This is a modern song in the shanty style, from Peter Bellamy’s ballad opera The Transports; on the original recording the lead was taken by Cyril Tawney (no less).
Like a number of other songs in The Transports, this song hits two very different targets. It sounds like a traditional shanty, just as The Black and Bitter Night, Us Poor Fellows and the Leaves in the Woodland sound like real broadside ballads; it’s entered the revival shanty repertoire, being sung by groups like Kimber’s Men. Very few people have ever been as adept as Bellamy at writing “in the tradition”; he combined a profound immersion in the traditional repertoire with – perhaps surprisingly – very little songwriterly ego. At the same time, the song forms part of a narrative: it moves the story forward and gets characters from A to B, literally in this case. It’s an extraordinary piece of work.
My arrangement is modelled on the version in the 1977 recording of The Transports; I particularly liked Tawney’s understated, almost chatty delivery of the verse lines, and tried to emulate it.