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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Gibb Sahib Origins: 'The Shaver' (10) RE: Origins: 'The Shaver' 25 Feb 16


To underscore Steve's comment (and add my own thoughts): There is only one (currently known) source of "The Shaver" (though it would be cool if you found another!). RR Terry presents it in two of his publications (the second of which merely reproduced the first). As RR Terry notes, he learned it from his maternal uncle, James Runciman. James (1852-1891) was a journalist and writer of sea stories. He was probably not the most authoritative source. There is reason to suspect that James may have composed some songs, i.e. as opposed to having learned them from practical experience with a tradition of sailor songs. Nor was Richard Runciman Terry the best judge of what material was "authentic" (though he cited his maternal ancestors' seafaring experience as supposed validation of his relative authority—an authority that was articulated in relation to his peers in academic music circles).

Hugill was fairly liberal in accepting things he read in works like Terry's as possible traditional material. Due to the sense of authority ascribed to Hugill—here again relative to the people with whom he was interacting in the latter half of the 20th—the material he produced/reproduced has sometimes been received as more authentic (in the historical sense) than it really was.

As I mentioned, it would be interesting indeed to know more about "The Shaver" as an individual song. However, because there is no (currently) corroborating evidence that it was an item of repertoire -- significant or otherwise -- of the genre of chanty songs, I would caution against making any broad conclusions about the chanty genre based on this one item. Even the seemingly innocuous conclusion that "There were bawdy chanties," if this item is submitted as evidence, is dubious in my opinion.

In my opinion, the idea of a category of "bawdy chanties" as such may not be justified. Rather, the chanty genre is an open format; one can invent lyrics of a sexual nature as one wishes, in the moment, without there being fixed "bawdy chanties."

For a balanced impression of the chanty repertoire (it's style, form, inventory of common items) as known to an English chantyman of the 1870s—in a single work (i.e. without collating the entire mass of evidence from many scattered sources)—I recommend Frank Bullen's _Songs of Sea Labor_ (1914). He was very firm about presenting only the core repertoire of his own experience.

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