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Sea fever

First line:
I must go down to the seas again
author of text

Sea Fever (1913) remains Ireland's best-known song. It was an immense popular success once a publisher was found after a dispiritingly long search: the firm, Augener, finally accepted it the year before the outbreak of The Great War. Augener himself was then promptly interned by the British government for the duration of the war, a sequence of events which gave Ireland a lifelong cause for merriment. The song sets one of the Salt-Water Ballads which first announced John Masefield (1878-1967) as a poet in 1902. It is said that Masefield disliked Ireland's setting, despite the royalties it must have earned for him. A measure of the song's popularity was its success in a 1930s BBC poll of all songs of any description heard over the airwaves. Sea Fever effortlessly beat all-comers, a fact which in part indicates the nature of its appeal to the slowly dying breed of ballad-lovers.

The words are a passionate expression of excitement at the sight and sounds of the sea (specifically prompted by Ireland's love of Jersey, it seems) matched by a chordal accompaniment which for the most part features Ireland's trade-mark nut-brown richness of sound. For all the urgency suggested by the words, the song is marked 'Lento', and the performance featured in this recording adopts a broad tempo. The question of the appropriate speed has nonetheless long been a matter of some debate. Ireland made it clear that he preferred a slower speed to make sure that the rich piano harmonies shone through. John Masefield, on the other hand, hated the song largely on account of the dirge-like performances that were usually served up. Apparently only the singer Gordon Cleather received his imprimatur for the speed and urgency he brought to the song.

from notes by Andrew Green © 1999


Ireland: Songs
CDA67261/22CDs Last few CD copies remaining
The Sea
CDA66165Archive Service
A Treasury of English Song
This album is not yet available for downloadHYP30Super-budget price sampler — Deleted


Track 1 on CDA66165 [2'11] Archive Service
Track 21 on CDA67261/2 CD2 [2'15] 2CDs Last few CD copies remaining
Track 1 on HYP30 [2'11] Super-budget price sampler — Deleted

Track-specific metadata for CDA66165 track 1

Recording date
6 January 1985
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. The Sea (CDA66165)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: August 1987
    Archive Service
  2. A Treasury of English Song (HYP30)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: April 2004
    Deletion date: November 2011
    Super-budget price sampler — Deleted
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