Issue: June 2002
Of Love and Donkeys

Just in time for summer, two new CDs have graced the Bay music scene: “Love at Fyrst Nyte” by the Pyrates Royale and “Donkey Riding” by the Ship’s Company.

     The Pyrates Royale, for those unfamiliar with the group, are Jennifer Garman, Brad Howard, Paul DiBlasi, Darcy Nair, Lynn Cunningham and Craig Williams. On stage they have funny names, wear pirate garb and say “aargh!” a lot. You may have caught their act at the Maryland Renaissance Festival or at other performing venues around the Bay, not the least of which is First Night Annapolis, from whence cometh this live recording.

     “Love at Fyrst Nyte” is a tickle. Laced with pithy dialogue and the odd bit of historical info (“Of course, they never hung whalers for being whalers,” comes one remark after a lively comparison of the pirate and whaling trades), the CD offers up a variety of seagoing tunes. Some are old favorites, like the traditional “Bonny Ship the Diamond” and “Mingulay Boat Song.” Others are newcomers to the maritime music stage: “The Ballad of Old Redcoat” by Richard Follett, a tale of pirate bravery, with an odd twist at the end; and “Hellship” by Nick Robertshaw, which details the charms of maritime employment. Accompanied by fiddle, hammered dulcimer, guitar, broadsword and the like, the collection is a bit of sport worthy of any nautical discology.

     “Donkey Riding” is more straightforward, an unabashed tribute to the songs of sailors. Presented by the roustabouts of the Ship’s Company, a living history group dedicated to preserving American maritime heritage, the CD offers up 17 (count ‘em) different sea ditties-including my all-time favorite, “South Australia,” which remarks favorably on my great-great-grandmother Nancy Blair (has to be the same lady-why not?). Some of their selections (“Heave Away, Me Johnnies” and “High Barbaree”) were culled from the repertoire of the late Stan Hugill, himself an old salt who left copious notes and quantities of lyrics for the work songs and forecastle tunes that propelled the great ships forward in the age of sail. The eeriest of these is “The Selkie,” a tale of the seal-turned-man who has come to fetch his earth-born babe from its mother. A song of local interest is “The Alabama,” about the Confederate raider that was ultimately sunk by the Yanks off the coast of England. The rebel captain, Raphael Semmes, was, according to the CD jacket, a native Marylander who attended the Naval Academy. His nemesis aboard the U.S.S. Kearsarge was his academy classmate Captain John Winslow.

     For this CD the Ship’s Company comprises Michael Bosworth, John Gorozdos, Chip Hixon, Don Kenefick, Steven Lampredi, Myron Peterson, Jim Rockwell, and (a crossover from the Pyrates Royale) Darcy Nair. You can catch them at waterfront events. They too wear funny clothes and hats, but more importantly they do their best to educate us about the seafaring ways of centuries past-the better to appreciate the present, sez I.

     Both CDs cost $15 and are available at the House of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park, Md. 301-270-9090, or through their websites: www.pyrates.com and www.shipscompany.org.