Sea shanty: Haul On The Bowline

This is a recording of proper old time shanty singer Stan Hugill – who was also a scholar on the subject (and many others) and author of classic works on the subject of sea songs.

You’ll notice there was something pretty wild about Hugill’s singing that we don’t hear so much today (I’m not sure I could do it!), and also that he sang more slowly than shanty performers of modern times.

Recordings of old shanty singers made by American folklorist Alan Lomax make another point about shanty singing – in general shanties were sung much slower (to match the jobs they were designed to assist) than we tend to sing them today. Hear them here.

Bert Lloyd wrote that this particular shanty may be particularly old, because the bowline – a sail control line on a ship rather than the well known knot – had been long out of use even in the time when shanties were collected.

Haul on the Bowline

1. Haul on the bowlin’, the bully ship’s a-rolling,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!

2. Haul on the bowlin’, Kitty is me darlin’,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!

3. Haul on the bowlin’, Kitty comes from Liverpool,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!

4. Haul on the bowlin’, it’s a far cry to payday,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!

5. Haul on the bowlin’, Kitty is me darlin’,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!

6. Haul on the bowlin’, Kitty comes from Liverpool,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!

7. Haul on the bowlin’ so early in the mornin’,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!

8. Haul on the bowlin’ and the old man he’s a-growlin’,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!

9. Haul on the bowlin’ we don’t know where we’re going,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!

10. Haul on the bowlin’ and the sooner we’re get going,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!

Shanty verse lyrics are mostly ‘floaters’ – they’re shared with other shanties to different tunes, and can be sung in just about any order, and in real life were often just made up on the spot about people known to the crew. This is a collection made up from bits and pieces I found in the space of a few minutes around the WWW…

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3 thoughts on “Sea shanty: Haul On The Bowline”

  1. Not sure about the term “proper old shanty singer…” Stan Hugill was simply authentic. He was one of the last professional shanty singers. He learnt his trade first hand. He was not party to the pretty harmonious arrangements beloved of today’s shanty singers aka folk singers. I have tried modern shanties on board some of today’s sail training tall ships – they do not work – the work is too easy compared to the days of Hugill’s time. “2-6-heave” seems to be the only chant used with any success. Remembering a video of Stan Hugill demonstrating ‘Rueben Ranzo,’ the song was anything but pretty. The Folk Club favourite of “Ranzo me Boyzzzzz, Ranzooooooooooo” was a decidedly breathless and curt “Ranzo Boys Ranzo”. With two men on the rope end horizontal from the bottom pulley, and Stan yanking vertically on the centre strand of a three strand block & pulley arrangement. It was a revelation. As he was want to say – three , men and a song were all they had. BTW there is a pub by the name “Stan Hugill” near the harbourside in the Port of Brest in West France. How many pubs in the UK are named after well-known folk singers – likely none?

    1. I think you realise what I was saying – a ‘proper old’ shanty singer surely is the same as an ‘authentic’ shanty singer? That’s what I meant anyhow.

      My take is that back in the 50s and 60s and a little later folklorists and revivalists had a good chance of knowing what shanties sounded like when used aboard a ship in the old days. These days, however, you have to go digging in the sound archives and videos…

      Your point about breathlessness is well taken.

      G

      1. Yeah – I was having a little dig at the term ‘old’ ‘cos when Stan was working the ships (generic term) and learning his trade he must have been a young fit guy!! I was also referring in oblique terms to the shanty singers of today (incl. such as Fisherman’s Friend) who appear to be well older than average. And what they put on is a ‘performance.’ Heck – they even do shanty ‘performances’ at tall ships festivals – with never a block or tackle in sight. Stan never did a performance in his life. His shanties were for doing hard physical work to – rarely if ever emulated today.

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