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Greenland Bound

[ Roud 970 ; G/D 1:10 ; Ballad Index Ord317 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang Greenland Bound, a song about the ca. 1840 West Greenland whale fishing, in 1957 on his and or Ewan MacColl's album Thar She Blows! (which was reissued in the 1960s on the Washington label as Whaling Ballads). He also sang this song in 1967 on his Topic album Leviathan! Ballads and Songs of the Whaling Trade. Here, he was accompanied by Alf Edwards on English concertina and Dave Swarbrick on fiddle. Lloyd wrote in this album's sleeve notes:

When the ships left London, Hull, Dundee for the northern grounds, the yards would be decorated with ribbons snatched from any pretty girls venturing near the quay, and the men would sing on the maindeck till the harbour bar was passed. They would put in at the Orkneys or Shetlands to take on fresh provisions and water, and perhaps a man or two to complete the crew, and then off to the cold coast of Greenland. This tender farewell song was a favourite of Fred Clausen, a meat-cutter aboard the Southern Express, and native of Stoneferry, Hull. Its elegiac tone suggests it was made by a Scottish whalerman (English whale balladeers generally inclined to rough adventure or outspoken complaint). John Ord, folk song collector and superintendent of police, heard the melody, or something very like it, sung by fisher girls in north-east Scotland in the 1880s.

Louis Killen sang To Greenland We Are Bound at the 1969 Fox Hollow Festival. This recording was included in the same year on the festival anthology And Not One Police (Fox Hollow Festival Vol. IV). He also sang Greenland Bound in 1980 on the Folkways anthology Sea Music of Many Lands: The Pacific Heritage and in 1997 on his CD A Seaman's Garland (Sailors, Ships & Chanteys Vol. 2).

Lea Nicholson sang Greenland Bound in 1971 on his Trailer album Horsemusic.

Cyril Tawney sang Greenland Bound in 1992 on his Neptune Tapes cassette Seamen Bold.

Jock Duncan sang For Greenland We Are Bound at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2003 or May 2004. This recording was included in 2005 on the festival anthology Here's a Health to the Company (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 1). The album notes commented:

Northeast Scotland is home to a number of songs of whale-fishing and this was one of the best known with 16 versions in the Greig-Duncan collection (GD 1:10). During the early half of the 1800s the ports of Peterhead and Dundee were leading points of departure “for to pursue the whale.” The whaler’s life was full of adventure and when the crew returned “full ship” there was cause for celebrations that “made the taverns roar”.

The Dovetail Trio sang Greenland in 2015 on their CD Wing of Evening. Jamie Roberts commented in their liner notes:

A Scottish whaling song learnt from the singing of The Spiers Family. Tom Spiers modified a Greig-Duncan tune for this version and we've anglicised the words to fit more appropriately with our accents.

Jenny Sturgeon sang this song as Whaler's Song on her 2015 EP Source to Sea.


A.L. Lloyd sings Greenland Bound Jock Duncan sings For Greenland We Are Bound

Once more for Greenland we are bound
To leave you all behind;
Our ship is painted green and out blubber hooks are keen
And we sail before the icy wind.

Oh for Greenland we are bound,
To leave oor homes behind,
With timbers firm and hearts so warm,
Oh we sail before the wind, the wind,
We sail before the wind.

A blowing breeze came from the south,
Oor sails all seemed asleep,
Oh three cheers more, we clear the shore,
We float upon the deep, the deep,
We float upon the deep.

We left our sweethearts and our wives
A-weeping on the pier.
Cheer up, my dears, we soon shall return
For it's only half a year.

We leave our sweethearts and our wives,
All weeping on the pier,
“Cheer up my dears we'll soon return,
Oh it's only half a year, a year,
It's only half a year.”

With tarry dress we reached Stromness
Where we do go ashore.
With whalermen so scarce and the water even less,
We'll have to take on more.

With tarry dress we'll reach Stromness,
And there we'll go ashore,
With water,s less and landsmen scarce,
It's there we'll take on more, on more,
It's there we'll take on more.

And when we came to the northern ice
We crowded on full sail,
Each boat well-manned with a keen and lively band
All for to hunt the whale.

When at last we reach the ice,
It's there we'll crowd all sail,
With boats we'll man with a very strong band,
For to pursue that whale, that whale,
For to pursue that whale.

Now dark and dreary grows the night
And the stars begin to burn,
With the chasing of the whale and the trying of the oil,
And it seems like we'll never return.

Now dark and dreary grows the nights,
The stars begin to burn,
Oor valiant crew with hearts so true,
Full ship we do return, return,
Full ship we do return.

And when we're past the Orkney Isles,
The pilot boat draws near,
We see our sweethearts and our wives,
All waiting on the pier, the pier,
All waiting on the pier.

Our six-month being done, we tie up again,
And the lads all go ashore,
With plenty of brass and a bonny bonny lass
For to make them ravers roar.

And when our ship is safely moored,
It's there we get ashore,
With plenty of brass and bonnie lass,
We'll make yon taverns roar, roar, roar,
We'll make yon taverns roar.

To Greenland's coast we'll drink a toast,
And to them we love so dear,
And across the icy main to the whaling grounds again
We'll take a trip next year.

We'll drink a toast to Greenland's frost,
And them we love sae dear,
But back again too it again,
We'll take a trip next year, next year,
We'll take a trip next year.

The Dovetail Trio sings Greenland

Once more for Greenland we are bound
To leave you all behind
With timbers firm and hearts so warm
We sail before the wind, brave boys
Aye we sail before the wind

We do not go to face the foe
Upon the raging main
We only sail to catch the whale
And we’ll return again, brave boys
Aye we’ll return again

We leave behind us on the shore
All them we love most dear
Our wives and sweethearts, and our bairns
All weeping on the pier, brave boys
All weeping on the pier

And when at last we reach the ice
We’ll quickly raise our sails
Each boat well manned, with six strong hands
And we will pursue the whale, brave boys
Aye we will pursue the whale

When half a year is come and gone
We’ll come rolling home
With plenty brass, and a bonny lass
We’ll make the taverns roar, brave boys
Aye we'll make the taverns roar

To Greenland’s frost we’ll drink a toast
And them we love most dear
And across the main, to hunt again
We’ll take a trip next year, brave boys
Aye we’ll take a trip next year


A.L. Lloyd's and Jock Duncan's lyrics were copied from their respective album's notes.