On Board A 98


This I think is a cracker and Jon says, “Bellamy generally opened his gigs with this one. A great song for extending your vocal range – before I learnt it I couldn’t get much above an E, but a managed to push it up to a G through this song.” A barnstorming way to start an evening I’ll warrant. As you’d expect Mainly Norfolk has the Bellamy angle covered, whilst also referring to versions by Roy Harris and Damien Barber. I like the former’s sleeve note,  “This pithy autobiography has everything: press-gang, storm, battle, bloodshed…” I think you can add philandering, Nelson and a nicely humorous twist to the retirement, ending. I’ll also link to this Mudcat thread, which has the bonus of a whole extra verse, not in Bellamy’s or Jon’s versions, but which adds some more fine detail. Should anyone fancy it, here’s  a site of Naval history to get lost in for a while. It’s easy to navigate and  read, covering everything from the press gangs, through on-board life to the Battle Of Trafalgar.




34 Responses to “On Board A 98”

  1. John Burton says:

    Cracker, could be Septembers winner for me.
    Well sung. (and played of course)

  2. Ceryswyn says:

    You mention vocal range here. Any tips for learning what notes you’re singing? I can sing along to songs and learn them well but I have no clue if I’m singing an A or a b flat (well, ok, I can at least tell if it’s flat :P)

  3. muzza says:

    The tune is almost “Adieu sweet lovely Nancy”…….which fits the words if you haven’t the vocal range that Jon Has
    A compact little song …….bags of action and a peaceful conclusion…….
    “I’m too old to sing this song”…………I can take a hint!

  4. Alison McKee says:

    What a corker!!

  5. John says:

    I love Peter Bellamy’s version of this song, but Jon matches it all the way. Absolutely brilliant!

  6. Andrew Smith says:

    Great song, I saw Peter Bellamy sing it several times, a wonderful opening to a gig.

  7. Alan Rosevear says:

    This is rousing stuff with a voice like Jon’s leading it – and the repeated phrase gives everyone a chance to throw in a harmony line or three, making for a great communal sound – plus the old lags can wink knowingly when the novices get tripped by the very last line. Good candidate for this month’s top spot based on social singing, though I suspect it’s more a bloke’s choice.

  8. Robin Kelly says:

    I don’t mean to denigrate Jon’s hard work, dedication and kindness in making such an authentic rendition of this and so many other songs available to us lurkers, but the lyrics here are terribly mundane. Maybe that proves it was originally written, in a hurry, by someone whose talents lay elsewhere. He curses his fate in verse 2, quickly becomes hardened to war in verse 4, gets promoted twice and lives to at least 98. The minimal emotional content of the lyrics doesn’t match the expression of the singing – like singing the phone book.

    Another ‘Captain Ward’, if you ask me – you know, ‘A ship was sailing from the East, and going to the West’ (couldn’t it have gone North or something?). But many thanks anyway.

  9. Reinhard says:

    The other day I read Steve Roud’s comment about Harry Cox singing Bold Archer: “Harry’s is a severely trimmed version (Child’s A text, for example, has forty-five verses), but all the essentials of the story are present.” I have the same feeling with this song. It is great that one can condense the crucial points in one’s life in six short vignettes. Why waste more words?

  10. Jo Breeze says:

    More about On Board 98 from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
    There is just one record of On Board 98 in the Library, in the collection of Francis Collinson, from the singing of a Mr Wanstall in Aldington, Kent.
    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 1461, this picked up the title spelled as ‘On Board a Ninety-Eight’, and produced 9 records.
    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.
    There is one record of the song in the Take 6 collection, from the collection of Francis Collinson – if you look at the record, you can see Collinson’s original manuscript version of the song.
    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 http://www.efdss.org/front/access-the-library-online/access-the-library-online/115
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or library@efdss.org.

  11. Dave Rogers says:

    Robin Kelly said “the lyrics here are terribly mundane”.

    Reminds me of the time I used the text of a traditional mummers’ play in a college show. It was pointed out to me that the word “bold” was used three times in as many lines, which wasn’t terribly good style.

    I couldn’t help thinking they’d somehow missed the point…

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    The product of good learning about the use of English can sometimes mean people rather miss the point about life. Either you see this as one of those all-singing, all-dancing tv ads for life insurance, that has you from cradle to grave in 30 secs (I can see Robin’s point!), or you view it as an entertaining musical distillation of a life, lifestyle & a bit of history & adventure to boot. Songs are not always poetry.
    Having said that, I still prefer Noah’s Ark Shanty for my September vote… or more likely, yesterday’s offering, The Rigs of the Time.

  13. John Bryson says:

    Loved it – absolutely super

  14. Anne Payne says:

    Another fantastic rendition-love it. It’s even managed to make the rigours of ofsted seem less awful!

  15. Robin Kelly says:

    You miss my point. I’m not talking about style. I’m talking about emotional content.

  16. Dave Rogers says:

    But traditional folk songs often get their message across in a relatively un-emotional, matter-of-fact way. It’s one of the reasons I love them so much.

    The overly-sentimental ones are usually either of 18th century origin (shepherds and swains predominate) or have been unduly influenced by Victorian drawing room ballads.

  17. Phil says:

    Exactly. Some of the best (and saddest) folk songs are absolutely remorseless in the way they pile one dreadful event on another, but they hardly ever stop along the way to say “and this was very sad” or “and she was terribly upset”. Characters in the old ballads, especially, seem incredibly stoical – look at Hughie the Graeme, commending his soul to heaven and then organising his own posthumous revenge, or young Waters making a joke out of being taken out to be hanged. I think that’s a big part of the power of the old songs, that they hit you with something that demands an emotional response and then just move straight along. For an extreme example, take Sheath and Knife, where the repeated refrain means that the audience has to keep burbling on about how bonny the broom is, even while they’re thinking about one of the most awful scenarios you can imagine.

  18. Matthew Edwards says:

    Actually Robin has quite a valid point; the lyrics of many folk songs are quite banal, and lacking in emotional subtlety, and indeed some of them don’t make much sense! Imagine what Jane Austen would have made out of the rather incoherent story of ‘Barbara Allen’! How would Henry James have dealt with the underlying tensions in ‘The Frog went A-Courting’? Think how Dickens would have fleshed out the characters in ‘When Jones’s Ale Was New’.

    However all this is indeed beside the point; what looks flat and dull on the page can come to life in a performance. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been deeply moved by a song which I’d previously dismissed as trite when I’d only known it as a string of words.

    In performance a singer can convey some extreme emotional complexities with an economy, and even ambiguity, that allows a wide range of responses from the listener. Poets like John Clare, Robbie Burns and W B Yeats all found inspiration from folk songs; they recognised that beneath the superficial understatements and incoherences of the texts lay a huge wealth of popular experience.


  19. Jane Ramsden says:

    I’m not hugely sold on this song (though you sing it brilliantly, Jon!) but have re-read with interest all the points above. I especially like what Matthew has to say. I’m concluding maybe the singer delivers the song and the starker, sparser and more matter-of-fact the content, the more the listener supplies the emotional response.

  20. Simon says:

    If the song fits, wear it (if you can), I say. BTW went to see Tabor and Oysters last night. I recommend both the forthcoming tour and the album heartily.

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

    @Admin Simon……..remember the old game “Simon Says”….
    I shall try on new songs as instructed……
    I see you are trying to catch up with comments…..Jane’s pink sombrero has made it very easy to scroll swiftly down and a flash of pink tells you “She has spoken”
    You must have a very busy life trying to keep track of all your projects……you are doing great work on the Propergander site.

  22. Jane Ramsden says:

    It seems I am wearing ‘All Around My Hat’ (but no green ribbon). If it gets to the stage of The Hat has spoken, I may have to change my avatar. It will not be to the one where I am dressed as a cat…

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

    @Jane……..I’d pay good money to see the cat costume one Jane!

  24. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: We’ll have no distraction from the mewsic.. hehehehehe…

  25. Rosie says:

    Lovely dramatic fiddle playing. Damien Barber and Mike wilson have this nailed for me though. ( You Tube )

  26. John Bryson says:

    Re the comments about Peter Bellamy – I saw Damien Barber (who hails from Norfolk) and Mike Wilson at Stortfolk (Bishop’s Stortford) folk club on a snowy night last January – they open their set as well with it – I presume the influence of Bellamy again. 2 years on and I still find this a great rouser, great to sing along with at a folk club

  27. Diana says:

    Another great one – ending with a touch of humour in the last line. He certainly packed a lot into his 98 years. Loved the fiddle playing.

  28. Diana says:

    John have you moved back to your old “home county” now?

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

    I’d demand a parachute before I attempted that top note!

  30. Diana says:

    And no dount forget to open it Muzza.

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

    No DOUNT I would Diana……how yer diddlin’?

  32. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Ref Diana (dount!)……I reckon this is evidence that she is a wicked witch of the North with all those BAD spells!

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

    That high note in the chorus comes straight out of the Aussie song ‘Bush Girl’

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

    Still love that High Note

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