Sunday, 29 August 2010


*Warning* This is a bawdy and off-color (comic) traditional sailor song about a prostitute of Callao, Peru. If that kind of song offends you, please be advised, as I do not wish to offend anyone.

The above version of the sea shanty is taken from hultonclint's channel on You Tube.

The sea shanty "Seraphina" appears in Lowry's short story "Goya The Obscure". A group of sailors returning from a voyage sing the sea shanty in the Dolphin pub in Birkenhead's docklands. Tradition has it that the song originated amongst the sailors who sailed the nitrate trade between Birkenhead and the West Coast of South America. Lowry later reprises the line "Seraphina's got no drawers" during Dana's trawl around the brothels of Dairen in Ultramarine. Lowry probably heard the song in the pubs of Birkenhead before and after his voyage to the Far East in 1927 aboard the Blue Funnel ship Pyrrhus. A former Blue Funnel sailor has told me that the song was still being sung into the 1950's around Birkenhead pubs.

There appear to be many different versions of the song including some without the refrain "Serafina's got no drawers" which obviously stuck with Malc. Here are the lyrics which Lowry may have known for the song:

In Callao there lives a gal whose name is Serafina
Serafina! Serafina!
She sleeps all day and fucks all night in the Callao Marina
Serafina! Oh, Serafina!

She’s the queen, of all the whores that live in the ol’ Casino,
She used to screw for a monkey nut but now she’ll fuck for a vino.

At robbin’ silly sailors, boys, no gal was ever keener
She’ll make you pay right through the nose, that lovely Serafina!

She’ll guzzle pisco, beer and gin, on rum her mum did wean ‘er
She smokes just like a chimney stack on a P.S.N.C steamer.

Serafina’s got no drawers, I been ashore an’ seen ‘er
She’s got no time to put them on, that hard-fucked Serafina.

She’ll claw and kick and bite and scratch when in the old arena

She’ll rob you blind if she gets the chance that dirty she hyena

When I was young an’ in me prime, I first met Serafina
In Callao we saw the sights an’ then went up to Lima.

But the finest sight I ever saw was little Serafina,
But the very next day as we sailed away, I wisht I’d never been there.

I used to love a little girl whose name was Serafina
But she’s gone off with a Dago man who plays a concertina.

In the above version there is a clear reference to a Pacific Steam Navigation Company (PSNC) ship. The company sailed out of Birkenhead and Liverpool in the early part of the 1900s. Maybe, the sea shanty was adapted as happened to include local references.

The most famous recorded example of the song is by Stan Hugill who was born in Hoylake, Wirral. The shanty was released on the album below:

You can discover more about Hugill's music and writings at a website dedicated to his memory.

There is also another version available for download from Amazon taken from an album called Salty Dick's Uncensored Sailor's Songs.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

José Clemente Orozco

Lowry refers to charcoal drawings by Orozco in his novel Under The Volcano.

Orozoco was one of most influential Mexican muralists of his time, he was also a remarkable draftsman, making hundreds of drawings for his mural projects and printed works. Although he executed only about fifty lithographs and etchings in total, these works ably reflect his unique aesthetic sensibility. His expressive compositions, like this one inspired by a vignette from his 1926 mural at the National Preparatory School in Mexico City, are characterized by their sharp lines, oblique angles, and expressive play of light and dark tones. Source: José Clemente Orozco: Rear Guard (29.63.4) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

José Clemente Orozco (November 23, 1883 – September 7, 1949) was a Mexican social realist painter, who specialized in bold murals that established the Mexican Mural Renaissance together with murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and others. Orozco was the most complex of the Mexican muralists, fond of the theme of human suffering, but less realistic and more fascinated by machines than Rivera. Mostly influenced by Symbolism, he was also a genre painter and lithographer. Between 1922 and 1948, Orozco painted murals in Mexico City, Orizaba, Claremont, California, New York City, Hanover, New Hampshire, Guadalajara, Jalisco, and Jiquilpan, Michoacán. His drawings and paintings are exhibited by the Carrillo Gil Museum in Mexico City, and the Orozco Workshop-Museum in Guadalajara.[1] Orozco was known for being a politically committed artist. He promoted the political causes of peasants and workers. Read more

Guy de Maupassant's "Madame Parisse"

Lowry make several references to Guy de Maupassant in his film script for Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night. Guy de Maupassant stayed in Antibes on several occasions and was inspired by the place. He wrote the short story "Madame Parisse" set in Antibeswhich which is referred to by the character McKisco in Lowry's film script.

Here is an extract from "Madame Parisse":

I was sitting on the pier of the small port of Obernon, near the village of Salis, looking at Antibes, bathed in the setting sun. I had never before seen anything so wonderful and so beautiful.

The small town, enclosed by its massive ramparts, built by Monsieur de Vauban, extended into the open sea, in the middle of the immense Gulf of Nice. The great waves, coming in from the ocean, broke at its feet, surrounding it with a wreath of foam; and beyond the ramparts the houses climbed up the hill, one after the other, as far as the two towers, which rose up into the sky, like the peaks of an ancient helmet. And these two towers were outlined against the milky whiteness of the Alps, that enormous distant wall of snow which enclosed the entire horizon.

Between the white foam at the foot of the walls and the white snow on the sky-line the little city, dazzling against the bluish background of the nearest mountain ranges, presented to the rays of the setting sun a pyramid of red-roofed houses, whose facades were also white, but so different one from another that they seemed to be of all tints.

And the sky above the Alps was itself of a blue that was almost white, as if the snow had tinted it; some silvery clouds were floating just over the pale summits, and on the other side of the gulf Nice, lying close to the water, stretched like a white thread between the sea and the mountain. Two great sails, driven by a strong breeze, seemed to skim over the waves. I looked upon all this, astounded.

This view was one of those sweet, rare, delightful things that seem to permeate you and are unforgettable, like the memory of a great happiness. One sees, thinks, suffers, is moved and loves with the eyes. He who can feel with the eye experiences the same keen, exquisite and deep pleasure in looking at men and things as the man with the delicate and sensitive ear, whose soul music overwhelms. Read the full story here

Blow The Man Down

Recently, I have been doing considerable research on musical references in Lowry's work, in order to play some of the songs he mentions his work at a night called Lowry's Lounge on October 29th 2010.

One song that I will be playing is the above version of the sea shanty "Blow The Man Down" which Lowry refers to in his novel Ultramarine.

The above version was originally on a 1957 EP called 'The Singing Sailor', a collection of sea shanties by A L Lloyd. It is the only one by Harry H. Corbett on there. Most of the other tracks are available now though on a 2004 CDcalled 'Sailors Songs and Sea Shanties'. This particular track is also available on a CD called 'Blow The Man Down' released in 1993.

Thanks to Bryan Biggs for turning me onto this version.

Frankie Trumbauer Japanese Sandman

Sometime ago, I mentioned the above in a post on Lowry's reference to the song in his film script to Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night. Since then, I have managed to find a recording of Frankie Trumbauer's version of the song which I had mentioned in the previous post.

Friday, 27 August 2010

The Whiffenpoof Song

Malcolm Lowry refers twice to the above song in his film script for the Scott Fitzgerald novel Tender Is the Night.

The first time is when Dick Divers the hero of Tender Is the Night returns to his hotel bedroom:

Exhausted, he lies down on the bed, burying his face in his hands. Instantly dissolves into a terrible nightmare that lasts about five seconds, during which we hear a snatch of the whiffenpoof song.... The Cinema of Malcolm Lowry "Tender Is the Night" Edited by Miguel Mota and Paul Tiessen.

Later, the song reoccurs on the sound track to the proposed film during Dick's drunken binge in Rome.

The Whiffenpoofs were a Yale University singing group, founded in 1909 and named after the imaginary beast. Dick Divers would have known the song as he was an alumini of Yale.

According to Whiffenpoof historian James M. Howard:

"It was Goat Fowler who suggested we call ourselves The Whiffenpoofs. He had been tickled by the patter of one of the characters in a Victor Herbert musical comedy called "Little Nemo" which recently been running on Broadway. In a scene in which there was great boasting of terrific exploits in big game hunting and fishing, comedian Joseph Cawthorne told a fantastic tale of how he had caught a Whiffenpoof fish. It seems that Cawthorn had coined the word some years before when he and a fellow actor were amusing themselves by making up nonsense verses. One they particularly liked began: "A drivaling grilyal yandled its flail, One day by a Whiffenpoof's grave." Cawthorn recalled the verse in making up his patter for "Little Nemo" and put it into his act.

Whether the word meant fish, flesh or fowl was irrelevant to our purpose when we chose it as our name. "Whiffenpoof" fitted in with our mood of free and exuberant fancy and it was adopted with enthusiasm."
Read more on Wikipedia

The group admired a musical setting of Rudyard Kipling's poem, "Gentlemen-Rankers," that was performed by another Yale singing group, and adapted its lyrics to create The Whiffenpoof Song.

You can read a full history of the group on the Whiffenpoof Alumini pages.

This is one of the many songs that I will be featuring at the The Lowry Lounge on 29th October 2010.

The Whiffenpoofs are still active and have a Facebook page.

The song later became a hit for Rudy Valle in 1927:

The Oomph Girl - Ann Sheridan

the 'Boomp Girl .... 'double pick-offs" .... a flying mount' ....'Oomph Girl'. Under The Volcano

The Oomph girl that Lowry is referring to is Ann Sheridan.

Born Clara Lou Sheridan in Denton, Texas on February 21, 1915, she was a college student when her sister sent a photograph of her to Paramount Pictures. She subsequently entered and won a beauty contest, with part of her prize being a bit part in a Paramount film. She abandoned college to pursue a career in Hollywood.

She made her film debut in 1934, aged 19, in the film Search for Beauty, and played uncredited bit parts in Paramount films for the next two years. Paramount made little effort to develop Sheridan's talent, so she left, signing a contract with Warner Bros. in 1936, and changing her name to "Ann Sheridan."

Sheridan's career prospects began to improve. The red-haired beauty would soon become Warner's top sex symbol. She received as many as 250 marriage proposals from fans in a single week. Tagged "The Oomph Girl," Sheridan was a popular pin-up girl in the early 1940s. Read more on Wikipedia

I thought given the South American connection that it would be appropriate to post Ann Sheridan singing in a one room club from the 1940 movie Torrid Zone:

The Lowry Lounge @ The Bluecoat Liverpool 29/10/10

The Lowry Lounge
Friday 29th October 2010
7.30pm to late
Free, no tickets required
The Bluecoat
School Lane

Following the Bluecoat's centenary celebrations of Merseyside-born writer Malcolm Lowry last year, "the voyage that never ends" continues with an evening of talks, discussions, films, sounds and new revelations about his Liverpool haunts. For fans of the author of Under The Volcano, there will be fascinating perspectives on lowry from the Firminists and guests.

A group of die-hard Lowry enthusiasts including myself have grouped under the monicker the Firminists to present an evening dedicated to the spirit of Malcolm Lowry. The Firminists is a group devised by Mark Goodall a few years back which seemed an appropriate vehicle for what is hoped will be an annual event to keep Malcolm's memory alive in the area of his birth. Thanks must go to fellow Lowry fanatic Bryan Biggs, Artistic Director of The Bluecoat for hosting the event.

I will be keep you posted what to expect on the night.

Malcolm Lowry On Facebook

I've just joined Malc's new Facebook page. Good to see him being remembered.

You can join here