Songs Cl to Je
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Closing Of The Day
As the blackbird sings his evening song, the owl is waking up. As the weary farm-worker makes his way home, less reputable types like smugglers, poachers and folk-singers are starting their working day. So it goes.
A true story from 1865, but with lessons for today. Cuba, where the Cobre Mining Company produced copper ore for smelting in Swansea, was rife with yellow fever. The barque Hecla arrived off Swansea having lost three men on the voyage. Despite public health concerns, Cobre officials insisted the ship came into dock immediately to unload. No-one knew then that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes, which had survived the journey north due to exceptionally hot weather. Swarms of hungry insects were released in the centre of town, 28 people contracted yellow fever and 19 died. Will the money men ever put public safety ahead of profits? Don't hold your breath.
From a story told by Dick Sullivan, last of the Swansea Cape Horners. For his last voyage, as bosun on a steam ship, he was told to go to the railway bridge over Wind Street, Swansea (the usual "picking up point" for casual labour) and collect an old sailor down on his luck, give him a few odd jobs so he could feel he was still being useful. The old sailor turned out to be a captain that Dick had rounded the Horn with several times, but whose skills were now redundant with steam and the Panama Canal.
Drinks at the Cuba
The Cuba Inn, the Cape Horner and the Mexico Fountain were traditionally the three pubs where Swansea sailors enjoyed their last drinks and comforts ashore before setting off for the southern ocean. The song could be extended indefinitely by adding more pubs! It's great for singarounds, because it's nearly all chorus.
One of the earliest recorded shipwrecks on the Gower coast was in 1731, recorded because the cargo included over 200 elephant tusks. When the Revenue men arrived to salvage the cargo, it had all vanished. Notices threatened dire consequences for anyone hanging onto these "Elephants' Teeth", but only about 50 were ever recovered. Presumably the other 150 tusks, each about 6 ft (2m) long, are still "out there" to this day. Maybe not – Gower folk are resourceful.
Flight of Fancy
Swansea's iconic 'Slip Bridge' was the main way of crossing a busy road, the Mumbles Railway and three main line railway tracks to the beach. Swansea holidays started with a walk over the Slip Bridge. Old photos from the 1920s show holidaymakers formally dressed in their Sunday best suits on the beach. 'Holy Joe' was a local tram conductor and part-time evangelist who preached on the bridge on Bank Holidays. In 2004 the council removed the span 'temporarily' for repairs but never reinstated it. A local campaign group asked us to write a Slip Bridge song for them which we were pleased to do.
Good Ship Skyvie
Just a nonsense song, of the type enjoyed by sailors everywhere, in which nautical terminology gets deliberately mixed up. You may have wondered, when a ship sinks with all hands, how the story gets back for someone to write a song about it. That thought will be of no help whatsoever in understanding this song!
Jack Owen, another old Swansea sailor, left a humorous account of the food provided for ships' crews in Victorian times, as regulated by the Board of Trade. One of the men's favourites was a tinned meat product, an early forerunner of Spam, nicknamed "Harriet Lane" after the victim of a particularly brutal London murder!
Have A Good Time
What every sailor wants when he gets ashore - to have a good time. It isn't a sin and it isn't a crime, but it can sure get you into trouble. The tune is intended to be reminiscent of South American tango music.
The reflections, hopes and fears of an emigrant sailing away from Ireland to escape the 'Great Hunger' (1845-1852). The last many saw of Ireland would have been Mizzen Head and the nearby Fastnet Rock with its lighthouse, near which this song was written. Actually, almost as many emigrants came east to South Wales, especially Swansea, as went west to America, but that is seldom remembered.
Jerry the One-Legged Rigger
Old sailors spoke of "Jerry the one-legged rigger, who could be seen working aloft on the top-gallant yard, the empty leg of his trousers flapping in the wind" - we thought he deserved a song. The Hafod is the part of Swansea near the river, where the copper smelters were sited. Swansea was late in getting a floating dock - ships tied up at the riverbank (The Strand) and at low tide sat on the mud. This prevented the big, fast clippers from using Swansea - the typical Swansea barque was a small, flat-bottomed vessel of about 500 tons, with a crew of 10 to 12 - and in these little ships they went round Cape Horn in their hundreds