It’s of a flash packet, La Pique is her name
All in the East Indies she bears great fame
For cruel bad usage of every degree
Like slaves in the galleys we plough the salt sea
This is another song I first heard many years ago on a Topic album. The melodeon here is my ancient Koch CF box, which I haven’t had long but really like using for this kind of thing. I think it dates from the 1920s before the Koch company became part of Hohner, and it’s funny to remember that dates back to a time when the crews of sailing ships still sang this song for their own entertainment.
I’m sorry to say I know very little about the origins of the song or the ship named La Pique that it describes – the references on the Internet seem to conflict. What’s more, to illustrate the song itself, I had to ‘borrow’ a photo of a completely different – though appropriately smart – packet ship from the mid-19th century.
The series of scans from Tait’s Seamanship I began a few days ago reminded me of the song Paddy West’s House, which describes a rather less salubrious ‘educational’ establishment that achieved celebrity status in the city of Liverpool a century and a half ago – not least because of the famously useless ‘sailors’ crimper West supplied to skippers waiting to leave the docks.
My recording made yesterday evening is linked above. The box, by the way, is my latest melodeon, an ancient two-row Koch melodeon that might have been made in the 1910s or ’20s. It has a nice soft tone that makes it very pleasant to sing with, and I think I’ll be using it from time to time.
I learned the song from a record as a teenager and over the last few days half-remembered that I had got it from an old Topic sampler of sea songs, on which it was sung by Stan Kelly – but looking at the online discographies, I must be mistaken – almost the only recordings of the song I can find on that label that I can find was by Ewan MacColl. I must take a look through my father’s vinyl recordings when I get a chance.
I should also add a small word of caution. I now realise there could not be such a sail as a ‘forward top mains’l, however salty it may sound – but the teenager that learned the song so many years ago didn’t know that, and I suspect the singer he got it from wasn’t aware either. So that’s another little job for me – get the lyrics technically right next time I sing it in public…
PS – Paul Mullings has pasted a nice alternative set of lyrics in the comments below. I hope this doesn’t mean he disapproves of mine!