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Rounding the Horn / The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite

[ Roud 4706 ; Henry H539 ; Ballad Index VWL090 ; VWML AGG/7/274 , AGG/8/62 ; trad.]

Ann Gilchrist collected Rounding Cape Horn in 1907 from W. Bolton, Southport, Lancashire. [VWML AGG/7/274] .

Rounding the Horn was included in 1959 in Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd's The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. In 1960, A.L. Lloyd recorded a shorter version with only four instead of six verses for his album A Selection from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Like all tracks from this LP it was reissued in 2003 on the CD England & Her Traditional Songs. Lloyd wrote in the album's sleeve notes:

Sailors grappling with the problem of ballad composition often found a convenient form in the description of a voyage. This lively narrative of a passage to Chile was a favourite with nineteenth century seamen, though it rarely found its way into print (there is a version in Rex Clement's Manavilins, naming Liverpool as the port of departure). A brig Amphitrite was engaged in the South American trade in the 1820s, and may be the ship referred to. Miss A.G. Gilchrist got this song from a fine old sailor singer, W. Bolton, of Southport, Lancs.

Sam Larner sang The Girls Around Cape Horn in a recording made by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker in 1958-60. It was included in 2014 on his Musical Traditions anthology Cruising Round Yarmouth. Rod Stradling commented in the accompanying booklet:

I was wondering what relationship this song has with The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite, only to find that that song isn’t really traditional at all. Apparently Ann Gilchrist collected this present song, titled Rounding the Horn, in 1907 from W Bolton, Southport, Lancs, with just four verses. Mr Bolton subsequently ‘remembered’ better versions of the ones he’d sung her, and made up a couple more. Who can tell where he got his first line from—the Amphitrite wasn’t even a frigate, it was a convict transport! In 1960, Bert Lloyd recorded one of his ‘improved’ versions—titled The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite—for the LP [A Selection from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs], and it was this one that was taken up by the revival.

Ewan MacColl sang Round Cape Horn in 1966 on his Topic album The Manchester Angel. He commented in his liner notes:

This deep-water sailors' song was once a favourite in both the American and British mercantile fleets. I learned it in 1957 from Sam Larner, an 84 year old herring fisherman of Winterton, Norfolk.

A recording of Alex Campbell singing Round Cape Horn, probably from the 1960s, was included in 2005 on his Castle anthology Been on the Road So Long.

Louis Killen sang Rounding the Horn in 1970 on his South Street Seaport Museum album 50 South to 50 South. in 1995 on his CD Sailors, Ships & Chanteys and, with the title The Girls of Valparaiso, in 1998 on Dan Milner's Folk-Legacy CD Irish Ballads & Songs of the Sea. The first album's liner notes stated that

This fore-bitter seems to have been popular on both British and American ships, though the name of the ship and the port of sailing vary from version to version. In American versions she sails from Boston; in others from Bristol, England.

Cyril Tawney sang Rounding the Horn on his 1970 Argo album A Mayflower Garland. and in 1992 on his Neptune Tapes cassette Seamen Bold. The second recording was also included in 2003 on his anthology Nautical Tawney. He commented in the first album's sleeve notes:

On the few occasions I perform in my home “base” of Plymouth I am likely to introduce this into the programme purely out of mischief as it compares the girls of that city unfavourably with their opposite numbers in Valparaiso! Still, it is a very old sailor-song and things have probably changed greatly. After one broadcast performance a listener wrote to me pointing out that if the ship passed through Magellan Straits it would not be rounding the Horn at all. The song, however, only says the Amphitrite was “beating off” Magellan Straits, not passing through, so there.

Martin Carter sang The Rounding of the Horn in 1971 on his Traditional Sound album Someone New.

Tony Hall sang The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite in 1977 on his Free Reed album Fieldvole Music. The Demon Barbers gave this as the source of the recording on their 2008 album +24db.

Peter Bellamy, accompanied by Dave Swarbrick playing fiddle, recorded this song as The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite in 1979 for his album Both Sides Then. This track was also included on the 2004 Highpoint compilation CD Sailor's Songs and Sea Shanties.

Isla St Clair sang The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite in 1981 on her album The Song and the Story.

Jo Freya sang Rounding the Horn in 1992 on her Saydisc CD Traditional Songs of Engand.

Hughie Jones sang Rounding the Horn on his 1999 Fellside CD Seascape.

Martin Simpson sang Rounding the Horn in 2001 on his CD The Bramble Briar. He commented in the liner notes:

Rounding the Horn was published in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs and, again, I learned it from Peter [Bellamy]. I suspect that the novels of Patrick O'Brien set to music achieve similar heights of storytelling, yet it is the brevity of folksong which is so astonishing. In six verses this song conveys a novel's worth of motion and ideas.

Patterson Jordan Dipper sang Rounding the Horn in 2002 on their album Flat Earth.

Dick Miles sang The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite on the 2004 Lancaster Maritime Festival anthology Beware of the Pressgang!!.

The Queensberry Rules sang Rounding the Horn in 2006 on their Fellside CD The Black Dog & Other Stories.

Steeleye Span sang The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite on their 2009 CD Cogs, Wheels and Lovers. This track was also included in 2015 on their anthology Catchup.

James Findlay sang Rounding the Horn in 2012 on his Fellside CD Another Day Another Story. He commented in his liner notes:

This song speaks of the delights that Valparaiso and its Spanish girls have to offer, but also of the perils of rounding Cape Horn. There are no records of the frigate ‘Amphitrite’ however. It is likely to be the brig ‘Amphitrite’ built for trade in South America in 1820. This version comes from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs and the singing of “an old sailing ship shantyman” Mr W. Bolton of Southport, Lancaster.

Ben Nicholls sang Rounding the Horn in 2013 on The Full English's eponymous Topic CD, The Full English.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings Rounding the Horn

The gallant frigate, Amphitrite, she lay in Plymouth Sound,
Blue Peter at the foremast head for she was outward bound;
We were waiting there for orders to send us far from home;
Our orders came for Rio, and thence around Cape Horn.

When beating off Magellan Straits it blew exceeding hard;
Whilst shortening sail two gallant tars fell from the topsail yard.
By angry seas the ropes we threw from their poor hands was torn
We were forced to leave them to the sharks that prowl around Cape Horn.

When we got round the Horn, me boys, we had some glorious days
And very soon our killick dropped in Valparaiso Bay.
The pretty girls came down in flocks; I solemnly declare
They're far before the Plymouth girls with their long and curly hair.

Farewell to Valparaiso and farewell for a while,
Likewise to all the Spanish girls along the coast of Chile;
And if ever l live to be paid off l'll sit and sing this song:
“God bless those pretty Spanish girls we left around Cape Horn.”

Peter Bellamy sings The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite

The gallant frigate, Amphitrite, she lay in Plymouth Sound,
Blue Peter at the foremast head for we were outward bound;
We was waiting there for orders to send us far from home;
Our orders they come for Rio, and thence around Cape Horn.

When we arrived in Rio we prepared for heavy gales;
We bent on all the rigging, me boys, bent on all new sails.
From ship to ship they cheered us as we did sail along,
And they wished us pleasant weather in the rounding of Cape Horn.

In beating off Magellan Strait it blew exceeding hard;
Whilst shortening sail two gallant tars they fell from the topsail yard.
By angry seas the ropes we threw from their poor hands was torn
We were forced to leave them to the sharks that prowl around Cape Horn.

Now when we got round the Horn, my boys, we had some glorious days
And very soon our killick dropped in Valparaiso Bay.
Them pretty girls came down in flocks; I solemnly declare
That they are far before the Plymouth girls with their long and curling hair.

Because they love a jolly sailor when he spends his money free,
They'll laugh, they sing, they merry, merry be, they enjoy a jovial spree.
And when your money it is all gone they won't on you impose,
They are not like them Plymouth girls that'll pawn and sell your clothes.

So it's farewell to Valparaiso and farewell for a while,
Likewise to all them pretty Spanish girls all along the coast of Chile;
If ever l live to be paid off l'll sit and I'll sing this song:
“God bless them pretty Spanish girls we left around Cape Horn.”

The Full English sings Rounding the Horn

Our ship she's called the Conway, she's a ship of great renown,
She's lying now in Portsmouth, that beautiful town.
We received our orders when we were far from home:
At first we were bound for Rio and then around Cape Horn.

When we got to Rio, we waited there a while
To freshen up our rigging and bend our new sails on.
With our hearts as light as a feather we all got underway
And set our course straight for'ard to Valparaiso Bay.

You are the sons of Neptune, all standing in a row
With your frocks and trousers as white as the snow.
From ship to ship they cheered us as we did sail along,
They wished us pleasant weather in going round Cape Horn.

We are around the Horn, my beaus, five nights and five days,
The river we first anchored at was Valparaiso Bay
For to see those Spanish girls and solemny declare
They far accede those English girls with their nobly heads of hair.

They love a British sailor, fair hearted and good mind
And what they have got they'll share along with thee.
They are not the same as those English girls for they will not impose
And when your money does run out, they will not pawn your clothes.

Farewell to Valparaiso, farewell for a while,
And to you, the Spanish girls, sweetly you smile.
When our ship she be paid off, we'll sit right down and sing,
Farewell to Valparaiso and the young girls round Cape Horn.

Acknowledgements

The words are from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, eds Ralph Vaughan Williams & A.L. Lloyd, Penguin, 1959. Thanks to Garry Gillard.