Spanish Ladies is a very old capstan sea shanty - meaning that sailors sung it around the capstan as they raised the anchor on a homeward bound voyage. It dates from a point before 1800. The tune you hear is one of several to which it is sung. The lyrics, with their mention of the 'Grand Fleet', indicate that the song originates from the British
Royal Navy. Certainly, it provides a fascinating glimpse into navy life. What I love about the song is the feeling that it gives you of a crew returning home. The places that are mentioned - the Dodman, Ushant, Beachy, Dover, Fairlight - these are the landmarks that homeward bound sailors would have looked out for on the last leg of their journey up the English channel. Incidentally, I grew up on the coast, a few miles from Beachy head ('Beachy' in the song) and so that line has a special resonance for me. Show of Hands include excerpts from 'Spanish Ladies' in a much longer montage piece based around their song, 'Tall Ships', which you can find on their Backlog 1987-1991 album. (be careful if you go looking for it, as there are other versions of 'Tall Ships' that don't include the montage)
Capo at 4th Fret
Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish Ladies,
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain;
For we've received orders for to sail for ol' England,
But we hope in a short while to see you again.
We'll rant and we'll roar like true British sailors,
We'll rant and we'll roar all on the salt sea.
Until we strike soundings in the channel of old England;
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty five leagues.
We hove our ship to with the wind from sou'west, boys
We hove our ship to, deep soundings to take;
'Twas forty-five fathoms, with a white sandy bottom,
So we squared our main yard and up channel did make.
The first land we sighted was called the Dodman,
Next Rame Head off Plymouth, off Portsmouth the Wight;
We sailed by Beachy, by Fairlight and Dover,
And then we bore up for the South Foreland light.
Then the signal was made for the grand fleet to anchor,
And all in the Downs that night for to lie;
Let go your shank painter, let go your cat stopper!
Haul up your clewgarnets, let tacks and sheets fly!
Now let ev'ry man drink off his full bumper,
And let ev'ry man drink off his full glass;
We'll drink and be jolly and drown melancholy,
And here's to the health of each true-hearted lass.