Category Archives: Music

The Cruise of the Calabar

It’s been awhile since the last post so time to bring out a few more pieces of verse which have been waiting in the wings.

This is actually a folk song and, like so many such songs, it has been tailored to suit the part of the country it is sung in. It is believed to have been written originally as a dialect song by Lancashire born Johnny Greenwood in 1870. Versions derived from this often bear little resemblance to the original; verbal transmission, i.e. the ‘folk process’, having taken effect.

It is a parody about the perils of life aboard a canal barge. Canal boaters/singers often altered the locations from the Rochdale Canal original and the story became increasingly more absurd. This version, set on the Teign, is no exception!

Where the name “Calabar” comes from is not clear but one potential source is the port in Nigeria. Calabar was named by the Spanish and during the era of the Atlantic slave trade it became a major port in the transportation of African slaves. By the 18th century, most slave ships that carried slaves from Calabar were English, with around 85% of these ships being owned by Bristol and Liverpool merchants.

Thanks to Ian Marshall for pointing me in the direction of this background information and for providing the soundclip of him singing the song with Cyril Tawney, from which I was able to transcribe the lyrics. I have added the last verse which appears in a number of other versions and seems to tie up the end of the story neatly.

For more information check out:  Songs from Devon

The Cruise of The Calabar

Come all ye dry-land sailors bold and listen unto my song
There are but forty verses so it won’t detain you long.
It’s all about the history of this here British tar.
Who shipped as a man before the mast on board the Calabar.

The Calabar was a clipper flat, copper-fastened before and aft
Her rudder stuck away out behind, her wheel was a great big shaft
With a swelling gale to fill each sail she’d make two knots an hour
The smartest craft on the whole canal though only one horse power.

Her capn was a strapping lad, he stood about four foot two
His eyes were black, his nose was red and his cheeks were Prussian blue
He wore a leather medal that he’d won in the Crimea war
And his wife was pilot and passenger’s cook on board the Calabar.

Our vessel ploughed the waters of the Teignmouth to Newton canal
All under close three topsails for the glass foretold a squall
‘Twas in old Salty pool me lads we was beaten about the surf
All bound for the port of Newton with a cargo of Dartmoor turf.

We started off with a favouring gale, the weather was all sublime
We were just a-passing the Teignmouth bridge where you can’t pass two at a time
We were struck midships by another flat which gave us a serious check
She stove in our larboard paddle-box and destroyed our hurricane deck

While hugging the shore near Netherton Point, a very dangerous spot
We ran down onto a cobb of coal that wasn’t marked down on the chart
So to keep the ship from sinking and to save each precious life
We threw the cargo overboard, including the captain’s wife.

And all was great confusion while the stormy winds did blow
The bosun slipped on an orange peel and he fell in the hold below
A piratical joke the captain cried and on us she doth gain
Next time I go to Newton me-boys b’jaggers I’ll go by train

We got our arms all ready for to meet the coming foe
Our grappling arms, our boarding pikes, our Armstrong guns also
Unfurl all sail the captain cried for we are sorely pressed
But the engineer replied from the back that the ‘orse was doing his best

The ship came past, the heroes fell and gallons of blood were spilt
And many fell before they were touched to make sure they wouldn’t be killed
And when the enemy struck her flag, the crew being laid on their backs
We found that she was a sister ship with a cargo of cobbler’s wax.

The ship is in the marine store now; the crew in the county jail
And I’m the only survivor left to tell the terrible tale
But if I could release that ship, I’d sail her off afar
And admiral be of a blooming fleet on the fighting Calabar



Images from the Bridge of Si’s

poetry festival coverLast weekend saw yet another fantastic Poetry Festival in Teignmouth.  Thanks to Jenny, Ronnie, Virginia, Graham and Ian for so much hard work and the tremendous effort in bringing this to fruition each year.

In the last two years I have written something to mark the festival (2014 – Poet Clan and 2015 – Matt Harvey, the Kipper and the Kenning).  So a tradition has been born.  This year’s poem is about the opening night when three performers – Susan Taylor, Simmon Williams and Simon Barron – put on a tour de force about the sea and shore.

There were three aspects I enjoyed especially:  such a rich range and variety of content and style;  the lyricism of the poetry was complemented by the sounds of the extraordinary guitar playing of Simon Barron in his rendering of sea-songs and the amazing mystical power of the Tibetan ocean drum (a musical oxymoron?!) which features as a reprise in this poem; and, finally, Susan’s flowing movements when reading that helped to bring the poetry to life.  Susan was like the flow of water through the bridge arches of the two Simons.

For those of you who attended that evening you should recognise the references.  For everyone  else, trying to condense a two hour performance into two minutes is not easy and this may seem a bit like a weird surreal dream, but that is why the poem is described as ‘images’.

Images from the Bridge of Si’s

Well Met Susan Taylor,
Simon Williams and Simon Barron;
Susan on the bridge of Si’s –
hear the sighs of the sea
and the swirl of the curl
of the estuary shore,
on a night to remember.

Hear the swish, the swoosh
of the ocean wash
from the ocean drum …
and the thrum of the heart of the fisherman
cupped in the claws of the skeleton woman,
ripped yet beating still …
See the goddess fingers, severed,
dip and dive,
coming alive as schools of seals and whales.
Inuit tales.
Fairy tales of the Tylwyth Teg.
Mermaids who take off their tails
and walk for a while
with a wink and a nod,
a McGonagall smile
at the Dawlish Seawall and Rail …. Disaster.

Hera the swish, the swoosh
of the ocean wash
from the ocean drum …
when the Sandman comes
at the time of the tide
of the ‘void of course’ moon.
Spermataphores of cephalopods.
Seamen’s songs
of wild young men and raffish lads,
stout infant fish of forty days.
There’s red port left!
So, heave away
into the bay of Valparaiso
where you’ll fall for the lust of a Spanish lass,
long gone those girls …. of Plymouth.

Hear the swish, the swoosh
of the ocean wash
from the ocean drum …
– it’s Tibetan, you know –
on a night to remember.

Falling Down



This is a lament of a different kind today.  Thanks to Matt Bellamy of Muse for allowing me to reproduce the lyrics here of the song “Falling Down”.  It reflects the feelings of growing up in a small seaside town, but it could also symbolise the angst of youth and the place where they live wherever it may be in the country.

It caused a bit of a stir when it was released as part of the Showbiz album.  But as local councillor and youth worker Mary Kennedy reflected at the time:

“I think we should listen to what young people say about the town and try and make it more appealing for them …. it is surprising how many want to come back after they have travelled around a bit and seen other parts of the country”

Falling Down
(Matt Bellamy, Muse)

I’m falling down, and 15,000 people scream
They were all begging for your dream

I’m falling down, 5,000 houses burning down, yeah
No-one is gonna save this town

[Chorus #1]
Too late, I already found what I was looking for
You know it wasn’t here, no it wasn’t here

I was calling your name
But you wouldn’t hear me sing
You wouldn’t let me begin

So I’m crawling away
‘Cuz you broke my heart in two, yeah
No I will not forget you

[Chorus #2]
Too late, I already found what I was looking for
You know it wasn’t you. No, it wasn’t you. No

Falling away, you never see me fall
No I could not forget you

Falling down, a thousand houses burning down
No-one is gonna save this town

[Chorus #2]

Falling down, now the world is upside down
I’m heading straight for the clouds

For more information check out:

Falling Down – commentary …..
Muse – the Band …..
Muse – street art …..

Cruise-Ship Sailing

Hebridean Princess and the Ness (from original by David Caunter)

Hebridean Princess and the Ness (from original by David Caunter)

This is the last in a series of posts about attractions of Teignmouth.

A few months ago history was made here – the arrival of the first ever cruise-ship in Teignmouth. It was greeted on the quayside by the new Mayor, Jacqui Orme, and the passengers were entertained with a few songs from the Back Beach Boyz and a talk by Viv Wilson MBE.

I thought it was only fitting to pen something about this event in a style that reflected Teignmouth’s seafaring tradition. So here is a modern take on an old shanty from the mid-nineteenth century – Donkey Riding.

Cruise-Ship Sailing
(Keats Ghost)

Mayor of Teignmouth, Cllr Jacqui Orme; Prof Mark Horton, BBC Presenter; Capt Trevor Bailey, Master Hebridean Princess; Viv Wilson MBE, Local Historian; Tracy Scranage, Town Centre Development Manager (by David Caunter)

Mayor of Teignmouth, Cllr Jacqui Orme; Prof Mark Horton, BBC Presenter; Capt Trevor Bailey, Master Hebridean Princess; Viv Wilson MBE, Local Historian; Tracy Scranage, Town Centre Development Manager (by David Caunter)

Were you ever in Teignmouth town,
the day the first cruise-ship came down,
with fifty passengers from Oban,
sailing on that cruise-ship?

Hey ho and away we go,
Cruise-ship sailing, cruise-ship sailing.
Hey ho and away we go,
Sailing on a cruise-ship.

The royally named Hebridean Princess,
steamed majestic around the Ness
greeted by Jacqui, the mayor, no less
hailing our first cruise-ship.


Back Beach Boyz (from original by David Caunter)

Back Beach Boyz (from original by David Caunter)

The guests enjoyed what we had to give –
a history lecture from our Viv
and the Back Beach Boyz sang a rousing gig
of shanties on the cruise-ship.


The ship’s first trip was a very short stay.
At the next high tide they were on their way.
Passengers cried “we’ll be back one day”,
sailing on a cruise-ship.

Hey ho and away we go,
Cruise-ship sailing, cruise-ship sailing.
Hey ho and away we go,
Sailing on a cruise-ship.

There is an interesting history attached to Donkey Riding.  If you’re interested, follow this link

Teignmouth Town

If you don’t come to Teignmouth because it’s a seaside town you may come as a visitor to one of the many festivals that Teignmouth hosts – poetry, science, jazz, general music, classical, folk.  Today’s poem is a memory from one of the folk groups, Mr Baker’s Dozen, which took part in the 2005 folk festival.

Mr bakers dozenThe words are set to the music of a traditional song called Yarmouth Town. Some of it is quite personal to Mr Baker’s Dozen and reflect events that happened to them over the weekend. They would not mean much to any else. Freddie was a dog that they took with them.

It’s simply called …..

Teignmouth Town
(Mr Baker’s Dozen)

Baker’s Dozen had an idea, way back at the start of the year
To a festival we should go, but Warwick didn’t want us, oh dear oh!!
Won’t you come down, won’t you come down, won’t you come down to Teignmouth Town
Won’t you come down, won’t you come down, won’t you come down to Teignmouth Town

On the ferry, quite exciting. Thunder and lightning, very, very frightening
Stair rods falling just like rain, shades of Priddy. Oh no not again!!

The sun came out and all was well, but what’s that hold up, who can tell,
Squire up ahead phoned to say ‘There’s a big delay, don’t come this way.’

Into the field, no time to lose. Up with the tent and out with the booze.
Merilyn and Ted came, oh what joy, three cheers for a girl and four for a boy.

Had another drink, some food, and song. Got a little merry well it didn’t take long.
Had a little visit from the chap next door. Oh what pleasures lay in store!!

‘May I sing a song for you?’ ‘Yes’ said the Squire ‘please, please do’
‘Well I hope my guitar is up the right way. I’ll make up the words if that’s O.K?’

Things didn’t start too well next day. They sent us on a ferry and we had to pay.
On the gang plank Fred stood and cried, had to be carried, how undignified.

No one at the pub to watch us dance. Could we get a drink? No not a chance.
Landlord busy painting the wall. ‘Don’t stand there!!’ There’s paint on us all.

Dancing wasn’t the best we’ve done, not to worry it’s just for fun.
Mummers playing everywhere but ours is the best so we don’t care.

Showers ran hot, showers ran cold, a seagull perched to SPIT and scold.
Mind where you sit, get ready to duck, you may get more than a little good luck!!

Procession was short, it just seemed long. Some got it right and some got it wrong.
Fountain foaming everywhere, bubbles on the ground and bubbles in the air.

For Merilyn and Ted we had to run through our Christmas play, less a line or two.
A few more songs and a little more booze, then off to the pub our grub to choose.

Went to bed still humming a tune, but Sunday morning came too soon.
Father Abraham seemed a good way to warm us up and start the day.

We almost got our dances right, had a big hit with Tommy’s Delight.
Made the most of Ted with his guitar. Hammed up the Mummers Play and Fred was a star.

Spent a lot of time in a triangle, but was it big or was it small?
Posed for a photo with the Mayor, but only after Donna had combed her hair!!

Could go on and on some more, but this little song is becoming a bore,
So lets just drink to a good weekend and bring this festival to an end.

Want to know more about Mr Baker’s Dozen?  Check out:

Mr Baker’s Dozen …..

Elias Parish Alvars

Elias Parish Alvars

Elias Parish Alvars

Boxing Day and the occasion of the annual “Walk in the sea” to raise money for the RNLI – remembered last year through the post “We Honour Them“.

Today’s post though continues the theme of people and, in particular, the links with music.  There have been a few posts already about folk songs, shanties, poems in music but today is about the harp.

I found the following poem in one of the pamphlets of the Teignmouth Heritage Centre.

Elias Parish Alvars was a gifted harpist, born in Teignmouth in 1808. To pursue his musical career he moved to Austria. Hector Berlioz described him as “prodigious” and “the Lizst of the harp”. Follow the link after the poem for more about his life.

He died young, at the age of 41, and this poem was written on his death by an old and sincere friend, noted in the pamphlet as “Warwick”.

Parish Alvars

O’er Mendelssohn the cypress tree
Was scarcely planted near
Ere weeping willows bend, we see,
To shadow Alvars’ bier

Spirits of air, the host on high
Will hail ye with delight.
Genius like yours can never die,
Twin spirits now of light.

Bards of Ossian, tune your lay
With silver harps so sweet.
To charm the bard of our day
His kindred souls to meet.

He lives again, whose works remain,
Displaying music’s art:
And he will in that region reign
The memory of the heart.

England may proudly boast his birth,
Till into manhood grown;
The Germans knowing well his worth,
had claimed him as their own.

Want to know more? Check out:

Elias Parish Alvars …..

Bridget of Brimley

And now to another song but written a hundred years later. I’m returning to Thomas Aggett, the ‘Railway Poet’ from Teignmouth. Brimley now is all a developed residential area of Teignmouth but in Aggett’s time would have been largely farmland, with Brimley brook formerly being a feeder for the River Tame which once flowed into the centre of Teignmouth forming a marshy confluence with the Teign.

It is an interesting example of customs of the time which might otherwise have disappeared from memory if they hadn’t been recorded in rhyme, whether that be poetry or song.

To quote from his book ‘Vagabond Verses’:

“The kind of grass here alluded to is the Perennial rye-grass, locally known as ‘Eaver’ which Devonshire maidens are wont to pluck to ascertain of what trade their future husbands will be. Starting from the top ear they chant the following:- ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Richman, Poorman, Beggarman, Thief’ – repeating (if necessary) until the last ear is touched wherein resides the oracle. Children in play in the meadows have a similar custom; when in doubt as to the passage of time they take a grass and say – ‘Does my mother want me? Yes – no – yes – no’ and so on.”

Bridget of Brimley

(Thomas Aggett)

Now Sweetheart be good,
And don’t be contrary,
Pray put on your hood
And lock up the dairy,
Together we’ll roam,
Ay, trip it so trimly
Through the meadows and home,
Come, Bridget of Brimley.

Here’s a grass, tell our lot,
You witch, read it steadily;
“We love” – “we love not” –
“We love” – ay so readily.
But throw now I pray
Light where I see dimly
The hour and the day
Bright Bridget of Brimley.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Thomas Aggett …..