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Santy Anna / The Plains of Mexico

[ Roud 207 ; Henry H496 ; Ballad Index Doe078 ; Santiano at Fire Draw Near ; DT SNTYANNA , SNTYANN2 ; Mudcat 46588 ; trad.]

Gale Huntington: Sam Henry’s Songs of the People Joanna C. Colcord: Songs of American Sailormen

Henry Lundy form Nassau, Bahamas, sang Round the Bay of Mexico 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 and chorus sang the capstan shanty Santy Anna in 1954/5 on his, Ewan MacColl’s and Harry H. Corbett’s album The Singing Sailor. This track has been reissued several times, e.g. on his and Ewan MacColl’s LP Row Bullies Row, Shanties and Fo’c’sle Songs (Wattle Records) and Haul on the Bowlin’ (Stinson Records), on the EP The Coast of Peru, and on the compilations Men at Work (Topic Sampler No 3) and Sailors’ Songs & Sea Shanties. I do not know who sings chorus although Ewan MacColl’s voice can be detected.

A.L. Lloyd wrote in the The Coast of Peru sleeve notes:

Antonio Lopez de Santa Aña, far from “gaining the day” as this pump or capstan shanty suggests, was defeated by General Taylor at Buena Vista in February 1847, in one of the decisive battles of the war between Mexico and the United States. Many British sailors deserted their ships to join Santa Aña’s army, and perhaps it was affection for the Mexican seaports that made the shanty singers reverse the run of history in their songs.

A.L. Lloyd also sang Around the Bay of Mexico in 1974 on the Topic anthology Sea Shanties, where he noted:

In May 1846, on slender grounds, the United States declared war on Mexico. The war lasted till September the following year. In folklore it’s chiefly remembered for the battle of Buena Vista (22-23 February 1847) when Zachary Taylor, called ‘Old Rough n’ Ready’ defeated General Santa Anna. There are shanties that declare that “Santy Anna gained the day, all on the plains of Mexico”, but the one that says “General Taylor gained the day” is truer in history. Anyway, the plains of Mexico thereupon entered British folk song, and this shanty is but a remake of the Santy Anna sets, with the general metamorphosed, and no mention of battle. The ‘anthem-like’ arrangement is characteristic of West Indian treatment of shanties, and is roughly as recorded for the Library of Congress by the Lomaxes in the Bahamas in 1935. The Bahaman song words were lightly adapted from English shanty commonplaces, and they’ve been readapted, back to this side of the Atlantic, in our version.

Paul Clayton sang Santy Anna in 1956 on his Tradition album Whaling and Sailing Songs From the Days of Moby Dick. He noted:

This capstan shanty grew out of the Mexican War and the exploits of Santa Anna. It has been remarked that General Taylor rather than Santa Anna should be the hero of the song, but Santa Anna had his victories as well as defeats. Before Taylor forced Santa Anna to retreat on 23 February 1847, Santa Anna had forced him to give ground. Perhaps the song developed out of first reports of the fighting at a time when Santa Anna slid indeed gain the day temporarily.

Steve Benbow sang Santy Anno on the 1960 HMV album of British sea songs old and new, recorded at Cecil Sharp House, London, by Peter Kennedy, A Pinch of Salt.

The Watersons sang this shanty as The Plains of Mexico in 1965 on their first album The Watersons. While this track was reissued in 1971 on the Topic sampler Sea Songs and Shanties and on the compilation album Chants de Marins IV: Ballads, Complaintes et Shanties des Matelots Anglais, it was never released on CD, while all other tracks from their first album are available on the CD Early Days. A.L. Lloyd noted on the original album:

Shanties are usually sung prettied-up in the folk song clubs, with tightly organised choruses and a musical discipline quite at odds with the rough and tumble work-song, ship-board origins of these songs. The Watersons sing an ocean-going shanty in an ocean-going way, here, roughly, with plenty of guts. John Harrison sings the lead.

The Santiana refrain probably has a Negro origin. Southern American negroes often adopted the name of the famous Mexican general Santa Aña as a song burden. But it has been suggested that the phrase really derives from a seaman’s prayer to Sainte Anne, the patron saint of Breton seamen.

Stan Hugill in Shanties From the Seven Seas, London, 1961, writes: “Quite a number of British seamen deserted their ships to join Santa Aña’s wild and ragged army—Britishers, it would appear, favoured the cause of the Mexicans.” He prints a Norwegian version of the shanty, too and says that the song also turned landlubber to become a campfire favourite with men of America’s Wild West.

The Shanty Men led by Matt Armour sang the pump shanty The Bay of Mexico in 1978 on their Greenwich Village album The Shanty Men.

Dan Aguir and The X-Seaman’s Institute sang Santiano at the Seattle Chantey Festival during the American Sail Training Association’s 1978 Tall Ships Pacific. This recording was released in 1979 on the Folkways album Sea Songs Seattle and in 2004 on the Smithsonian Folkways anthology Classic Maritime Music.

Stan Hugill sang Santy Anna in 1979 on his Greenwich Village album Aboard the Cutty Sark, sang Santiano in 1988 live at Mystic Seaport which was released in 1998 on Stan Hugill in Concert at Mystic Seaport, sang Santyana in 1989 live at “Fêtes du chant de marin” at Paimpol which was released in 1992 on his CD Chants des Marins Anglais, and sang Round the Bay of Mexico in the lounge of a small boarding house in Stan’s home village of Aberdovey, during an informal session as part of a celebration of his 85th birthday. This was releases in 1993 on the Veteran Tapes cassette Sailing Days.

The Wilson Family sang Bay of Mexico in 1991 on their Harbourtown album The Wilson Family Album.

Liam Clancy sang Santyano in 2001 at the 22nd Annual Sea Music Festival at Mystic Seaport.

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang Santa Anna in 2005 on their album of songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth and Percy Grainger, Triple Echo.

Marilyn Tucker and Paul Tucker and chorus sang Round the Bay of Mexico on their 2009 Wren Trust album of songs of sea and shore, On the Tide. They noted:

We’ve based the harmony and singing style of this on a 1935 Alan Lomax recording of ‘chanteys’ from Grantstown, Nassau, Bahamas, which has a syncopated, lyrical quality as well as the necessary, rock­steady rhythm to aid the hauling up of boats on to the foreshore. We’ve added some verses from famous shantyman Stan Hugill.

Ex-Liverpool Spinner Mick Groves sang Santy Anna on his 2010 CD Still Spinning.

Jon Boden sang The Plains of Mexico as the 11 March 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Roger Watson sang Santy Anna (Plains of Mexico) accompanied on chorus by Tom and Barbara Brown, Keith Kendrick, Sam Lee and Doug Bailey, on the 2012 anthology of sea songs collected from John Short by Cecil Sharp, Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 2. The accompanying notes commented:

For Santy Anna, the collectors—almost all of whom have versions—expend their notes mostly on the history of Santy Anna rather than on the shanty itself. For what it’s worth we’ll quote Terry as the most succinct: “Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (1795‑1876) was the last President of Mexico before the annexation by America of California, Texas, and New Mexico. He defeated the Spaniards at Zampico, and held Vera Cruz against the French, but was badly beaten at Molina del Rey by the United States Army under General Taylor (1847). He was recalled to the Mexican Presidency in 1853, but overthrown in 1855. He attempted to overturn the Republic in 1867; was captured and sentenced to death, but was pardoned on condition that he left the country. He retired to the United States until 1872, when a general amnesty allowed his return to Mexico.” ‘Old Rough and Ready’ General Zachary Taylor would later become the twelfth President of the United States (1848-50).

Another Mexican military officer (and later Mexican President) makes his appearance in John Short’s text, namely José Victoriano Huerta Márquez (22/12/1850–13/1/1916). He graduated from military academy in 1877 and thereafter rose quickly in position—Short’s verse is therefore an entirely contemporary reference. Huerta did not become President until Feb 1913, a position he held for 17 months only.

A fine shanty and a great favourite, say the collectors—and who are we to argue? All give it as a capstan or windlass shanty although, as Colcord points out, it was “one of three prime favourites for heaving and hauling which were in the authentic form of the halliard shanty, but which were never used in hoisting sail”—she cites Sally Brown, Shenandoah and Santy Anna. What is meant here, of course, is the simple line-chorus-line-chorus structure. True to period, Short’s version has no grand chorus—Colcord didn’t expect it, and Hugill tells us that grand choruses were a later development.

The tune of Santy Anna and the tune of Short’s Whip Jamboree are remarkably similar and both are close kin to the first phrase of the Irish tune King of the Fairies—as their juxtaposition on this recording demonstrates! We have also kept to the full æolian splendour of the Whip Jamboree tune as sung by Short.

Ollie King sang Round the Bay of Mexico in 2014 on his RootBeat album Gambit.

The Salts sang Santiano on their 2013 CD She Rises.


A.L. Lloyd sings Santy Anna

Oh, Santiana gained the day
    Hooray Santiano
Oh, Santiana gained the day
    All on the plains of Mexico

To Mexico, oh Mexico
To Mexico, where I must go

Them little girls I do adore
Their shining eyes and long black hair

Why do them yellow girls love me so?
Because I don’t tell them all I know

When I was a young man in my prime
I knocked them little girls two at a time

Them Liverpool girls ain’t got no comb
They comb their hair with a kipper backbone

Oh, times is hard and the wages low
It’s time for us to roll and go

A.L. Lloyd sings Around the Bay of Mexico

Well, around the Bay of Mexico,
    Hey, Susianna!
Oh, Mexico is the place I belong in,
    Round the Bay of Mexico

Oh, why do them yaller gals love me so?
Because I don’t tell them all I know.

When I was a young man in my prime,
I’d knock them little gals two at a time.

Them Liverpool gals ain’t got no comb.
They comb their hair with a kipper backbone.

Them Cardiff gals don’t wear no frills.
They’re skinny and tight as codfish gills.

What can you do in Tampa Bay
But give them flash gals all your pay?

Oh, times is hard and the wages low.
It’s time for us to roll and go.

The Watersons sing The Plains of Mexico

Why do them yellow girls love me so?
    Way hey Santiana
Because I don’t tell them all I know
    Around the plains of Mexico

When I was a young lad in my prime
I went to sea and I served my time

When I was a young lad in my prime
I knocked them yellow girls two at a time

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

To Mexico, oh Mexico
To Mexico we must go

Just one more pull and that shall do
Oh we’re the boys to pull her through


Transcribed by Wolfgang Hell, Garry Gillard and Reinhard Zierke. Thanks also to Susanne Kalweit.