Forgive me if it feels like I’m just doing the folk Greatest Hits here, but certain songs I just can’t resist. This week’s ‘Folk from the Attic’ is ‘Ye Mariners All’, a song I first heard when I was at university in the mid-90s, back when I was the only person on campus with a copy of Martin Carthy’s debut album and very much the lonelier for it. Sorry Martin – the other kids didn’t think you were as hip as Boyzone. Who’s laughing now? (Answers on a postcard…)
The Martin Carthy version, as many readers will know, is sung a-cappella, and is perhaps the most influential of the many recordings made. Like so many Carthy performances, his version is a jumping-off point: all manner of interpretations and variations have been applied to the song, from Seth Lakeman’s pop-funk rendition to Fairport Convention’s tunes-heavy hoedown to Jon Boden’s own a cappella version. Everyone’s had a crack at it, and at one point it even came full circle when Carthy did it again, this time with backing from daughter Eliza on fiddle, on the first Waterson:Carthy album. It’s no exaggeration to say it has been around the block a bit.
So where’s it from, this popular old song? A little digging on the Full English website and I was delighted to find that it’s another Marina Russell song. Marina Russell, as regular readers of this blog will know, was a pieceworker from the rural south who had quite the repertoire (despite having “become severely diminished in her faculties and teeth” – you can read about that here) and sang as many fragments as she could possibly remember to folksong collectors, the Hammond brothers. She currently resides on the family tree of Paul Sartin (who currently resides in whichever Premier Inn the Faustus tour can book him into).
Not that you’ll find it on the Full English website under that title. There are zero records of it registered as ‘Ye Mariners All’, but 19 results that surface under the name ‘A Jug of This’. Quite why it should’ve taken on an alternative name by the time Carthy recorded it in 1965, I’m not entirely sure, but it may have something to do with Bert Lloyd. He recorded it twice in the space of five years, initially under its archived name for his English Drinking Songs (1956), and then on his catchily titled A Selection of Songs from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (1960) under its newly acquired moniker.
While Marina Russell certainly sang it to Henry Hammond in Upwey, Dorset, in Jan/Feb 1907, he seems to have collected a version a year earlier in the same neck of the woods, performed by William Haines (July 1906), although his notebooks suggest he wasn’t quite able to make out the local burr (is that ‘mourners’ or ‘mariners’? Cue plenty of scribbling…)
Prior to being something of a hit in the halfway houses of Dorset, ‘Ye Mariners All (A Jug of This)’ seems to have spent at least some of its existence as a broadside ballad, and turns up in a handful of books and manuscripts, not least the lovely, grubby old copy from the Lucy Broadwood Manuscript Collection posted bellow.
As for the contents of the song’s lyrics, Bert Lloyd described it as, “drunken-daft words married to a soberly handsome tune”, and I think that pretty much sums it up. Meanwhile, Martin Carthy has speculated that perhaps Hammond’s scribblings were correct: that Marina Russell had indeed sung about ‘mourners’ and that this was, “a song from inside the pub to a funeral cortege telling them to lighten up”. Whichever it is, the singer ends up royally sloshed, which is certainly better off than being dead – English folk songs rarely offer up any alternatives.
Ye Mariners All (A Jug of This) lyrics
Ye mariners all as ye pass by
Come in and drink if you are dry
Come spend my lads your money brisk
And pop your nose in a jug of this
Ye tipplers all if you’ve half a crown
You’re welcome all for to sit down
Come in sit down, think not amiss
To pop your nose in a jug of this
For now I’m old and can barely crawl
I’ve a long grey beard and a head that’s bald
Crown my desire, fulfil my wish
A pretty girl and a jug of this
And when I’m in my grave and dead
And all my sorrows are past and fled
Transform me then into a fish
And let me swim in a jug of this