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!


 

Last Watch
© Andrew McKay

  Watching the Last Watch roll by
  Watching the Last Watch roll by
  Dawn is breaking and painting the sky
  And we're watching the Last Watch roll by

It's darkest before the dawn
Stillest before the storm
There's work to be done before we turn for home
But we're watching the Last Watch roll by

There's a time to sign on for the trip
A time to be leaving your ship
A time to come on, and a time to be gone
And we're watching the Last Watch roll by

There's a time to set off and to roam
A time to be turning for home
A time for 'Good Luck' and a time for 'Goodbye'
And we're watching the Last Watch roll by

When you're young you can work way up high
When you're older, those jobs pass you by
From now on, I'll be found with both feet on the ground
And we're watching the Last Watch roll by
  Watching the Last Watch roll by
  Watching the Last Watch roll by
  Dawn is breaking and painting the sky
  And we're watching the Last Watch roll by

Written on the bridge of a sail-training ship going up the Bristol Channel overnight, the Last Watch of our voyage. Andrew had already discovered that he's getting too old for working aloft, but he's really good at sailing an armchair.

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Laying Up Silver (SS&S)
© Andrew McKay

I once was a young man, like these fellows here,
Cheered as we put out to sea;
I had youth, I had strength, I'd the world at my feet,
And a young woman waiting for me.
   And when I got to Cuba, I swore I'd work hard,
   Lay up some silver one day,
   Ah but laying up silver's like laying up sand,
   On the bar at the mouth of the bay

I surely worked hard, and I surely worked long,
For sweat more than silver, I'd say;
And to keep myself going, I needed a song,
And a rum at the end of the day

I watched young men arriving, saw old fellows go,
Watched as yellow-jack swept them away,
And the silver I laid up, it ran through my hands,
Like the sands on the shore of the bay.

Then a letter from home, I got only the one,
And that one was only to say,
That the woman who waited, had married a man
Who stood in a grocer's all day.

And I can't say I blame her, for even I know,
As I sit with the rum and the pain,
That laying up silver is laying me low,
I'll never sail homewards again.
   And when I got to Cuba, I swore I'd work hard,
   Lay up some silver one day,
   Ah but laying up silver's like laying up sand,
   On the bar at the mouth of the bay

One of the main sources of copper ore for Swansea's smelters was Cuba.  Fortunes could be made there, in mining or sugar production, but yellow fever (yellow-jack) took so many lives that Le Cobre, the main copper producing area of Cuba, became known as the 'Swansea Graveyard'.  Not based on any specific happening, but this sort of story must have been all too common in the days of sail.

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Let Me Breathe (SS&S)

© Andrew McKay

  Let me breathe, let me breathe
  Let me see another daybreak,
  Let me breathe


Flanders mud is unforgiving,
  Let me breathe
When it presses on the living
  Let me breathe
In a dugout under clay
Along with eight good pals I lay
To await the coming day
  Let me breathe

Then a shell burst overhead
  Let me breathe
Loud enough to wake the dead
  Let me breathe
Where we laid us down to sleep
Were mud and timbers in a heap,
And nine men buried deep
  Let me breathe

We were buried deep in mud
  Let me breathe
Gasping air, coughing blood
  Let me breathe
In the darkness of the night
No-one dared to bring a light,
Though men cried in pain and fright
  Let me breathe

I shall not forget the sound
  Let me breathe
Of shovels striking ground
  Let me breathe
Though they dug me out alive
Still it was too late for five:
Only four of us survived
  Let me breathe

Now I'm back on Blighty's ground
  Let me breathe
I am convalescence-bound
  Let me breathe
But unto my dying day
I know that part of me will stay
Buried deep in Flanders clay
  Let me breathe

  Let me breathe, let me breathe
  Let me see another daybreak,
  Let me breathe

In 1917 Charles Mew, a tramway maintenance man from Swansea, was near Ypres in Flanders, serving as Lance Corporal with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.  His unit was waiting behind the lines to go forward and relieve another unit from the fighting trenches when the incident recounted here happened.

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Lifeboat Horses
(PBLG)
© Andrew McKay

In the village of Mumbles, at the end of the bay,
They keep two fine horses, a brown and a grey,
When the signals ring out they are harnessed away,
To go down to the sea for the lifeboat.
And the lifeboat crew's coxswain he mentions with pride,
How the brown and the grey, they would work side by side,
By day or by night, at high or low tide,
To go down to the sea for the lifeboat.
  To go down to the sea for the lifeboat
  To go down to the sea for the lifeboat
  By day or by night, at high or low tide,
  To go down to the sea for the lifeboat

And also in Mumbles there lives a proud man,
With mutton-chop whiskers and gloves on his hands,
Who makes a fine living from the dead of the land,
In his sombre black hat and his frock-coat.
And he's got two horses, they're regal and black,
They stand in the traces, with plumes on their backs,
He takes many folks forward, brings none of them back,
In his sombre black hat and his frock-coat.
  In his sombre black hat and his frock-coat
  In his sombre black hat and his frock-coat

  He takes many folks forward, brings none of them back
  In his sombre black hat and his frock-coat


But the black horses sickened, they lay on the floor,
The horse-doctor came round, with his potions galore,
He said "No more hearse driving for a fortnight or more,
In your sombre black hat and your frock-coat."
"But the squire's just died, oh it couldn't be worse,
I haven't a horse for to handle the hearse!"
Then he scratched at his head, and he muttered a curse,
In his sombre black hat and his frock-coat.

Then he said "These two horses, the grey and the brown,
They were bought and maintained for the good of the town,
They do nothing all day but just wander around,
And go down to the sea for the lifeboat!"
Well, the brown and the grey didn't quite look the part,
In the nodding black plumes of the old dead-man's cart,
But they started off strongly, and the proud man took heart,
In his sombre black hat and his frock-coat.

 'Twas a stormy old day but they pulled with a will,
On squire's last trip to the top of the hill,
'Til the signal rang out from the coastguard so shrill,
"Come down to the sea for the lifeboat!"
Well, the horses they faltered, and then they stood still,
And then they turned round and walked back down the hill,
Though the proud man he hollered and hauled with a will,
They went down to the sea for the lifeboat

They pulled that old hearse right out into the bay,
The mourners stood watching in shock and dismay,
As the squire's remains drifted out and away,
Going right out to sea like a lifeboat.
And from that day to this, the brown and the grey,
Have had nothing to do but to eat grass all day,
'Til the signal rings out from the coastguard to say,
"Come down to the sea for the lifeboat!"

  Come down to the sea for the lifeboat
  Come down to the sea for the lifeboat
  'Til the signal rings out from the coastguard to say
  Come down to the sea for the lifeboat


I like to think that this is a true story (it certainly SHOULD be).  If not, it is at least a genuine legend from Mumbles, the fishing village at the western end of Swansea Bay, also known as Oystermouth.  The story originated before the building of the pier with its lifeboat station did away with the need for launches from a horse-drawn wagon.  The old lifeboat station with its slipway is still preserved, between Knab Rock and the pier.

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Limestone Harvest (SS&S)

© Andrew McKay

Some of us are fishers, dragging oysters from the bay
Some of us are farm-hands from along the wagon way
But when we see the ships appear, coming round the head
We hurries to the cliff-face and harvest stone instead'
  While the oysters rest, before the fields are mown,
  We cut stone


The farmer's fields must have their lime, to keep the soil sweet
Or else they won't give all we need, of 'tatoes, kale and beet
We cart the limestone to the kiln and there we roast it down
Then mix it with the farm-soil and spread it on the ground

The parishes buy chippings, to help maintain the roads
So Mr Taylor's omnibus can rush by with its loads
We sees it coming miles away, it raises dust in clouds
Which settles over everything, a thick white dusty shroud

We sells our stone to Bideford, they comes across in ships
The sailors call 'em 'muffies' and they beach 'em by the slips
We loads the stone in quickly, 'til the tide begins to flow
Then watch the boats begin to float, and cheer 'em as they go

There's limestone in the whitewash that keeps our houses neat
Limestone in the air we breathe and underneath our feet
There's money in the oyster-beds, there's money in the fields
But it's the limestone harvest that gives the greatest yield
  While the oysters rest, before the fields are mown,
  We cut stone

The south coast of Gower is made of spectacular limestone cliffs which in Victorian times provided a welcome second income to many local families.  The stone was burned in kilns to make fertiliser, used as chippings for surfacing roads and made into mortar and limewash for walls.  Devon, across the Bristol Channel, is mainly sandstone, and a lucrative trade sprang up in Gower limestone.  The boats used were mainly described technically as 'Hermaphrodite Brigs', which became 'Muffies' in the local dialect.

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Made Of Wood
(PBLG)
© Andrew McKay

I am a seafaring carpenter and timbering is my trade,
I sails from Swansea round Cape Horn, on ships that are timber-made
At the trunking and the shuttering-up you'll find me very good,
I'll fix up any thing you want as long as it's made of wood.
  Made of wood, made of wood,
  I'll fix up any thing you want as long as it's made of wood.


Well, when it's time to leave the town, we loads her up with coal,
I builds the shutters and the chutes that tumble it into the hold,
I makes the hatches watertight, to be sure that we don't flood,
A ship'll be safe as anything, as long as it's made of wood
  Made of wood, made of wood, (etc)

And when we gets to Valipo, the lighters they comes around,
I builds the wooden winches that will lower the cargo down,
They creaks away for days on end, with a rattle and a thud,
I appreciate these contrivances, as long as they're made of wood
  Made of wood, made of wood, (etc)

Before we winch the copper aboard, I must fit the trunking in,
It holds the copper ore secure, it's like a second skin,
For if the cargo should shift about, that wouldn't do any good,
I keeps it secure and Swansea-style, in my shuttering made of wood
  Made of wood, made of wood, (etc)

And on the passage homeward I spends most of my time in the hold,
Making sure the trunking's secure, no matter how we've rolled,
For that is where I likes to be, it's where I can do most good,
Between the shuttering and the hull, and they're both of them made of wood
  Made of wood, made of wood, (etc)

Well, once down by the Falkland Isles a mast was carried away
I rigged a replacement jury up in less than half a day
We sailed into Port Stanley then, as quick as ever we could,
There's plenty of ways to fix a mast, as long as it's made of wood
  Made of wood, made of wood, (etc)

Now I hear they're making ships of iron, to sail upon the sea,
I don't know what'd become of them, or what'd become of me,
But how do you nail up bits of iron, that've come adrift in the flood?
You'd only get me to go to sea on a ship that's been made of wood
  Made of wood, made of wood, (etc)

I am a seafaring carpenter and timbering is my trade,
I sails from Swansea round Cape Horn, on ships that are timber-made
At the trunking and the shuttering-up you'll find me very good,
I'll fix up any thing you want as long as it's made of wood.
  Made of wood, made of wood,
  I'll fix up any thing you want as long as it's made of wood.


Copper ore can be a dangerous cargo.  If it shifts in the hold it can unbalance and capsize the ship.  Swansea ingenuity came up with the 'trunk', a wooden structure built into the hold to stabilize the cargo.  This is dismantled for the outward voyage with coal, because a cargo of coal takes up more room.  'Valipo' is the Swansea sailors' nickname for Valparaiso in Chile, where much of the copper ore was obtained.  It had limited dock facilities, and cargoes had to be ferried between ship and shore in small boats called 'lighters'.

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Mary Baker (CHAR)
© Carole Etherton
 

  Portsmouth town, Portsmouth town
  No girls are ever better than in Portsmouth town

My name's Mary Baker, a Madam is m' trade
I take care of the sailors, see the money paid
Pretty girls I hire them all the while
With dainty little figures and sparkling smile
  Portsmouth town, Portsmouth town
  You'll always find your pleasure here in Portsmouth town
  Portsmouth town, Portsmouth town
  No girls are ever better than in Portsmouth town

Get ready girls the fleet's in town
Put on your silky stockings and lacy gown
Fancy shoes, fine combed hair
Then we'll go parading in the carriage and pair

In my high red wig & jewels in m' teeth
I'm known to all the sailors here in Water Street
Velvet choker fur & fancy 'at
Mary Baker is the best, no doubt about that

Across the Piscataqua they come for girls to buy
With money in their pockets, a twinkle in their eye
At Gloucester House we treat 'em mighty fine
Strip 'em of their money send 'em back to toe the line

So farewell sailors, back to sea you go
No money in your pocket, powder runnin' low
In Portsmouth Town you'll be happy you did meet
Mary Baker and her girls from Water Street
  Portsmouth town, Portsmouth town
  You'll always find your pleasure here in Portsmouth town
  Portsmouth town, Portsmouth town
  No girls are ever better than in Portsmouth town

The importance of aggressive advertising, product quality and customer satisfaction!  This is Portsmouth, New Hampshire, across the Piscataqua River from the US Naval base.  Mary Baker ran her establishment in Water Street from 1897 to 1912, when the red-light district was cleaned up and renamed Marcy Street.

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May No More (CHAR)
© Andrew McKay

My father was a fisherman who drowned beneath the tide
My mother's heart was broken, in another year she died,
So I made my way to Sailortown from my home upon the shore,
You can call me Maggie though I'm May no more.
  Oh Maggie, Maggie May, that's what they used to say,
  As I took my evening promenade along beside the bay,
  But now I'm growing older on Australia's convict shore,
  You can call me Maggie though I'm May no more.

I met up with a soldier boy who said he loved me true,
He'd guard me and he'd care for me, and I believed him too,
But he knocked the young girl out of me, and pushed me out the door,
You can call me Maggie though I'm May no more.

An innkeeper then told me of a room where I could stay,
If I did some 'little favours' there'd be no rent to pay,
His clientele abused me well, and despised me as a whore,
You can call me Maggie though I'm May no more.

A topsailman awash with rum passed out upon my bed,
I found his watch and moneybox in a pouch beneath his head,
I took them both in payment for the life that I'd endured,
You can call me Maggie though I'm May no more.

So they took me to a courtroom with a judge in robes of red,
Though he'd never worn that long wig when he'd rumbled me in bed,
He said I was a danger both to virtue and the law,
You can call me Maggie though I'm May no more.

And he sent me here to New South Wales, to prove crime doesn't pay,
And that those who break society's rules must suffer every day,
While he sits at home in Sailortown with his whisky and his whores,
You can call me Maggie though I'm May no more.
  Oh Maggie, Maggie May, that's what they used to say,
  As I took my evening promenade along beside the bay,
  But now I'm growing older on Australia's convict shore,
  You can call me Maggie though I'm May no more.

A re-write of the "Maggie May" story from Maggie's point of view.  There's always at least two sides to any story. Although the original song is most often associated with Liverpool, Stan Hugill does give a Swansea version. 'Sailortown' of course could be anywhere, and often was.

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Navigator Lady (SS&S)
© Andrew McKay

If you're tired of sailing as an old AB,
  See the Navigator Lady
She'll lay it out just like yer ABC,
  She's the Navigator Lady
So if it's navigation that you want'a know,
If you want'a tell your ship which way to go,
If you want'a tell your Cuba from your Callao,
  See the Navigator Lady


Oh her Daddy was the skipper of a coastal sloop,
  She's the Navigator Lady
She learned her trade upon the Old Man's poop,
  She's the Navigator Lady
She learned about the tides around the coastal beds,
Learned to test the bottom with the sounding lead,
She learned to tell her Mousehole from her Mumbles Head,
  She's the Navigator Lady

With her Navigator's ticket from the Board of Trade,
  She's the Navigator Lady
She's come aboard as the anchor's weighed,
  She's the Navigator Lady
With her old brass sextant and a brand new clock,
To see her on the after-deck is something of a shock,
But she'll get you back from Norwich to the old North Dock,
  She's the Navigator Lady

Now she's ashore and the Old Man's dead,
  She's the Navigator Lady
She's setting up a school in the parlour instead,
  She's the Navigator Lady
She'll teach you lots of things that you might find queer,
Like how to drink tomato juice instead of beer,
But to learn to get from Montreal to Mumbles Pier,
  See the Navigator Lady

Some say a lady shouldn't be like that,
  Like the Navigator Lady
Just walk around town in a flowery hat;
  Not the Navigator Lady
There's ladies that will help you to spend your pay,
Ladies that will tell you to go away,
But to get from Santiago back to Swansea Bay
  See the Navigator Lady

There's ladies that will help you to spend your pay,
Ladies that will tell you to go away,
But to get from Santiago back to Swansea Bay
  See the Navigator Lady

Sarah Jane Rees from South-West Wales was the first British woman to get a Board of Trade ticket in her own right as an officer in the merchant navy. Born in 1839, she achieved this in the 1860s, when women were expected to do no such thing. After leaving the sea, she set up a school for ambitious sailors, teaching them the navigational skills they'd need to qualify for their own officer tickets. She was prominent in other areas too, some of which must have seemed incongruous to the sailors she trained. She was a nonconformist lay preacher and a leading figure in the South Wales temperance movement. She won a chair for bardic poetry at the National Eisteddfodd, and edited and produced a Welsh language periodical for women that ran successfully for over 13 years. She died in 1916.

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