Songs

Mollymauk

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Oh the southern ocean is a lonely place
Where the storms are many and the shelter’s scarce
Down upon the southern ocean sailing
Down below Cape Horn

On the restless water and the troublin’ skies
There you’ll see that Mollymauk wheel and fly
Down upon the southern ocean sailing
Down below Cape Horn


Won’t you ride the wind and go, white seabird?
Won’t you ride the wind and go, molly-morg?
Down upon the southern ocean sailing
Down below Cape Horn


See the Mollymauk riding on his wide white wings
And lord, what a lonely song he sings
Down upon the southern ocean sailing …
And he’s got no compass and he’s got no gear
And there’s none can tell ya how the Mollymauks steer
Down upon the southern ocean sailing …

He’s the ghost of a sailor-man so I’ve heard say
Whose body sank, and his soul flew away
Down upon the southern ocean sailing …
And he’s got no haven and he’s got no home
He’s bound evermore for to wheel and roam
Down upon the southern ocean sailing …

When I gets too weary for to sail no more
Let my bones sink better far away from shore
Down upon the southern ocean sailing …
You can cast me loose and leave me driftin’ free
And I’ll keep that big bird company
Down upon the southern ocean sailing …

Bob Watson says: “Strictly the mollymauk (spelt by some as ‘mollymawk’— either seems acceptable) is one of several species of the albatross family, which all look similar to non-ornithologists. Legend has it that these big birds (usually encountered far from land) were embodiments of the souls of sailors who died at sea… if you killed one, you were killing the ghost of another sailor, maybe a former shipmate. Scandinavian and Germanic sailors referred to it as the ‘molomac,’ which got corrupted by English-speaking sailors to ‘Molly hawk’—mentioned in shanties like ‘The Ebenezer’— and then ‘mollymauk.’

“The very word beguiled me from the first … evocative, full of magical promise — musical, narrative, lyrical … and it took two years (and five different versions) before the song that you know came about. When it did it was sudden, with bits of text from most of the previous versions translating themselves seamlessly into the new format, to a new tune pattern inspired by a picture of a steamship on a table mat in someone’s dining room.

“So much fuss, so many revisions, and then POW!—just happens.

“For a time, the tune attracted no particular attention except from people who complained that ‘Down below Cape Horn’ was too low for them; then one day I sang it at a shanty festival singaround, and must have accidentally got the right key, because the room went quiet, then loud with response and chorus singing, and after that it seemed like everyone either knew it or wanted to, and some sang it so well that I became trepidacious about singing it myself. It helped that Danny and Joyce McLeod were sitting next to me at the singaround; Danny called the song ‘canny,’ and asked to take it into his repertoire … whence it went onto CDs by his groups The Keelers and Salt of the Earth, and into the songbags and CDs of other artists… circa twelve recordings, in the USA, New Zealand, Holland, and Poland, as well as here in the UK. Also four versions on YouTube, including a track from my own Shaggy Bob Story (which is itself no more than a decorative demo!).”

Bob Watson can be reached at ROM Watson, 9 Compton Close, Earley, Reading RG67EA, UK; email at


Remember the Exxon Valdez

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We remembered Pearl Harbor, we remembered the Maine
Great events that took place on the seas
But for our day and time, for a seafaring crime,
We’ll remember the Exxon Valdez!

When the pipeline was laid, and the promises made,
They said that our fears were absurd,
And they lied when they said we had nothing to dread
For safety would be their watchword.

So remember the Exxon Valdez, friends,
And the oil spreading over the seas.
When the oil companies say that their plans are O.K.
Just remember the
Exxon Valdez.

But over the years while calming our fears
The consortium was cutting their cost.
BP fired the men trained for cleanup, and then
They gambled with safety, and lost.

For a skipper had a few, left the helm to his crew,
And that night the Valdez ran aground.
She hung up on Bligh Reef, ‘twas beyond our belief
How much oil she had dumped in the Sound.

Now it’s been twenty years, we’ve forgotten our fears,
We’ve let oil companies do as they please,
For good or for ill, we shout “Drill, Baby, Drill!”—
We’ve forgotten the Exxon Valdez!

But remember the Exxon Valdez, friends,
And the Gulf spill of two thousand ten!
When the oil companies say that their plans are O.K.,
Beware! Or they’ll do it again!

Margaret DuBois says: “I used the tune of ‘Broken Down Squatter,’ which I heard from Thad Binkley, who learned from a Gordon Bok recording. Gordon Bok says he learned it from Ray Wales and from the Penguin Australian Songbook.

“The compiler of the book states that the ‘Broken Down Squatter’ was written by Charles Flower around the 1880s. The tune has evidently been ‘folk processed.’” It can be seen in something closer to its original version at sniff.numachi.com/pages/tiBRKSQUAT;ttBRKSQUAT.html.

To hear “Remember the Exxon Valdez” on YouTube, sung by Thad Binkley, search for “Thad Binkley” or www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-khSeX1lm0.


The folknik song pages are lovingly produced by Kay Eskenazi, John Kelly, and Barbara Millikan. John Kelly produced the song pages for this issue.

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