Paddy Lay Back

Capstan Shanty


‘Twas a cold an’ dreary mornin’ in December, (December)
An’ all of me money it was spent (it was spent),
Where it went to Lord I can’t remember (remember),
So down to the shippin’ office went, (went, went) (Chorus)

Paddy, lay back (Paddy, lay back)!
Take in yer slack (take in yer slack)!
Take a turn around the capstan – heave a pawl – heave a pawl!
‘Bout ship, stations, boys, be handy (be handy)!
We’re bound for Valaparaiser ’round the Horn!

In that day there wuz a great demand for sailors (for sailors),
For the Colonies and for ‘Frisco and for France (an’ for France),
So I shipped aboard a Limey barque, the Hotspur (the Hotspur),
An’ got paralytic drunk on my advance (‘vance, ‘vance),

It was on the quarterdeck where first I saw ’em,
Such an ugly bunch I’d niver seen afore;
For there wuz bum an’ stiff from every quarter,
It made me poor ol’ heart feel sick an’ sore. (Chorus)

There wuz Rooshians an’ Dutchmen an’ Spaniards,
An’ Johnny Crapoos jist acrost from France;
Oh, none could hardly speak a word o’ English,
But answered to the name of ‘Month’s Advance’. (Chorus)

I wisht I wuz in the ‘Jolly Sailor’,
Along with Irish Kate a-drinkin’ beer;
An’ then I thought what jolly chaps were sailors,
An’ with me flipper I wiped away a tear. (Chorus)

So here we are, once more again at sea, boys,
The same ol’ ruddy story over again;
Oh, stamp the around the capstan, give a cheer, boys,
An’ sing again this beautiful refrain.


image of album cover for Bounding Main Lost at Sea - click for more info about the album

Song Notes

Everyone knows this song – including people who are otherwise unfamiliar with the maritime music genre!  We liberally cut this down to a manageable number of verses for Bounding Main performances.

This is from the notes on “Coming of Age” by Jim Mageean and Johnny Collins:

“(British Capstan Shanty)
A favourite with Liverpool sailors which began life as the forebitter ‘Mainsail Haul’ and was collected and sung in this form by the late, great shantyman Stan Hugill.”

The version compiled by Stan Hugill in his Songs of the Seven Seas has so many verses it could go on for days! Jim and Johnny reduced this song down to a tidy eight verses and I think that many musicians performing this song have used their edition as the model. — Dean Calin