Mudcat Café message #4094385 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #169408   Message #4094385
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
22-Feb-21 - 10:50 PM
Thread Name: Review: Davis & Tozer 50 Sailors Songs or Chanties
Subject: RE: Review: Davis & Tozer 50 Sailors Songs or Chanties
Here, unformatted, is the passage on Davis & Tozer, [copy-pasted] from my manuscript of _Boxing the Compass_.

Sailors’ Songs or “Chanties”
- The title of the first anthology published in Britain, 1887

There was another collection of sailor-songs published just before [LA] Smith’s, although Smith would not have been aware of it in time (her introduction is dated June 1887). Yet this, also a British work, would become perhaps the most influential early collection of all: Davis and Tozer’s Sailors’ Songs or “Chanties” (published Aug. 1887). As a reference work it brings its own set of problems. For one, it is not written as a study of chanties, but rather provides a set of twenty-four songs designed to be performed, one can only imagine, as curious entertainment. The musical scores it contains are fleshed out with piano accompaniment, which, beyond being a convention of the time, raises the question of just who would have been interested to perform the songs at that time. Indeed, the use of “chanties” in quotes, as in Smith, confirms that the mainstream public was still not very familiar with the genre in the mid-1880s (whereas, we learned from Russell, they would become rapidly familiar by the end of that decade). What is in fact more notable is that, in order to provide “full” songs for novices to perform, texts of many, connected verses are provided. Earlier publications rarely went beyond a single verse. When they did, reflecting what might have been really sung, the texts made no coherent whole. This does much to explain the lasting popular appeal of Davis and Tozer’s work.

Captain Frederick J. Davis (?-1919) was in the merchant service for thirty years. Yet while that may lead us to assume that he learned the songs firsthand, he says that he consulted members of Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine for the airs of some songs. Of the pair of editors, Davis was the sailor-authority, while Ferris Tozer was responsible for creating the musical settings. On the surface, it would appear (as many later writers would accept) that Davis was sharing authentic knowledge of chanties from his experience. And it is plausible that he was at least familiar with all of them. However, the form of the lyrics is suspicious. When we compare Davis' texts to other documented versions of the same chanties, they often read as artificial or excessively polished in order to sound literary. Some of the seeming “nonsense” verse one finds in chanty texts as actually performed was rationalized to suit what was presumably the need of Davis’ audience for rational texts with literal meanings. Close reading of Davis’ texts and comparison to other sources of evidence further suggests that after the first or second verse of each song, the rest of what was offered may have been entirely invented for publication. Even where verses sound plausibly authentic, there are as many cases where they seem unrealistic. For instance, the evidence now available suggests that the world “hilo” in chanties was something of indeterminate meaning (or with no verbal meaning at all) originating in African-American country songs. Yet in presenting “Tom’s Gone to Ilo [Hilo],” Davis interprets it as the South American port of Ilo, which in turn may have inspired his line, “Hilo town is in Peru.” [11] We may never know for sure if sailors themselves had made this “error,” or if Davis contrived it in the moment, however, enough such suspect instances in the work point to a heavy editorial hand. All this makes the work an unacceptable source for historical evidence of the forms of chanties.

A second edition of Davis and Tozer’s work came out in 1890, quickly followed by a third in 1891. [12] These added twenty-six chanties to the work, bringing the count up to fifty songs of which the editors acknowledge their debt to L. A. Smith. In fact, what they did was take examples from Smith’s collection—several of which really originate with Alden—and extrapolate new lyrics. Later on, at the height of a chanty-singing revival among landsmen, Davis and Tozer’s collection was issued again in a very slightly revised edition (1927). Its new forward invoked the idea of “folk music.” [13]

11. Frederick J. Davis and Ferris Tozer, Sailors’ Songs or “Chanties”, third edition (London: Boosey, n.d. [1891]), 44.
12. I am indebted to Jonathan Lighter for his assistance in working out the editions.
13. Frederick J. Davis and Ferris Tozer, Sailors’ Songs or “Chanties”, revised edition (London: Boosey, n.d. [1927]), 3.
Some notes from later:
In a January 1906 article, Masefield presented thirteen chanties. With each appear, oddly enough, the corresponding musical scores for piano accompaniment that appeared in Davis and Tozer’s most recent edition. This is strange indeed because the scores do not provide the tunes to the chanties! Perhaps it was an editorial oversight. And yet this is an important clue to Masefield’s process. Davis and Tozer’s versions of chanties were, up to this point, by far the most ballad-like and “literary.” Being as far as possible from the doggerel found in other works, they were also arguably the most culturally “English” in their texts. For instance, whereas in the mouths of sailors on record, “Sally Brown” was a “bright mullata” and a “Creole lady” with a “nigger baby,” Davis’ Sally’s “eyes are blue” and Masefield (elsewhere) says, “Your cheeks are red, your hair is golden.” While sailors certainly may have imagined “Sally” however they wished, Davis and Masefield’s choice to make her White (presumably) stands out, and this is just one example among other ways that they can be read as having an artificial-sounding “high society” cast. Masefield also says that he made use of L. A. Smith, the recent performance-ready eight-chanty collection by Bradford and Fagge (1904), and a few other less-notable articles.
For sailors’ chanties, any singing on land has tended to be related to what might be called “revival.” This is because such singing is not of the working practice but rather of laypeople imagining the tradition through leisure-time performance. From this perspective, Davis and Tozer’s performance-ready collection would seem to be first evidence of interest by “landsmen,” though I have no direct evidence of it being used as such. There is, however, an incident on record that shows that at least one group of literary types had taken an interest already in the nineteenth century. In February 1895, at one of the weekly meetings of the Manchester Literary Club, one J. B. Shaw presented a paper on chanties. It was accompanied by performances, with piano accompaniment. He certainly may have made up his own piano accompaniment, but it is quite possible, too, that the men who performed used the only published collection with piano parts at that point: Davis and Tozer. The news brief reporting the event quotes two sentences verbatim from Alden’s 1882 article, which may also have been consulted for tunes, however it is Davis’ spelling of “chanties” that is used. They also speak of “preserving” the songs, which, if it was expected that performing would be apart of this preservation effort, would make this a prototype for the “folk-singing” approach. Were these the first rumblings of a revival?

Another deliberate, early effort to revive chanties, even if as a momentary novelty, resulted in the creation of a British eight-chanty collection by Bradford and Fagge, 1904. It is probably safe to assume that the role of Arthur Fagge (1864-1943), an English organist and choral conductor of note, was that of arranger. While the offerings of familiar chanties look original for the most part, there are numerous verses that are both contrived-sounding and too similar to Davis and Tozer’s collection not to have been borrowed from it. As in that work, all the items are performance-ready with piano accompaniment. And as with effort to recreate chanty performances by the Manchester Literary Club, Bradford and Fagge’s volume was met with enthusiasm for its potential use by laypeople. A review remarked, “All the songs… would be admirable for singing at smoking concerts and other festive gatherings. …an admirable addition to the library of choral societies.” The Musical Times for April 1906 notes that the Dulwich Philharmonic Society devoted the entire second half of a recent performance to these chanties, conducted by Fagge.