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New York Girls (2)

Shanties
New York Girls 2
(Cant You Dance The Polka)




This popular capstan shanty has many names - Hugill calls this version 'The New York Gals', and also gives one called 'Can't Ye Dance The Polka' (which the Penguin Book of American Folksongs calls 'As I Walked Out On Broadway')  and another entitled 'Away, Susanna ' listing places all over the world  where Jack had been. But most versions tell of Jack's amorous adventures ashore in New York, with varying measures of success.

Words from other shanties could easily be fitted into this song if the job was taking a long time: 'Heave Away, Me Johnnies', 'The Banks of Newfoundland' and 'The Fireship', were often so used and Captain John Short  of Watchett sang the shanty variously known as 'Yellow Meal', 'Lay Me Down' or 'The Irish Emigrant' to this tune and chorus.

In this version, the sailor is a victim of the "panel game": the bedroom was fitted with a sliding panel through which in the middle of the night the sailor's  hostess would disappear together with his clothes, money and other belongings.

Roud 486
Click to play MIDI file
New York Girls
New York Girls
(Can't You Dance The Polka)

As I walked out on South Street, a fair maid I did meet
Who asked me please to see her home she lived on Bleecker Street

And away, you Johnny,  my dear honey
Oh you New York girls, you love us for our money


I said, "My dear young lady, I'm a stranger here in town
I left my ship just yesterday, from Liverpool I was bound."

I took her out to Tiffany's, I spared her no expense
I bought her two gold  earrings, they cost me fifteen cents.

She said, "Come with me, dearie, I'll stand you to a treat
I'll buy you rum and brandy, dear, and tab-nabs for to eat."

And when we reached the bar-room, boys, the drinks were handed round
That liquor was so awful strong,  my head went round and round.

When the drinking it was over, we straight to bed did go
And little did I ever think she'd prove my overthrow

When I came to next morning, I had an aching head
And there was I, Jack-all-alone, stark naked on the bed

I look-ed  all around the room, but nothing could I see
But a lady's shift and apron which now belonged to me

Everything was silent, the hour was eight o'clock
I put my shift and apron on and headed for the dock

My shipmates seein' me come aboard, these words to  me did say
"Well well, old chap, you've lost your cap since last you went away."

"Is this the new spring fashion the ladies wear ashore?
Where is the shop that sells it? Have they got any more?"

The Old Man cried, "why Jack, my boy, I'm sure I could have  found
A better suit than that, by far, to buy for eighty pounds."

So come all you bully sailormen, take warning when ashore
Or else you'll meet some charming girl who's nothing but a whore

Your hard-earned cash will disappear, your rig and boots as well  
For Yankee girls are tougher than the other side of Hell.


Recorded by
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New York Gals, sung by Vaughan Hully
Bowery Girls and Hookers

The Lower East Side was where many voyages to New York ended with the sailors coming ashore looking for entertainment of all kinds. As early as 1816 the area round the shipyards and ferry terminal of the Corlear's Hook (GPS 40.71, -73.98) area of  Manhattan was notorious for its streetwalkers, "a resort for the lewd and abandoned of both sexes", and the ladies plying there trade here became the original "hookers".

Sailortown eventually extended a mile or two inland as far as Bleecker Street and  the Bowery, (GPS 40.725, -73.992) formerly Bowery Lane,  whose name is an  anglicisation of the Dutch word 'bouwerij', meaning  farm.




In the 18th century this had been an upmarket entertainment area, boasting taverns and theatres frequented by the best of New York society, but by the time of the American Civil War, these mansions and shops had  given way to low-brow concert halls, brothels, German beer gardens, pawn shops, and , flophouses, such as the North American Hotel at 30 Bowery where the famous songwriter Stephen Collins Foster died in poverty in 1864.

A 1919 article in Century Magazine described the Bowery thus:

"Here, too, by the thousands come sailors on shore leave,—notice the 'studios'  of the tattoo artists,—and here most in evidence are the 'down and outs'".


The area today has changed greatly: like many other dockland areas, gentrification has been rampant since the 1990s and in October 2011, the Bowery Historic District was registered with the New York State Register of Historic Places.

For boats known as Hookers, see Hooker John


 
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