Ballad of Yarmouth Castle
"The sinking ship moaned like the cry of a child" "Death of a Cruise Ship" Life Magazine 11/26/1965
Photo of the Yarmouth Castle
"Ballad of Yarmouth Castle," by Gordon Lightfoot, is the other true shipwreck song. It remains largely unknown except to devoted Lightfoot fans, and was never recorded in the studio but released only on his 1969 live album Sunday Concert. On CD, it is available on the German import "Sunday Concert Plus" from Bear Family, on the UK import "Early Lightfoot/Sunday Concert" from BGO records, and also on the Canadian release "The Original Lightfoot." I consider the first of these to be the best mastering, and sell it in my store.
Like his famous shipwreck song, "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," this song is about a true event, written based on contemporanoeus press reports. In the case of "Yarmouth Castle," the principle inspiration was an article in Life Magazine (issue of November 26, 1965). Unlike the case with "Wreck," this shipwreck had survivors who could tell the story, evidence of outdated construction standards and indadequate maintenance, and stories of both heroism and cowardice.
This shipwreck occured 10 years before the Edmund Fitzgerald, almost to the day (November 13th here; November 10th for the Fitzgerald). In both songs Lightfoot combines music and lyrics to tell a moving story of a tragedy at sea in a manner that is second to none.
The entire collection of Life Magazine issues is available online at Google Books, for free access. If you don't have the magazine (I have one extra), you can read it online here. Use the magnifying glass in the top left to increase the size; scroll using the < > icons also in the top row of navigation.>
Find the song on:
- Sunday Concert Plus Sunday Concert album plus five bonus tracks.
- The Original Lightfoot Canadian import. 5 albums.
- Early Lightfoot/Sunday Concert UK import (BGO). 2 albums, Lightfoot! and Sunday Concert.
Ballad Of Yarmouth Castle, ©1969 by Gordon Lightfoot
Well, it's four o'clock in the afternoon And the anchors have been weighed From Miami to Nassau She's bound across the waves She'll be headin' south through Biscayne Bay Into the open sea Yarmouth Castle, she's a-dyin' and don't know it Now the many years she's been to sea She's seen the better times She gives a groan of protest As they cast away her lines And the grumble of her engines And the rust along her spine Tells the Castle she's too old to be sailin' But the sands run out within her heart A tiny spark glows red It smoulders through the evening There's laughter overhead Now the dinner's served and the cards are dealt And the drinks are passed around Deep within the fire starts a-burnin' Now it's midnight on the open sea And the moon is shining bright Some people join the party And others say good-night There's many who are sleeping now It's been a busy day And a tiny wisp of smoke is a-risin' "Oh Lord," she groans, "I'm burning!" "Let someone understand!" But her silent plea is wasted In the playin' of the band Everybody's dancin' on her deck And they're havin' such a time And a voice says "Shut up and deal, I'm losin'" Deep within the Yarmouth Castle The fire begins to glow It leaps into the hallways And climbs and twists and grows And the paint she wore to keep her young Oh Lord, how well it burns And soon that old fire is a-ragin' Up beneath the bridge it's climbin' fast the captain stands aloft He calls up to the boatswain, says "Boatswain, we are lost" For the ragged hoses in the racks No pressure do they hold And the people down below Will soon be dyin' All amidships, oh she's blazin' now It's spreadin' fore and aft The people are a-scramblin' As the fire blocks their path The evil smoke surrounds them And they're fallin' in their tracks And the captain in his lifeboat is a-leavin' Oh then the ship, Bahama Star Comes steamin' through the night She sees the Castle blazin' And 'tis a terrible sight "Jump down, jump down!" the captain cries "We'll save you if we can!" Then the paint on his funnels is a-fryin' "God help the ones who sleep below And cannot find the way! Thank God for those we rescue Upon this awful day." Now the heroes, they are many But the times are growin' slim And now from stern to bow She's a-blazin' Oh the Yarmouth Castle's moanin' She's cryin' like a child You can hear her if you listen Above the roar so wild Is she cryin' for the ones who lie Within her molten sides? Or cryin' for herself, I'm a-wonderin' But the livin' soon were rescued The ones who lived to tell From the Star they watched her As she died there in the swells Like a toy ship on a mill pond She burned all through the night Then slipped beneath the waves In the mornin'
Song: Ballad of Yarmouth Castle
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