> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Blood Red Roses
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Blood Red Roses

[ Roud 931 ; Ballad Index Doe022 ; DT BLOODRED ; Mudcat 34080 ; trad.]

Henry Lundy form Nassau, Bahamas, sang Come Down, You Roses in an August 1935 field recording made by Alan Lomax and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle. It was included in 1999 on the Rounder anthology Bahamas 1935 in the Alan Lomax Collection / Deep River of Song series.

A.L. Lloyd sang the halyard shanty Blood Red Roses in 1954/5 on his, Ewan MacColl and Harry H. Corbett’s album The Singing Sailor. This track has been reissued lots of times, on their albums Row Bullies Row, Singing Sailors (Wattle Records), Off to Sea Once More (Stinson Records), and A Hundred Years Ago, and on the compilations Sea Songs and Shanties (Topic Sampler No 7), Chants de Marins IV: Ballads, Complaintes et Shanties des Matelots Anglais, Classic A.L. Lloyd, and Sailors’ Songs & Sea Shanties. It is unknown who sings chorus although Ewan MacColl’s voice can be detected. A year later, in 1957, A.L. Lloyd and Ewan MacColl sang Blood Red Roses on the Riverside LP Thar She Blows!

He also sang it in his uncredited role as lead shantyman in the movie Moby Dick, directed by John Huston in 1956:

A.L. Lloyd noted on A Hundred Years Ago:

One of the best of halyard shanties, undeservedly little known until it became current in the folk song clubs fairly recently. Old Cape Horners have been unable to suggest the meaning of the refrain. Stan Hugill, in his excellent Shanties From the Seven Seas quotes a fragment that may be relevant:

Ho Molly, come down
Come down with your pretty posy
Come down with your cheeks so rosy
Ho Molly, come down

and in the Classic A.L. Lloyd sleeve notes:

For a halyard shanty this one is unusually well evolved. Stan Hugill thinks it probably started life early in the nineteenth century. I’d have thought later, by its shape. Its first mention in print is 1879. Old Cape Horners have been unable to suggest the meaning of the refrain. In some Napoleon ballads the British army is referred to as “the bunch of roses.” More probably it’s an image garbled from a scrap quoted by Hugill:

Come down with your pretty posy
Come down with your cheeks so rosy

It must be noted though, as Gibb excellently argued in the Mudcat Café thread Origins: Blood Red Roses that the chorus line “Go down, you blood red roses” seems to have been invented by A.L. Lloyd himself in the film Moby Dick and later in his recordings. There seems to be no evidence of this line in any published document prior to 1956; e.g. Captain R.C. Adams in On Board the Rocket (1879) has a chorus of “Come down, you bunch of roses”, and Doerflinger in Shantymen and Shantyboys (1951) prints a text and melody for “Come down, you bunch of roses.” Whereas other chanteys in his collection are from recordings he made in New York, this one, which he calls “very rare,” he got from an 1893 manuscript of a notation of a sailor from Massachusetts. He had never seen nor heard this chantey otherwise. Stan Hugill, who was mentioned in Lloyd’s sleeve notes above, seems to have adopted the chorus line from Lloyd too.

Paul Clayton sang Go Down, You Blood Red Roses in 1956 on his Tradition album Whaling and Sailing Songs From the Days of Moby Dick. He noted:

It is thought that this fine old halyard shanty is of Scottish origin. It is mentioned by Captain R.C. Adams in his book On Board the Rocket (1379) as being sung by the Negro crew of an American ship in mastheading the maintopsail, but it is unquestionably of earlier origin than this mention.

Peter Bellamy sang Paddy Doyle’s Boots and Blood Red Roses in a 1964 private recording that was included in 1999 on his Free Reed anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes.

A live performance fragment of Blood Red Roses by an early incarnation of the Watersons called the Folksons (Lal, Mike and Norma Waterson, John Harrison, and Pete Ogley) from 1964 was published in 2004 on the Watersons’ 4 CD anthology Mighty River of Song.

Louis Killen sang Blood Red Roses in 1970 on his South Street Seaport Museum LP 50 South to 50 South and in 2002 on the Revels CD Homeward Bound.

Danny Spooner sang Blood Red Roses on his 1988 album We’ll Either Bend or Break ’Er. This track was also included in 2007 on his anthology Years of Spooner where he commented:

I first learned this halyard shanty from Bob Roberts who was my skipper on a Thames sailing barge and had a welter of sea songs and shanties. We often used shanties on the barge to ease the work and make it a bit more enjoyable. It’s a great one to rip into and I recorded it in 1988 with a few mates on a Sandstock record, We’ll Either Bend or Break ’Er. It was great fun to do but it’s no longer available.

Swan Arcade recorded Blood Red Roses for their 1990 CD Full Circle (and, to stay in the mood, sang Noah’s Ark Shanty a year later on the Fellside anthology Voices: English Traditional Songs.)

Johnny Collins, Dave Webber and Pete Watkinson sang Blood Red Roses in 1996 on their CD Shanties & Songs of the Sea and Sting sang it in 2006 on the anthology of pirate ballads, sea songs and chanteys, Rogue’s Gallery.

Jon Boden learnt Blood Red Roses at the Forest School Camps and sang it as the 23 September 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. His verses are somewhat similar to the ones the Watersons used in the shanty The Plains of Mexico on their 1966 album The Watersons.

Rattle on the Stovepipe sang Blood Red Roses in 2017 on their WildGoose CD Poor Ellen Smith. They noted:

Flowers? 19th century red-coated British soldiers? Bloody flower-like spume from the blow-hole of a harpooned whale? Who knows? Nobody. So we’re free to interpret the enigmatic chorus as we like. In fact, the poetic imagery of the ‘blood-red roses’ can be traced back no further than 1956 when Bert Lloyd sang it in the John Huston film Moby Dick. So the line that has caused such conjecture is simply, like so many other memorable folk revival lyrics, another example of Bert’s fertile imagination. His source was almost certainly Come Down, You Bunch of Rosesy, printed with the tune in William Doerflinger’s 1951 collection Shantymen and Shantyboys: Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman. With a re-written chorus line and the addition of some generic shanty verses, Bert launched the song on its way to becoming a folk standard. Many years later Doerflinger did say: “I doubt that the movie version, with a ‘blood-red roses’ chorus, is authentic folklore.” Dave [Arthur], inspired by Bert’s song but not wanting to sing a shanty, wrote our version a few years ago while working on his biography, Bert: The Life and Times of A. L. Lloyd.


A.L. Lloyd sings Blood Red Roses

Our boots and clothes is all in pawn
    Go down, you blood red roses, go down!
And its flamin’ drafty ’round Cape Horn,
    Go down, you blood red roses, go down!
    Oh, you pinks and posies,
    Go down, you blood red roses, go down!

It’s ’round that cape we all must go
Around all stiff through the frost and snow.

Oh my old mother, she wrote to me,
My dearest son, come home from sea.

It’s growl you may, but go you must,
If you growl too hard your head they’ll bust.

Just one more pull and that will do
For we’re the boys to kick her through.

The Folksons sing Blood Red Roses

Our captain he has set us down
    Go down, you blood red roses, go down!
And he has sailed till Auckland town
    Oh, you pinks and posies
    Go down, you blood red roses, go down!

Well the captain he’s left us on grog
And just once looked(?) he in a ten pound tug

Just one more pull and that will do
Just one more pull to see us through

Well the captain he’s come over with fear
He’s grown him a tail like Lucifer

Danny Spooner sings Blood Red Roses

Me boots and clothes is all in pawn,
    G’down ye blood red roses, g’down;
It’s flamin’ drafty round Cape Horn,
    G’down ye blood red roses, g’down
    Oh ye pinks and poses,
    G’down ye blood red roses, g’down

It’s round Cape Stiff we all must go,
Around Cape Stiff in the frost and snow.

It’s growl ye may but go ye must,
Ye growl to ’ard, yer ’ead they’ll bust.

Topmen up, the mate do roar,
It’s lay aloft ye lazy whore,.

So, rock and shake her is the cry,
The bleedin’ topmast sheave is dry.

It’s one more pull and that’ll do,
For we’re the boys to kick her through.

Jon Boden sings Blood Red Roses

Come all you young fellows and listen to me
    Go down, you blood red roses, go down!
Never take a pretty girl on your knee
    Go down, you blood red roses, go down!
    Oh, you pinks and posies,
    Go down, you blood red roses, go down!

When I was a young man in my prime
I could take them pretty girls nine at a time

But now I’m old and getting grey
I can only manage two a day

Them Liverpool girls don’t wear no coats
They comb their hair with a kipper backbone