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Lighter Review: Davis & Tozer 50 Sailors Songs or Chanties (34) RE: Review: Davis & Tozer 50 Sailors Songs or Chanties 25 Feb 21


I posted this to the "Lowlands Away" origin thread five years ago:


Here's an important and previously unpublished text.

On September 29, 1917, retired seaman James F. McGinnis, of Brooklyn, N.Y., sent the following text (with tune) to the collector Robert W. Gordon:

"MY LOWLANDS, AWAY."

I dreamt a dream, the other night,
Lowlands, Lowlands, away, my John.
I dreamt a dream the other night
My Lowlands, away.

[Similarly:]

I dreamt I saw my own dear bride...

And she was dressed in shimmering white....

All dressed in white, like some fair bride....

And then she smiled her sweetest smile....

She sang and made my heart rejoice....

The salt sea weed was in her hair....

It filled my heart with dark despair....

And then I knew that she was dead....

Then I awoke to hear the cry....

"All hands on deck!", "Oh, Watch, Ahoy!"


McGinnis added, "P.S. This version I got from "P.G." and written as he sings it. It was sung mostly in ships running between Liverpool and Australian ports. He learned it [in] the early Eighties. I like it best of all the Lowland versions."

McGinnis sent Gordon a fair number of sea ballads but few shanties.

What makes this "Lowlands" especially interesting is its resemblance, in sentimental diction, to a good many lyrics in Harlow's "Chanteying" book. Harlow sailed in the late '70s.

Hugill's chantey versions essentially reflect the sensibility of the 1920s, when sentimentality was no longer thought "manly." But P.G.'s song, combined with Harlow and some others, concurs with many contemporary sources that sentimentality was an accepted feature of all Victorian pop culture.

Think Davis & Tozer. Indeed, P.G.'s lyrics resemble theirs, but are sufficiently different to show they aren't just a crib. His melody too differs a little.

So either D & T's "Lowlands" is fundamentally authentic, or it seemed perfectly acceptable to the chanteymen of the period.

Which in terms cultural acceptability amounts to almost the same thing.

(Recall that chanteyman Stanley Slade sang D & T's versions when he recorded for the BBC in the 1940s. Perhaps he thought they were good enough.)


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