This is a song I only learned this week; in fact I only heard it for the second time this week, on playing Martin Carthy’s Second Album (which I’d bought a while back, played once and forgotten about). I was already planning to do Shirt and Comb, along with another conscription song, but I had no idea it had such a direct traditional ancestor. The extraordinary tune was a bonus.
It’s a strange, almost fairytale-like song: however short of men the navy was, it’s hard to imagine any bold sea captain haling a man out of his bed on his wedding night, as this one does. The geography is sketchy to say the least, and the final verse seems to have floated in from another song entirely (possibly Clerk Sanders). And yet the whole thing works beautifully.
Martin Carthy accompanied himself on guitar when he sang this, but I thought the tune was chunky enough to be taken unaccompanied. I also slowed it down; this took a bit of nerve – it always feels as if you’re going to lose the audience’s attention – but I think it worked. See what you think.