Greenland Whale Fisheries

Last updated

"Greenland Whale Fisheries" is a traditional sea song. In most of the versions collected from oral sources, the song opens up giving a date for the events that it describes (usually between 1823 and 1853). However, the song is actually older than this and a form of it was published as a ballad before 1725. [1] It has been given a Roud number of 347. [2]

The song tells of a whaling expedition that leaves for Greenland. The lookout spots a "whalefish", and harpoon boats are launched. However, the whale strikes the boat with its tail, capsizing it, and several men are killed. The captain grieves over losing his men, but especially for having lost his prey. He then orders the ship to sail for home, calling Greenland a "dreadful place".

Like most traditional songs, "Greenland Whale Fisheries" exists in different versions. [3] Some change details (such as the date of the expedition), and others add or remove verses. Some modern versions, including the ones recorded by Judy Collins and Theodore Bikel, The Chad Mitchell Trio, and later by The Pogues, flip the captain's expression of grief to make him regret losing his catch even more than losing his crew.

In the version popularized by The Weavers and Peter, Paul and Mary, a shanty recorded by Alan Lomax from a Bahamian fisherman [4] is appended, which begins, "When the whale gets strike, and the line run down, and the whale makes a flounder with her tail..." [5]

Folk singer Paul Kaplan recorded a song with the same tune under the title "Call Me the Whale". Following a similar chronology, it tells the story from the whale's perspective. [6]

Covered by The Dubliners on their 1969 album At Home with The Dubliners , and on the B-Side of their 1965 single, "Roisin Dubh".

Covered by Ryan's Fancy on their 1971 album Dark Island .

In the Futurama episode "The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz", Bender, in an ironic state of soberness, sings a snippet of the song.

The Greenland Whalefishers, a Celtic punk band from Norway, is named after the song.

Related Research Articles

"Scarborough Fair" is a traditional English ballad. The song, which is a variant of The Elfin Knight, lists a number of impossible tasks given to a former lover who lives in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. The "Scarborough Fair" variant was most common in the Yorkshire and Northumbria, where it was sung to various melodies, with refrains resembling "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" and "Then she'll be a true love of mine."

"Lily of the West" is a traditional British and Irish folk song, best known today as an American folk song, listed as number 957 in the Roud Folk Song Index. The American version is about a man who travels to Louisville and falls in love with a woman named Mary, Flora or Molly, the eponymous Lily of the West. He catches Mary being unfaithful to him, and, in a fit of rage, stabs the man she is with, and is subsequently imprisoned. In spite of this, he finds himself still in love with her. In the original version, the Lily testifies in his defense and he is freed, though they do not resume their relationship.

"The Daemon Lover" – also known as "James Harris", "A Warning for Married Women", "The Distressed Ship Carpenter", "James Herries", "The Carpenter’s Wife", "The Banks of Italy", or "The House-Carpenter" – is a popular ballad dating from the mid-seventeenth century, when the earliest known broadside version of the ballad was entered in the Stationers' Register on 21 February 1657.

"Foggy Dew" or "Foggy, Foggy Dew" is an English folk song with a strong presence in the South of England and the Southern United States in the nineteenth century. The song describes the outcome of an affair between a weaver and a girl he courted. It is cataloged as Laws No. O03 and Roud Folk Song Index No. 558. It has been recorded by many traditional singers including Harry Cox, and a diverse range of musicians including Benjamin Britten, Burl Ives, A.L. Lloyd and Ye Vagabonds have arranged and recorded popular versions of the song.

"The Cherry-Tree Carol" is a ballad with the rare distinction of being both a Christmas carol and one of the Child Ballads. The song itself is very old, reportedly sung in some form at the Feast of Corpus Christi in the early 15th century.

"Hesitation Blues" is a popular song adapted from a traditional tune. One version was published by Billy Smythe, Scott Middleton, and Art Gillham. Another was published by W.C. Handy as "Hesitating Blues". Because the tune is traditional, many artists have taken credit as writer, frequently adapting the lyrics of one of the two published versions. Adaptations of the lyrics vary widely, though typically the refrain is recognizably consistent. The song is a jug band standard and is also played as blues and sometimes as Western swing. It is cataloged as Roud Folk Song Index No. 11765. Composer William Grant Still arranged a version of the song in 1916 while working with Handy.

"The Maid Freed from the Gallows" is one of many titles of a centuries-old folk song about a condemned maiden pleading for someone to buy her freedom from the executioner. In the collection of ballads compiled by Francis James Child in the late 19th century, it is indexed as Child Ballad number 95; 11 variants, some fragmentary, are indexed as 95A to 95K. The Roud Folk Song Index identifies it as number 144.

"Geordie" is an English language folk song concerning the trial of the eponymous hero whose lover pleads for his life. It is listed as Child ballad 209 and Number 90 in the Roud Folk Song Index. The ballad was traditionally sung across the English speaking world, particularly in England, Scotland and North America, and was performed with many different melodies and lyrics. In recent times, popular versions have been performed and recorded by numerous artists and groups in different languages, mostly inspired by Joan Baez's 1962 recording based on a traditional version from Somerset, England.

The Farmer's Curst Wife is a traditional English language folk song listed as Child ballad number 278 and number 160 in the Roud Folk Song Index.

"The Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter" is an English ballad, collected by Francis James Child as Child Ballad 110 and listed as number 67 in the Roud Folk Song Index.

"Bonnie Annie" is a folk ballad recorded from the Scottish and English traditions. Scottish texts are often called Bonnie Annie or The Green Banks of Yarrow, English texts are most often called The Banks of Green Willow. Other titles include The Undutiful Daughter, The High Banks O Yarrow, The Watery Grave, Green Willow, There Was a Rich Merchant that Lived in Strathdinah and The Merchant's Daughter.

"Jack Monroe", also known as "Jack Munro", "Jack-A-Roe", "Jackaro", "Jacky Robinson", "Jackie Frazier" and "Jack the Sailor", is a traditional ballad which describes the journey of a woman who disguises herself as the eponymous character to board a sailing ship and save her lover, a soldier.

The Derby Ram Traditional song

"The Derby Ram" or "As I was Going to Derby" is a traditional tall tale English folk song that tells the story of a ram of gargantuan proportions and the difficulties involved in butchering, tanning, and otherwise processing its carcass.

"The Bramble Briar", "The Merchant's Daughter" or "In Bruton Town" is a traditional English folk murder ballad that tells the story of how two brothers murder a servant who is courting their sister. There are many versions of the song going by a number of different titles.

"When The Boat Comes In" is a traditional English language folk song, listed as 2439 in the Roud Folk Song Index. The popular version originates in North East England. An early source for the lyrics, Joseph Robson's "Songs of the bards of the Tyne", published 1849, can be found on the FARNE archive. In FARNE's notes to the song, it is stated that the lyrics were written by William Watson in about 1826.

"The Cuckoo" is a traditional English folk song, also sung in the United States, Canada, Scotland and Ireland. The song is known by many names, including "The Coo-Coo", "The Coo-Coo Bird", "The Cuckoo Bird", "The Cuckoo Is a Pretty Bird", "The Evening Meeting", "The Unconstant Lover", "Bunclody" and "Going to Georgia". Lyrics usually include the line : "The cuckoo is a pretty bird, she sings as she flies; she brings us glad tidings, and she tells us no lies."

"One Morning in May" is an English folk song which has been collected from traditional singers in England and the USA and has also been recorded by revival singers. Through the use of double-entendre, at least in the English versions, it tells of an encounter between a grenadier and a lady.

"The Farmer's Boy" is a traditional English folk song or ballad, listed as number 408 in the Roud Folk Song Index. It has been arranged as a military march.

"The Banks of Sweet Primroses", "The Banks of the Sweet Primroses", "Sweet Primroses", "As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning", "As I Rode Out" or "Stand off, Stand Off" is an English folk song. It was very popular with traditional singers in the south of England, and has been recorded by many singers and groups influenced by the folk revival that began in the 1950s.

The Lark in the Morning is an English folk song. It was moderately popular with traditional singers in England, less so in Scotland, Ireland and the United States. It starts as a hymn to the ploughboy's life, and often goes on to recount a sexual encounter between a ploughboy and a maiden resulting in pregnancy.


  1. R. Vaughan Williams & A.L. Lloyd (editors): The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, Penguin Books, 1959. p.115
  2. "Vaughan Williams Memorial Library Roud 347 entry".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. e.g. Vaughan Williams & Lloyd p.50. Version collected by Anne G. Gilchrist from the singing of W. Bolton, Southport, Lancashire, 1906
  4. "Bahamas 1935: Chanteys & Anthems from Andros & Cat - Alan Lomax | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic .
  5. Check-list of Recorded Songs in the English Language in the Archive of Folk Song, United States Work Projects Administration. District of Columbia - 1942,Page 435
  6. Call Me the Whale Lyrics