The great thing about learning a folk song is that usually you don’t have to look hard to determine what the story is, which for me is where the problem starts.
A few years ago I started singing sea shanties with a bunch of mates (we call ourselves The Jurassix) and in our search for authentic (and not so authentic) songs, we unearthed all sorts of interesting gems including ‘Northwest Passage’ by Canadian Stan Rogers. Stan Rogers sings about early sea and land exploration and then jumps forward 300 years to his own ‘tardy’ effort. This hauntingly melancholy song references the great explorers including ‘the man who ate his boots’ John Franklin. Franklin’s attempt to find ‘the sea route to the orient’ is a dreadful tale about disease, starvation and possibly even cannibalism. It would be wrong to call it a failed mission though, since the subsequent exploration undertaken in an effort to find the doomed sailors resulted in the waters being charted, eventually leading to Norwegian Roald Amundsen making the first complete passage, from 1903 to 1906.
A few weeks ago I was talking with a couple of mates over several pints and we drifted into song lyrics. One of them said “have you had a go at ‘Lord Franklin”? He went on to enthuse about this song, so I took it on board.
The song is actually called ‘Lady Franklin’s Lament’ and it alludes to yet another part of the story. And, as an aside, through this song I’ve discovered ‘drop D’ tuning (thanks guys), which requires a bit of a faff, but adds a pleasing bass thump to the finger picking.
As I said at the outset, ‘you don’t have to look very hard to pick up a storyline’. The problem I have is that once a song takes hold I end up being seduced by the tune and enthralled by the lyrics until the next earworm manifests itself. Anyway, you know where this is going, so herewith…