Songs Co to H
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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.
Coffin Makers, The
Written for our Hallowe'en Show, an extravaganza of autumnal entertainments based around the mediaeval concept of a Festival of the Dead. Definitely not a children's programme. This is a ditty in the style of the Music Hall, featuring a pair of specialist carpenters. See also "The Undertaker's Men" for another similar number. If you're affected by any issues raised in these songs . . . . you probably shouldn't have come to a Hallowe'en Show in the first place.
Cuckoo and Thorn
One night, Andrew dreamt he was in a singaround at a folk festival, where someone sang this song about a cuckoo. Much to his surprise, he could remember the words when he woke up. No-one else seems to have heard it before, so we're claiming it as one of ours. Most folk songs about cuckoos and their nests are actually about something else completely, but we're not sure about this one - make your own minds up.
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. This has been mistaken for a genuine old capstan shanty by people who should really know better, but that's actually a compliment as that's the effect we're after.
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!
Gower Grey Mare, The
The Midwinter Horse tradition was once common across Britain, but only a few fragments remain now. Formed from a horse’s skull mounted on a pole and draped in a sheet, she’s called “Mari Lwyd” In Welsh-speaking parts of Wales. In English-speaking Gower, she was the Grey Mare, and went around at Christmas time collecting money, much like carol singers. This song seeks to explain the tradition, the collection for charity and the idea that donations ‘bought’ a share in the Good Luck attending the ceremony. The seasonal aspects are also important – in the depths of winter, it’s comforting to know that even a dead horse can come back to life, if the right songs are sung.
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!
Hurry That Cargo Down
Our idea for a dockside loading shanty. The verses are about the shantyman's girlfriends, of whom he seems to have many, and their hair, of which they seem to have lots. This song is in no way autobiographical. Any inuendo you may detect in the words is purely down to your own minds.