“Blood-Red Roses” is a sea chantey.
- Bunch o’ Roses
- Go Down You Blood Red Roses
- “Blood-Red Roses” at The Digital Tradition on the Mudcat Café
- “Blood-Red Roses” discussion on the Mudcat Café
- “Blood-Red Roses” at MusicBrainz
“Blood-Red Roses” is a double-pull halyard chantey, used for raising a yard. I first learned this song at the San Francisco chantey sing, though at this point I would be hard-pressed to say whose version to which mine most closely hews. Certainly, the Mollyhawks, Danny Spooner, and and the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem were all influential.
This is one of my favorites to use as an actual halyard chantey at Mystic Seaport. The simple chorus makes it easy on the crew, especially visitors who are pressganged into helping; the rhymed couplets can come in any order, and the semi-chorus interlude gives the chanteyman a chance to think about the next couplet. The whaling verses are good for use on board the Charles W. Morgan, but it’s not so whaling-centric that it can’t be used on the Joseph Conrad. (It’s worth noting that my version includes both a whaling reference and “you’ve got your advance”—but whalermen were paid in lays, shares of the trip’s profits, and did not generally get an advance.)
And no, no-one knows what the roses represent. See the Mudcat link above for a long, interesting, and ultimately fruitless discussion. Hugill thinks “Blood-Red Roses” a synonym for “Redcoats,” though there is much debate about that. Hugill also gives this song with four calls and four responses (the “oh, you pinks and posies” being repeated)—the folk process has apparently eaten that, as I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone sing it that way (there is either no chorus at all, or a short one as I give here).