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The Fisher Lad of Whitby

[ Roud V37024 ; Ballad Index PaSe068 ; Mudcat 171329 ; trad.]

Bill Price sang The Fisher Lads of Whitby in 1972 on his Folk-Heritage album The Fine Old Yorkshire Gentleman. He noted:

During the closing years of the 18th century the pressgang was fearful reality. The north-east coast of Yorkshire, with its hardy mariners, was a rich field from which to gather victims for the bloody French Wars.

Roy Palmer printed The Fisher Lad of Whitby in his 1986 book The Oxford Book of Seas Songs and its extended 2001 version, Boxing the Compass. He noted:

This Whitby girl’s view of the pressgang is paralleled in Mrs Gaskell’s novel, Sylvia's Lovers (1863), which is set during the French Wars in the same town.

Bob and Gill Berry sang Fisher Lad of Whitby in 2006 on their WildGoose album BitterSweet. They noted:

This is the first tune that Bob's mum wrote many years ago after being given the words by someone from Doncaster Library. Another—sailor off out to sea whilst his lover waits forlornly on the shore—this song has a deep anguish within it that sends a shiver down your spine. You almost feel like you are stood on the foggy shoreline yourself.

Anni Fentiman sang Fisher Lad of Whitby in 2006 on her and Dave Webber's Old and New Tradition album Unity. They noted:

This comes from Roy Palmer's collection Boxing the Compass. Peter Wood brought it to our attention and Anni put a tune to it.

Steve Tilston sang The Fisher Lad of Whitby on his 2014 album Ziggurat. He noted:

A traditional song taken from Holroyd’s Yorkshire Ballads. A tale of pressgangs, men of war and watery graves.

Martha Tilston sang The Fisher Lad of Whitby on her 2014 album The Sea. She noted:

Dad transformed this song and wrote the beautiful tune for it. He released it a few years ago on his album Ziggurat, and it seems to have pricked a lot of peoples imagination since. Bob Johnson suggested I sing it one day, so we thought we'd try it for this album. We discovered the narrative lends itself to a male/female vocal arrangement.—I love dad's voice on this one—he sounds like a wise, salty sea dog from another time—nice to sing about Whitby Bay as well, as we have been there as a family for the folk festival. There is a reassuring fragility in this song, but what I love most is the constant in and out breath of this song, like so much in our lives, the turning and returning of things—the tide, the ships, the generations coming and going, the in and out of love, the young lads going to war and the ones that don't come back.

“These men were destined to years of monotony, pressed into the King's service, where the pay was problematic, the food was bad and their backs were liable to be flogged to the bones at a simple order from the captain”—accounts of press gangs, Faber book Tales of the Sea.

Lyrics

The Fisher Lad of Whitby in Boxing the Compass

My love he was a fisher lad, and when he came on shore
He always steered to me to greet me at the door,
For he knew I loved him well, as anyone could see,
And oh but I was fain when he came a-courting to me.

It was one lovely morning, one morning in May,
He took me in his boat to sail out on the bay;
Then he told me of his love as he sat by my side,
And he said that in a month he would make me his bride.

That very afternoon a man-of-war came in the bay,
And the pressgang came along and took my lad away;
Put irons on his hands and irons on his feet,
And they carried him aboard to fight in the fleet.

My father often talks of the perils of the main
And my mother says she hopes he will come back again;
But I know he never will, for in my dreams I see
His body lying low at the bottom of the sea.

The ships come sailing in and the ships they sail away,
And the sailors sing their merry songs out on the bay;
But for me, my heart is breaking, and I only wish to be
Lying low with my lover deep down in the sea.

When the house is all still and everyone asleep
I sit upon my bed and bitterly I weep;
And I think of my lover away down in the sea,
For he never, never more will come again to me.

Bill Price sings The Fisher Lads of Whitby

My love he was a fisher lad, and when he came on shore
He always steered to me for to greet me at my door.
He knew that I loved him well as anyone could see
And all the times fain when he came a-courting me

It was one Monday morning, one morning in May,
He took me on his boat for to sail out on the bay.
He told me of his love as he sat down by my side,
And said that in one month he would make me his bride.

But that very afternoon a man-of-war came in the bay,
A press gang came on shore and they took my love away.
Put irons on his hands, they put irons on his feet,
And they took my love on board for to fight with the fleet.

My father often talks of the perils of the main,
My mother says she hopes that he will come back again.
But me I cannot speak, for in my dreams I see
His body lying down at the bottom of the sea.

The ships come sailing in and the ships they sail away,
The sailors sing their merry songs way out on the bay;
But for me, my heart is achingg, I only wish to be
Lying with my lover at the bottom of the sea.

And when the house is still and everyone asleep,
I sit upon my bedside and bitterly I weep,
Weeping for my lover who was taken by the sea.
I know he never more will return again to me.

Steve Tilston sings The Fisher Lad of Whitby

My love he was a fisher-lad, and when he came ashore,
He always steered to me to greet me at my door;
For he knew I loved him well, as any one could see,
And oh but I was fain when he came a-courting me.

It was on one lovely morning, one morning in May,
He took me in his fishing boat to sail out on the bay.
Then he told me of his love, as we languished with the tide,
That before the month was over, I would be his bride.

And the ships come sailing in and the ships they sail away,
And the fishermen will sing their songs out on Whitby bay.
And the fishermen will haul their nets and happy we will be,
Living here with my true love, down beside the sea.

That very afternoon a pressgang combed the lanes,
They dragged him to a man-of-war, bound by iron chains.
Irons on his hands and irons on his feet,
They carried him aboard, to fight in the fleet.

My father often talks of the perils of the main,
My mother says she hopes he will come back again.
But I know he never will, for in my dreams I see
His body lying low at the bottom of the sea.

And the ships come sailing in and the ships they sail away,
And the fishermen still sing their songs out on Whitby bay.
But for me my heart is broken and I only wish to be,
Lying low with my fisher lad down in the sea.

And when the house is still and everyone asleep,
I sit upon my bed and bitterly I weep;
And I think on my true love deep down in the sea,
For he never, never more will come again to me.