Sunday, 10 July 2011

A Garland for Sam

My fascination with English traditional music and song began, oddly enough, when I was a student in London; the only time when I didn't live in the countryside. The folk revival was in full swing but even then not many people were interested in hearing the original source material. For some reason, probably just cussedness, I had to be different and I tried to find recordings of the old men who sang unaccompanied. Luckily for me I found an LP of the singing of Sam Larner. Born in 1878, a former fisherman and a real character, Sam's humour, enthusiasm and love of life shone through every song. Among his historical ballads, broadsides and music hall songs was a fisherman's song with a rousing chorus. Unfortunately it only had two verses - a serious fault in a chorus song; but the sleeve notes told some of Sam's life story. So I took the chorus and one of his verses and somehow the rest of the song sort of wrote itself....

    Coil Away The Trawl Warp

Once I was a schoolboy and I lived a life of ease,
Then I was a smacksman who sailed the raging seas,
I thought I'd like sea-faring life but very soon I found
It wasn't all plain-sailing, boys, out on the fishing ground
Coil away the trawl warp, boys, lets heave on the trawl
When we get our fish on board we'll have another haul
Straightway to the capstan and merrily heave we all
That's the cry in the middle of the night
Haul on the trawl, boys, haul!

I've stood and watched the boats come in on each and every tide,
Seen the harbour so choc-full you could walk from side to side
All the lads of Winterton would run to lend a hand
And when we'd got them fish on shore there was nowhere left to stand!

Like my old Dad before me I worked beneath the sail
'Cos lads who never went to sea they mostly went to jail,
But then in Nineteen-twenty-nine the fishing grew so poor
That many an honest fisherman was cast up on the shore.

We did a bit of this and that to earn a couple of bob,
Planting trees and mending roads but not a proper job,
In the evenings we'd go down to have a couple of beers
To sing the old sea-faring songs and talk of former years.

The fishing days have gone away, there's no more to be said,
We might as well drink up our beer and all go home to bed,
But when I'm dead and in my grave I know you're going to see
A great big ghost that'll haunt this coast - singing just like me!

Take care.


  1. Ha! What a funny song...I could almost picture a tune to it. Or hear a tune? Loved the words, John. How funny it mentioned 1929 and if you didn't sail, you went to jail! I really liked this song!

  2. The words paint a picture of another time - Loved it!

  3. Very nice post-I loved the words : )

  4. Liz: The words have a lot of truth in them - there wasn't much alternative work to fishing so those who avoided it were probably up to no good and ended up in jail.
    Dianne: It was interesting to see that you were also in an old port area for your last post.
    Tipper: Thanks for your kind words. If you listen to some of the younger singers of folksong you may just hear that "great big ghost" - Sam's memory lives on.

  5. I'm very impressed with your extra verses - they are amusing but also very sad with our fishing fleets being virtually non existent now.

  6. One of the joys of "folk" ballads is that in addition to the story they tell, a tune does seem to hum itself along.

  7. Thanks for visiting my blog John - nice to meet you. I have added you to my side bar as I think we seem to be on the same wavelength! Do pop over again. Love the folk song.

  8. Thanks for the further comments. Comments were also one of Sam Larner's specialities, he'd sometimes interject words between the verses of a song or end it with something like "Tha's a true song, that is, that's all in 'istory"!

  9. This is perfect, John. I am still amazed to find that we share such similar interests, so many miles apart and in different cultures--yet our cousinship seems to carry a certain gene that loves the old ways and old music. I am loving getting to know you here.


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