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!

Dead Reckoning

Drinks at the Cuba

Elephants' Teeth

Flight of Fancy

Good Ship Skyvie

Harriet Lane

Have A Good Time

Ireland Farewell

Jerry the One-Legged Rigger

Johnny Come Over The Hill


 

Dead Reckoning (PBLG)
© Andrew McKay

   Dead reckoning,
   All that's left to me now is dead reckoning,
   Though I've mastered the seas and the fresh living breeze,
   All that's left to me now is dead reckoning.

I was fifteen when first I went off to sea,
And in forty-one years under sail,
I've seen losses and crises and tragedies,
And a way of life falter and fail.

I sailed once round the world as a deckhand,
I sailed twice round the world as first mate,
And for thirty-odd years I've been Master here,
Of my crew and my ship and my fate.

I've seen crewmen who fell from the main yard arm,
Stiff and numb from the sleet and the cold,
I've seen crewmen who died from the poisoning
Of some venomous booze they'd been sold.

I met a crewman of mine by the railway bridge,
In his new bosun's jacket so fine,
And he signed me aboard of this smoking hulk
To sail round the world one last time

Now I'm polishing brasses and sweeping dust,
On a steamer that goes where it will,
And instead of Cape Horn we've got Panama,
So who needs an old sea captain's skill?

And instead of white canvas above us now,
There's a plume of black smoke to be seen
How I wish I had died with the men I knew,
While the sky and the seas were still clean
   Dead reckoning,
   All that's left to me now is dead reckoning,
   Though I've mastered the seas and the fresh living breeze,
   All that's left to me now is dead reckoning.

From a story told by Dick Sullivan, last of the Swansea Cape Horners.  For his last voyage, as bosun on a steam ship, he was told to go to the railway bridge over Wind Street, Swansea (the usual "picking up point" for casual labour) and collect an old sailor down on his luck, give him a few odd jobs so he could feel he was still being useful.  The old sailor turned out to be a captain that Dick had rounded the Horn with several times, but whose skills were now redundant with steam and the Panama canal.

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Drinks at the Cuba (PBLG)
© Andrew McKay

Who here drinks at the Cuba?
   One last time before he puts to sea?
Who here drinks at the Cuba?
   I tell you sir indeed I do!
     Bound away next morning,

     Bound for old Cape Horn again,
     Who here drinks at the Cuba?
     I tell you sir, indeed I do!


Who here drinks at the Horner?
   One last time, before he puts to sea?
Who here drinks at the Horner?
   I tell you sir, indeed I do!

Who here drinks at the Fountain?
   One last time, before he puts to sea?
Who here drinks at the Fountain?
   I tell you sir, indeed I do!

Who here drinks at the Cuba?
   One last time, before he puts to sea?
Who here drinks at the Cuba?
   I tell you sir, indeed I do!
     Bound away next morning,
     Bound for old Cape Horn again,
     Who here drinks at the Cuba?
     I tell you sir, indeed I do!


The Cuba Inn, the Cape Horner and the Mexico Fountain were traditionally the three pubs where Swansea sailors enjoyed their last drinks and comforts ashore before setting off for the southern ocean.  The song could be extended indefinitely by adding more pubs!  It's great for singarounds, because it's nearly all chorus.

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Elephants' Teeth
(PBLG)
© Andrew McKay

People they calls us the longshore men,
We earns our living along the sea shore,
On what we picks up from a storm or two,
We can live for a six-month or more.
The roofs of our farms are of good Welsh slate,
From the trader that grounded last year,
And the beams are made of the timber frame
Of a short-sighted French privateer.
   We've picked up the coal and the calico,
   Rescued the biscuits and beef,
   But what, my friends, are we going to do
   With a shed-full of elephants' teeth?


Well, ships they comes and ships they goes,
And sometimes a ship is cast up at our door,
It's a tragedy for the men of the sea
But a bonus for us of the shore
And sometimes a barrel will come to land,
It was lost, but now it's found,
Be it lamp-oil or brandy, it comes in handy,
It all helps the world to go round.

They says we're poor and knows nothing at all
Of the gentrified life and what it's about,
But we drinks our brandy and smokes our cigars
And the salt helps to ward off the gout.
You might think the parson would rail about this,
And tell us to take it all back,
But he's too busy down at the church,
Admiring his ivory plaques.

We've all got boats and we knows the ports
Where goods can be sold and no questions asked,
And to slip away with a tusk or two,
Well, it isn't a difficult task.
And the revenue men will be off home again,
And it can't be a moment too soon,
And each child born here for the next hundred years
Gets an ivory christening spoon.
   We've picked up the coal and the calico,
   Rescued the biscuits and beef,
   But what, my friends, are we going to do
   With a shed-full of elephants' teeth? 

One of the earliest recorded shipwrecks on the Gower coast was in 1731, recorded because the cargo included 200 elephant tusks intended as a gift for King George II.  When the Revenue men arrived to salvage the cargo, it had all vanished.  Notices threatened dire consequences for anyone hanging onto these "Elephants' Teeth", but only about 50 were ever recovered.  Presumably the other 150 tusks, each about 6 ft (2m) long, are still "out there" to this day. 

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Flight of Fancy

© Andrew McKay

  Climbing up the Flight of Fancy, to a windy metal span
  Over the road and the railways, the chilrden always ran
  All dressed up in our Sunday best, for a sunny holiday
  Walking over the old Slip Bridge to the sands of Swansea Bay

You can tell that Dad's on holiday, he's got his straw hat on
His tie is open half-an-inch, his waistcoat button's undone
Mam is wearing the flowery dress she keeps for special days
She's got her brightest cardi on, and I think she's taken off her stays

The boys are playing football, under a clear blue sky
The girls are on the swingboats, squealing as they fly
Holy Joe's in his pulpit, trying to show us 'the way'
We prefer the scenes by the bathing machines with the swim-suits on display

The railways went, as the railways did, and as the years went by
They said the bridge was dangerous and took the span away
But folk said "No!", we won't let it go, our bridge will rise again
We'll be looking up at a new slip bridge as we sing this old refrain

  Climbing up the Flight of Fancy, to a brand-new metal span
  Over the road where the railways were, and the chilrden always ran
  All dressed up in our Sunday best, for a sunny holiday
  Walking over the new Slip Bridge to the sands of Swansea Bay

Swansea's iconic 'Slip Bridge' was the main way of crossing a busy road, the Mumbles Railway and three main line railway tracks to the beach. Swansea holidays started with a walk over the Slip Bridge. Old photos from the 1920s show holidaymakers formally dressed in their Sunday best suits on the beach. 'Holy Joe' was a local tram conductor and part-time evangelist who preached on the bridge on Bank Holidays. In 2004 the council removed the span 'temporarily' for repairs but never reinstated it. A local campaign group asked us to write a Slip Bridge song for them which we were pleased to do.

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Good Ship Skyvie
(PBLG)
© Andrew McKay

We set sail on the forty-fourth day of the month between April and May
To the East-North-West we sailed away, aboard the good ship Skyvie.
And all the crew to man her sails was a Chinese cook with three pigtails
And a male voice choir from the North of Wales, aboard the good ship Skyvie.
   Set your compass East-North-West,
   Skipper's in the crow's nest, he knows best,
   Tie a bowline in the bosun's vest
   Aboard the good ship
Skyvie!

And on this ship was seven masts, that varied in size from small to vast
So that we could sail either slow or fast aboard the good ship Skyvie.
And on each mast was seven sails, for breezes, blasts, typhoons or gales,
And a big pair of bellows if all else fails, aboard the good ship Skyvie.

We shipped nine hundred head of clams to an oyster farm in South Japan,
And we had to feed them all by hand aboard the good ship Skyvie.
So we shipped eight hundred bushels of wheat to give them clams some feed to eat,
But they'd ate the lot in half a week, aboard the good ship Skyvie.

Well, then we didn't know what to do, they ate the deck and the main mast too,
All night long it was "chew, chew, chew" aboard the good ship Skyvie
For three more days we drifted around, there was nothing to hear but that chewing sound,
Till the hull caved in and we all was drowned. . .
(Spoken) So the song never got finished!

Just a nonsense song, of the type enjoyed by sailors everywhere, in which nautical terminology gets deliberately mixed up.  Best performed with generous hand movements!

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Harriet Lane
(CHAR)
© Andrew McKay

Oh listen, you landsmen, I'll sing you a song,
How they feeds us at sea when we're out there so long,
The Board of Trade tells 'em the least we can get,
They could give us more, but they never has yet.
   Harriet Lane, oh Harriet Lane,
   I'm telling you clear, and I'm telling you plain,
   A blessing to sailors is Harriet Lane!


Well, biscuits like roof-tiles we gets every day,
They're baked out of sawdust and bulked out with clay,
You can smash 'em or hash 'em, or throw 'em away,
But with Harriet Lane you get meat every day!

Well, wet hash for breakfast, it works pretty well,
It slips down a treat if you don't mind the smell!
But oatmeal with treacle that tastes just like tar,
It goes over the side, it's a breakfast too far.

Dry hash for breakfast, that isn't so good,
It tastes like it's made out of chippings of wood.
But pea-soup is fine, it'll warm you right through,
And if anything breaks, you can use it as glue!

Now, the beef that they gives us is leathery hard,
The pork that they gives us is mostly sour lard,
As a slurry with curry they calls it a treat,
But with Harriet Lane you gets close to real meat.

Oh listen, you landsmen, I'll sing you a song,
How they feeds us at sea when we're out there so long,
The Board of Trade tells 'em the least we can get,
They could give us more, but they never has yet.
   Harriet Lane, oh Harriet Lane,
   I'm telling you clear, and I'm telling you plain,
   A blessing to sailors is Harriet Lane!

Jack Owen, another old Swansea sailor, left a humorous account of the food provided for ships' crews in Victorian times, as regulated by the Board of Trade. One of the men's favourites was a tinned meat product, an early forerunner of Spam, nicknamed "Harriet Lane" after the victim of a particularly brutal London murder!

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Have A Good Time
(SS&S)
© Andrew McKay

Where is me money, the young sailor cried,
Wherever you left it, his messmates replied
We only wanted to have a good time
Before we set sail in the morning
   We only wanted to have a good time
   It isn't a sin and it isn't a crime
   We only wanted to have a good time
   Before we set sail in the morning

Where is me sea-boots, the young sailor cried,
Wherever you left 'em, his messmates replied
They're stood by the side of the dancing-room floor,
Before we set sail in the morning

Where is me jacket, the young sailor cried,
Wherever you left it, his messmates replied
It's hung on a nail by the old grog-shop door,
Before we set sail in the morning

Where is me trousers, the young sailor cried,
Wherever you left 'em, his messmates replied
They're under the bed of a two-shilling whore,
Before we set sail in the morning
   We only wanted to have a good time
   It isn't a sin and it isn't a crime
   We only wanted to have a good time
   Before we set sail in the morning

What every sailor wants when he gets ashore - to have a good time.  It isn't a sin and it isn't a crime, but it can sure get you into trouble.

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Ireland Farewell

© Carole Etherton

I lift my eyes to the billowing sail
  Bound away from Ireland
Our faces gaunt, bodies thin and frail
  Fare thee well my homeland

This barque will carry us over the sea
Away from hunger, pain and misery

I watched the fall of the deadly black cloud
Our fields and lives choked within its shroud

Clothed in rags so crudely sewn
Now memories are all that I own

We leave the land where our fathers sleep
These creaking timbers will bear us through the deep

I sail away midst hopes and fears
  Bound away from Ireland
One last glance through a veil of tears
  Fare thee well my homeland

The reflections, hopes and fears of an emigrant sailing away from Ireland to escape the 'Great Hunger' (1845-1852). The last they saw of Ireland would have been Mizzen Head and the nearby Fastnet Rock with its lighthouse, near which this song was written.

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Jerry the One-Legged Rigger
(PBLG)
© Andrew McKay

By the time he was born he'd been twice round the horn,
For his Mam was his Dad's navigator,
He was born in the dark on an old Swansea barque
About thirty miles from the equator.
By the time he was three he'd spent four years at sea,
What he didn't know didn't figure,
Now his sailing is past, but he's still up the mast,
He's Jerry the one-legged rigger.
   Oh you may have a dock where you float round the clock,
   And your ships may be faster and bigger,
   But there's one thing we've got which we're sure that you've not,
   That's Jerry the one-legged rigger.


Now copper's our trade, in the Hafod it's made,
The ore comes from far away places,
So the sea's always glad of a strapping young lad,
Who knows how to haul the lee braces.
By the time he was ten Jerry'd sailed with the men,
On the Gem and the old Ocean Beauty,
It was always his boast to be first at his post
And foremost in doing his duty.

Well, the story's in baulk, because Jerry won't talk
Of just how his leg went a-missing,
Was it through work, from which he'd never shirk,
Or a fight over who he'd been kissing?
Or could it have been like a fellow I seen,
When we was in port making merry,
Took a swim for a lark, and got ate by a shark,
Well perhaps that's what happened to Jerry.

When your ship's on the Strand and you've ale in your hand,
The sails in the locker are lying,
When it's time to put out, they gives a great shout,
And that's when the riggers come flying.
They're an old stranded crew but they know what to do,
And they do it with skill and with vigour,
But the foremost of all, at the foot-rope or fall,
Is Jerry the one-legged rigger.

When there's ships to prepare, you'll see him up there,
His old ragged trouser-leg flapping,
And he hops to and fro, both aloft and alow,
To check out the rigging and wrapping.
When she puts out to sea, Jerry's left on the quay,
But you know that what e'er may betide her,
Come spring airs or late gales, Jerry's heart's in her sails,
And his thoughts on the ocean beside her.
   Oh you may have a dock where you float round the clock,
   And your ships may be faster and bigger,
   But there's one thing we've got which we're sure that you've not,
   That's Jerry the one-legged rigger.

Old sailors spoke of "Jerry the one-legged rigger, who could be seen working aloft on the top-gallant yard, the empty leg of his trousers flapping in the wind" - I thought he deserved a song.  The Hafod is the part of Swansea near the river, where the copper smelters were sited.  Swansea was late in getting a floating dock - ships tied up at the riverbank (The Strand) and at low tide sat on the mud.  This prevented the big, fast clippers from using Swansea - the typical Swansea barque was a small, flat-bottomed vessel of about  500 tons, with a crew of 10 to 12 - and in these little ships they went round Cape Horn in their hundreds.

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Johnny Come Over The Hill (SS&S)

© Andrew McKay

Johnny come over the hill,
Johnny come down by the river
Johnny sit snug by the fire in the pub
While the horses trudge home with your dinner

On a smallholding lived Johnny Webb
Johnny Richards he lived on another
Old Johnny Phillips was friends with them both
And they'd all go to market together
They'd load all their goods in a trap
They'd rattle along without fear-o
There was Johnny and Johnny and old Johnny Webb
And they called them the three musketeer-oes

They'd sell off their 'tatoes and beet,
And cabbages three, four or five-o
They'd bring back the bacon and mustard and bread
And cockles alive-o, alive-o
When they'd get back to the pub
They'd send on the horses for home-o
While they'd settle snug by the fire in the pub
To fill up their whiskers with foam-o

When the old horses got home,
They'd find the old womenfolk talking,
Standing around by their gates in the sun
Tutting and clucking and squawking
Each old woman would run
To see what the horses had brought her,
Then load up the cart with a barrel or two
And send them back down for some water

In the back yard of the pub
You'd find our own three musketeer-oes
One for all and all over the place
Through blowing the foam off their beer-oes
They'd tumble about in the stream
Trying to fill up the bowsers
Then stagger off home at the end of the day,
But they'd carry more wet in their trousers.
   Johnny come over the hill,
   Johnny come down by the river
   Johnny sit snug by the fire in the pub
   While the horses trudge home with your dinner

From a story told by Mr Walter Ace of Gower, born 1907.  As a child, he would watch from the school yard as the 'three musketeers' carried out their weekly ritual, falling over in the river outside the pub as they tried to fill their water barrels through a beery haze.  The horses knew the way home and would set off up the hill in order - the first horse turned into the first cottage, then the next, and finally the last one at the furthest home.

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