This recording was created out of a bilateral desire. First, to provide a companion for the seafaring novels of Patrick O’Brian (the Aubrey-Maturin series), and second, to present a collection of traditional songs from the heyday of the Royal Navy.
To achieve the first goal I researched the traditional songs O’Brian inserts into his wonderfully detailed historical fiction. I chose thirteen songs and tunes the author cites, and added eleven more that might have been heard on board a British man-of-war at the beginning of the 19th century. To give the listener an idea of what sailor music of that time might have sounded like, I’ve tried to use historically accurate pronunciation and traditional singing styles. For example, at that time singing was seldom accompanied by instruments, so all the songs in this collection are presented a capella.
In pursuit of the second goal I traced the origins of as many of the songs as possible. Based on my research, all the songs were in circulation during the early 1800s. While some are still sung today (indeed, there are a few here that I learned solely through oral transmission and have yet to find in print), several have existed only as words on paper for 200 years. By finding period tunes to match these lyrics I’ve tried to give these songs new life.
What makes traditional songs wonderful – besides the pleasure there is in singing them – is that they are artifacts of the past, as much as any item in a museum display case. These songs allow us to look into the lives of ordinary people in a unique way, to connect directly to them through the act of singing the same words to the same tunes. A foremast hand on a man-of-war did sing these songs, I am sure, and so can you.
I hope you’ll enjoy this recording on both levels, enhancing your pleasure in Mr. O’Brian’s books, and catching a glimpse of an earlier time.
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Alan Stockwell at Soundesign Studios, Brattleboro, VT, in April, 2000.
Produced by Jerry Bryant.
With thanks to Richard Kapp, for having such faith; Robin Harrington, for loan of the whistle; to Eric and to Kevin, for encouragement and support; and most of all to Fran, without whom this would not have been possible.