Roly Witherow made his musical name as a composer for film and TV, but with his first album release ‘Ballads and Yarns‘ (out on 8th May) he has turned to the rich world of folk music and, quite unusually, the working songs of the sea – shanties in short.
Although there are other nautical tunes nudging in, such as ‘Lord Franklin‘, today’s song. It’s a classic song of a Victorian sailing disaster, recorded notably by Pentangle. Roly explains its attraction for him: “Lord Franklin was the first song I recorded off the whole album and it’s a song I’ve wanted to record for a long time – it’s an early-19th century lament telling the tale of Sir John Franklin who died trying to navigate the Northwest Passage. In fact he disappeared and nobody ever discovered what happened to him. The story is even more poignant and tragic as it’s told through the eyes of Lord Franklin’s wife who never stopped searching for him. In this song I really wanted to emphasise the solitary and plaintive quality of the story – so I went for this very sparse arrangement, but I also wanted to give it a more modern and atmospheric texture with the electric guitar and KORG synthesiser. I like that tension between the old and the new.”
[Historical Note: Franklin’s body was never found, but the graves of most of his crew were. Theirs is a tragic story – as well as the troubles the song describes they also suffered from extreme levels of lead poisoning from the seals of their ultra-modern tinned food store. Some at least encountered Inuits after their shipwrecks – but are recorded as not asking for help, possibly because of their confusion. Some exhumed graves indicate that at the last some of the crew fell to cannibalism. Ironically the rich reward for looking for the lost expedition led to many searches – from which more ships were lost and more sailors died than made up the original sailing. Great Song though!]