarthenshire. Unusually, he also ran a brewery, and was rather fond of a drink or several. Carmarthenshire in those days was dry on Sundays, but just over the river lies the town of Loughor, in Glamorganshire, where the pubs were open all week. There is nowadays a pub in Loughor called the Reverend James in his honour, and a beer of the same name.

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Closing Of The Day
(SS&S)

© Carole Etherton

Blackbird sings his merry song at the closing of the day
Golden sun slips gently through the sky and slowly fades away
Now the white owl is hunting
And moon beams are dancing
As darkness wends its way
And blackbird sings his merry song at the closing of the day

The mother sings her lullaby at the closing of the day
Her tiny babe lies dreamily, lulled by her roundelay
Now silvery stardust is falling
And sandman is calling
As darkness wends its way
While the mother sings her lullaby at the closing of the day

The weaver's loom lies silent at the closing of the day
Heavy horses tread home from the fields, the chestnut and the grey
Now sly foxes are hunting
And poachers are stalking
As darkness wends its way
While the weaver's loom lies silent at the closing of the day

Songs ring out from the alehouse at the closing of the day
Weary workers gather round the fire in candlelit array
Soon the wreckers' lights are burning
And smugglers' cart wheels turning
As darkness wends its way
While songs ring out from the alehouse at the closing of the day

And Blackbird sings his merry song at the closing of the day

As the blackbird sings his evening song, the owl is waking up. As the weary farm-worker makes his way home, less reputable types like smugglers, poachers and folk-singers are starting their working day. So it goes.

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Cobre Days
(SS&S)
© Andrew McKay

Oh the Hecla is a good old barque on the Swansea-Cuba run,
She brings copper ore from Cobre, every trip 400 tons,
For the cargo on our latest trip, there's a bitter price to pay,
Oh don't let us have to face more Cobre days.
   Cobre days, oh Cobre days,
   Cobre days, oh Cobre days,
   Don't let us have to face more Cobre days.

We anchored off the Mumbles, and we knew that it was bad,
We'd lost three men in the tropics, and a fourth was raving mad,
But the Cobre men said "Bring her in, we've shareholders to pay"
So the scene was set for deadly Cobre days.

So we tied up at the Cobre wharf under hot blue sunny skies,
The men swarmed all around her, and so did all the flies,
But working hot and thirsty seemed to sap our strength away,
As we staggered through those weary Cobre days.

And soon the folk were shivering, despite the sticky heat,
The sorters and the grinders, the patrolman on his beat,
They sickened and they perished, turning yellow as they lay,
Oh don't let us have to face more Cobre days.

And you who give the orders, you who count up all the costs,
Can you enter in your ledgers all the lives that have been lost?
When you make your next decision, when you've had your final say,
Will we have to face another Cobre day?
   Cobre days, oh Cobre days,
   Cobre days, oh Cobre days,
   Don't let us have to face more Cobre days.

A true story from 1865, but with lessons for today.  Cuba, where the Cobre Mining Company produced copper ore for smelting in Swansea, was rife with yellow fever.  The barque Hecla arrived off Swansea having lost three men on the voyage. Despite public health concerns, Cobre officials insisted the ship came into dock immediately to unload.  No-one knew then that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes, which had survived the journey north due to exceptionally hot weather.  Swarms of hungry insects were released in the centre of town, 28 people contracted yellow fever and 19 died.  Will the money men ever put public safety ahead of profits?  Don't hold your breath.

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