> Peter Bellamy > Songs > Warlike Seamen (The Irish Captain)
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Warlike Seamen / The Irish Captain / The Dolphin

[ Roud 690 ; G/D 1:41 ; Henry H560 ; Ballad Index DTwarlik , ChFRS066 , hhh560 ; VWML COL/6/56 ; trad.]

Warlike Seamen is a song from the Copper Family's repertoire. Jim, John, Bob and Ron Copper's recording on April 3, 1952 for the BBC Sound Archive Library made by Seamus Ennis was included on the anthology Sailormen and Servingmaids (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume  6; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970), in 1987 on their VWML LP Coppersongs: A Living Tradition, and in 2001 on their Topic anthology Come Write Me Down. Another recording of Bob and Ron Copper singing Warlike Seamen (The Irish Captain), made by Peter Kennedy in 1959 or 1960, was included in 1994 on the Saydisc anthology Sea Songs and Shanties. Bob, Ron and John Copper sang Warlike Seamen on their 1971 Leader album A Song for Every Season; and Bob and his grandson Ben Copper sang Warlike Seamen (The Irish Captain) on the Copper Family's 1998 CD Coppersongs 3: The Legacy Continues.

Peter Bellamy and Chris Birch sang Warlike Seamen in 1969 on Bellamy's third solo LP, The Fox Jumps Over the Parson's Gate. This recording was also included in the Topic anthology Round Cape Horn: Traditional Songs of Sailors, Ships and the Sea. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's liner notes:

The song began its life in the seventeenth century and concerned the little merchant ship Marigold, 70 tons, owned by a Mr Ellis of Bristol, which fought a brisk and successful skirmish with “Turkish” pirates off the coast of Algiers. At the end of the eighteenth century the song was re-jigged to suit the times, and now it dealt with an encounter with the French, fought by a ship variously called the Nottingham and the London (the London was one of the ships involved in the Spithead mutiny, and it poked its bowsprit into several songs of the time, through being in the news). For some reason the ballad has been particularly well liked in East Anglia (Harry Cox has a version called Liverpool Play; Sam Larner called his set The Dolphin). This duet setting comes from Bob and Ron Copper, the Sussex cousins.

Sam Larner's version, The Dolphin, was collected by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in Sam Larner's home in between 1958 and 1960. It can be found on his album Now Is The Time for Fishing (Folkways 1961; Topic 2000) and on his 2014 Musical Traditions anthology Cruising Round Yarmouth. Rod Stradling commented in the latter album's booklet:

I can’t think of a song, supposedly about a real event, which goes by so many titles—The French Privateer, The London Man o’ War, The Irish Captain, Lord Exmouth, Warlike Seamen, Summerswell… the list goes on and on. Moreover, the date given in the song’s usual first line “On the 14th day of June, my boys, in Liverpool where we lay” seems to be different in practically every version!

So maybe this song isn’t about a real event—any number of Royal Navy ships were named Dolphin ; one laid down in 1751 was reportedly the ninth of that name. Whether this song is actually based on the exploits of a particular Dolphin is unclear. Nonetheless, it was pretty popular, with 67 Roud entries, and found in most southern counties of England, with a scattering in Scotland, Ireland and the USA. Yet despite 19 sound recordings, only that by the Copper family [on Come Write Me Down] remains available on CD.

Ewan MacColl sang The Dolphin in 1962 on his and A.L. Lloyd's Prestige / Transatlantic LP, A Sailor's Garland.

Tony Rose sang Come All You Warlike Seamen at the Cheltenham Folk Club in 1967. This recording was included in his posthumous CD Exe.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand learned Warlike Seamen from the Copper Family's recordings and sang it in 1971 on their album Spencer the Rover Is Alive and Well.

Tony Capstick sang The Dolphin in 1978 on his album Tony Capstick Does a Turn.

Lillian Lugg of Exeter, Devon, sang The Fourteenth of December in a recording made by Sam Richards and Tish Stubbs in between 1974 and 1980 on Folkway's 1981 album An English Folk Music Anthology. The album notes commented:

This song is known under a variety of titles—The Saucy Dolphin, The London/Lion Man-of-War, Warlike Seamen, The Irish Captain etc.—and has been more popular in tradition than the fairly modest list of references might indicate. Sea battle broadside ballads conform very much to a type—date, place, destination, and often the name of the ship being stated in the first verse, the meeting or initial encounter coming in the second, and the fight taking up the rest of the song with touches of dialogue between ships and crew members spicing up the action.

Lillian Lugg comes from a notable singing family. Her grandfather, Henry Westaway at Belstone, Devon, sang to the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould in the 1880s, and figures prominently in Baring-Gould's manuscript collection. In the 1950s the BBC recorded Bill and Harry Westaway, classic singers themselves, and now their children (now in their 80s) still sing the songs.

Singing for the Westaway has been a tradition largely carried on at home. Fireside gatherings were common, the repertoire was extensive, and when bedtime came Mrs. Lugg remembers her father, Harry, singing himself to sleep.

Interestingly enough, The Fourteenth of December has not been previously noted from the family.

Arthur Knevett sang The Dolphin on his 1988 cassette Mostly Ballads. Vic Gammon commented in the album's notes:

A heroic song from East Anglia. One imagines such songs were needed to keep up the spirit of poorly nourished, overcrowded and sick press-ganged men, who formed the backbone of the British Navy. Arthur's version include verses from both Sam Larner and Harry Cox.

Pete Wood sang The Dolphin on his 2007 CD Manchester Angel. He noted:

A rollicking sea song about a battle with the French. I got this originally from The Singing Island by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, who collected it from Sam Larner. No less than five other Norfolk singers had the song, including that other pillar of the English tradition, Harry Cox.

Tom and Barbara Brown sang The London Man o' War in 2014 on their album of songs collected by Cecil Sharp in Minehead from Captains Lewis and Vickery, Just Another Day. They commented in their liner notes:

Both Lewis and Vickery can take credit for this one: Sharp collected the words from Lewis on August 8, 1904, and then got the tune from Vickery the following day! The song itself is not rare—it is sometimes called The Irish Captain or Captain Summerswell, and the name of the ship changes between the Lion, the Dolphin and, as here, The London Man o’ War.

Andy Turner learned Warlike Seamen from Bob Copper's book A Song for Every Season. He sang it as the June 6, 2015 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

Peter Bellamy sings Warlike Seamen

Come all you warlike seamen that to the seas belong;
I'll tell you of a fight, my boys, on board the Nottingham.
It was of an Irish captain, his name was Somerville,
With courage bold he did control, he played his part so well.

'Twas on the eighth of June, my boys, when at Spithead we lay,
On board there came an order, our anchor for to weigh.
Bound for the coast of Ireland, our orders did run so:
For us to cruise and not confuse and face a daring foe.

We had not sailed many leagues at sea before a ship we spied.
She being some lofty Frenchman come a-bearing down so wide.
We hailed her off France, my boys, she asked from whence we came.
Our answer was, “From Liverpool, and London is our name.”

“Oh pray are you some man-of-war, oh pray, what may you be?”
Oh then replied our captain, “And that you soon shall see.
Come strike your English colours or else you shall bring to.
Since you're so stout, you shall give out, or else we will sink you.”

The first broadside we gave to them, it made them for to wonder.
Their mainmast and their rigging too a-rattling down like thunder.
We drove them from their quarters, they could no longer stay.
Our guns did roar, we made so sure we showed them British play.

So now we've took that ship, my boys, and God speed us fair wind
That we might sail to Plymouth town if the heavens prove so kind.
We'll drink a health unto our captain and all such warlike souls.
To him we'll drink, and never flinch, out of a flowing bowl.

Tony Rose sings Come All You Warlike Seamen

Come all you warlike seamen that to the seas belong;
I'll tell you of a fight, my boys, on board the Nottingham.
It was of an Irish captain, his name was Somerville,
With courage bold he did control, he played his part so well.

'Twas on the eighth of June, my boys, when at Spithead we lay,
On board there came an order, our anchor for to weigh.
Bound for the coast of Ireland, our orders did run so:
For us to cruise and not refuse against a daring foe.

We had not sailed many lengths at sea before a ship we spied.
She being some lofty Frenchman come a-bearing down so wide.
We hailed her off France, my boys, she asked from whence we came.
Our answer was, “From Liverpool, and London is our name.”

“Oh pray are you some man-of-war, oh pray, what may you be?”
Oh then replied our captain, “Why, that you soon shall see.
Come strike your English colours or else you shall bring to.
Since you're so stout, you shall give out, or else we will sink you.”

The first broadside we gave to them, it caused them for to wonder.
Their mainmast and their rigging came a-rattling down like thunder.
We drove them from their quarters, they could no longer stay.
Our guns did roar, we made so sure we showed them British play.

So now we've took that ship, my boys, God speed us fair wind
That we might sail to Plymouth town if the heavens prove so kind.
We'll drink a health unto our captain and all such warlike souls.
To him we'll drink, and never flinch, out of a flowing bowl.

Sam Larner sings The Dolphin

Our ship she laid in harbour, in Liverpool docks and more,
Awaiting for fresh orders her anchor for to weigh;
Bound down to the coast of Africa, our orders did run so:
We’re going to sink and destroy, my boys, no matter where we go.

We had not been sailing scarce fifty leagues or more,
When we espied a lofty ship and down on us he bore;
He hailed us in French colours, he asked us where and whence we came.
“We just come down from Liverpool town and the Dolphin is our name.”

“Are you a man-of-war, sir? Pray tell me what you be.”
“I am no man-of-war, sir, but a pirate ship you see.
Come heave up your fore and main yards and let your ship come to,
Our tackles are overhauled and our boats are all lowered, or else we will sink you.”

Now our Captain stood on the quarterdeck, he was brave and fearless too.
“It’s three to one against us,” he cried out to his crew;
“If it hadn’t have been for my younger brother, this battle would never been tried.
Let every man stand true to his guns and we’ll give to them a broadside.”

Now broadside to broadside which caused all hands to wonder,
To see that French lofty’s mast come rattling down like thunder;
We shot them from our quarterdeck ‘til they could no longer stay,
Our guns being smart and we played a fine part and we gave them Liverpool play.

Now this large French ship was taken and in Liverpool docks was moored,
We fired shots to our sweethearts with the nice little girls on shore;
We lowered down the French colours, and we hoisted the red, white and blue,
We’ll drink success to the Dolphin and all her jovial crew.

Spoken: How’s that one? That’s another one.

Lillian Lugg sings The Fourteenth of December

On the fourteenth of December in Plymouth Sound we lay
Waiting for fresh orders our anchor for to weigh.
We're bound for the coast of Africa, our orders they came slow;
We’re bound to sink and destroy, my lads, where ever we may go.

We had not been sailing for twenty knots or more,
Before we spied a large ship and down on us she bore;
She hailed us with French colours and asked from whence we came.
“We've just set sail from Plymouth Sound and the Cambridge is our name.”

“Are you a man-of-war, sir, or pray what may you be?”
“I'm not a man-of-war, sir, but a pirate as you see.
Then pull around your main yards and let your ship come to,
With your boats all lowered and your ropes all torn, or else I will sink you,
With your boats all lowered and your ropes all torn, or else I will sink you!”

Then up spoke the captain and braveley he did say,
“Cheer up, cheer up, my bonny lads, we're bound to win the day!
If this were my own brother this battle I'll define.
Let every man stand true to his gun and we’ll give to them the first broadside!”

The first broadside was given which caused all hands to wonder,
To see the foretop gallant mast come roaring down like thunder;
We beat her from all quarters till they could no longer stay,
For with powder and shot we peppered them hot and showed them British play.

Now when this large ship was captured for Plymouth Sound we bore,
We hailed off one of our long guns to warn our girls on shore;
They down with her French colours and up with the red, white and blue,
We’ll drink success to the Dolphin and all her saucy crew.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Origins/ADD: The Dolphin and Origins: Who was Somerville in Warlike Seamen?.