William Pint & Felicia Dale

Celebrating the ocean in song

Midnight on the Seas (2017)


The lyrics to Row On, Row On were found in the 1864 journal kept by a crew member on the New Bedford whaler The Three Brothers and published in Gale Huntington’s classic book, Songs the Whalemen Sang. UK musician Tim Laycock added a lovely hymn-like melody. We messed with the setting quite a bit to make our own version.

Willy Taylor is a traditional ballad chock full of classic themes — true love, betrayal, revenge, murder, cross dressing. Our version is a mixture of several others we have heard over the years including those of Ireland’s The Voice Squad and Rika Ruebsaat of British Columbia, who adopted the profound chorus lyrics “Oh the vows, Oh the breezes, Vows and breezes fade away” to replace the less profound ones we first heard “Dally dilly dum dilly dum dum dido, dally dilly dum dilly dum dum day”.

We know the shanty Fire Maringo was used for pressing cotton into the holds of ships, a “cotton screwing” shanty. Beyond that is all conjecture. There are varying theories as to the meaning of the lyrics. Some believe they refer to Napoleon’s horse, others do not. We combined it with Dominique Forges’  fine hurdy-gurdy tune La Sansonnette and several musical bits of our own.

Most traditional sea shanties had simple melodies — easy to pick up and remember, easy to sing while engaged in the various jobs encountered aboard sailing ships. One exception to the rule is Shiny-Oh. Its jazzy melodic structure stands out in the crowd. If Bobby Darin had been shanghaied and sent to sea, he’d have enjoyed this shanty. We pair it with a traditional hornpipe, The King of the Fairies, because of the reference to ferry boats in the lyrics. Ha.

We heard Rita Connolly’s Valparaíso sung at a folk club in the UK many years ago. One day it popped into William’s mind and led to this version. The image of the grizzled old sailor in a pub quietly singing to himself of Cape Horn and days gone by is a powerful one. Perhaps some day we’ll do a mash up of this and ‘Those Were the Days’.

The great British songwriter Cyril Tawny wrote many, many nautical songs that have become mainstays of maritime singers and songbooks the world over. Sally Free and Easy describes, in a few brief lines, the pain of a sailor’s romance gone bad. We had the pleasure of meeting and singing with Cyril several times in the UK so doing one of his songs brings back good memories for us.

Molly St George is a tune attributed to Thomas Connellan, a 17th century Irish harper and composer. We first heard it from the playing of Pacific Northwest guitarist and fiddler Randal Bays. Ms. St. George must have been quite memorable to inspire such a gorgeous melody. We use this as a lead in to Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still figuring that the unnamed but unforgettable woman of the song must have been a kindred spirit to Molly. We learned the song from Jeff Warner, whose song collecting parents, Frank and Anne Warner, made a field recording of a version sung by a pair of elderly sisters back in 1951.

We were surprised to find a version of this dating back to 1860 crediting the song to W.T. Wrighton and published by A.C. Peters & Bro. We were charmed to find the publishers’ address listed on the sheet music as “No. 94 West Fourth Str, opposite the Post Office”

Several years ago one of our listeners came to us with a fervent request to learn a particular song. We looked up the song lyrics and assumed that this was a fictional shipwreck tale. The story of Isaac Lewis seemed just too bad to be true, but, amazingly enough, it is based on a actual disaster. In 1859 when the ship the Royal Charter was returning from Australia bound for Liverpool. it was wrecked in a storm only 30 feet from shore in northern Wales. There were 450 casualties including Isaac, whose body washed up three days later within sight of his own father’s house. The melody from the classic sea ballad The Flying Cloud worked with songwriter Tom Russell’s original lyrics so well that we couldn’t resist mixing the two.

During a long stay in the Washington DC area, we had the opportunity to spend time with the lovely Jennifer Cutting, leader of the Ocean Orchestra. Jennifer wrote Steady as You Go for our friend Paul DiBlassi’s ailing father. Sadly, Paul himself passed away shortly after and this song became a source of great support for his family and many friends. The Ocean Orchestra has recorded the song on their Waves CD. We had the pleasure of joining them in the studio and adding guitar, hurdy-gurdy and vocals to their marvelous band arrangement. We are presenting a scaled down duet version of Jennifer’s full band arrangement.

It’s rare for us to perform anywhere without getting requests to hear Nasty Nell. Janie Meneely’s cautionary tale of a Chesapeake Bay waterman’s encounter with a feisty mermaid is a big crowd pleaser.

The melody we use is that of the traditional sea song, Strike the Bell.
Free advice: always be courteous to mythological characters!

We are interpreters of songs -- both traditional and contemporary. We take existing songs and put our own, unique ‘stamp’ on them, substituting words and adjusting melodies to suit our own tastes. In the traditional folk song world what we do is considered part of the ‘folk process’ and accepted as such. The world of contemporary songwriters can be a different bag of cats. Some writers begrudge every changed comma, others embrace variations. We hope that the talented songwriters we admire don’t take it personally when changes happen in our arrangements. It’s not that the song wasn’t lovely just the way it was, it’s more like we saw and loved a beautifully made garment, but a few alterations -- a tuck here, a hem there  -- and that exquisite garment fits us more comfortably.

Waterbug Records
P.O. Box 83, Glen Ellyn, IL 60138



All titles traditional except where noted.

Copyright © 2017

William Pint & Felicia Dale

All Rights Reserved


Row On, Row On

La Sansonnette/Fire Maringo
Willy Taylor
Shiny Oh/King of the ‘Ferries’
Sally Free and Easy
Molly St George
Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still

Isaac Lewis

Steady As You Go
Nasty Nell


Felicia Dale: hurdy-gurdies, fiddle, whistle, vocals

William Pint: 6string and 12 string guitars, octave mandolin, vocals

Tania Opland: fiddle, background vocals

Mike Freeman: djembe

Dan Mohler: bass guitar

T.J. Morris: drums

Jay Kenney: piano, tambourine

Row On, Row On: lyrics trad, melody by Tim Laycock

Valparaíso: words & music by Rita Connolly

Sally Free & Easy: words & music by Cyril Tawney

Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still: words & music by W.T. Wrighton

Isaac Lewis: words by Tom Russell
Steady As You Go: words & music by Jennifer Cutting

Nasty Nell: words by Janie Meneely

Produced by Pint & Dale

Engineered and recorded by Jay Kenney, Audio Logic Studios, Seattle

Mastered by Ross Nyberg, Nyberg Mastering

©William Pint & Felicia Dale, 2017

all rights reserved

Waterbug Records

traditional and modern songs of the sea