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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Commuter Shanties

Most people will have heard of sea shanties: songs sung by the crews aboard sailing boats of old.

The rhythm and pace of these shanties would help sailors to work together in tasks such as hauling ropes - perhaps to lower the sails or to raise the anchor. The words of the songs would reflect the thoughts, hopes and fears of those journeying towards unknown perils on the high seas and in far-off lands.

Many people now assume that shanties have passed into history. There are, however, modern-day activities during which this historic tradition continues to be enacted.

One example occurs during the morning rush hour on commuter trains in England. Commuter shanties help to maintain the spirits of those who are leaving their loved-ones for the uncertainties of a day at the office.

Below can be found the words and music of a favourite commuter shanty. This is sung daily in the men-only carriages of the early morning trains from Winchester to London’s Waterloo. This popular shanty is called the Train to Waterloo.

Some commuters take the role of ‘Shantyman’ and lead the singing. Those who bring musical instruments to accompany the singing need pay no fare for their journeys.

Instruments include fiddles, accordions, guitars, harmonicas, bagpipes and, of course, didgeridoos. On the Waterloo trains, there is a custom that ticket collectors play the accordion and drivers play the guitar. Clearly drivers can only leave the controls of their trains for those parts of the journey on when they are fairly certain that approaching signals will be set to green.

Sometimes, a driver will become so preoccupied with playing and singing that he will forget to return to the controls of his train in time to stop at a station. Passengers waiting at Basingstoke and Woking frequently hear apologetic announcements after the train they had been expecting to board has hurtled through the station without slowing. All view this with good humour, however, as part of fun of the commuter experience.

A pdf file containing the words, music and guitar chords for the Train to Waterloo can be downloaded by clicking this link: The Train to Waterloo.pdf.

The words of the shanty are also reproduced below.

In addition to the words and music, we have been very fortunate to obtain a rare recording of the ticket collector and driver of the 6.05 am train from Winchester to Waterloo performing, live on the speeding train, the music for the Train to Waterloo. In accordance with tradition, the ticket collector is playing the accordion and the driver, the guitar.

You can download this recording as an MP3 by clicking here: The Train to Waterloo.mp3. Why not sing along, now?

This historic recording was, in fact, fortunately completed just seconds before the rail disaster.

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The Train to Waterloo
(ęSwan Morrison Music)

Verse 1:

So fare ye well our dear loved ones
As we journey so far away, away.
That commuter train to Waterloo
Takes us to earn our pay - boys -
Steals us to earn our pay.

Verse 2:

We must network in some far wine bar,
Our target sales we’ll earn
A’fore we once more set our course for home,
Our true love to return - boys -
Our true love to return.

Verse 3:

We‘ll often savour a business lunch.
No decent wine we’ll spurn.
We’re at the health club’s gym tonight.
Who knows when we’ll return - boys -
God knows if we’ll return.

Verse 4:

We know when we at last get home
Our true love’s face we’ll see.
She’ll say, 'Where the hell have you been again,
Leaving all the childcare to me - boys -
Leaving all childcare to me?’

Verse 5:

We’ll say we go working to bring her cash,
Though the total truth forbids:
The office, wine bar and the health club’s gym
Are easier than the kids - boys -
They’re easier than the kids.

Verse 6:

Then once we have been home for several hours,
Booked lunch and a squash court too,
We’ll pack our laptops, grab a croissant at the deli
For that train to Waterloo - boys -
That train to Waterloo.

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