Blow The Man Down - Shanty U.K. Archive

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Blow The Man Down

Blow The Man Down

This shanty probably started ashore as "Knock a Man Down", sung by the negro dock workers stowing cotton into  the holds of ships in the ports around the Gulf of Mexico. But the tune proved very popular, particularly with the hard-case "packet rats" of the Black Ball Line and other Western Ocean packets, and soon many different sets of words were set to it: Hugill gives no fewer than six distinct versions. Many of these sets of words were also fitted to other tunes, and this version is no exception. This tale of Jack's amorous adventures ashore is often sung with a different tune and chorus as "Ratcliffe Highway". Hugill gives it for topsail halyards.

Other versions:

Roud 2624
Click to play MIDI file
Blow The Man Down
Blow The Man Down

Oh, as I was a walking down Paradise Street

Timme way hey, blow the man down
A Liverpool packet I chanced for to meet.
Gimme some time to blow the man down!

"I'm a fast-moving clipper,my good sir," said she,
Timme way hey, blow the man down
"I'm ready for cargo: my hold it is free."
Gimme some time to blow the man down!

So I threw her my hawser and took her in tow
And yardarm to yardarm away we did go.

I pulled on her lanyard, her topsail she lowered
In a neat little harbour she soon had me moored.

She lowered her mainsail, her staysail and all
Put her lilywhite hand on my reef tackle fall

I opened her hatches, she'd plenty of room
And in her main locker I stowed my jib-boom.

I said, "My fair maiden, it's time to give o'er
For twixt wind and water, you've run me ashore."

"My shot-locker's empty; my powder's all spent
I can't fire a round, 'cause I'm choked at the vent."

Here's a health to the  girl with the dark flowing locks
And a curse to the girl who's put Jack on the rocks.

Here's a health to the doctor, who's cured all his pain;
He's trimmed his main yard; now he's cruising again.

And it's blow the man down,  bullies, blow the man down
Timme way hey, blow the man down
Oh, Blow him right back into Liverpool town
Gimme some time to blow the man down!

Play MP3
Blow The Man Down: Shellback Chorus, 2007
Blow The Man Down, performed by the Shellback Chorus, soloist Vaughan Hully, live at Upton-on-Severn Feelgood Festival, September 2007
Packets and Blowers

A Packet ship was one which had a contract to carry packets (formerly "paquettes") of mail. The earliest and most famous transatlantic packet route was the Liverpool service, started in 1816 by the Black Ball Line, with regular departures from New York on the 1st and 16th of every month without fail, regardless of weather or other inconveniences. These early ships of 300 to 500 tons averaged 23 days for the eastward voyage and 40 days to return westward. Cabin passengers were usually gentlefolk of good breeding, who expected to find courtesy and politeness in the captains with whom they sailed. Packet captains were remarkable men, hearty, bluff, and jovial, but never coarse, always a gentleman.

The mates, on the other hand, had no social duties to distract their attention, and devoted their time and energies to extracting the very maximum of performance from both their vessel and its crew, so it is no surprise that it was on board the Black Ball liners that "belaying pin soup" and "handspike hash" first became familiar items of the shipboard regime. A hard breed of sailor was required to maintain the strict schedules whatever the weather, and it took an even harder breed of mate to keep this rough and ready bunch in some sort of order. If all else failed then then Rule of the Fist applied: to "blow a man down" was to knock him down with any means available - fist, belaying pin, or capstan bar being the weapons most often preferred.

On the Western Ocean packets, chief mates were colloquially referred to (not necessarily with affection) as "blowers"; second mates were "strikers" and third mates were "greasers"

Gimme some time ...
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