I sus­pect ev­ery Cana­di­an of a cer­tain age has heard this, prob­a­bly on CBC or maybe sit­ting up late of a hazy evening. It’s a sad bois­ter­ous sto­ry of ru­in at sea, men’s mu­sic writ­ten for men’s voic­es, and you’ll nev­er for­get it once you’ve heard it even on­ce.

While Barrett’s Pri­va­teers ini­tial­ly sounds like an old folk tune, it’s noth­ing like that; it was writ­ten in 1976 by Stan Rogers, whose mu­sic I loved, and it re­al­ly hurt when he died at age 33, yet an­oth­er tour­ing mu­si­cian who went down with an air­plane. It’s got some bars in 5/4 time, hard­ly a folk stan­dard, and it’s sort of his­tor­i­cal­ly bo­gus. Yes, there were pri­va­teers out of Hal­i­fax dur­ing the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion, but they went af­ter un­armed mer­chant­men and there’s no record of any ev­er be­ing sunk.

Between the Breaks by Stan Rogers

God damn them al­l!
I was told
we’d cruise the seas for Amer­i­can gold
fire no gun­s, shed no tears.
Now I’m a bro­ken man on a Hal­i­fax pier
the last of Barrett’s pri­va­teer­s.

Rogers record­ed the song at least twice, but I on­ly have the ver­sion from Between The Breaks… Live!, which is a record­ing I just can’t rec­om­mend enough. On top of be­ing load­ed with fine soul­ful songs, it’s got this to­tal­ly great you-are-there-in-the-bar sound, a thing I put on when I’m try­ing to im­press peo­ple with what the big speak­ers can do. You re­al­ly need to play it loud; this is five big strong Cana­di­an Mar­itimer bari­tone men roar­ing out a sea-shanty, so any­thing less than thun­der­ous is just not truth­ful.

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. This tune on Ama­zon, iTunes, Spo­ti­fy. The on­ly live video that’s close is this one from a TV doc­u­men­tary, on­ly OK sound and bad 70s hair. But you re­al­ly need to turn that live record­ing off Between the Breaks way up to get the feel­ing.



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From: John Cowan (Mar 14 2018, at 06:58)

This Yank loves the song too, most especially for its even-handed mockery of both Canada and the U.S., the one for its hapless and noble-hearted attempt to make something of itself, the other for its ignorant, smug, and self-satisfied bullying: where did the gold come from? Not anywhere in British North America in 1778, that's for sure. Or was there really any gold, as opposed to slaves, rum, sugar, tobacco, or cotton?

Which leads to the refrain line "I wish I was in Sherbrooke now", which apparently represents one of Stan's few slip-ups. In 1778, John Coape Sherbrooke was only fourteen and living in Nottinghamshire, and there was nothing named after him in the New World until 1815 or so. So whether Sherbrooke, N.S. (intrinsically the most probable), or Sherbrooke, P.Q., or the Sir John Sherbrooke (a privateer in the War of 1812), or New Ross, N.S. (formerly called Sherbrooke) was intended, none of them fit the historical facts.

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