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Rolling Down to Old Maui

[ Roud 2005 ; Ballad Index SWMS027 ; trad.]

This is a song about the ca. 1850 Kamchatka bowhead whale and Pacific sperm whale fishing. Gale Huntington in his book Songs the Whalemen Sang gives a version called Rolling Down to Old Mohee from a journal made aboard the Atkins Adams in 1858.

A.L. Lloyd, Trevor Lucas and Martyn Wyndham-Read sang two verses of Rolling Down to Old Maui on their album Leviathan! Ballads and Songs of the Whaling Trade. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Maui is one of the Hawaiian islands. In the fifties and sixties, the Pacific whalers used to meet there, or in nearby Oahu, twice a year. In March they fitted out for the summer season in the Arctic, when they fished the bowhead grounds off Kamchatka and the Gulf on Anadyr. In November, when they were back again, to fit out for sperm-whaling in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Southern Seas. Hence this song, bidding farewell to the bitter North, and looking forward with a smile to the languors of the South.

Jeff Warner sang Rolling Down to Old Maui in 1976 on the Collector LP Steady As She Goes: Songs and Chanteys from the Days of Commercial Sail. The liner notes commented:

Stan Hugill of Liverpool says that as early as 1820 Maui, one of the Hawaiian Islands (then the Sandwich Islands), was considered “home” by the Yankee sailors who hunted the northern grounds or the Bering Straits for right and bowhead whales. This is an off-watch song, as distinct from a working song, of whalemen longing for the women and weather of better latitudes.

Stan Rogers sang Rolling Down to Old Maui in April 1979 live at The Groaning Board, Toronto. This concert was released in the same year on his album Between the Breaks… Live!. He commented in the liner notes:

Emily Friedman introduced this song to me in her hotel room at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1978, and I've loved it ever since. It may very well be my favourite chorus song.

Jolly Jack recorded Rolling Down to Old Maui in 1983 as title track for their eponymous Fellside album. This was also included in 1999 on the same-named Fellside anthology CD Rolling Down to Old Maui. Paul Adams commented in the liner notes:

Our title track comes from Songs The Whalemen Sang by New Englander, Gale Huntington. Many young men working on the American whaling ships kept personal journals in which the recorded the voyage, made sketches, notes and copied their favourite songs. The words of this song were taken from such a journal made aboard the Atkins Adams in 1858. The noble tune is from Chantying Aboard American Ships by F.P. Harlow. Maui is one of the Hawaiian Islands and was a meeting place for whalers… something to look forward to between trips. A “homeward bound” feeling prevails after the arctic hunting season but it was likely that they were merely calling at Maui for “fitting out” for the further half year in the southern oceans.

Roy Harris sang Rolling Down to Old Maui in 1985 on his Fellside album Utter Simplicity.

John Spiers and Jon Boden recorded Old Maui in 2005 for their album Songs and again in 2010/11 for their CD The Works. Jon Boden also sang it as the August 23, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. They commented in their former CD's liner notes:

A well known rowdy sea-song. This version comes from Songs the Whalemen Sang by Gale Huntington and is taken from the log-book of the American ship Atkins Adams from the year 1858. This is a rather sentimental and self-consciously literary version of the song, presumably collected before the aural tradition had had time to work its rough magic. Normally this would be “A Bad Thing” but we rather like it this way.

This video shows them at the Gosport and Fareham Festival on the Easter weekend in 2008:

Lyrics

Rolling Down to Old Mohee from the journal of the Atkins Adams, 1858

Once more we are waft by the northern gales bounding over the main
And now the hills of the tropic isles we soon shall see again
Five sluggish moons have waxed and waned since from the shore sailed we
𝄆 Now we are bound from the Arctic ground, rolling down to old Mohee 𝄇

Through many a blow of frost and snow and bitter squalls of hail
Our spars were bent and our canvas rent as we braved the northern gale
The horrid isles of ice cut tiles that deck the Arctic sea
𝄆 Are many, many leagues astern as we sail to old Mohee 𝄇

Through many a gale of snow and hail our good ship bore away
And in the midst of the moonbeam's kiss we slept in St. Lawrence Bay
And many a day we whiled away in the bold Kamchatka Sea
𝄆 And we'll think of that as we laugh and chat with the girls of old Mohee 𝄇

An ample share of toil and care we whalemen undergo
But when it's over what care we how the bitter blast may blow
We are homeward bound that joyful sound and yet it may not be
𝄆 But we'll think of that as we laugh and chat with the girls of old Mohee 𝄇

A.L. Lloyd, Trevor Lucas and Martyn Wyndham-Read sing Rolling Down to Old Maui

It's an ample share of toil and care we whaleman undergo,
Through many a blow of frost and hail and bitter squalls of snow,
The horrid isles of ice cut tiles that deck the Polar sea.
But now we're bound from the Arctic ground, rolling down to old Maui.

Once more we're blown by the northern gales, and bounding o'er the main;
And the green hills of them tropical isles we soon shall see again.
Oh, it's many a day we toiled away in that cold Kamchatka Sea,
And we'll think of that as we laugh and chat with the girls of old Maui.

Jeff Warner sings Rolling Down to Old Maui

It's a damn tough life full of toil and strife we whalemen undergo,
We don't give a damn when the gale is done how hard the winds did blow.
We're homeward bound, 'tis a grand ol' sound with a good ship taut and free,
We don't give a damn when we drink our rum with the girls of old Maui.

Chorus (after each verse):
Rolling down to old Maui, me boys
Rolling down to old Maui
We're homeward bound from the Arctic ground
Rolling down to old Maui

Once more we sail with a Northerly gale through the ice, and wind, and rain,
And them coconut fronds and them tropical lands we soon shall see again.
Six hellish months have passed away in the cold Kamchatka sea
But now we're bound from the Arctic ground rolling down to old Maui.

Once more we sail with the Northerly gale towards our Island home,
Our mainmast sprung and our whaling done and we ain't got far to roam.
Our stans'l booms is carried away, what care we for that sound,
A living gale is after us, thank God we're homeward bound

How soft the breeze from the island trees now the ice is far astern,
And them native maids and them island glades is awaiting our return.
Even now their big, black eyes look out hoping some fine day to see,
Our baggy sails running 'fore the gales rolling down to old Maui.

Spiers & Boden sing Rolling Down to Old Maui

Once more we are waft by the northern gales a-bounding over the main
And soon the hills of the tropic isles we all shall see again;
Five sluggish moons have waxed and waned since from the shore sailed we
And now we are bound from the Arctic ground, rolling down to old Maui.

Through many a gale of frost and hail our big ship bore away
And in the midst of a moonbeam's kiss we slept at St. Lawrence Bay;
And many is the day we whiled away on the bold Kamchatka Sea
But now we are bound from the Arctic ground, rolling down to old Maui.

Chorus (after each verse):
Rolling down to old Maui, me boys
Rolling down to old Maui
We're homeward bound from the Arctic ground
Rolling down to old Maui

Through many a blow of frost and snow and bitter squalls of hail
Our spars were bent and our canvas rent as we braved the northern gale.
The cruel isles of ice-capped tiles that deck the Arctic sea
Are many, many leagues astern as we sail to old Maui.

An ample share of toil and care we whalemen undergo,
But when it's over, what care we how the bitter the blast may blow?
We're homeward bound, that joyful sound across the Arctic sea,
We're homeward bound from the Arctic ground, rolling down to old Maui.

Acknowledgements and Links

A.L. Lloyd's lyrics were taken from the Leviathan! sleeve notes.

See also the Mudcat Café track Lyr Req: Rollin' Down to Old Maui.