Recommendation: The pirate version of ‘The Parson’s Farewell’

I was looking on YouTube for Playford tunes*, and I stumbled on this.

Arranged and recorded by Bear McCeary, composer to the stars and general musician-at-arms for (amongst other things) the TV series Black Sails, which is kind of Pirates of the Caribbean meets Game of Thrones. I haven’t watched any of the episodes (I’m not sure how to get it in Ol’ Blighty) but it looks like a lot of fun.

The Parson’s Farewell has always been one of my favourite Playford tunes, and many many people have done versions of it. I’ve never heard a Hollywood version before.

Now, Hollywood versions of traditional English music… you might think would be laughably bad. But in my experience, I usually like those arrangements better than those performed by folk musicians. And this one is a good example of that. How come? Folk musicians often want to show:

  • (a) what great musicians they are (which I find thrilling for the first 1m 30s, and then I get very bored very quick) and
  • (b) how their version is totally unique from any other version (which only works if you have a really unique vision)

Hollywood composers, first of all, have serious budgets. They can hire in great musicians, and they can talk to experts of music of that era.  But more importantly than that: they simply cannot get away with coasting. The music has to sound great. It has to have a ton of emotion, and it has to tell a story. If it doesn’t, the director or producer will simply hire someone else to do it.

And this version of The Parson’s Farewell…

It is The Fucking Business.

Here is a bit of the story of how it got made.

When I first heard it I had my super-critical “so-you-think-you-can-adapt-old-English-popular-music” hat on. But I was really impressed with all the choices that the song made. Yes, you could perform the whole thing with citterns and viols, but the style of the music presumably needs to mirror the style of the TV show’s language: not distractingly modern, but not distractingly archaic either.

As soon as I heard that chunky hi-hat come in at the beginning, I could just tell this would be a really good version. And it starts of well, getting gradually funkier, with some really great mandolin playing. But after a few minutes, I did start to feel: ‘this is all surprisingly… restrained.’ For a big ‘tits & tricorns’ production, I was surprised it wasn’t more… in your face.

But if you listen through it you’ll hear that I needn’t have worried.

Anyway, I have listened to it approximately a billion times, and I highly recommend you do too.

Current Favourite Part:

The part where it stops being tasteful and restrained.

Also, I like the fact that Mr McCreary genuinely seems to enjoy his work. He seems like a nice chap.

* Traditional tunes that featured in John Playford’s Dancing Master book — the ultimate compendium of popular dance tunes that ran from the year 1651 until 1728.

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