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Santy Anna / The Plains of Mexico

[ Roud 207 ; Ballad Index Doe078 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd and chorus sang the capstan shanty Santy Anna in 1956 on his, Ewan MacColl's and Harry H. Corbett's album The Singing Sailor. This track has been reissued several times, e.g. on his and Ewan MacColl's LP Row Bullies Row, Shanties and Fo'c'sle Songs (Wattle Records) and Haul on the Bowlin' (Stinson Records), on the EP The Coast of Peru, and on the compilations Men at Work (Topic Sampler No 3) and Sailors' Songs & Sea Shanties. I do not know who sings chorus although Ewan MacColl's voice can be detected.

A.L. Lloyd wrote in the The Coast of Peru sleeve notes:

Antonio Lopez de Santa Aña, far from “gaining the day” as this pump or capstan shanty suggests, was defeated by General Taylor at Buena Vista in February 1847, in one of the decisive battles of the war between Mexico and the United States. Many British sailors deserted their ships to join Santa Aña's army, and perhaps it was affection for the Mexican seaports that made the shanty singers reverse the run of history in their songs.

The Watersons sang this shanty as The Plains of Mexico on their first album The Watersons. While this track was reissued in 1971 on the Topic sampler Sea Songs and Shanties and on the compilation Chants de Marins IV: Ballads, Complaintes et Shanties des Matelots Anglais, it was never released on CD, while all other tracks from their first album are available on the CD Early Days.

A.L. Lloyd commented in the The Watersons sleeve notes:

Shanties are usually sung prettied-up in the folk song clubs, with tightly organised choruses and a musical discipline quite at odds with the rough and tumble work-song, ship-board origins of these songs. The Watersons sing an ocean-going shanty in an ocean-going way, here, roughly, with plenty of guts. John Harrison sings the lead.

The Santiana refrain probably has a Negro origin. Southern American negroes often adopted the name of the famous Mexican general Santa Aña as a song burden. But it has been suggested that the phrase really derives from a seaman's prayer to Sainte Anne, the patron saint of Breton seamen.

Stan Hugill in Shanties from the Seven Seas, London, 1961, writes: “Quite a number of British seamen deserted their ships to join Santa Aña's wild and ragged army—Britishers, it would appear, favoured the cause of the Mexicans.” He prints a Norwegian version of the shanty, too and says that the song also turned landlubber to become a campfire favourite with men of America's Wild West.

Jon Boden sang The Plains of Mexico as the March 11, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings Santy Anna The Watersons sing The Plains of Mexico

Oh, Santiana gained the day
    Hooray Santiano
Oh, Santiana gained the day
    All on the plains of Mexico

To Mexico, oh Mexico
To Mexico, where I must go

Them little girls I do adore
Their shining eyes and long black hair

Why do them yellow girls love me so?
Because I don't tell them all I know

Why do them yellow girls love me so?
    Way hey Santiana
Because I don't tell them all I know
    Around the plains of Mexico

When I was a young lad in my prime
I went to sea and I served my time

When I was a young man in my prime
I knocked them little girls two at a time

When I was a young lad in my prime
I knocked them yellow girls two at a time

Them Liverpool girls ain't got no comb
They comb their hair with a kipper backbone

Them Liverpool girls don't wear no combs
They comb their hair with a kipper backbone

To Mexico, oh Mexico
To Mexico we must go

Oh, times is hard and the wages low
It's time for us to roll and go

Just one more pull and that shall do
Oh we're the boys to pull her through

Acknowledgements

Transcribed by Wolfgang Hell, Garry Gillard and Reinhard Zierke. Thanks also to Susanne Kalweit.