Ewan MacColl and A. L. Lloyd – Handsome Cabin Boy (two weeks with Ewan MacColl, day three)

• “Handsome Cabin Boy” set to a picture of a likely suspect. Thanks to rmm413e.

8.0 “Fantastic Folk from England”

From their LP “Blow Boys Blow (Songs Of The Sea)” (Tradition Records TLP-1026) released in 1957.

Ewan was co-billed with A.L. Lloyd on around 20 LPs, 8 of which were proper “A-list” sets (i.e. non compiles). Sometimes they would sing together, or one would sit out whilst the other took the lead vocal. The top track on their acclaimed “Blow Boys Blow (Songs Of The Sea)” set belongs to A. L. Lloyd.

In my album review I wrote:

Sea songs and shanties sung by A. L. Lloyd and Ewan MacColl, accompanied by Alf Edwards (concertina), Ralph Rinzler (guitar, banjo and mandolin) and Steve Benbow (guitar). There’s not a bad song on this fine set, ably veering from the rambunctious to the sensitive as required. In his excellent liner notes, A. L. Lloyd writes a well-informed paragraph about each song; this is what he had to say about my side one standout, “Handsome Cabin Boy”:

“The Handsome Cabin Boy portrays a common sailor’s dream that among the crew is a girl dressed as a boy. Oddly enough, in songs based on this fantasy, it is nearly always an officer who discovers the girl’s identity. In this case the plight of the pregnant cabin “boy” might be considered tragic, seen from the girl’s viewpoint. But as sailors see it, the situation is inexhaustibly comic. The version of this much-loved ballad that is sung here is unusual for the unequivocal role played by the captain’s wife.”

I understand this was one of Captain Beefheart’s favourite albums, and that’s a sure-fire seal of approval for the authenticity within the all-invested delivery throughout.

The LP sits just outside my Top 10 for the year; Album Chart of 1957.


Ewan MacColl is known to most people as a songwriter and singer, but he was also of significant influence in the worlds of theatre and radio broadcasting. He was a committed socialist all his life and his political sensibilities underpinned all his creative activities. His art reached huge numbers through the folk clubs, greater numbers through his recordings and untold millions through the radio. Although The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Dirty Old Town remain his biggest ‘hits’, MacColl wrote songs for many different contexts: incidental songs for theatrical productions, commissioned pieces for labour unions or political causes, songs stitched together from vernacular speech recorded for the radio documentary series The Radio Ballads, songs for rallying, striking, marching… and, of course, songs for singing in folk clubs.

For sixty years he was at the cultural forefront of numerous political struggles, producing plays, songs and scripts on the subjects of apartheid, fascism, industrial strife and human rights. It has been said that he was an enormous fish in a small pond – but the ocean of traditional song and speech upon which he navigated and hunted owes him a great debt for the treasures that he returned to it.


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