This song is a bundle of Victorian references which I'll let you look up for yourselves, but is also a uniquely windjammer song. I'd like to focus on those elements, more than the other content, as the song was from the late 19th century, when steam and sail had diverged, but both were still going strong.
There's a number of references which all indicate this is a windjammer sailor's song: Setting Sail, of course is obvious, but others are not. Doldrum Grounds are unique to windjamming, as a motor vessel doesn't care if the wind stops. Slacking neither tacks nor sheets is an expression for fast cruising, or maintaining all possible speed, but steamships have none of these parts of square-sail rigging. Rocks and Shoals are dangerous to almost any vessel, but especially to sailing vessels off a lee shore, where the wind can drive a sailing ship on the rocks while a motor ship could employ its engines to move off from the hazard.
This remnant of windjamming has survived in several recordings, and uses various years, all from the mid-to-late 19th century, after steam propulsion became common, so it is likely to have been something that differentiated between sailors with the two separate skillsets for the different types of vessels. Regardless, now it is simply a good song in the queue for those of us ashore.
'Twas in the year of '94 and I think of March the 20th day
I thought I'd have a little cruise from the Well Street home to Tiger Bay
As I rolled through old Wappin street, 'twas there I met a pretty maid
She gave me a kiss and she lifted her skirts, her legs were all in fine array
Whack fol the looray looray laido whack fol the looray looray lay
Whack fol the looray looray lay hurrah for the pilots of Tiger Bay!
When we set sail it was quite late, it was the hour of ten at night
We never slacked a tack nor a sheet 'til we came to the house of Mother Wright
And when I saw that cosy room, I there resolved to stay next day
So I took that gal for me harbour dues and she piloted me down to Tiger Bay
Then in the morning when I woke, I found myself in doldrum grounds
But the madam wouldn't let me go until I had spent twenty pounds
Says I to myself: this'll never do, I'll jump this bark without delay
So I took a slant for the Well Street home from the rocks and shoals of Tiger Bay
Now when I got back to the Well Street home I met my mate in the smoker there
He shouted: Jack, where the hell have you been? You seem to be in ballast there
I hung my head, not a word I'd say, I got me another ship that day
And if I ever go to London again I'll take another cruise down to Tiger Bay
To all you young fellers in this room I've only got one word to say
Whenever you meet a pretty little maid just lead her gently by the way
There's many an ups and downs in the world, and many a pretty girl down the highway
But the prettiest ones that you'll ever see are the pilots down in Tiger Bay
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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