> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Wild Goose Shanty
> Louis Killen > Songs > The Wild Goose

Wild Goose Shanty (Ranzo)

[ Roud 328 ; Ballad Index Doe032 ; DT WLDGOOSE ; Mudcat 8009 , 46147 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang the Wild Goose Shanty in 1957 on his and Ewan MacColl’s Tradition Records LP Blow Boys Blow (reissued in 1967 in the UK by Transatlantic Records). He noted:

One of the great halyard shanties, seemingly better-known in English ships than American ones, though some versions of it have become crossed with the American song called Huckleberry Hunting. From the graceful movement of its melody it is possible that this is an older shanty than most. Perhaps it evolved out of some long-lost lyrical song.

He also sang The Wild Goose Shanty live at the Top Lock Folk Club, Runcorn, on 5 November 1972. This concert was published in 2010 on the Fellside CD An Evening With A.L. Lloyd.

Louis Killen sang The Wild Goose in 1964 on the anthology Farewell Nancy: Sea Songs and Shanties, later reissued with bonus tracks as the CD Blow the Man Down. A.L. Lloyd noted:

Songbook editors like to classify shanties according to the task they were supposed to accompany; short drag, halyard, windlass, pump. But this one, like many others was used for any job. Sometimes it starts: “I’m the shanty man of the Wild Goose nation”, perhaps a reference to Ireland (‘wild geese’ is a name for 17th Century Irish patriots who fled their country to take service with foreign kings). This tune was collected by W. Roy Mackenzie who got it from a seaman settled in Nova Scotia.

Louis Killen also recorded The Wild Goose Nation in 1995 for his CD Sailors, Ships & Chanteys.

White Hart sang Wildgoose as part of their shanty set on their 1979 Traditional Sound album In Search of Reward.

Johnny Collins with Dave Webber and Pete Watkinson sang The Wild Goose in 1996 on their CD Shanties & Songs of the Sea.

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang Wild Goose Shanty in 1998 on their CD Hindsight. They noted:

What with Lester [Simpson] being a tall ship sailor (five foot ten and a half?) and the overall theme (if there is one) of this album being dialogues between men and women this is an appropriate (if short) choice.

Kate Rusby sang The Wild Goose in 1999 on her CD Sleepless, in a live recording in the same year on her EP Cowsong, in 2002 on her CD 10, in 2004 on a session track on her DVD Live From Leeds, and in 2012 on her anniversary album Twenty.

The New Scorpion Band sang the Wild Goose Shanty in 2004 on their CD Out on the Ocean. Tim Laycock noted:

The Wild Goose nation is variously thought to refer to the Irish or the Native Americans. Stan Hugill offered the theory that it might be a sailor’s corruption of ‘whale grease’. Whatever the meaning, this enigmatic song creates a tremendous atmosphere with its “Ranzo” chorus.

Danny Spooner and chorus, led by Duncan Brown, sang the Wild Goose Shanty on Spooner’s 2009 CD Bold Reilly Gone Away. He noted:

I worked for a little while as a volunteer helping with the restoration of the barque Polly Woodside in Melbourne, and there I met a lovely old fellow, Mr Daniels, who had shipped in the Polly as a young lad. When I asked him about songs he said that they certainly sang when working the vessel and he called them ‘ship shanties’. When I sang him the Wild Goose Shanty, he smiled and said, “When I first saw the Polly she was naked but when we dressed her and got her to sea, she was like a beautiful woman.”

The Wild Goose Shanty is an example of the flexibility of these shanties. Stan Hugill says it was sung at the windlass and capstans, but notes that Doerflinger has it as a halyard or pump shanty. Whatever the case, it is grand to sing especially when led with such enthusiasm by Duncan Brown.

Steeleye Span sang Ranzo in 2009 on their CD Cogs, Wheels and Lovers.

Barbara Brown and chorus sang Huckleberry Hunting (Hilo, Me Ranzo Ray) in 2011 on the CD of songs by Watchet sailor John Short collected by Cecil Sharp, Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 2. The accompanying notes said:

Sharp recorded one and a half verses from Short. Whall, who also gave those two verses, comments that there were a ‘regulation first three verses’ before the shantyman went off at his own tangent. Hugill comments that: “it appears to have been used for every shipboard job with perhaps the exception of tacks and sheets, and hand over hand! Most forms indicate negro origin.” It is also worth quoting Colcord—“The shanty appears in many guises, identified only by the air and the chorus, which varied little. Bullen’s version is What did you give for your fine leg of mutton; while Terry calls it The Wild Goose shanty.”

We have followed Whall here but, of course, included all the Short text available. Short’s tune can sound peculiar—and for some people even feel uncomfortable—as it does not fit the ‘normal’ pattern of scales and modes we are used to in Anglo/American traditional music. It uses a tritone or ‘the devil’s interval’ as it became known—we’ve grown to quite like it although Jeff Warner fears he’ll be drummed out of the Banjo Players’ Union of America for blatant use of an augmented fourth!

The Demon Barbers sang Ranzo (Wild Goose Shanty) in 2015 on their CD Disco at the Tavern.

The Norfolk Broads sang Wild Goose on their 2017 CD In the Valley of the Flowers. This video shows them on the Cutty Sark as part of the Nest Collectives’ Shanty Sessions:

The Gigspanner Big Band sang Ranzo on their 2022 album with Raynor Winn, Saltlines.


A.L. Lloyd sings The Wild Goose Shanty

Did you ever see a wild goose sailing on the ocean?
    Ranzo, Ranzo, away-hey!
They’re just like them young girls when they take the notion.
    Ranzo, Ranzo, away-hey!

I met a young woman a-walking by the river
And in every step she made her topsails quiver.

I sleuthed up to her, says, “How are you, my darling?”
She says, "None the better for seeing you this morning.”

(repeat first verse)

Louis Killen sings The Wild Goose

Did you ever see a wild goose sailing o’er the ocean?
    Ranzo, Ranzo, way-hey!
They’re just like them pretty girls when they gets the notion.
    Ranzo, Ranzo, way-hey!

The other morning I was walking by the river
When I saw a young girl walking with her topsails all a-quiver.

I said, “Pretty fair maid, and how are you this morning?”
She said, “None the better for the seeing of you.”

(repeat first verse)

Louis Killen sings The Wild Goose Nation

I’m a rambling son of the Wild Goose Nation,
    Haul away, haul away, haul away, hold hard,
And I’ve left my wife on the old plantation,
    Haul away, my boys, haul away

On the very first day out from the Wild Goose Nation,
I thought at lament and regret my situation.

For it’s “Pat, do this and that and mind your station,
you’re a lousy son of the Wild Goose Nation.”

’Course I turned around and I gave ’em all a pastin’,
For I am a true son of the Wild Goose Nation.

Yes, I’m a rambling son of the Wild Goose Nation,
Now I’m off to Amerikay to get an education.


There is some discussion about Lloyd’s verses in the Mudcat Café thread Folklore: ‘topsails all a quiver’ about this couplet which seems to be an invention of Lloyd.