Greenland Whale Fishery


Neatly including today’s date in the lyrics, Jon picked this up from The Watersons, of whom he says, “My first introduction to The Watersons was on a Topic LP Sea Songs that I borrowed from Winchester library at a tender age. I had heard Norma sing on the first Waterson:Carthy album but was absolutely knocked out by the ferocity of the sound the three siblings and  cousin John could produce. This was one of three Waterson tracks on the album.” You’ll find it on currently on The Waterson’s  Early Days CD and this Mainly Norfolk post tells you just about everything you need to know. Note the considerable differences between Bert Lloyd and The Waterson’s versions, with the latter greatly abridged. Jon’s take is equally short and unfortunately I can’t lay my hands on a ‘full-fat’ version as it doesn’t seem to be currently available. Mainly Norfolk also quotes the sleeve notes from the CDs and reveals that the year of 1864 in this version of the song is historically inaccurate, as the song is easily 140 years older than that. Mudcat has little extra to add to that but here’s a thread should you require it.

You can buy the August digital album now from all good download stores:



22 Responses to “Greenland Whale Fishery”

  1. admin says:

    This is ‘other’ admin. Little do I know of folksong in general but I am pleased to be able to add some info here. I first heard this song via the Pogues – its on their ‘Red Roses For Me’ album and moved on from there to AL Lloyd’s Leviathan album – ‘full fat’ there I believe.

  2. Jan Howard says:

    This podcast hasn’t downloaded. I’ve checked my settings and they seem right. I’ve looked in iTunes Store. Other “Folk Song a Day podcasts are there, but this one isn’t. All the others downloaded just fine. They are such a joy and I look forward to them each day. I feel quite sad that today’s gift from Jon might be “lost in the post”! Anyone else having this problem.
    Anything else I can do to solve it?

  3. Reinhard says:

    Just wait a bit Jan. While the blog is regularly posted at midnight UK time, the iTunes podcast is sometimes a few hours early and sometime quite late. Two or three times up to now I got both the last and the forthcoming podcast in one swoop at 10 p.m.

  4. admin says:

    Back to the other admin (that’s the other, other rather than the other -Dagnabit!, not the one above) just to say, that we can’t automate the podcast feed in the same way as we can the blog, so it has to be done every day by the other, other, other admin (Aaagh – the technical bloke!) As you can imagine we can’t chain him to his computer 24hrs a day, as he’s old enough to do that for himself! Seriously, though we can’t do it in advance as it becomes available as soon as it’s uploaded so sometimes it will be a bit early, sometimes a bit late. It will be daily, however, or something really has gone egg! So the message is keep trying, you can always stream it here until the podcast appears.

  5. Jan Howard says:

    Hello again.

    Thanks for the explanation. I understand now. Didn’t want to harass anyone! I’m so grateful to you all for the work you’re putting in. It’s not only the podcasts. The links to Mudcat etc. are so interesting. I’m disabled/housebound and, suddenly, I feel as though a door has opened into a really great club. In the 1960’s I sometimes used to go to the Highcliffe, (Greystones Road, Sheffield) – heard Jake Thakray there – which was tiny. This one is as big as the world. How wonderful to be a member.

  6. Reinhard says:

    If there ain’t a law that admins have to be anonymous, why don’t you just tell us your names? That would easy up the confusion a bit.

    And thanks for explaining the needs of an admin not to be chained to the computer 😉 I’m a sysadmin myself and appreciate this sentiment very much.

    Now back to the music – let Jon catch a few more wonderful songs about whalermen…

  7. Matthew Edwards says:

    Jan, what a lovely phrase:- “suddenly, I feel as though a door has opened into a really great club”.

    I wish we could join in some of the choruses here sometimes though. Guess I’ll just have to go out and do some social singing 🙂


  8. admin says:

    Jan, no harrasment at all (sorry if I gave that impression.) I’m really pleased the door has opened for you and will echo Matthews sentiment above. I’ll always try to answer any questions to the best of my ability, but I was having a bit of fun with the above. Being in the middle of a rather long write up for a future post, I guess AFSAD syndrome set it, just my sense of humour running amock. But one and all, for future reference, I’m Simon and I write all of the intros, research the stories, sort out the links and generally respond to the comments. Ben does the tech and I’ll leave ‘other admin’ anon for now, unless he choses to reveal himself.

    While we’re at it are you the Reinhard of the excellent Mainly Norfolk that I keep linking to?

  9. Phil says:

    Matthew – Beech tonight?

  10. Reinhard says:

    Yes Simon, I try to please.

  11. admin says:

    Good work Reinhard and nice to have you here.

  12. muzza says:

    I dunno……….aint it always the way……I mention that we haven’t heard from admin for a while …AND THEN THREE COME ALONG!
    Admin Simon or Admin Ben etc would be nice for the future.

  13. OxfordClareB says:

    Thanks Jon! Brilliant version, and the same source (the Watersons) that inspired me to start singing this song, only very recently as it happens. The sound of the Ws in full blast on this is just stunning. I was always struck by how different a version it is to the English Book of Penguin Folk Songs (wink), and I infinitely prefer this version.

  14. admin says:

    Muzza, Simon here and it will generally be me on the blog, but we all use the same log in at the moment (it’s saved in my machine, so opens quickly and automatically.) I might change that when I get back from Devon a week Monday. Anyway, I’ve still got half a dozen songs to scedule before I go, so I’d better crack on – stay tuned and enjoy, there are some belters on the way.

  15. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Greenland Whale Fishery from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

    There are 84 records of Greenland Whale Fishery in the Library, having been collected from various places including Devon by Sabine Baring-Gould, Lancashire by Anne Gilchrist, and Michigan by John and Alan Lomax.

    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 347, there are 126 records in total, with other titles including Bound for the Stormy Main, Greenland Whalecatchers, or Brave Boys.

    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.

    There are 2 records of the song in the Take 6 archive, both from the Anne Gilchrist collection.

    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.

    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or

  16. Alan Rosevear says:

    This song makes me feel better about messing up words – a quick check shows versions with dates from 1784, thru 1803, 1825, 1834, 1854, 1864 etc and deaths – any number you like. But it’s the feel of the song that matters more than the facts and Jon’s mournful version gets it right. Think I will try and learn 1784 though.

  17. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    @Admin Simon…………….ref your last comment above…..a year + later……………and you never changed did you …you old Folkie you!!!!
    and commenters have never got round to just adding as to which country they were hailing from….that would have been interesting!

  18. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Yeeeah………Two years on and Admin Simon eventually cracked and used his name and we even got a sexy hirsute photo….
    but we never did get anybody else to add country/county to their ‘sign in name’….and from some comments, we have one or two from overseas.

  19. Diana says:

    There is a lot more to this song than Jon sings when you go on Mainly Norfolk. A sad tale but whale hunting was a dangerous game in the days in which this song is set.

    Muzza just missed you on FB by 3 mins. Still awaiting your photo,

  20. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    @Diana….Is that Diana from Lancashire?…….
    photo on its way by devious means….via Janey from Yorkshire!

  21. Diana says:

    @ Muzza….. Aye lad tis me. Goodie, holding my breath in anticipation. Will get back to you once seen.

  22. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey UK) says:

    see last two comments above…….That Diana…bless her little cotton socks….even though she threatened it…she didn’t send the Pic to ‘the News of the World’…phew!
    (oh dear…I have looked at song a day early)

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