Songs and Tales from Flamborough Head

In 1988, Jim Eldon was working as musician aboard the Bridlington pleasure cruiser Yorkshire Belle.  Harbour friend Andy Howarth took Jim to Flamborough and introduced him to Robert Leng and Jossy 'Pop' Mainprize.

At the time, Jim wrote, "I recorded Jossy 'Pop' Mainprize and Robert Leng in the empty pigeon loft at the bottom of Robert's garden.  It is a garden where part of the fence is made of fishing net.  Back at Jossy's house, the kitchen draining board was stacked with freshly boiled crabs."

Jim was gathering material for a cassette album of East Yorkshire fireside tales.  That project was supported by Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts.  What resulted from that first meeting was side one of the cassette album A Thunnerin' Sort of a Lie.

Jim and his wife, Lynette, became regular visitors, sharing song sessions at Robert's and Joss's homes and at the bait house where Joss baited long lines.  The few snippets of ditties that had been dotted among the stream of tales grew into a whole repertoire of songs as more were remembered.

Support from BBC Radio Humberside, and particularly from producer Ray Williams, resulted in the studio album Let's Haul, Boys, Haul!

Taking the songs out in public rekindled Jossy Pop's and Robert's enthusiasm for their store of local songs and stories. They appeared, with Jim and Lynette, at The National Folk Festival, Sutton Bonnington, at Beverley Folk Festival and at Whitby Folk Week.

Back in 1988, when Jim first met Jossy and Robert, he and Andy Howarth were at the heart of a group of harbour-worker musicians, The Sawmill Sidewinders. Frank Havercroft's boatyard on Sawmill Yard was their home-from-home. Late in his life, Robert and his wife Ivy used to come out every boxing day to join the sawmillers fun and for Robert to lead his songs and Ivy to sing Grace Darling.

Now that Jossy Pop and Robert are no longer with us, their songs are still much sung and much requested by local people whenever there is reason to party around Bridlington and Flamborough.

This Musical Traditions album combines two Stick Records albums, the Flamborough section of A Thunnerin' Sort of a Lie and Let's Haul, Boys, Haul!.

The songs:

Roll the Old Chariot is a sailor song that was taken up by the 'Hallelujah lasses' – the Salvation Army – then reclaimed by the fishermen. Robert remembered his father singing this while netting crab pots.

A Thunnerin' Sort of a Lie is real local stuff. It grew with time and there are three different renditions of it on this album.  Robert sang two more verses on the studio recording than on the earlier recordings and Jim added a verse of his own.

The Wreck of the Brownlow and Walmo relates to a controversy over scuttling vessels for insurance at the time of the changeover from sailing vessels to steamers.  Robert and Joss believed these were two Hull trawlers.  They told a hair-raising tale of men hanging onto the gunwales having their fingers chopped with an axe to force them to abandon the ships.

The Jolly Old Ploughboy, Jossy's solo, was a favourite with farm workers and much sung by the East Yorkshire Regiment in the first world war.

Windy Old Weather was adapted to its Flamborough setting by Jim in his time on the Yorkshire Belle.  Jossy and Robert quickly made it their own.

Flamborough Sword Dance is still performed on boxing day.  Robert's grandson, Craig, is one of the dancers.  Joss used to stand on Dog and Duck Square, watching the dancers, and singing the song.  Nowadays, The Sawmill Sidewinders play with the team musicians for some of the dances and sing the 'Old Johnny Walker' and 'Rinks' verses as they play.

Happy Young Man / I was in it.  Two ditties of the music hall era are grafted together by Robert.

Opening Time at Thornwick, a parody of 'Springtime in the Rockies' was made up by Bob Stacey, a local entertainer.

Heave away the Trawl Warp.  Robert and Jossy knew the first verse and chorus.  Jim knew more words, from a trawler skipper at Withernsea, so Jim learnt the Flamborough tune and chorus and Robert and Jossy learnt Jim's extra verses.

Pull for the Shore is the lifeboatmen's hymn.  Robert served 37˝ years in the Flamborough lifeboat as engineer and a year or two before that in the old pulling and sailing lifeboat.  At times of disaster, Pull for the Shore is sung with massive emotion.  At times of revelry, the crew have been known to get folk on a line of chairs 'pulling for the shore' and, at the call of “Here comes a swell!”, throw pints of beer over the 'oarsmen' ‘til beer swills out of the pub door.

Grace Darling was popularised on the variety stage by Miss Kate Harvey.  There is a third verse but Jossy and Robert only ever sang two.

Where's tha been, Lad? - “Just a lartle ditty!” said Robert.

Good Luck to the Barley Corn.  A grand drinking song to close any singsong in the Dog and Duck.

Oh, Where is my Boy Tonight?  After the lusty chorus singing subsided, Robert would often round off the evening with his powerful rendition of this song.  It was his aunt's favourite.  She always sang it till her son was lost at sea.  She never sang it again.

The Stories:

The fishermen's tales and poaching yarns speak for themselves.  There is very little editing in the stories section of this collection.  One yarn would spark another and the titles and track seperations are just there to help you navigate through them if you want to revisit a particular favourite.  A few dialect words may be a bit tricky for unfamiliar ears, but better to leave you with the pleasure of picking your own way through than to labour things with a glossary.

The first time I switched on a tape recorder in Jossy and Robert's company, I held out the microphone towards them.  Joss said, "What shall we tell him then, Robert?  We know plenty!"  They did.


Notes by Jim Eldon.

Tracks 1 to 14 : Songs
Recorded at BBC Radio Humberside by Ray Williams, April 1989.  Technical facilities courtesy of BBC Radio Humberside.  Remastered by Phil Snell, Limbo Studio, Otley,

Tracks 15 to 25 : Stories
Recorded at Flamborough by Jim Eldon, 1988.  Produced by Jim Eldon and Ray Williams, 1988.  Technical facilities courtesy of BBC Radio Humberside and Humberside College of Higher Education.  Supported by Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts.

A Musical Traditions Records production © 2018