Commissioned by Sydney Brass
First performance by Sydney Brass, Bondi Junction RSL, Sydney, 1 July 2018
Andrew Ford: Blood Red Roses: three shanties and a sea song (2017)
for brass quintet
1. Go Down, You Blood Red Roses
2. Sally Brown
4. Spanish Ladies
Shanties (or chanties as Percy Grainger insisted) were work songs sung by sailors on merchant ships. Like cotton picking songs, the aim was to get the job done, and typically a shanty would involve a lead singer (or shantyman) with a strong voice calling a simple phrase, the other sailors answering him as they weighed anchor, hauled sail or turned the capstan.
The imagery of most shanties involves a certain amount of derring-do (there’s often a reference to rounding Cape Horn), to girls in various ports (‘Sally Brown is a white mulatto / She drinks gin and chews tobacco’) and to loss at sea (‘Lowlands away, my John’). Whaling was a common purpose of sailing trips. ‘Sally Brown’ mentions a ‘New Bedford whaler’, while the rather poetic phrase ‘blood red roses’, seems to refer (I’m sorry to say) to the plume of blood springing from a freshly harpooned whale.
‘Spanish Ladies’, another farewell to girls in port, is such a famous sea song (though not a work song, so not a shanty), that it spawned at least one non-nautical version. Warren Fahey has collected a Queensland drovers’ song entitled ‘Brisbane Ladies’. Blood Red Roses was commissioned by Sydney Brass and is dedicated to the group on its 60th birthday and to the memory of Danny Spooner (1936 – 2017), sailor and shanty singer.