Media Monday: Paddy Lay Back
Here's a classic of the late Windjammer era, "Paddy, Lay Back!", also known as "Mainsail Haul" or "Valparaiso Round The Horn." There's so many references to the windjammer trade in the lyrics, there's little doubt about its origins, though when exactly it was written is unknown. The references to Valparaiso, guano, barque rigs, manual capstans, rigging lines, and sailing maneuvers could all be as early as the 1870s, but as late as the 1920s for the Nitrates Trade between South America and Europe.
This is a walking shanty for bringing in the anchor via the capstan, a type of manual winch. This second recording from the Smithsonian Folkways recordings was done while working, and the sound of the paced work can be heard. At the same time, the song thoroughly reflects the labor conditions aboard windjammers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: There were few legal protections for sailors ashore or in port, and even fewer once away from harbor governments.
This shanty became a popular Irish folk song in the 20th century, though the lyrics betray a separation by the time the Wolfetones recorded their version: The references to the manual machinery of a windjammer are obscured in lines such as "take your turn, pull on your caps, and leap aboard" instead of "take a turn around the capstan, heave a pawl" and a few other corruptions from older sets of lyrics.
Whichever version you might prefer, a number of these windjammer era songs still permeate the folk music culture. They are, much like sail itself, no longer considered working songs, nor are they attached to specific tasks in most people's minds. However, as working sail returns in response to high fuel prices and the threat of climate change, these songs may well see a similar revival.
'Twas a cold an' dreary mornin' in December (December)
Well, all of me money it was spent (spent, spent)
Where it went to, Lord, I barely can't remember (remember)
So down to the shippin' office went (went, went)
Paddy, lay back (Paddy, lay back)!
Take in yer slack (take in yer slack)!
Take a turn around the capstan, heave a pawl
All around ship's stations, boys, be handy
For we're bound for Valparaiso 'round the Horn!
Ah, that day there wuz a great demand for sailors (for sailors)
For the Colonies and for 'Frisco and for France (France, France)
So I shipped aboard a Limey barque the Hotspur (the Hotspur)
An' got paralytic drunk on me advance ('vance, 'vance)
'Twas on the quarterdeck where first I saw 'em (I saw 'em)
Such an ugly bunch I'd never seen before ('fore, 'fore)
For the captain he had shipped a crew of Belgians (Eughhh!)
An' it made me poor ol' heart feel sick an' sore (sore, sore)
Ah, but Jimmy the rat he knew a thing or two, sir (or two, sir)
An' soon he'd shipped me outward bound again ('gain 'gain)
On a Limey to the Chinchas for guano (for guano?)
An' soon was I a-roarin' this refrain ('frain 'frain)
And I asked the mate a-which a-watch wuz mine-O (wuz mine-O)
Sez he, 'You'II soon find out a-which is which' (which, which)
An' he blowed me down an' kicked me hard a-stern-O (a-stern-O)
Callin' me a dirty rotten son-o'-a-bitch (bitch, bitch)
Ah, so there I was-a once again at sea, boys (at sea, boys)
The same ol' garbage over and over again ('gain, 'gain)
So, won't you stamp the caps'n and make some noise, boys (some noise. boys!)
And join me all in singing the ol' sweet refrain ('frain, 'frain)
Steven Woods is the Solaris and Education coordinator at HRMM. He earned his Master's degree in Resilient and Sustainable Communities at Prescott College, and wrote his thesis on the revival of Sail Freight for supplying the New York Metro Area's food needs. Steven has worked in Museums for over 20 years.
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