The band has been together for over 16 years now. It’s odd to think about the events that lead to the forming of the band. Odd to think about the naming of the band.
When we formed up we did all traditional music. Jigs, reels and songs from the British Isles peppered with the occasional sea shanty sung by Joe in his rich, deep voice with Greg and I providing the bully-boy chorus.
One of the sea shanties we sang was “Blow The Man Down” which referenced a sailor who ran afoul of the law when he is accused of being a crewman of the infamous Black Ball line and defends himself by claiming to be a Flying Fish Sailor just in from Hong Kong.
In the days of tall ships the various trade and passenger routes were plied by different sailing companies. The “Black Ball” line had a reputation of having the fastest packet ships sailing between the UK and America. The faster you got to your destination and back, the quicker a sailor would paid and get back to England.
The success of the Black Ball line depended on a strong captain who was quick with the lash who would tolerate nothing but complete dedication to the task at hand to ensure the profitability of the voyage. One could imagine that a sailor from one of these ships might cause a wee bit of trouble when returning to port in the UK and might come under the scrutiny of watchful policeman.
Sailors on the Flying Fish line of ships plied their trade on voyages to the sunny South Pacific and were rumored to have an easier life. A Flying Fish sailor was one who preferred the lands of the East and the warmth of the Trade Winds to the cold and misery of the Western Ocean that Black Ballers endured. They did not have the reputation that sailors of the Black Ball line had and it makes sense that, when confronted by a policeman, a sailor might try to reduce suspicion by claiming to be a “Flying Fish Sailor.”
So I suppose that we picked that name primarily because of the reference in the song. The double meaning of the term used by a sailor to alleviate suspicion when confronted by the authorities combined with the idea that a Flying Fish Sailor enjoyed the more recreational destinations of the Far East and Asia also has significance. Plus, the image of a Flying Fish is quite whimsical and people seem to like to say the word “fish” a lot and the nick name “The Fish” has stuck with us to this day.
The Flying-Fish Sailor
Written in 1922
The Western Ocean roars and rolls
With all its deeps and all its shoals,
And many a thundering win-try gale,
And many a storm of sleet and hail;
But let who likes have rain and snow,
And driv-ing fog and drift-ing floe,
For South away and Eastward Ho!
Is the road for the flying-fish sailor.
In Blackwall Dock our ship is moored,
Her hatches on, her stores aboard,
In Blackwall Dock she lies today,
And she’ll sail out with the morning’s grey ““
For Sunda Strait and Singapore,
Palembang and Kuala Lumpur,
And many a swarming Eastern shore
That’s known to the flying-fish sailor.
The girls they’ll cry and the lads they’ll shout
As the sidewheel tug warps her out;
We’ll drop the pilot off the Nore
With fond farewells to those ashore ““
To mothers, wives and sweethearts too ““
Love to Sally and love to Sue ““
And that’s the last for a year or two
You’ll hear from the flying-fish sailor.
We’ll drop the tow and bear away,
Down the Channel, across the Bay;
The Western Isles we’ll leave behind,
And cross the Line with the Trade Winds kind;
Then we’ll watch them dolphins sport and play,
And haul our yards ten times a day,
While South’ard still we beat our way ““
The way of the flying-fish sailor.
At Forty South when she swings past,
Her easting down she’ll run at last,
Where the great whales swim in the far South Sea,
And the Westerlies blow full and free;
Them good old winds they bluster and blow
The same as they did years ago,
And them good old stars that we all know
Shine down on the flying-fish sailor.
The darned old hooker will log sixteen,
She’ll ship it heavy, she’ll ship it green,
She’ll roll along with her lee-rail under,
While the big seas break aboard like thunder;
The pots and pans they’ll carry away,
And the cook’ll go down on his knees to pray,
But let them seas roar as they may,
All’s one to the flying-fish sailor.
Next, old Sydney’s Heads we’ll see,
And greet a pal on Circular Quay;
We’ll wave at Java Head as we go,
And Fuji’s crest of frozen snow;
Then black-eyed girls in far Japan ““
Wun Lee, Wang Ho and little Yo San ““
With shining hair and twinkling fan,
Will smile on a flying-fish sailor.
And when at last the day comes round
We’ll yank the mudhook from the ground
And to old England we’ll return,
Our pockets filled with pay to burn;
With a painted fan and an ivory comb
From foreign lands beyond the foam,
And a golden ring for the girl at home
That waits for the flying-fish sailor