Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Boats: The Coal Boat Song

Stompin' Tom Connors: The Coal Boat Song


(N.B. It says 'temporarily out of stock', but this is the only place I could find it!)

"I left Cape Breton on a coal boat
for St. John's, Newfoundland
And I met a little girl named Sally
And I took her by the little white hand.

She shook her little head and said no way, Fred.
I won't go along with your plan.
You've been workin' on the coal boat b'y
And yer nothin' but a dirty old man."

Don't worry, it all turns out alright. Sally, the woman with those "little white hands" decides she loves him dirty or not...in fact, the dirtier the better!

Stompin' Tom Connors, the prolific Canadian folk luminary, apparently got his nickname from the fact that he would insistently pound the heel of his left boot to keep the rhythm whilst he played. He received so many complaints about the damage this habit was causing to the stages he performed on that, eventually, he started to carry a piece of plywood along with him. He would take great pride in showing his audience the hole booted through each piece of wood, before requesting another.

This song is a great blue collar workman's song, expressing succinctly the ambivalence between the need to make an honest man's living and wanting that "pretty little girlfriend". It is the very epitome of folk music, and could easily be mistaken for a traditional shanty.

Many of the emotions here are implicit, but nevertheless powerful; for example, whilst working away on the coal barge, our protagonist receives a letter blaming him that his son, who he hardly knows due to being away doing his job, has also decided to take up the same line of work. This, in turn, reminds me of two other songs that mean something to me (but which, sadly, have nothing to do with boats, so a brief mention is all they get): Cat's in the Cradle by Harry Chapin and Another Man's Cause by The Levellers.

If you don't already know this song, just listen...I can almost guarantee that you will need to hear it again, or you won't be able to get it out of your head!
Update: Writing this post got me thinking and now there's a whole post of mining songs over at Ceci N'est Pas un Blog...there are some good'uns, even if I do say so myself (not that I wrote any of them!).


Anonymous said...

Hi Divinyl,

Welcome to the team. Great song and post!

Divinyl said...

Thanks Paul :o) Glad you like. It's given me an idea for a post on my own blog too...working it out as we speak! You never know, I might even be back with another boat-related diatribe...plenty of song titles scribbled down!

Unknown said...

I grew up in Rochester and used to hear Stompin' Tom on the CBC Radio shows. I highly recommend his "Live at the Horseshoe" album.

Matt said...

Nice post, Divinyl... Welcome to the Machine!
Thanks, too, for a song (and artist) I'd never heard before. It's always great to find out someone new.

Divinyl said...

Walter...his albums seem to be seriously hard to get hold of on the net, akthough it vinyl seems to be easier to find than CD. I take it Rochester is in Canada and not the Rochester here in the UK then?

Matt...thank you, and pleasure to make your acquaintance :o) Hope you liked the track?

boyhowdy said...

I'm with Matt, Di -- nice writing, a great new artist, and yes, I liked the track very much. Like a sped up Johnny Cash, and that ain't a bad thing. Welcome, and keep it coming!

The stompin' percussion sounds like Chris Smither -- a folk bluesman who did learn to stomp softer, and now has sound guys mic his stompin' foot at shows.

Divinyl said...

Thanks Boyhowdy :o) I haven't heard of Chris Smither, I will check him out!

(And Walter...apologies for my typos in your reply...it was after midnight here when I replied and I'd just got in from the pub!)

AC'63 said...

Great song ... I grew up on Stompin Tom ... saw him at a number of curling clubs when I was a little kid ... he was playing for the bonspeilers ... Try to find "Sudbury Saturday Night". .. great song .. by the way I think he ment Rochester NY, its the other side of lake ontario of us.

I've posted "the hockey song" if you want to check it out.
Oreo Cookie Blues

Divinyl said...

Hi there ac@45 :o) I have to admit that my knowledge of Stompin' Tom's music is very limited...I will definitely head across to have a listen to that. Thanks for leaving a comment!

Anonymous said...

Amazing song. I've listened to it at least 20 times since I heard it. Really speaks to me being a Newfie stuck here working far from home in Japan. Thanks for posting!

Divinyl said...

No worries Ananymous...I'm glad you liked it :oD I, too, had to listen to it loads of times when I first heard it!