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Shallow Brown

[ Roud 2621 ; Ballad Index Doe044 ; VWML PG/6/28 , CJS2/10/2959 ; Mudcat 124167 ; trad.]

This West Indies sea shanty demonstrates the close link between sea shanties and slave songs. It was collected by Cecil Sharp and by Stan Hugill who included it in his book Shanties From the Seven Seas (1961).

H.E. Piggott and Percy Grainger collected Shallow Brown from the singing of John Perring of Dartmouth on 18 January 1908, and Grainger subsequently composed an arrangement of this song between August and December 1910, as is shown in the film Passion (1999), which is based on Grainger’s life. Grainger himself commented:

[Perring] was a remarkably gifted deep-sea sailor songster and said that this song was supposed to be sung by a woman standing on the quay to Shallow Brown as his ship was weighing anchor. Perring did not know why Brown was called “Shallow”—“unless it was that he was shallow in his heart”, as he added. My setting aims to convey a suggestion of wafted, wind-borne, surging sounds heard at sea.

Bernard Wrigley and a chorus of Roy Harris, A.L. Lloyd, Ian Manuel and Martyn Wyndham-Read sang Shallow Brown in 1974 on the Topic anthology Sea Shanties. This track was also included in 1984 on the Le Chasse-Marée anthology of songs and shanties of English sailors, Chants de Marins IV.

Gerret Warner and a chorus of Fud Benson, Louis Killen and Jeff Warner sang Shallow Brown in 1976 on their album of “songs and chanteys from the days of commercial sail”, Steady As She Goes.

Another halyard shanty from the West Indies, this one collected by English folklorist Cecil Sharp in the early part of the twentieth century. Some versions of this song indicate that Shallow Brown might have been a slave who was sold to a Yankee shipowner. Free man or slave, he is jumping ship “… to cross them Chili mountains” and seek a better life.

Tony Hall sang Shallow Brown on his 1977 Free Reed album, Fieldvole Music.

Pete and Chris Coe recorded Shallow Brown in 1979 for their album Game of All Fours. They noted:

Shallow Brown was learned many years ago from Stan Hugill’s book Shanties From the Seven Seas. Chris, not being a shanty-man, adapted it into its present, slower form with Stan’s approval.

Dick Holdstock sang Shallow Brown at the Festival of the Sea 1980 at the National Maritime Museum, San Francisco. It was published in the same year on the festival anthology on the Folkways label, Sea Music of Many Lands: The Pacific Heritage.

Tundra sang Shallow Brown on their 1981 Greenwich Village album Songs From Greenwich.

Johnny Collins sang Shallow Brown with Jim Mageean live at The Herga Folk Club on 8 February 1982, which was released in the same year on their Sweet Folk and Country album Live at Herga!, and in 1996 with Dave Webber and Pete Watkinson on his CD Shanties & Songs of the Sea.

Peter Bellamy sang Shallow Brown in around 1983 with the Watersons. A recording from a private tape in the Fellside Recordings archive was released in 1999 on the Peter Bellamy retrospective Wake the Vaulted Echoes.

Jolly Jack sang Shallow Brown on their 1983 Fellside album Rolling Down to Old Maui.

Danny Spooner sang Shallow Brown on his 1988 album We’ll Either Bend or Break ’Er.

Cyril Tawney sang Shallow Brown on his 1992 Neptune Tapes cassette of “songs of seafarers and the fairer sex”, In Every Port.

June Tabor recorded Shallow Brown in 1997 for her album Aleyn. This track was also included in 2005 on her Topic anthology Always. She noted:

Originally a pumping shanty of West Indian origin, sometimes sung as Challo Brown, challo being Carib for half-casts. Thanks to Chris Coe, who first transformed this piece, to Tony Hall, from whom I learned it, and to Martin Simpson, who furthered its transformation.

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang Shallow Brown on their 1998 No Masters CD Hindsight. They noted:

So far every Coope Boyes & Simpson album has had references to the sea, romance (or the lack of it) and the human condition—this song has it all.

This video shows Coope Boyes & Simpson them at the Ram Club, Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK on 26 July 2013:

The Johnson Girls sang Shallow Brown in 2004 at the 25th Annual Sea Music Festival at Mystic Seaport.

Sting sang Shallow Brown in 2006 on the anthology of “pirate ballads, sea songs and chanteys”, Rogue’s Gallery.

The united Waterson family of Norma Waterson in lead, Eliza and Martin Carthy, Oliver Knight, Marry, Mike and Anne Waterson sang Shallow Brown in 2010 on Eliza and Norma’s CD Gift. A live recording from the Union Chapel in November 2010 was released in the following year on the DVD and CD The Gift Band Live on Tour. They also sang it at Norma’s 71st birthday concert at Hull Truck Theatre on 15 August 2010. This concert was published in the following year on the DVD Live at Hull Truck. Norma and Eliza noted on the original album:

A work song that has been turned into a beautiful lament for family and home. We didn’t learn it from Sting. But we did have to get our family in for a good sing at some point, so here we are, clearing our throats. Another song we sing because of Hal [Willner]. He certainly does know a good tune when he sees one.

Jim Mageean and chorus sang Shallow Brown in 2011 on the anthology of shanties collected by Cecil Sharp from the Watchet sailor John Short, Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 1. The anthology’s online notes commented:

Short’s words are of the set more usually associated, in the revival, with Blow, Boys, Blow. Hugill also notes this and comments that Sharp’s published version of the tune has the solo tune of Hilo, Boys, Hilo. The shanty has necessitated some degree of interpretation!—Sharp’s manuscript (and published version) varies between 2:4 and 3:4 and the song was also sung very freely. Short was obviously not happy with his own singing of it to Sharp. Sharp’s notes reflect the difficulties:

  1. “This is a very curious chantey. The above [shown] was how Short began it. When he continued the next verse he put that down a tone, thus” [two bars follow].
  2. “After two or three more verses this got so low that he said ‘I must get my voice higher’ and raised it for next verse more or less to original A. Very possibly the 3rd verse should begin on the original A, so that the phrases run alternately as A & G.”

With Jim Mageean’s expertise behind it, we arrived at the recording you can hear. It seems to work entirely satisfactorily and rather delightfully rocking between what can be thought of as the dominant and sub-dominant of the root key. And it is completely in keeping with Short’s style in other shanties. But we accept that the notation does remain more open to alternative interpretations than most of Short’s versions.

Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham sang One More Day and Shallow Brown in 2012 on their WildGoose CD Well Dressed. They noted:

Here are two great early versions of these already very popular shanties from the repertoire of John Short, the famous ‘Watchet Shanty Man’. Also known as ‘Yankee Jack’, he led shanties throughout the heyday of sail across the mid to late 1800s while mainly sailing the Americas and was collected by Cecil Sharp and Sir Richard Terry in the early 1900s.

Sound Tradition sang Shallow Brown in 2012 on their privately issued CD Under the moon.

Martha Tilston sang Shallow Brown in 2014 on her CD The Sea.

The Young’uns sang Shallow Brown on their 2014 CD Never Forget.

John Bowden and Sheafknot sang Shallow Brown in 2015 on Vic Shepherd and John Bowden’s Hallamshire Traditions CD Still Waters. They noted:

Another song collected by Sharp, this time from 76—year-old John Short of Watchet, Somerset. Known as ‘Yankee Jack’, Short spent fifty years at sea and gave Sharp 57 shanties, 46 of which were published in Sharp’s English Folk Chanteys. Sharp describes Short’s voice as “… rich resonant and powerful and yet so flexible that he can execute trills, turns and graces with a delicacy and finish that would excite the envy of many a professed vocalist”.

Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith sang Shallow Brown on their 2016 Fellside CD Night Hours. This video shows them at the FolkEast X Tradfolk Sessions in August 2022, filmed in a disused Victorian squash court at Glemham Hall, Suffolk:

Steeleye Span sang The Lofty Tall Ship and Shallow Brown in 2016 on their CD Dodgy Bastards. They noted:

The Lofty Tall Ship is from the singing of Sam Larner, from Winterton in Norfolk. A grim story of piracy, we have followed it with an adapted version of the lovely Shallow Brown, turning it from a sea shanty into a lament. Maddy [Prior] first heard this from Tony Hall on the Silly Sisters tour, in the 1970s, and was reminded of it while looking through Stan Hugill’s brilliant book of shanties.

Jon Wilks sang Shallow Brown on his 2017 album Songs From the Attic. See also his Folk from the Attic blog on Shallow Brown. He also talked with Angeline Morrison about Shallow Brown in October 2022 in Series 2, Episode 4 of his Old Songs Podcast.

John Francis Flynn sang Shallow Brown in 2021 on his River Lea album I Would Not Live Always. He noted:

A few years back I spent 25 days playing music in Darby O’Gills pub on a Disney Cruise ship. It was soul destroying work to say the least, but I did take the time to delve into Stan Hugill’s collection, Shanties From the Seven Seas where I came across this powerful song.


Peter Bellamy and the Watersons sing Shallow Brown

I’m bound away for to leave you
    Shallow oh Shallow Brown
I’m bound away for to leave you
    Shallow oh Shallow Brown

I’m bound away for St George’s
I’m bound away for St George’s

Because I am signed for a sailor
And I’m shipped on board a whaler

I truly love you Juliana
I truly love you Juliana

My master say he’s going to sell me
He say he sell me to a Yankee

He say he sell me for a dollar
For that great big Spanish dollar

I think I will climb them distant mountains
I’ll try to find them crystal fountains

You know my packet she sails tomorrow
And my heart is filled with sorrow

I’m bound away for to leave you
I’m bound away for to leave you

Danny Spooner sings Shallow Brown

Oh come and git me clothes in order
    Shallow, oh Shallow Brown,
Oh I’m going across the stormy water
    Oh, Shallow, oh Shallow Brown.

Shallow Brown massa’s gonna sell me,
Sell me for the Yankee dollar.

Bound away to ol’ Virginia,
Love yer well my Julianna.

Think I’ll ship aboard a Yankee whaler,
Go and be a deep sea sailor.

Bound away, I’m bound to leave yer,
But I never ever will deceive yer.

Fare thee well my Julianna,
Ye’ll never know how much I loves yer.

June Tabor sings Shallow Brown

Bound away to leave you
    Shallow oh Shallow Brown
Bound away to leave you
    Shallow oh Shallow Brown

Master’s going to sell me
Sell me to a Yankee

Sell me for a dollar
Great big Yankee dollar

Fare thee well Juliana
Fare thee well Juliana

Bound away to leave you
Bound away to leave you

The Watersons sing Shallow Brown

Fare the well, my Julianna
    Shallow oh Shallow Brown
Fare the well, my Julianna
    Shallow oh Shallow Brown

We are leaving in the morning
We are leaving in the dawning

Now my babies they do grieve me
Now my babies they do grieve me

Now my husband he does grieve me
And it breaks my heart to leave thee

Fare the well, my Julianna
Fare the well, my Julianna

Jon Wilks sings Shallow Brown

Fare-thee-well, I’m bound to leave you
    Shallow, oh Shallow Brown,
Shallow, shallow brown
    Oh, Shallow, oh Shallow Brown.

For my master, he’s bound to sell me
For my master, he wants to sell me

Sell me for the big dollar
Sell me for the Yankee dollar

Gonna ship onboard a whaler
Gonna ship onboard a whaler

Bound away for old St George’s
Bound away for old St George’s

So fare-thee-well my Julianna
Fare-thee-well my Julianna

Acknowledgements and Links

Transcribed by Wolfgang Hell and Garry Gillard.