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Strike the Bell

[ Roud 4190 ; Ballad Index PaSe123 ; DT STKBELSM ; Mudcat 25318 ; trad.]

Roy Harris with Notts Alliance sang Strike the Bell in 1972 on his Topic album The Bitter and the Sweet. A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:

Henry Clay Work (1832-84), a Chicago printer, wrote Marching Through Georgia, The Ship That Never Returned, Grandfather’s Clock and other immortal pieces. including Ring the Bell, Watchman!, one of the most parodied of all 19th century popular songs. Australian sheep-hands had their version. called Click Go the Shears, and British sailors turned it into a work-weary appeal for the second mate to sound the signal for the end of the watch—Strike the Bell. Henry Work wrote the song in 1865, so presumably the sailor version arose during the time of changeover from sail to steam. Late on, anyway.

Tim McGinness and Peter Willox, with Tony Barrand on chorus, and accompanied by John Roberts on concertina and Pete Seeger on banjo, sang Strike the Bell in 1974 on the Hudson River Sloop album Clearwater.

Bernard Wrigley sang Strike the Bell on his 1974 Topic album Rough and Wrigley. He noted:

Schoolchildren longing for the second bell and factory workers waiting for the hooter echo the sailors’ sentiments, for the bell is struck after each two-hour dogwatch. The original song, words and tune, was written at the end of the American Civil War by Henry Clay Work. The same tune is used for an Australian shearing song, also for a Temperance song with chorus beginning “Sign the pledge, brothers, sign, sign, sign.” But perhaps nowadays it’s best known in the sailor versions.

Jeff Warner and chorus sang Strike the Bell in 1976 on the Collector album of songs and chanteys from the days of commercial sail, Steady As She Goes.

Stan Hugill sang Strike the Bell at the Herga Folk Club in 1979, which was released in the following year on his Greenwich Village album Stan Hugill Reminisces. He also sang it at “Fêtes du chant de marin” in Paimpol in 1991, which as released in 1992 on his and Stormalong John’s Le Chasse-Marée album Chants des Marins Anglais. He commented in the first album’s notes:

A pumping song. Several shore songs use this tune. There is a Welsh one, Twll Bach y Calo, a Scotttish one, Ring the Bell, Watchman!, and an Australian one, Click Go the Shears, and the sailors version was popular in both Scandinavian and German ships. The whole theme is based on the fact that it was a common custom for the mates in sailing ships to take in, or set, sail, or tack or wear at eight bells (midnight, 4am, 8 am, midday, 4pm or 8pm) when they could use the watch about to ‘go below’ and the watch coming on deck—in other words ‘all hands’. The men in this song are awaiting the second mate to strike eight bells so they can get below to their bunks before the ‘Old Man’ decides to take in the canvas.

Johnny Collins and friends sang Strike the Bell Landlord in 1982 on their Traditional Sound album Free & Easy.

Steve Dawes and Helen Pitt sang Strike the Bell at the 2004 Lancaster Maritime Festival. This recording was included in the same year on the festival anthology Beware of the Pressgang.

Banter sang Strike the Bell in 2019 on their Mrs Casey CD Dare.

The Exmouth Shanty Man sang Strike the Bell in 2022 on their WildGoose album Tall Ships and Tavern Tales. They noted:

Late 19th century songs to this tune include Ring the Bell, Watchman! (at the end of the American Civil War), and the Australian Click Go the Shears, possibly a slightly later parody. Some think the pumping shanty Strike the Bell is older than both.


Stan Hugill sings Strike the Bell

Aft on the quarter deck walking about
There is the second mate to steady and so stout.
He is thinking of his sweetheart and he’s hoping she is well;
He wish that old second mate would strike, strike the bell.

Chorus (after each verse):
Strike the bell, second mate, let’s go below,
Look out to wind’ard you can see it’s gonna blow.
Look at the glass you can see that it has fell,
We wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell.

For’ard on the foc’s’le head and keepin’ sharp lookout,
There is Johnny waiting, ready fer to shout,
“Lights’ burnin’ bright, sir, and everything is well!”
But he’s wishin’ that old second mate would strike, strike the bell.

Down on the main deck, and workin’ at the pumps,
There is the larboard watch ready for their bunks;
Over to wind’ard they see a great swell,
And he’s wishin’ that old second mate would strike, strike the bell.

Aft at the wheel poor Anderson stands,
Graspin’ the spokes in his cold mitten hands.
Lookin’ at the compass and the course is clear as hell
But he’s wishin’ that old second mate would strike, strike the bell.

Aft on the quarter deck our gallant captain stands,
Lookin’ to wind’ard with the glasses in his hand.
What he is thinkin’ of we know very well,
He’s thinkin’ more of shortenin’ sail than strike, strike the bell.