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Chicken on a Raft


This modern shanty, written by West Country folk music hero Cyril Tawney, itemises various complaints about life on board a naval ship.

A chicken on a raft is the nickname given by sailors to a breakfast of egg on fried bread. It is sometimes described as a fried egg on fried bread, but given (a) that doesn't sound too bad and (b) the practicalities of keeping sufficient fresh eggs on board a ship for the length of its voyage, the alternative definition, that it is reconstituted dried egg which has then been scrambled or something seems to be more likely to be the 'terrible sight' of the song, inspiring 'picking' rather than enthusiastic eating.

Other naval slang in the song: 'Jimmy' is the 1st lieutenant ('Jimmy the one'); 'comic cuts' are orders; 'dabtoes' are general seamen, as opposed to 'dustmen', who were specialist ratings, working in the engine room. 'Pusser', as in 'her heart was like a pusser's shower, run hot to cold in a quarter of an hour', is the purser, who, as the ship's accountant, was notoriously tight fisted, hence the shower would run cold (mind you, 15 minutes for a shower seems like plenty of time to me).

The song was a hit (of sorts) in 1968 for Young Tradition. There have been other versions of the song but, to be honest, they're all pretty similar to the original.

It also appears to have become an internet game of sorts, where a clock counts up the number of minutes/hours/days you've been watching a poorly animated chicken on a raft while the Young Tradition version plays in the background. If you're interested, find it yourself!

More interesting is the story of Cyril Tawney. Born in 1930 in Gosport, he joined the navy when he was 16, spending a large amount of his time on submarines. While in the navy, his singing was recorded for a radio broadcast and, later, for television. This exposure developed into a networked television show 'Watch Aboard', which led him, in 1959, to leave the navy and become a professional singer and broadcaster. He researched and popularised traditional songs as well as writing many of his own. He set up one of the first folk clubs in the West Country and, having encouraged many others to do the same, became known as the Founding Father of the West Country folk revival. Later in his life he studied English and History at Lancaster University and got a Masters from Leeds University's Institute of Dialect and Folklife Studies. He died in 2005 after a long illness.

Some of Cyril Tawney's other songs:

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