Rolling Down To Old Maui


Jon says,“Dave Webber introduced me to the song via a cassette from Winchester library many years ago. I put the verses together from a few versions, but mainly from Songs The Whalemen Sang. It has one of the mightiest choruses around.”  I was going too call this a stirring shanty, but it’s more accurately described as a fo’c’s’le (forecastle) song as it was sung for pleasure rather than work. This Wiki link will give you the details and even mentions this song in the definition.  A.L. Lloyd recorded a version on the Leviathan album (CD currently unavailable) and you can read about that at Mainly Norfolk here. I’ve also turned up a version by Jolly Jack, a Lancastrian trio led by the late Dave Weatherall, available on the Rolling Down To Old Maui CD on Fellside. Interestingly the notes in the booklet collated and amended by Paul Adams are very specific.

“Our title track comes from Songs The Whalemen Sung by New Englander Gale Huntington. Many young men working on the American whaling ships kept personal journals in which the recorded the voyage, made sketches, notes and copied their favourite songs. The words of this song were taken from such a journal made aboard the Atkins Adams in 1858. The noble tune [pretty much as Jon sings it] is from Chantying Aboard American Ships by F.P. Harlow. Maui is one of the Hawaiian Islands and was a meeting place for whalers… something to look forward to between trips. A ‘homeward bound’ feeling prevails after the arctic hunting season but it was likely that they were merely calling at Maui for ‘fitting out’ for the further half year in the southern oceans.”

I’m grateful to Paul and whoever uncovered that gem. I’ll add there’s some rather good Mudcatage here and you’ll note lyrical variations, more recordings and some thoughts on the tune(s).

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



34 Responses to “Rolling Down To Old Maui”

  1. Linda Champ says:

    I am pleased to see yet another reference to Winchester Library. Its nice to see it was a helpful place for Jon. I know written sources are not everyone’s cup of tea but some of us have to start somewhere! (I admit I am not totally impartial I work in archives and local studies). Hoorah too, for Take Six!

  2. Linda Champ says:

    Post script: libraries don’t just offer written sources, of course, but as in Jon’s case audio material.

  3. Dave Rogers says:

    “…more accurately described as a fo’c’s’le (forecastle) song as it was sung for pleasure rather than work.”

    Also known as a “forebitter”, I believe (or “for worse”, as the case may be).

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, this one ‘for better’ for me, as I really liked it. The good feeling of getting a break from the cold hunting season, if only for a refit, really does come across. Like the accompaniment on this one too, and you sounded very comfortable singing it, Jon. Thanks!

  5. John Burton says:

    And I thought FourBitter was what you called for when they rang the last orders bell.

  6. Reinhard says:

    No, John, Jon will certainly sing Last Orders on June 23, 2011.

  7. SRD says:

    A little down tempo for the theme to my taste but beautifully presented. I remember hearing the Shanty Crew when they recorded this back in 1983/4 for their album ‘Let the Wind Blow Free’ in the ESSAR studio attached to Farningham Folk Club, although, if my fragile memory serves me right, they actually sang in the bar of the Pied Bull as the studio itself was too small.

  8. David says:

    I also have the Jolly Jack version – in my case, it’s on vinyl…the original LP. Love it!

  9. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Rolling Down to Old Maui from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
    There are 3 records of Rolling Down to Old Maui in the Library, collected by Frederick Harlow and Joanna Colcord in the USA.
    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 2005, there are 4 records, one titled ‘Rolling Down to Old Mohee’.
    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.
    There are no records of the song in the Take 6 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

  10. Yehudit says:

    Stan Rogers did a bang-up version of this.

  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    So like this one… and we have My Johnny’s Gone To Hilo later too.

  12. John Biggs says:

    Whaling is a difficult subject which I think many singers would shy away from in these times, but it produced a fantastic catalogue of songs which must not be lost to future singers. This is a new one to me, and I love it. Beautifully sung and the accordion is just right.
    I have also just discovered “Soon may the Weller Man Come”, sung by Gordon Bok, a great song telling a whaler’s version of the Ancient Mariner legend.
    Please, Jane, no hints about what is to come! I only joined this ship half way through the voyage, last Christmas, so the next few months are all new to me. I have deliberately NOT gone into the monthly archives so each day brings me another unexpected jewel.
    I just hope that in June next year when this old ship finally docks, someone has planned a bash with Capt. Jon and the crew at a large enough venue in a central location that we can ALL get to.

  13. Linda says:

    Have been listening to this quite a lot lately. It has an atmosphere and Jon sings it beautifully. Like the sounds of a more central location for an end of year two get together.

  14. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ John B: Sorry about the spoiler. I only bethought myself after I’d posted it. It doesn’t matter much when you don’t know too many folk songs, so a title doesn’t mean anything to you. I appreciate it’s not the same if you are more musically familiar.

  15. John Biggs says:

    Dont worry about it Jane. I am just a big kid with a very large Advent Calendar to be opened between now and Christmas.

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

    @John Biggs…………yep John…..loads shy away from Hunting and whaling songs…but…as some eminent sage said in the long distant past…”the devil seems to have the best tunes!”……and as for that Jane spoiling things…….she told me that there was no Father Christmas.

  17. jonathan says:

    A favourite Spiers & Boden number, a bit of You Tube also brings a punk/thrash version from the Dreadnoughts, I have to say I lasted about a minute with them, but their fiddler is energetic….

    A belated hat tip to Yehudit for Stan Rogers- a new discovery for me

  18. Jane Ramsden says:

    Yes, concur re: the Dreadnaughts & thanks for Stan Rogers here too. What a perfect voice for this song! Judge for yersens, Afsadders!

    @ Muzza: The eminent sage actually said ‘Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?’ and which eminent sage is disputed. Many say Martin Luther, in defence of using tavern songs’ melodies for some of his hymns, but the same has been said of Wesley. I don’t think it was either of them, but the English evangelist, Rowland Hill, (1744-1833) did indeed ask why the devil should get all the good tunes, and did use popular music in his meetings.

    In both the use of that phrase and the practice of adapting popular music to evangelistic settings, Hill was followed even more famously by the nineteenth-century founders of the Salvation Army — the Booth family.

    Ian Bradley, author of ‘Abide with Me: The World of Victorian Hymns’ (see tells the story:

    “When the patriarch William Booth was told that certain kinds of music were too much “of the world” to be used in evangelistic meetings, he retorted crustily, ‘Not allowed to sing that tune or this tune? Indeed! Secular music, do you say? Belongs to the devil, does it? Well, if it did, I would plunder him of it. Every note and every strain and every harmony is divine and belongs to us.”

    Another story places Booth at a revival meeting in a Worcester Theatre, enjoying a popular Christian chorus titled ‘Bless His Name, He Sets Me Free.’ Booth was surprised to discover that the song’s tune came from the music-hall ditty, ‘Champagne Charlie Is My Name. Turning to a family member, he delivered Hill’s famous line, “That settles it. Why should the devil have all the best tunes?”

    The Army proceeded to adapt for their own use such popular music as Stephen Foster’s minstrel songs, music hall favorites, and even drinking songs.

    In doing so, Booth and his followers were tapping a tradition that dated back at least to the sixteenth-century origins and seventeenth-century elaboration of the sacred ‘oratorio’ form. This form borrowed much from secular opera and chamber pieces in order to attract people to church.

  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    PS @ Muzza II: I so did not tell you there was no Santa!

    Ref your query under ‘The Oggie Man,’ have you got enough time to make your dulcijo… well, I guess it depends how big it’s gonna be… a big ‘un might help pull the ladies in church, Little Musgrave, especially if you play a devilishly good tune. As another eminent sage said, “Many a good tune’s played on an old fiddle!”

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

    @Jane……………..bless you……..BUT………..there are old fiddles and there are
    “beaten up,knackered,fallin’ apart,split at the seams,will-he-get-through-the-night fiddles”…that’s me that is!

  21. Diana says:

    Like this one very much have played it so many times. A very infectious chorus,

    @Muzza: If you should read this then refer to the last couple of days and read my comments please.

  22. Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    @Diana………….always here………….glad all that is sorted.
    Great old song………….sung with great gusto by one of my friends during apres Morris

  23. Linda says:

    Twelve months on and this is still one of my favourites would love to see it performed live.

  24. Diana says:

    Linda have seen and heard Spiers and Boden perform this song at Buxton last year – great. I joned in the chorus – very softly must admit.

  25. Diana says:

    Muzza meant to reply to above – thanks for your support. Glad you are always there.

  26. Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Is that Admin Simon ‘avin’ a Giraffe…………..It is 12:15am and I am twiddlin’ my thumbs waiting for the song for the 24th to appear and I notice at the foot of the site page that design is by one ‘Ben Bowdler’……………..oh yeah!
    I also note from the dictionary that ‘Bowdlerised ‘ is ….’to remove offensive material’
    Is this a put up job……..we should be told……….gotta gota bed now

  27. Diana says:

    Still a great song.

  28. Linda says:

    A few of my favourites coming up still like the atmosphere of this one..

  29. Linda says:

    Back to the nautical stuff….planning to settle down and read the wiki link shown above…

  30. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:


  31. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Had to send good wishes early as I’m not near PC on 23rd.
    Hope you are vaccinated and free of the old virus.(that goes for all of you chums!)

  32. Linda says:

    Nice to revisit this one….its been one of those days but this is helping…… catching up again Muzza

  33. Linda says:

    Again it is nice to re visit this song…

  34. OldMuzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Well…….The subject of this old song was a bit obscure to most of the world until this August, and now the whole of this historic old island has been devastated by wild fires.

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