> Louis Killen > Songs > Leave Her, Johnny

Leave Her, Johnny

[ Roud 354 ; Henry H53b ; Ballad Index Doe089 ; trad.]

In his book Shanties from the Seven Seas, Stan Hugill printed verses of Leave Her, Johnny as a halyard and as a pump shanty. He wrote:

And now we come to the 'Johnny' song that usually ended the voyage—Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her! Collectors give pumps and halyards alike as the job it was used for. Terry and Whall call it a hauling song; Miss Colcord and Doerflinger give it for pumps. I think they are all right. It was probably sung at halyards with two solos and refrains, and when a full chorus was added then it was used at the pumps and even capstan. I learnt it partly from my mother's father, and he always sang the full chorus, and partly from an old Irish sailor, who also used the final chorus. It probably came to life about the time of the Irish potato famine, in the forties, and was originally sung in the Western Ocean Packets in this fashion: …

The later version Leave Her, Johnnies or as some sang it Leave Her, Bullies was sometimes sung during the voyage—at the pumps—but its better-known function was that of airing grievances just prior to the completion of the voyage either when warping the vessel in through the locks or at the final spell of the pumps (in wooden ships) after the vessel had docked. Many unprintable stanzas were sung, directed at the afterguard, the grub, and the owners. Bullen writes that: “to sing it before the last day or so was almost tantamount to mutiny.”

This YouTube video shows Stan Hugill singing Leave Her Johnny at the International Shanty Festival in Workum in 1990. The chorus includes Ron Barnett, Johnny Collins, Nanna Kalma, Jim Mageean, Danny MacLeod, Ryszard Muzaj, Shanty Jack, Janusz Sikorski, Marek Siurawski, Mike Wilson and Steve Wilson:

Bob Roberts sang this song as Time for Us to Leave Her in a recording at Cecil Sharp House made by Peter Kennedy on the HMV album A Pinch of Salt: British Sea Songs Old and New, and in 1978 as Leave Her, Johnny on his Topic LP Songs from the Sailing Barges. A.L. Lloyd laconically commented in the sleeve notes:

… As for the work-shanties Haul Away, Joe, Whiskey Johnny and Leave Her, Johnny, Bob converts them into lyrical social songs for the sake of their choruses.

Louis Killen recorded Leave Her, Johnny in 1997 for his CD A Seaman's Garland: Sailors, Ships & Chanteys Vol. 2, where he commented:

Of course, worksongs or chanteys were also a definitive part of the sailor's repertoire. The Black Ball Line (halyards), Goodbye, Fare Thee Well (capstan), and Leave Her, Johnny (pumps) need no description—their words of pride, longing, and hard work speak volumes.

Louis Killen also sang in the chorus of Dan Milner's version of Leave Her, Johnny on the latter's 1998 CD Irish Ballads & Songs of the Sea.

Geoff Kaufman et al sang Leave Her, Johnny in 2001 at the 22nd Annual Sea Music Festival at Mystic Seaport.

And Lou Reed sang Leave Her, Johnny in 2006 on the anthology Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys.

Jon Boden learnt Leave Her, Johnny from Daniel Jacks at a Forest School Camp when he was about 16 year old. He sang it as the Augst 23, 2010 entry of his A Folk Song a Day project. The words of his version can be found in the online FSC songbook.

Lyrics

Bob Roberts sings Leave Her, Johnny

Oh, times are bad and wages are low,
    Leave her, Johnny, leave her!
I dare say it's time for us to go,
    It's time for us to leave her!

For there's Liverpool Pat in his tarpaulin hat
And Yankee John the packet rat.

Oh, mahogany beef and weevil bread,
We wish old Leatherface was dead.

Oh, I pray that I shall never see
A hungry ship the likes of she.

Oh, don't you hear our old man say,
Tomorrow you will get your pay.

Oh, she would neither win nor wear,
She's parted all her running gear.

Louis Killen sings Leave Her, Johnny

Oh the times was hard and the wages low,
    Leave her, Johnny, leave her!
But now once more ashore we'll go,
    An' it's time for us to leave her!

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Leave her, Johnny, leave her!
Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her!
For the voyage is done and the winds don't blow,
And it's time for us to leave her!

Oh I thought I heard the old man say,
Tomorrow ye will get your pay!

Oh the work was hard and the voyage was long,
The sea was high and the gales were strong.

Oh the wind was foul and the sea ran high,
She shipped it green and none went by.

Oh the wind was foul, all work, no pay,
To Liverpool docks from Frisco Bay.

We was made to pump all night and day,
And we half-dead had bugger-all to say.

We'd be better off in a nice clean gaol,
Will all night in and plenty of ale.

She's poverty-stricken and parish-rigged,
And the bloomin' crowd is fever-stricked.

Jon Boden sings Leave Her, Johnny

I thought I heard the old man say,
    Leave her, Johnny, leave her,
It's a long hard pull to the next pay day
    And it's time for us to leave her.

Chorus:
Leave her, Johnny, leave her,
Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her;
It's a long hard pull to the next pay day
And it's time for us to leave her.

And the captain was bad but the mate was worse,
    Leave her, Johnny, leave her,
He could blow you down with a sigh and a curse
    And it's time for us to leave her.

Chorus:
Leave her, Johnny, leave her,
Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her;
He could blow you down with a sigh and a curse
And it's time for us to leave her.

And the rats are all gone and we the crew,
Well, it's time, by Christ, that we went too.

And a dollar a day is a Jack Shite's pay
When it's pump all night and it's work all day

It was pump or drown, the old man said,
Or else, by Christ, we'll all be dead.