Fishermen's Ballads & Songs of the Sea at 150!

In July 1874 the Procter Bros. of Gloucester published 'Fishermen's Ballads and Songs of the Sea', a collection of 120 pieces by many authors, both women and men, a few known widely, many known only locally or not at all, and some anonymous or pseudonymous. It's a literary, musical and folkloric time capsule, and 2024 is its 150th anniversary.

This project honors the anniversary by opening that time capsule and making it live in the present with a talk/performance to be shared in as many ways as possible. In a very real way it keeps the spirit of Gloucester's 400+ alive this year and beyond.

I'm forever inspired by this quote from Irish poet Brendan Kenneally: "All songs are living ghosts and long for a living voice." With this project I am fulfilling the longing of the ghosts of these songs/poems, the vast majority of which have gone unspoken and unsung, even unseen, for decades. There is no music for any of them, so I have composed music for 24 pieces and will do so for more. Any piece could be sung, but to my eye some read better as poems to be recited, which I will include.

I've been doing research on the pieces, but there is much more to be done. The book contains no intro, index, bibliography, or notes, so I have created an author index and am working on a categories index and a digital table of contents. In my 5 images, in addition to the book's title page and preface, I've also shared the author index, along with a page of one song and an article showing its historical importance.

Given there are 120 pieces, it's a selective process. The Preface states, "Very many of the ballads are original, having been written expressly for us by the fishermen." I'm identifying as many of those as I can, and will include some in the program.

I've had two outings with the project already, at the NE Folk Festival and Windhover, with three more coming up at the CT Sea Music Festival, the SFL, and the Jonathan Bayliss Society, and another likely at CAM in September.

Funded by Gloucester, MA (June 2024)