Mudcat Café message #3894409 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3894409
Posted By: Vic Smith
17-Dec-17 - 04:21 PM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
The concluding three paragraphs of Bert Lloyd's very full and thorough introduction to John Foreman's superbly produced publication of Ashton's Real Sailor Songs would be well worth quoting here:-
Ashton's collection is a splendid example of those "curiosities' that fascinated amateurs of popular literature and street epic in the nineteenth century and whose attraction has by no means faded yet. Sea-doggish Captain Whall was rather scornful of sailor song collections that "smell of the British Museum, much labour has been spent in hunting amongst old records, ballad sheets, and suchlike, and much musty stuff unearthed, which may be some value to the historian, but most of which is clean forgotten". In this respect, Ashton's choice cannot be found innocent. Most of the songs here have passed into oblivion, and it is usually easy to see why; many were little sung, and some probably not sung at all (for the appearance of a song on a broadside is no guarantee that it was ever performed). Still, a proportion of the songs in his volume found durable favour in the mouths of men before the mast.

In a way it is ironic that, more than the battle songs or the (usually more authentic) ballads of disaster at sea, the love lyrics and narratives of amorous encounter ashore are the central part of the seamen's repertory, and the part that lasted best among singers. The songs of separation and absence, the ballad in which the girl learns that her lover is lost at sea, or the sailor finds that his sweetheart is fickle, seem to hold immortal attractions. It has been remarked (by G. Malcolm Laws) that "these romantic and sentimental ballads fail to reflect the proverbial stoicism of seafaring men's loved ones. And yet by expressing the emotions caused by such tragedies, the balladists have struck chords of response among the folk, especially those who know the sea."

Perhaps in the long run these are the most real sailor songs of all, for in a way that is often tender and always elliptical they have within them a recognition of sadness and a longing for a better life, and even more than the outright songs of complaint the best of them accord with the view of "Jack Nastyface" who wrote at the end of his vivid account of lower-deck life as he had experienced it: "In contemplating the varied scene of so motley a profession as that of a sailor, there is much to be thought on with pleasure and much with a bitter anguish and disgust . . . Great Britain can truly boast her hearts of oak, the floating sinews of her existence; and if she could but once rub out those stains of wanton and torturing punishment, so often unnecessarily resorted to, and abandon the unnatural and uncivilised custom of impressment, then, and not till then can her navy be said to have got to the truck of perfection."
A.L Lloyd
Greenwich
Spring 1973