Jon says of this one, “From possibly the most powerful recording of the Watersons I’ve heard. There’s also lots of interesting stuff about the origins of the Santy Anna refrain.”
Now there’s a challenge. Firstly this is apparently a capstan or pump shanty and the Watersons were predated by A.L.Lloyd in the recording stakes. I note that Bert also makes much of the Watersons’ version praising them for singing “an ocean-going shanty in an ocean going way, roughly with plenty of guts.” Anyway, one of the possible origins of the Santy Anna refrain that Jon refers to is the Mexican general/president, Antonio Lopez de Santa Aña, although he is missing from the Watersons’ and thereby Jon’s versions. It seems that the British took the side of the Mexicans in their conflict with the USA, perhaps unsurprisingly and it seems that some British sailors even fought with them in the war. Equally it’s been attributed to the Black American slaves, who also identified with Santa Aña, again presumably on a ‘my enemy’s enemy’ basis. Most straight forward is the suggestion that it’s simply the patron saint of Breton seamen Saint Anne. It may be an amalgam of both general and saint that suited the singing. As we’ve covered with all shanties, the verses are entirely fluid and many were probably made up on the spot to suit the circumstances. Following this Mudcat thread down gives some alternatives, including things related to California and the gold-rush and you might want to Wiki here too. Plus there is more made of the historical (in)accuracy as the song at some point simply flips Santa Aña from loser to victor. It also seems that some versions will have included reference to Bonepart, probably for no other reason than he was a popular figure to include in songs, although Santa Aña may have styled himself on the Frenchman. The final oddity for this post is that this is a shanty about the plains of Mexico, when the bays or ports would seem more fitting. You can get yourself tied into some knots trying to sort the various threads and the truth is probably that the words and sentiments changed all the time depending on who was doing the singing and where. I note Jon follows the Watersons and seems more concerned with the girls of Liverpool than any Mexican Generalissimos. Actually there is one final, final oddity as it seems shanties are big in Poland. I guess there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be, but it’s got me curious and I’d love to hear from someone to confirm or refute this and perhaps, if true, some explanation.