William Pint & Felicia Dale

Celebrating the ocean in song



In our view, one sign of an exceptional song or tune is its ability to be played in a variety of styles and approaches while maintaining its inherent quality. Many classical themes have withstood the translation into pop songs or rock music, and ethnic folk melodies have been turning up in classical music for many years. We have taken songs and tunes that we like and given them a twist in our own direction.

High Barbaree is a rousing tale of piracy and high sea adventure. In these days where everything relates to terrorism we look back at a pirate sneak attack (preemptive strike?) on fellow seafarers, a big battle, and the attackers are now in need begging for mercy in the sea. Instead of offering quarter, the ‘good guys’ leave the pirates to drown violating one of the basic rules of the sea. Justice? Revenge?

I noticed Oh Mary, Come Down! while browsing through Stan Hugill’s Shanties From the Seven Seas one day. It was just a fragment of a hauling shanty that Stan had picked up from another great book, Fredrick Pease Harlow’s The Making of a Sailor. There’s not much to it, but we liked it as a vehicle for harmony singing. Tania Opland and Mike Freeman had been singing it with us at parties and the occasional gig for a few months. While we were in Yorkshire recording the CD, Tania and Mike just happened to be in the area. They braved the cold blustery winds of Birdsedge to sing it with us there. They both showed up with dreadful colds and still managed to do a terrific job.

The Mary Stanford of Rye came our way on a trip through Birmingham. We were visiting friends who had told us of a great song we needed to hear. He brought out a CD by the British folk rock band Meet on the Ledge and played their version of this song. The story was so moving, so tragic that we copied down the lyrics then and there. It stayed with us for a few years but each time we'd try to work out a version we found it difficult to make it through the story without choking up.

The story is true, the Alice left Riga with a load of bricks and ran into a storm off the coast of England near Rye (down on the southern coast). The Mary Stanford’s crew fought the storm for hours trying to launch the rescue boat. Moments after they succeeded, but almost an hour after the fact, word came through from the coast guard that the Alice was saved. There were no survivors from the Mary Stanford’s crew, and yes, they still do go out on the pier every November 14th to call Johnny Head home to rest.

Billy Boy is one of those folk songs that turns up in many places. There are a number of versions of this in the English tradition, at least one American children’s song, and several shanties. Most shanties are designed for a single shanty man to sing out verses and the crew to respond with chorus and the associated work. Billy Boy is one of the few that are actually intended to be sung with two shanty men trading questions and answers in the song. We took this one and messed with it a lot using the octave mandolin and fiddle to give it just a hint of old timey American music. The tune at the end is a reel called (we believe) the Kylebrack Rambler.

Whew! Another big emotional song. We were singing at the Fylde Festival in Northwest England and heard this as part of a big stage production by a bunch of the local Fleetwood musicians. It was a wonderful show with skits, and songs and multi media slide projections. Near the end they sang Lost with visuals of local fishing fleet members and ships -- smiling energetic faces, wives and kids on the dockside waving at the fishing boats. The combination of these images and the somber recitation of ships that never returned and the sites of treacherous locations where so very many met their end was simply unforgettable. If Mary Stanford was tough to sing -- Lost was far tougher. We rarely make it through this song without one or both of us struggling to keep the voice from breaking.

We tried various approaches on the recording and thanks to Brian’s patience, were able to capture the sounds of guitar strings vibrating sympathetically to our singing. We’d sing directly into a guitar with an electric pick-up and add the sound to the existing vocal track. There’s also a track of air being blown over the tuned strings like a harp in the wind, and a track of wind sounds.

We’ve been big fans of C. Fox Smith's poetry ever since we stumbled onto it in a book belonging to Felicia’s dad. The Packet Rat is a very long poem that resisted any attempt to edit it into a shorter form. Traditional sea song fans will notice that the tune is adapted from the old favorite, Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy. It seems to capture the push/pull of the sea faring life. After reading Tony Horowitz’s book, Blue Latitudes about the travels of Captain James Cook in the South Seas the poem came alive with its description of the slow, pleasant life and the restless call of the North Atlantic. Normally I might try to edit a song a bit when it starts to hit ten minutes, but, there didn't seem to be very much that could be deleted without changing the tone of the piece.

Cheerily Man is a very old shanty dating back to Henry VIII or earlier. It is an anchor raising shanty that predates the capstan as an anchor raising tool. ‘Cheerily’ in this case refers to a tempo for hauling, probably not as fast as our version might lead one to think. The tune that follows is the Seven Stars, which Felicia found in a collection of English fiddle tunes.

For some reason The Wild Goose Shanty, has always made folks feel wistful and a little sad. Short as it is (we’ve never heard any additional verses that were not written and added by a contemporary singer) it captures a moment as well as any shanty ever has.

Again with the wistful! Heaven’s a Bar is a lovely song from the pen of Tim Laycock, who’s group The New Scorpion Band impressed us at the International Festival of the Sea in Portsmouth, England a few years ago. This makes a lovely companion piece to John Connoly’s Fiddler's Green as to the sailor’s vision of paradise. Tim’s original lyrics state, “The figurehead dances and she never gets tired”. I noticed she was then said to “beckon a breeze from her berth by the fire.” I took a scandalous leap and slightly folk processed what she was tirelessly doing.

The Prince’s Royal Set is a lively combination of  The Prince’s Royal, which is an English variation on O'Carolan’s Irish harp tune, The Princess Royal and a pair of pipe tunes from Northumberland in the North East corner of England. Katherine Tickell plays them at Mach 2 and we actually slowed down tunes for about the first time ever.

Thanks for listening!

Seven seas

High Barbaree
Oh Mary, Come Down!
The Mary Stanford of Rye
Billy Boy
The Packet Rat
Cheerily Man
The Wild Goose Shanty
Heaven’s a Bar
The Prince’s Royal


William Pint: vocals, guitars, mandolins, keyboards

Felicia Dale: vocals, hurdy-gurdy, whistles, bodhran


Tania Opland - violin, vocals

Mike Freeman: percussion, vocals

graphics and layout by William Pint and Adrienne Robineau

Recorded, mixed and mastered at Parkhead Studios, Yorkshire, England

Engineered by Brian Bedford.

Cover art: William Pint

Layout: Adrienne Robineau

Produced by William Pint & Felicia Dale

Sincere thanks goes out to our family and friends for their continued support of our music.

All titles traditional arranged by Pint & Dale, except The Mary Stanford of Rye, by Alan Maslen, Lost, by Baxter & Campbell, Heaven’s a Bar by Tim Laycock, and The Packet Rat (words C. Fox Smith, music traditional arranged by W.Pint)

Our highest ‘body count’ ever!

Disasters at Sea! Lost Ships.

Deadly Battles!

Drowned Pirates!

Heaven-bound Sailors.

Oh -- and a few jolly tunes as well.  

“...deserves placement on the Best of 2004 lists.

Or risk walking the plank.

...a collection of invigorating,

touching and melodic selections.”

- Kevin McCarthy, 8/04

Kevin's Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews