> Folk > Songs > Paddy Lay Back

Paddy Lay Back / Let Her Go Back / On Board the Leicester Castle

[ Roud 653 ; Ballad Index Doe054 , Doe117 , BonCB140 ; DT PADLAYBK ; Mudcat 73453 , 172604 ; trad.]

Joanna C. Colcord: Songs of American Sailormen

Stan Hugill sang Paddy Lay Back on 15 May 1954 to Séamus Ennis for the BBC recording 20226. He and Stormalong John sang it at “Fêtes du chant de marin” in Paimpol, Brittany, in 1991, which was included in 1992 on their Le Chasse-Marée album Chants des Marins Anglais.

Paul Clayton and the Foc’sle Singers sang Paddy Lay Back in 1959 on their Folkways album Foc’sle Songs and Shanties. Kenneth S. Goldstein noted:

This foc’sle ditty (better known by the title Mainsail Haul) was well known on British packet ships throughout the last half of the 19th century. More than likely it began life as an Irish or English Music hall song, but its sentiments and language were so in keeping with the sailor’s actual lot, that it soon made its way into the foc’sle.

Closely related to this song is the popular capstan shanty Paddy, Get Back, with which it shares a common refrain, and, occasionally, a similar textual line. The shanty is easily differentiated from the foc’sle song, however, in that its stanzaic form is that of unrhymed couplets, rather than the alternate rhyme quatrains given here.

For additional texts and information, see David W. Bone: Capstan Bars, p. 139; Joanna C. Colcord: Songs of American Sailormen, p. 121 (for the shanty); William M. Doerflinger: Shantymen and Shantyboys, p. 54 (for the shanty) & pp. 117-121 (for the foc’sle song); Frank Shay: American Sea Songs and Shanties p. 69 (for the shanty).

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang Paddy Lay Back in 1968 on their Transatlantic album The Circle Game. Ian Campbell and chorus also sang it in 1997 at Dave Pegg and Friends’ Birthday Party.

Aldwyn Cooper and chorus sang Paddy Get Back in 1971 on The Critics Group’s Argo album of shanties and forebitters, Ye Mariners All. They noted:

Between 1820 and 1850 the American packets dominated the Atlantic trade. They were known to seamen everywhere as “red-hot blood ships”. Their skippers were both hated and feared as slave-drivers, while packet sailors referred to their second and third mates as “blowers and strikers”—two words which meant the same thing.

The Union Folk sang Paddy Lay Back in 1971 on their Traditional Sound album Waiting for a Train.

George Linn sang On Board the Leicester Castle in the home of his daughter Iris Williams in Croydon, London on 28 April 1975 to Keith Summers. This recording was included in 1976 on the Ling Family’s Topic album Singing Traditions of a Suffolk Family and in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Ship Shall Sail the Ocean (The Voice of the People Volume 2).

John ‘Fud’ Benson sang Paddy Lay Back on the 1976 Folkways album of songs and chanteys from the days of commercial sail, Steady As She Goes. The sleeve notes commented:

A capstan shanty (used for hauling up the anchor) describing the feelings of a sailor towards his shipmates when landing on a new ship. There are, as well, some terse words concerning the Captain, the Mate, and the agent who got him the job.

Johnny Doughty sang a fragment of Let Her Go Back at home in Brighton to Mike Yates in Summer 1976. This recording was published in the following year on his Topic album of traditional songs from the Sussex coast, Round Rye Bay for More, and in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs and music from the Mike Yates Collection, Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike Yates noted:

Let Her Go Back […] is widespread among sailors—usually under the title Paddy Lay Back—and versions appear in most of the major collections of nautical songs.


Paul Clayton and the Foc’sle Singers sing Paddy Lay Back

’Twas a cold and dreary morning in December,
All of my money it was spent,
Where it went to, Lord, I can’t remember,
So down to the shipping office went.

Chorus (after each verse):
Oh, Paddy, lay back, take in your slack!
Take your turn around the capstan, heave a pawl!
About your stations, boys, be handy,
Raise tack sheets and mainsail haul!

Now that day there was a great demand for sailors;
For the colonies and for Frisco and France,
So I shipped aboard a Limey bark, the Hotspur,
Had a paralytic drunk on my advance.

Now I joined her on a cold December’s morning
A-flapping of my flippers to keep me warm,
With a south comb hoisted as a warning
To stand by the coming of a storm.

Now though my poor old head has all a-jumpin’,
We had to loose her rags the following morn.
Oh I dreamt the boarding master I was thumping,
When I found out he sent me ’round the Horn.

So I swore that I’d become a beachcomber,
And I’d never go to sea no ruddy more.
For I never wanted for to be a roamer,
I’d shanghai the boarding master and stay shore.

But it’s now once more I’m off again to sea, boys,
It’s the same old ruddy business all again;
So stamp the capstan ’round and sing a song, boys,
Sing once again this dear refrain.

George Linn sings On Board the Leicester Castle

It was early in the month of cold December,
When my money it was all spent and gone and so it is now.
And I thought that I would take a quiet ramble
And down to the shipping office went.

On the day there’d been a great demand for sailors
To take a trip to China or Japan.
When I shipped aboard the Leicester Castle,
And I came home with the month’s money in advance.
And I said,

Let her come back; heave in your slack;
Heave away your capstan; gain a port; gain a port;
About ship; at your station, boys, be handy;
Raise your sheets, yours slacks and your hats / mats / caps and all.

Now, when I arrived aboard the Leicester Castle,
Such lovely sights I’d never seen before.
There were ragged-muffins there from every nation
And, golly, how my poor heart felt so sore.

Down in my chest I knew I had a bottle,
I see the shipping master put it there.
And I thought I’d go quench my thirsty throttle
To drive away dull sorrow and dull care.

There upon my hands and knees I went a-groping,
A-groping like a pig into his trough.
And with my surprise and wonder
I found it was good medicine for my cough,
So I said,


Now, I wished I was with the jolly sailors
Down in Blaxhall Ship a-drinking beer,
And when the singing and dancing it was all over
We raised our pots and sang out with good cheer.


Fud Benson and chorus sing Paddy Lay Back

’Twas a cold and windy morning in December
When all of my money, it was spent,
    Spent, spent
And where the hell it went I can’t remember
So down to the shipping office I went
    Went, went!

Chorus (after each verse):
Paddy lay back,
    Paddy lay back!
Take in the slack,
    Take in the slack
Take a turn around the capstan,
    Heave a pawl!
About ship’s stations, boys, be handy
    Be handy!
We’re bound for Valparaiso ’round the Horn!

Well, that day there was a great demand for sailors,
For the colonies and for ’Frisco and for France.
So I joined a Limey barque called the Hotspur,
An’ I got paralytic drunk on my advance.

Well it was on the quarterdeck where first I saw ’em.
Such an ugly bunch I’d never seen before,
For the captain had shipped a shanghai crew of Dutchmen
And it made my poor old heart feel sick and sore.

Well I asked the mate which watch was mine-O,
He’d said he’d soon see which watch was which,
Oh and he blew me down and he kicked me in the stern-O,
Calling me a dirty, lousy son of a bitch.

It was then I made my mind up that I’d leave her,
I’d get a job and live my life ashore;
So I jumped overboard and swam ashore, boys,
And in the English Bar I found a whore.

But Jimmy the Crimp he knew a thing or two, sir,
And quickly I was outward bound again;
On a Limey to the Chinchas for guano,
And here I am singing the old refrain.

So here we are once again at sea, boys,
The same old garbage hauled over again.
So won’t you stamp the capstan round and make a noise, boys,
And join with me in singing the old refrain.

Johnny Doughty sings Let Her Go Back

Now when I was young and silly in me twenties
It was then I thought I’d go to sea.
So I shipped aboard the mast in a Whaler,
We went from California all the way back to France.

So let her go back, take in the slack,
Oh, heave away the capstan, heave a pawl, heave a pawl,
Stand fast, boys, and then keep handy,
And we’re bound for Calaboriso around the Horn.