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Henry Martin / The Lofty Tall Ship

[ Roud 104 ; Child 250 ; Ballad Index C250 ; trad.]

Phil Tanner sang the pirate ballad Young Henry Martin in a Columbia recording made in 1937 (CA 16052-2) that was included on the anthology, The Child Ballads 2 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 5; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968), in 1968 on his eponymous EFDSS album Phil Tanner, in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Ship Shall Sail the Ocean (The Voice of the People Volume 2), and in 2003 on his Veteran anthology The Gower Nightingale. The EFDSS album's notes commented:

A well known pirate ballad with more than one traditional tale woven into its history. The character most often associated with the song was John Barton, a Scot captured by Portugal in 1474. Barton's three sons were given letters of reprisal against the Portuguese, but they seemed to have used these an an excuse for general piracy. Henry VIII sent Lord Charles Howard to capture the pirate Burtons, and they were killed at sea. In 1812 another character entered the ballad; Captain Charles Stewart, who replaced Lord Charles Howard in one version.

The Henry Martin ballad is often linked with Sir Andrew Barton (Child 167 [and indeed it has the same Roud number 104]) although Cecil Sharp believed that the latter had nothing in common with Henry Martin.

A.L. Lloyd sang Henry Martin in 1956 on his and Ewan MacColl's Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume IV. This and his other songs from this album were reissued in 2011 on his Fellside CD Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun. Lloyd also sang Henry Martin accompanied by Alf Edwards playing concertina on his and Ewan MacColl's 1964 album English and Scottish Folk Ballads. He commented in a quite long essay:

In the earliest days of capitalist competition, there was often little difference between the merchantman and the pirate ship. In 1746, some Portuguese vessels plundered a rich Scottish ship owned by the merchant John Barton. As a result, the Scottish king granted “letters of reprisal” to the merchant's sons, Andrew, Robert and John. Helped by his two brothers, and armed with the king's permit, Sir Andrew Barton attacked not only ships of the Portuguese trade (at that time the richest in the world, due to discoveries and acquisitions in India) but also Flemish vessels engaged in business, legal or illegal, in the North Sea. Sir Andrew was a fierce man, who sent three barrels of salted Flemish pirates' heads as a present to King James IV in 1506. A few years later, he took to piracy against English ships. Henry VIII sent out several vessels after him, and in a battle on August 2, 1511, Barton was killed, his ship captured, and (it is said) his head was cut off and taken to England for display. A long ballad (82 verses!) was made about the piracy, pursuit and defeat of Sir Andrew Barton. It was printed and sold from cheap stationers' stalls in St. Paul's churchyard and elsewhere. In the course of time, as it was passed on by word of mouth from one country singer to another, it grew shorter. At length, only the first part of the ballad, the account of the piracy, was remembered. Perhaps through mis-hearing at some stage, the name of the bold Scottish seaman had become altered from “Andrew Barton” to “Henry Martin”, and in that form it became fixed and survived well into the twentieth century in many parts of England, in several versions that, on the whole, differ only slightly from each other. The Aeolian (La mode) tune used here was noted some sixty years ago from Roger Luxton, of Halwell, Devon, by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould.

Sam Larner sang this song as The Lofty Tall Ship in two different recordings; one was recorded by Philip Donnellan for the BBC at Larner's home in Winterton, Norfolk in 1958 or 1959 and published on his 1974 album A Garland for Sam, on the Topic anthology We've Received Orders to Sail (The Voice of the People Series, Vol. 12, 1998), and on the compilation CD English Originals. The other version is on Now is the Time for Fishing: Songs and Speech by Sam Larner of Winterton, England. Here it is called Henry Martin and can easily be distinguished by the second verse starting with “where” instead of “now where”.

Jimmie MacGregor sang Henry Martin in a recording made by Peter Kennedy at Cecil Sharp House that was published in 1960 on the HMV album A Pinch of Salt: British Sea Songs Old and New.

Peter Bellamy learned Lofty Tall Ship from the singing of Sam Larner and sang it in 1968 on his first solo LP, Mainly Norfolk. He commented in the album's liner notes:

The late Sam Larner was not, perhaps, such a grand or subtle singer as Harry Cox, but what he lacked in finesse he compensated for with enormous vitality and humour. From him comes this grand version of the pirate ballad Henry Martin, called by Sam The Lofty Tall Ship.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang Henry Martin in 1964 on his W&G EP Folk Songs.

Bert Jansch sang Henry Martin in 1966 on his Transatlantic album Jack Orion.

Cyril Tawney sang Henry Martin in 1969 on his Polydor album The Outlandish Knight: Traditional Ballads from Devon and Cornwall and in 1992 on his privately issued Neptune cassette Seamen Bold: Songs of Voyages, Battles and Shipwrecks.

Tom Gilfellon sang this ballad as We Had Not Been A-Sailing in 1972 on his Trailer album Loving Mad Tom.

Derek and Dorothy Elliott sang Henry Martin in 1976 on their Traditional Sound Recordings album Yorkshire Relish.

John Wright sang Henry Martin in 1978 on his Topic album Unaccompanied. He noted:

This is Phil Tanner’s well-known version, made famous a few years ago by Joan Baez, but with a rather unfortunate melodramatic chromatic run in the third line which I have always disliked. I have preferred to restore the modal structure that Tanner used.

Bob Roberts sang Henry Martin on his 1981 Solent album Breeze for a Bargeman.

Louis Killen sang Henry Martin in 1995 on his CD Sailors, Ships & Chanteys.

Brian Peters sang Henry Martin in 1997 on his CD Sharper Than the Thorn.

Martin Carthy learned The Lofty Tall Ship from Sam Larner too, and sang it in 2002 on Waterson:Carthy's fourth album, A Dark Light. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:

For myself, there were two people in the late 1950s whose unforgettable wildly different performances—one at the Troubadour Folk Club in Earl's Court and the other at Ewan MacColl's Ballads and Blues Club in the upstairs room of a pub in the Edgware Road (the name of which I can't remember)—decided for me the musical direction which my life was going to take. That pub, close to the old Metropolitan Theatre, may lie buried along with that famous theatre under the flyover which leads on to the M40 westway, but the memory will never, ever fade. The people I'm talking about are Séamus Ennis, whose version of The Devil and the Farmer starts this CD off, and Sam Larner, whose mighty telling of the Henry Martin story in Lofty Tall Ship was probably the single moment that ensured—bewildered though I was by what I thought of at the time at its baffling tune—that this music would embed its hooks into me for life.

Dr Faustus (Tim van Eyken, Robert Harbron, Benji Kirkpatrick and Paul Sartin) sang Young Henry Martin in 2003 on their Fellside CD The First Cut.

The Askew Sisters sang Henry Martin in 2010 on their WildGoose CD Through Lonesome Woods.

Lyrics

Phil Tanner sings Young Henry Martin

There live’d in Scotland three brothers three,
In Scotland there lived brothers three,
And they did cast lots for to see which of them,
Which of them, which of them,
Should go sailing all on the salt sea.

The lot it fell out on young Henry Martin,
The youngest of these brothers three,
That he should go sailing all on the salt sea,
Salt sea, salt sea,
To maintain his two brothers and he.

We had not long been sailing on a cold winter’s morning,
Three hours before it was day,
Before we espied a lofty tall ship,
A tall ship, a tall ship,
Coming sailing all on the salt sea.

“Hallo, hallo,” cried bold Henry Martin,
“How dare you come sailing so high?”
“We’re a rich merchant ship bound for old England,
England, England,
Will you please for to let us pass by?”

“Oh, no, no, no,” cried bold Henry Martin,
“That never, no never can be,
For I am turned pirate to rob the salt sea,
Salt sea, salt sea,
To maintain my two brothers and me.”

“Take down your top royal, cut away your main mast,
Come hither in under my lee,
For I will take from you all of your flowing gold,
Flowing gold, flowing gold,
And I’ll turn your fair bodies to the sea.”

Then broadside for broadside we valiantly fought,
We fought for four hours and more,
Till at last Henry Martin gave her a dead shot,
A dead shot, a dead shot,
And down to the bottom she goes.

Bad news, bad news, to you English heroes,
Bad news I have for to tell,
There is one of your rich ships sunk off the land,
Off the land, off the land.
And all of your merry men drowned.

A.L. Lloyd sings Henry Martin

In merry Scotland, in merry Scotland,
There lived brothers three.
And they did cast lots which of them should go,
Should go, should go,
A-robbing all on the salt sea.

Well, the lot it fell out upon Henry Martin,
The youngest of these brothers three,
That he should turn pirate all on the salt sea,
Salt sea, salt sea,
To maintain his two brothers and he.

He hadn't been sailing three long winter's nights
Nor yet three short winter's days
Before he espied a lofty tall ship,
A tall ship, a tall ship
Come bearing down on him straightway.

“Hallo, hallo,” cried Henry Martin,
“How far are you going?” says he.
“I'm a rich merchant ship, for old England I am bound,
I'm bound, I'm bound,
Will you please for to let me pass free?”

“Oh no, no no,” cries Henry Martin,
“Heave to and heave to,” says he.
“For I mean to take from you your rich
Flowing gold, flowing gold,
Or send your fair bodies to the sea.”

Then broadside for broadside and at it they went,
And they fought for three hours and more,
Till at last Henry Martin gave her the death shot,
The death shot, the death shot,
And down to the bottom went she.

Bad news, bad news, my brave English boys,
Bad news to fair London town.
There's a rich merchant ship and she's cast away,
Cast away, cast away,
And all of her merry men drowned

Sam Larner sings The Lofty Tall Ship

As we were got sailing five cold frosty nights,
Five cold frosty nights and four days;
It was there we espied a lofty tall ship,
She come bearing down on us, brave boys.

“Now, where are you a-going, you lofty tall ship?
How dare you to venture so nigh?
For I have turned robbing all on the salt sea
To maintain my two brothers and I.”

“Now, come heave up your courses and let go of your main sheets
And let her come under my lee.
And I shall take from you your rich merchant's good, merchant's goods,
And I'll point your bow guns to the sea.”

“I shall not heave up my courses nor let go of my main sheets
Not I'll let her come under your lee.
Nor you shall take me my rich merchant's good, merchant's goods,
Nor you'll point my bow guns to the sea.”

Now, broadside to broadside these two vessels did lay,
They were fighting four hours or more.
Till at length Henry Martin gave her a broadside
And she sank and she never rose more.

Sad news, Henry Martin, sad news I've to tell,
Sad news I'm a-going to tell,
Of a lofty tall ship lost on the salt sea
And the most of her merry men drowned.

Peter Ballamy sings The Lofty Tall Ship

We had not been sailing but four frosty nights,
But four frosty nights and five days;
When there we espied a lofty tall ship,
Come a-bearing down on us, brave boys.

“Hallo and hallo, you lofty tall ship,
What makes you to sail so nigh?”
“I'm a rich merchant's ship bound for London Town
Won't you please pull to and let me pass by.”

“Oh no and oh no, you lofty tall ship,
Such a thing well it never won't be.
For I am turned robber all on the salt sea
For to maintain my two brothers and I.”

“So it's let out your courses and let go of your main sheets
And bring your ship under my lee.
And I will take from you your rich merchant's good, merchant's goods,
And point your bow guns to the sea.”

“I won't let out my courses nor let go of my main sheets
Nor bring my ship under your lee.
And you shan't tear from me my rich merchant's good, merchant's goods,
Nor point my bow guns to the sea.”

So it's broadside and broadside these vessels did lay
For fully two hours or more.
Until Henry Martin gave him the death shop
And she sank and she never rose more.

Bad news I've to tell you, bad news I've to tell,
Bad news I'm a-going to tell.
Of a lofty tall ship and she's passed away
And the most of her mariners drowned.

Martin Carthy sings The Lofty Tall Ship

As we were gone sailing five cold frosty nights,
Five cold frosty nights and four days,
Before we did spy there a lofty tall ship,
She come bearing down on us, brave boys.

“Oh where are you going, you lofty tall ship?
What makes you to venture so nigh?
For I have turned robbing all on the salt sea
To maintain my two brothers and I.”

“Then heave on your courses and let go your main sheets
And bring yourself under my lee.
And I will take from you your rich merchant's goods, merchant's goods,
And I'll point your bow guns to the sea.”

“No, not heave up my courses nor let go my main sheets
Nor let her come under your lee.
Nor you will take from me my rich merchant's goods, merchant's goods,
Nor you'll point my bow guns to the sea.”

Now broadside and broadside these vessels they went,
They were fighting four hours or more.
Till Henry Martin gave to her a broadside
And she sank and she never rose more.

Sad news, Henry Martin, sad news I've to tell,
Sad news it is going around.
Of a lofty tall ship and she's cast away
And the whole of her merry men drowned.

Acknowledgements

Transcriptions from Sam Larner by Garry Gillard; transcription from Martin Carthy by Roberto Campo