I pressed play on my Ipod and this is what I heard…Barrett’s Privateers By Stan Rogers.
Those of you who have been reading my posts for awhile now must surely realize that recurring themes pop up in my posts from time to time. Chalk that up in part to the types of photographs I like to take. When I travel to a new and different place I anticipate the types of photo ops I might get, and I instinctively pull the camera out to be ready. Say for example in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which I stopped in while on a cruise a few years ago. It was a place I hoped would be full of different types of ships, which is one of those recurring themes I mentioned. I do have a thing for all manners of transportation! Happily I was not disappointed, and just a few moments after disembarking while still getting our bearings, my wife and I walked along the fabulous waterfront in Halifax, which was filled with all manner of ships in a busy port.
I suppose the reason I don’t feel bad about recurring, or ‘repeating’ themes here is because photos, like songs have similarities, yet there is always something unique to them somehow. A busy port filled with commercial, military, and cruise ships together with pleasure craft may seem the same as any other port anywhere in the world, yet there is always something different about them, be it due to the layout or the climate. Likewise though songs may have the same time signature, same instruments playing, and maybe even the same subject matter, no two songs are ever truly alike. I think both of these elements are why I am so easily influenced and inspired by things like transportation as a photography subject. It is also why I am so particularly drawn to folk music because it keeps such a connection with history.
There was another reason why I was so excited to be walking the waterfront of Halifax though, and I was happily humming a song in my head almost the entire time I was there. You cannot mention the words ‘Canadian’ and ‘Folk Music’ without immediately following them with the name Stan Rogers. Perhaps no other singer managed to attempt to fully explore the vast expanse of Canada the way Stan Rogers did. From the craggy shores of his native Nova Scotia, to the vast prairies of Alberta, Stan Rogers explored the Canadian experience throughout his all too short life. His songs reached deep into the soul of people, whether singing about a farmer in ‘The Fields Behind The Plow’, or the salvaging of a sunken ship in ‘The Mary Ellen Carter.’ His deep baritone voice, and his physical stature looked imposing, yet he had the gentle soul of a poet. Stan Rogers sadly passed away in a fire on board a plane in 1983 while returning from a folk festival but his name and legacy of songs continue on to this day.
One of those songs is what I was humming in my head that day in Halifax. Stan’s own boisterous song Barrett’s Privateers is sung in the style of a sea shanty. It is about a man on board a dilapidated privateer named the Antelope in search of American merchant ships during the American Revolution. While off the coast of Jamaica a battle ensues and the Antelope is destroyed. It has taken the narrator of the song six years to finally return home as ‘a broken man on a Halifax pier, the last of Barrett’s Privateers.’ Years ago, when my friend Tony introduced me to the music of Stan Rogers, this song firmly became my favorite. Not just because of the enthusiastic swing your pints of ale manner of the sea shanty, but also because it tells such a gripping tale in the space of about four minutes. That thing I mentioned about songs being similar, yet different? I could rattle off several other songs with similar subject matter, yet none impact me quite the way this one does. In the years since its debut on Stan’s first album Fogarty’s Cove, it has become a folk standard throughout the world, but especially in the Canadian maritime provinces.
The photos I have included here, of CSS Acadia, and HMCS Sackville are two of the most revered ships in recent Canadian history. Fitting images for my own stroll on the Halifax piers while humming Stan Rogers’ song Barrett’s Privateers. I probably could not have been any more Canadian that day if I had tried!
Barrett’s Privateers-Written By Stan Rogers
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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle
*Photo Shuffle is a short slice of my regular blogs based on setting my Ipod on shuffle and matching up one of my photographs to whatever comes up.