Wednesday, 22 February 2012

44: M.V. Statesman

As I've got quite a few shanties and sea songs on here, I thought it was important to include something from the post-WW2 Liverpool ships. Not for delicate ears, this one is studded with expletives - a fine demonstration of the phrase "swearing like a sailor". This is one of a number of songs collected by Ron Baxter of Fleetwood during his time in the Merchant Navy (1966-1974). As he explains, "In 1966, a skinny 17-year-old clad in a navy rain-coat two sizes too big boarded the S.S. Clan Sutherland. The watchman promptly told him, 'Don't be a bloody fool, son - go back home to yer mam!' This was my welcome to the Merchant Navy. But it was on that first trip that I was introduced to a class of songs virtually ignored by folk-song collectors - the Merchant Navy songs... my collection is a mixture of crude, unpolished, light-hearted parodies, although there are several gems. The majority decry the Company, the Master, the Officers, and the engines. They frequently poke fun at gay stewards, though I can't remember ever meeting any homophobics at sea."

The M.V. Statesman is one of a family of songs (usually known as M.V. Hardship) to the tune of 'Villikins and his Dinah' complaining of on-board conditions. This Liverpool version directs its anger at a particular ship in the Harrison's Line, and Ron Baxter notes that "unlike most of the other songs I collected, this is a 'lower-deck' song".

T. and J. Harrison was a shipping line founded in Liverpool in 1853. They liked using the same ship names over and over again, and Harrisons actually had six ships called "Statesman"; the 2nd incarnation of the Statesman was torpedoed by a U-boat during the first world war, and the fourth incarnation was sunk in WW2 by a German air attack off the coast of Ireland. The photo above is, I believe, of the fifth incarnation of the Statesman, built in 1944, purchased by Harrisons in 1948, and sold off in 1962.


  1. PG certificate needed for this one I think! I enjoyed it, and hope you've got a few more songs on the way.
    Cheers, Matthew

  2. Hiya Matthew! Thanks for your comment and I hope you're well. I have a blocked ear canal at the moment and it's making singing a little bit weird, but hopefully I will have that problem sorted shortly and I can get back to this - would hate to leave it when I've got so close to the conclusion

  3. I hope you're well on the way to recovery by now; I had a nasty ear infection myself over Christmas from which I took a while to recover.

    Looking forward to hearing more songs from you soon, but also looking forward to reading to your informative and well-researched notes and the great pictures you manage to dig up!

    Best wishes, Matthew