The following post was reposted from themariners.org. I found myself retelling a bit of this story a few times in the past weekend, and I felt this was personal enough that it should be reposted here.
Back in nineteen-eighty-seven I was at the Westbrook Muster. While there I bought my first fife and drum recording. It was a white cassette of the first Mariner album, which had been released seven years prior. It was one of the few Westbrook Musters where I couldn’t wait for the weekend to end. I desperately wanted to hear what was on that tape, and to do so required making the trek back home where my boom box sat waiting for me in my Massachusetts living room.
The tunes started to roll, White Cockade, Adams and York, and Sailors Hornpipe. I was immediately drawn in. I was then seduced by the singing of Ruben Ranzo and the seamless transition to Clapboard Hill. All of it great and exuberant, but fully within the boundaries of what I had expected. I had, after all, been watching those barefooted bastions of sea music from the time I was a little boy and attending Sudbury Musters in the mid seventies. But, just as side one was coming to a close, the boundaries had been breeched.
Suddenly, from my crappy little speakers, came classical music fused with a complex matrix of fifes spinning around tunes that felt traditional, but not structured like other tunes I had learned. There were too many fifes for me to track and I went into a dizzy trance as the music moved from one tune to the next; a beautiful melodic waltz; a single fife sliding into a slip jig with the others soon in tow; tempo changes; slower; faster; reels; jigs; breaks; ornaments; teases; and something wild on the end that didn’t make any logical sense but seemed like the only way to end. I clawed for the liner notes, praying to God it wasn’t going to have some lame title like Sonata in D. It was…it was…The Sea of Ale and the Dock Street Mermaid. Miraculous!
I never made it to side two. I never made it back to the beginning of side one. I only used two buttons on the boom box; rewind; play; rewind; play; rewind; play.
Suddenly a new thought fell into my teenaged brain. I was going to join the Mariners. It had never even been a passing thought until that moment. But, now it seemed so clear. I would join, and soon I would be playing such masterpieces.
Not long after, 1988 to be precise, I went to my first Ancient Mariner practice along with my buddy Roger Hunnewell. But, what I found was that the Sea of Ale was nowhere to be found. It was a complex piece of music that nobody, in 1988, new how to play, and nobody could located the sheet music. What I subsequently learned, was that the music was complex enough that the Mariners needed to bring in a ringer for the recording. Alan Reed, the only non-Mariner to play on the Mariner album, was brought in to play one of the four voices on The Sea of Ale along with John Ciaglia, John Benoit and Skip Healy. Incidentally, none of those guys were still active in 1988 either. So, the road to The Sea of Ale looked bleak.
Through the decades there were efforts to pull the music together. Jason Malli, most notably, was able to find some badly damaged copies of the original Ciaglia chicken scratch. We leaned that The Sea of Ale was actually two different medleys glued together for the recording. The Admiral of the Narrow Seas and another called Get Off Your Ass. We also learned that it had never been performed live, thought I’m sure that statement will be hotly debated. We also learned that the original masters of the recording have gone missing. Maybe they will show up someday.
Work was started to diligently transcribe and edit the music from the hard-to-read copies into a clean, workable format. Then the newly transcribed music, all seventeen pages, sat for another decade, waiting for the right moment and the right men, with the right amount and right mix of energy. I’m happy to tell you that twenty four years after I first heard The Sea of Ale and the Dock Street Mermaid, the music has been brought back to life, performed first on a grand stage in Basel, Switzerland. For four and a half minutes Scott Redfield, Joe Mawn, Marc Bernier, Eric Chomka and myself had the honor to play this great music with Skip Healy in what felt like a passing of the torch.
For me the circle is now complete, and in my mind I keep hitting those buttons; play; rewind; play; rewind; play; rewind.