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Come, Come, My Brave Boys

[ Roud 17782 ; trad.]

Tim Radford sang Come, Come, My Brave Boys in 2012 on his CD of “Maritime songs collected in Hampshire, England, 1905-1909 by Dr. George B. Gardiner”, From Spithead Roads. He noted:

Collected from Frederick Fennemore aged 72, at Portsmouth Workhouse on August 13, 1907, local manuscript no. H867 and Roud no.17782.

Text in the manuscript is a little unclear in relation to the musical notation, so I have straightened out a few lines. The song seems to be unique to Fennemore, but has obvious local connections with the mention of the Isle of Wight and Spithead.

‘Stun Sails’: To maximise the sail area, clipper ships often rigged booms to lengthen the yards, and carried additional sails on both sides of the square sails. These are called studding sails or stunsails.

I was interested in the fact that the terms ‘Master’ and ‘Captain’ appear in the same song, and if that tells us anything. Enquiry has shown that on British Naval ships there was a ‘Master’ who was responsible for all the sails and sailing, and a ‘Captain’ who was in overall charge of the vessel and men.

I am still intrigued by why the crew sing about “If the bank it don't fail.”—Who is paying them? That part suggests the Merchant Marine.

“Pipe hands to Skylark” also appears to be a common naval term, eg. in - A Naval Mutiny, Notes on the text: [Page 196, lines 12-13] “All hands to skylark”: some ships of the old Navy used to pipe “Hands to dance and skylark” in the dog-watches in fine weather. A later echo of this was not uncommon in the Grand Fleet (1914-18) where all-male ballroom dancing took place as a means of taking exercise on board—there is a photograph of over 100 sailors, in uniform (complete with their caps) solemnly waltzing in couples on the upper deck of a dreadnought, to the music of the ship’s band. And this Editor has danced an all-male eightsome reel on the quarterdeck of HMS Devonshire as she rolled her way.

These notes, edited by Alastair Wilson, are largely based (some 50%) on the ORG.

The Dollymopps sang Come, Come Me Brave Boys in 2013 on their WildGoose album Wight Cockade.

A beautiful Solent homecoming song from the repertoire of Frederick Fennemore in the Portsmouth Workhouse. The phrase “pipe hands to skylark”, Doug Bailey has advised us, refers to the younger seamen’s practice of running up and down the rigging for sport and recreation. We felt the song deserved to be a little longer so we added a final verse to bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion.

Paul and Liz Davenport sang Come, Come My Brave Boys on their 2018 album Shadows in the Mist. They noted:

Collected by George Gardiner from Frederick Fennemore in Portsmouth workhouse in 1907. The song has a suggestion of being the construction of the Mr Fennemore since it has only been collected from the one source. One verse was added by the band The Dollymopps from the Isle of Wight. Don't be fooled, the verse about the banks is not the modern one!

Lyrics

Tim Radford sings Come, Come, My Brave Boys

Come, come, my brave boys, the wind’s right abaft,
We’ll clap on our stun’ sails both low and aloft,
While steady cries our master, it blows a sweet gale,
We shall soon see the English land, my boys,
We shall soon see the English land, my boys,
If the breezes don’t fail, if the breezes don’t fail,
We shall soon see the English land, my boys,
If the breezes don’t fail.

Come, come my brave boys, never mind how she rolls,
For as soon as the gale is over we will sling a fresh bowl.
While straight across our masthead it blows a sweet gale,
We shall soon see the Isle of Wight, my boys,
We shall soon see the Isle of Wight, my boys,
If we clap on more sail, if we clap on more sail,
We shall soon see the Isle of Wight, my boys,
If we clap on more sail.

We have arriv’ed at the Spithead, and we are at our ease,
We'll pipe hands to skylark and do as we please,
While no more cries our Captain, it blows a sweet gale,
And we shall soon take our whack, my boys,
And we shall soon take our whack, my boys,
If the bank it don’t fail, if the bank it don’t fail,
And we shall soon take our whack, my boys,
If the bank it don’t fail.

Paul & Liz Davenport sing Come, Come, My Brave Boys

Come, come, my brave boys, the wind’s right abaft,
We will clap on our stun’ sails both lower and aloft,
While steady cries our master, it blows a sweet gale,
We will soon see the English land, my boys,
We will soon see the English land, my boys,
If the breezes don’t fail, if the breezes don’t fail,
We will soon see the English land, my boys,
If the breezes don’t fail.

Come, come my brave boys, never mind how she rolls,
As soon as the gale is over we will sling a fresh bowl.
While straight across our masthead it blows a sweet gale,
We will soon see the Isle of Wight, my boys,
We will soon see the Isle of Wight, my boys,
If we clap on more sail, if we clap on more sail,
We will soon see the Isle of Wight, my boys,
If we clap on more sail.

We have arrived at the Spithead, and we are at our ease,
We will pipe hands to skylark, then go do as we please,
No more cries our Captain, it blows a sweet gale,
We will soon take our whack, my boys,
We will soon take our whack, my boys,
If the banks do not fail, if the banks do not fail,
We will soon take our whack, my boys,
If the banks do not fail.

Come, come, my brave boys, the hour is drawing nigh,
Our purses are empty, our seaboots going dry.
The quaysides are crowded with sweethearts and wives,
We will soon bid them adieu, my boys,
We will soon bid them adieu, my boys,
And take to the tide, and take to the tide,
We will soon bid them adieu, my boys,
And take to the tide.