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Shellback Song

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Shellback Song

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Shellback Song
(Ewan MacColl)

1.  I am an old seafaring man,
    I come from everywhere,
    Name any point on the compass you choose,
    You're sure to find me there
    Born in a gale in the Roaring Forties,
    Entered in the log,
    Set up aloft to the upper t'gans'ls
    And christened in navy grog.

2.  And all that I own are the clothes on me back
    And the tools of a sailor's trade:
    Me fid and me palm, a few needles, a spike
    And a knife with a good keen blade.
    I've a bunk in the fo'c'sle, a place on the bench
    In the galley where I can feed:
    And a hook for to hang me old oilskins on -
    What more could a shellback need?

3.  I've sailed both Atlantics and doubled both Capes
    More times than I can tell,
    I've fought the big seas in a parish-rigged barque
    And froze off Cape Farewell,
    I've cursed the calms in the doldrums where
    You'd swear the wind was dead,
    And hove to off Cape Horn in a westerly gale
    That could blow the hair off your head.

4.  To the maggoty horse and the weevily bread
    I've added me word of abuse
    I've pounded hard biscuit to powder and mixed it
    With bug-fat and jaggery juice
    With the galley awash for a week or more
    I've gone hungry early and late
    Been served with pea soup that could stand on the poop deck
    And scare off a blue-nose mate.

5.  I've signed on in short-handed Yankee ships
    With skippers who knew the score,
    I've sailed with the drinkers who can't navigate
    A course past the bar-room door.
    I've served with men who were seamen and knew
    How to treat a matelot well
    And as for the others, the miserable buggers,
    They've made of me life, a hell.

6.  I've known all the boarding house masters ashore,
    Cardiff to Callao
    I've known all the crimps and the waterfront pimps
    From Riga to Tokyo.
    I've spent me advance at Rasmussen the Dane's,
    I've lodged with Paddy West,
    And I've known the slop-chest for to take half me screw
    While Big Nellie, she took the rest.

7.  Goodbye, you square riggers, your voyaging's done,
    Farewell to the days of sail,
    Goodbye you Cape Horners and every tall ship
    That ever defied a gale:
    Goodbye to the shellbacks who rode the winds
    Through a world of sea and sky:
    Your seafaring's ended, your voyaging's over
    You mariners all, goodbye.

Copyright Ewan MacColl
- by Ewan MacColl, made for the film Before the Mast.
     New City Songster 7.  Slightly amended by Lou Killen and JNGB.
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