Phillip Brookes – The Leaving of Liverpool, Fantasia on Sea Songs for wind band
(b. Allbrook, Hampshire, 10 December 1952)
Under Way p.1
The sea has always held a special place in the British psyche. No doubt that is because an island state cannot entirely escape its influence (nowhere in Britain is more than about 75 miles – 120 km – from the sea).
As early as the 1400s (before Columbus sailed to the Americas) British fishing vessels were operating off the Grand Banks. Within another 200-300 years merchant ships were fishing, whaling and trading with far-flung parts of the globe. Spices, fine cloths, sugar, tobacco, tea, coffee, timber, exotic animals and (for a shameful while at least) slaves were transported in ships that eventually formed part of a massive merchant fleet. Trading posts were established, and to protect them a military body – the Royal Navy – grew, that by the early 19th Century was larger that all the other navies of the world combined. This combination of a huge merchant fleet protected by a huge military fleet ensured that a world-wide empire could grow unmolested. It was the very first case of globalisation.
By the mid-19th Century the sailors of the merchant fleet did not come exclusively from Britain and Ireland but often also from Holland and Germany, Scandinavia, Brittany and North America. It was inevitable that a musical culture would develop that, although founded in the folk traditions of the British Isles, was unique to itself. This fantasia, The Leaving of Liverpool, uses sailor’s songs and dances to recall the life at sea aboard a 19th Century merchant ship.
It is in five sections, which follow continuously.
The beginning of the journey is based upon an old song called Admiral Benbow, which tells of an action in 1702 during the War of the Spanish Succession, when ‘brave Benbow’ continued in command of his ship after his leg had been smashed by a French canonball, eventually winning the battle. There are also references to The Drunken Sailor and Johnny’s Gone to Hilo.
This section introduces four shanties – working songs – whose purpose was to aid the sailors to work in unison at a task such as weighing anchor. The Royal Navy never allowed the singing of shanties, but they were very popular on merchant ships. They all followed a similar pattern, with a lead singer whose initial phrase would be answered in unison by the team, who would pull or push at the stresses on the chorus:
Lead: Boney was a warrior –
All: Way – hey. Ah!
Lead: A warrior, a terr-i-or –
All: John Franç-ois!
Some of the shanties were extraordinarily beautiful, the most famous perhaps being Shenandoah, an American shanty equally popular with the British. In the present work, we hear Boney Was a Warrior, Hanging Johnny, Haul Away the Bowline and We’re Bound for the Rio Grande.
Entertainment on board ship was self-made, usually involving song and dance, with folk instruments such as violin and accordion being prominent. This section presents a number of variations on a fiddle-tune called Jack’s the Lad (so well known that it is often called The Sailor’s Hornpipe). The dancers become less controlled as the effects of alcohol become apparent, until they collapse exhausted, Lento, molto inebrioso. As well as Jack’s the Lad, we hear the Trumpet Hornpipe* and What shall we do with the drunken sailor?
Sentimental songs were popular among crews, though this one – The Young Sailor Cut Down In His Prime – was a folk song that told of a constant threat to sailors on shore leave in the days before antibiotics. The young sailor has died of “the pox” – syphilis – and is buried by his shipmates. The song travelled to America, where it became a cowboy ballad, The Streets of Laredo, about a young gunslinger who has died in a gunfight.
The final sequence brings the ship home to Liverpool. Firstly, three variants of Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies set a determined course. A Liverpool song, Johnny Todd he was a sailor**, brings us into home waters. We enter port to Homeward Bound, finishing the journey with The Leaving of Liverpool.
The Leaving of Liverpool is dedicated to Liverpool Hope University Concert Band.
Phillip Brookes, 2014
*(Those of a certain age living in Britain in about 1960 will recognise the theme from Captain Pugwash.)
** (Again, once familiar to Britons as the theme of the 1960s police series Z Cars.)
For performance material please contact Musikproduktion Höflich (www.musikmph.de), Munich.