Folk Song Friday: The Grey Funnel Line

The finest ship that sails the sea
Is still a prison for the likes of me
But give me wings like Noah’s dove
I’ll fly up harbour to the girl I love
Here’s one more day on the Grey Funnel Line

Listening to The Grey Funnel Line, you would think that it had been around for centuries. The story of a sailor, alone at sea, desperate to return to his lover on land is timeless, however the song is actually less than 60 years old. Cyril Tawney was just 16 when he joined the Royal Navy (or the Grey Funnel Line as it’s known among sailors), and this was last song he wrote before leaving the Navy 14 years later. Since then, the song has been covered by a wide range of high profile artists, from June Tabor to Emmylou Harris, but I’m yet to hear a version which encapsulates the wistfulness of the song as much as Ed, Will and Ginger’s version (above). In his notes on the piece, Tawney describes it as ‘a straightforward song about a sailor leaving home and the loved one’ and it’s this simplicity that makes folks songs like this so great.

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