Bully Boys. A Modern Folk Song

August 18th, 2017

This morning, we released another of the tunes from the upcoming album A Week at The Warehouse. Just pre-order on iTunes and you’ll get Bully Boys along with the first single, Summer Summer Night. For those of you who have already pre-ordered, not to worry, you’ll get both songs as well.

I thought I should tell the story of the Bully Boys tune as it is a bit of an unusual one, especially for the folk minded among us.

Late in the Fall of last year, I met with Producer Bob Rock in Vancouver to review the stack of songs I had written for the project he’d agreed to produce for me and the band. He and I picked the ones we liked the most and considered if we had enough variety to make a well rounded album for a fella like me with influences and history from so many genres of music. A big fan of Folk and Celtic music, he asked if I had anything he’d not heard that came from that world.

I thought about it a minute and remembered the song Bully Boys. “Man, I have this song I wrote for a movie awhile back, but honestly can’t remember it all,” I said and sang him the chorus which he liked quite a lot, and continued, “I’ll go back to the hotel and see if I can dig up my verses and the tune and stuff. I’ll sing you the whole deal tomorrow.”

Back at the hotel I sat to remind myself what I had written seven or eight years ago in my trailer on the set of Robin Hood. There was a scene in the film where Robin, played by Russell Crowe, was joined in the hull of a ship by his Merry Men, played by Scott Grimes, Kevin Durand, and myself. The script called for the gents to be singing a song to celebrate, at long last, their leaving the wars in France and returning to their home in England. I wanted to be the one to write it, and successfully pestered the director and composer enough to give me a shot at it.

I figured it should have a sea shanty vibe as the boys were on a ship. I’d learned a bunch of Sea Shanties primarily from Sean, Bob, and Darrell in GBS and from masters like Fergus O’Byrne in St. John’s. I always loved the rhythm and call-and-answer of the song and especially the nautical terminology. One of my fav terms is “Bully Boys”, which in sailor terms means the group of loveable rogues one might share a ship with (perhaps I’ve always likened a tour bus to a ship, and touring musicians to roving sailors, but that’s for another chat). So I wrote:

Row Me Bully Boys
We’re in a Hurry Boys
We’ve got a long way to go
We’ll sing and we’ll dance
And bid Farewell to France
And it’s Row Me Bully Boys Row

I sat in the hotel and smiled recalling how much fun we had recording the demo on set in my trailer. I tried to recall the verses I had written, but honestly could not. I knew I had them on a drive back in St. John’s, but wanted to remember them quickly. I figured I could at least remind myself what parts of it made the film. I opened YouTube and typed in Row me Bu… By the time I got this far in the search bar, I was surprised to see several options pop up in the suggestions below. Some of them read, Robin Hood Bully Boys, others read Robin Hood Shanty, still more were Row me Bully Boys. I was intrigued.

I clicked on the first one and the scene from the film popped up. But I was somewhat shocked to see dozens of other videos of performances of the song. There were versions from English folk clubs, Scottish folk festivals, Croatian concerts, Serbian Shanty fests, American Medieval days, and on and on and on. I was honestly dumbfounded. How could there be so many versions of this song in the universe, when I, the fella who wrote it, could not even remember the words? Not to mention the fact that I suspected and confirmed after a quick look, that only the chorus and a couple of lines from two of the four verses made the cut of the movie.

I can only surmise that folks heard the song snippet in the film and liked it enough to add it to their repertoire. Since they did not know the full song, they adapted it and wrote extra verses and made it their own. For a fella like me, this is very exciting, because that is exactly how folk songs become folk songs. For hundreds, if not thousands of years, a person would hear and remember bits of a song and when get travelled or got back home, they might re-sing what they could recall and add a bunch of their own stuff to finish it up. Amazing that in this day and age of connectivity that this process is still alive and well.

I couldn’t have been more chuffed. I eventually found the four verses I wrote for the original submission to the film and recorded them and a bridge for the A Week at The Warehouse project, which comes out on October 13. As noted above though, you can hear this piece of modern folk music right now by preordering the album on iTunes, or streaming it here.

As ever, I’m grateful for you checking it all out.