The Mariners – Sea of Ale

September 7th, 2011 by bacon

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 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.

Posted in History, Music | 3 Comments »

The Mariners in Basel – Tears For All Occasions

August 24th, 2011 by bacon


Four years ago I wrote several articles about the Mariner trip to Switzerland [1][2][3][4]. Our time there felt like a week of unending exuberance, late night musical adventures, wild hubris, and general merriment. This trip contained those same elements, but also included moments of reflection on how we’ve all changed. Some changes are wonderful; a handful of new marriages; a new found love; a few of the cutest new babies around. Some changes are painful; the ending of a relationship; the death of a spouse; the tragic accident of friend, and the devastating impact it has on all those around him. In one short week we were all reminded that there are tears for all occasions.

The changes in our lives have made me think a lot about the character of the Mariners, its members, and the extended family of girlfriends, wives, and children that are integral to the fabric of who we are. These changes have made me question my sense of what is really valuable and made me want to better understand the people that I get to be with, both here and abroad.

With all this introspection, a number of clichés come to mind: That which does not kill you makes you stronger; There can’t be a light without a dark. It is easy to say such things. People do all the time. But to live them is much harder. This was a week where the Mariners lived this. We lived it in the rehearsal where each of us fought back tears while playing music for a man sitting in his wheelchair as he shouted “Massimo forever!!!” in a voice we’ve never heard. And we lived it in a thousand other ways that I am not fit to explain or write.

We also lived it with our performance in the center of Basel, in front of thousands of people; a drum line, depleted with tragedy and retirement, turning in a fantastically sharp performance; the first ever live performance of a complex thirty year old fife solo, brought back to life after being on the brink of extinction; powerful chanteys from a group of men that don’t live near an ocean and shouldn’t have a right to sing like they do, but they do it anyway. These are just a few of the very bright moments, according to those in attendance, made much brighter by the dark backdrop upon which they were placed.

After a week of sharing drinks, playing the music that formed our bonds, and singing like there was no tomorrow, when in fact there is, the parting moments arrived. The gravity of our farewells weighed heavily upon us, maybe more than ever. I have pride in knowing that every gram of our souls was put into this week of fifes, drums, songs, stories, jokes, laughter, and tears. We made the most of our time together, because, after all, nobody really knows what tomorrow will bring. This much is for certain, when we see each other again, more change will have affected our lives. Some changes will be for the better, some for the worse. We know this now. We have lived it.

Still, none of that can stop me from raising my glass to all our friends and praying that the days between now and when we meet again bring happiness and health. Cheers!!!

Posted in Stories | 5 Comments »

The German Clockwinder

January 31st, 2011 by bacon

This article was re-posted from

Back in the summer of 1990 I jumped on a plane to Switzerland with my good friend Roger. Our first stop was the Lugano Fife & Drum Muster in the beautiful Italian part of Switzerland. After a brief stay in Lugano, which involved meeting my good friend Massimo for the first time and escapades at a youth hostile, Roger an I boarded an overnight train to Basel. The train was full, and Roger’s drum case was too wide to fit into the train car. So, his drum spent the night between cars and we spent the night trying to sleep in the aisle way. Being young and naive, and hearing horror stories of how the train cars often split during the night, leading the unsuspecting traveler to Liechtenstein instead of Basel, we felt fortunate to arrive in Basel in good shape, good spirits, and with all our instruments.

We then made our way to the airport, where we were to meet up with the Ancient Mariners, who were arriving for their visit with the Swiss Mariners. We walked in to find the Swiss Mariners, who we had never met, all standing in the waiting area, looking through a glass wall, where they were expecting to see the Ancient Mariners arrive at any moment. We walked up behind them and said hello, which entirely confused them since there was only one way through that glass wall…and we didn’t come through it. Apparently nobody told them we were coming early by train.

After a brief explanation, a good laugh was had by all. The Ancient Mariners showed up ten or fifteen minutes later, we all had the first of many beers and a week of celebrating had commenced.

Later that week, we performed for a couple thousand people at the Augst Roman Theater. The memories of that concert, until now, had been slowly fading, being replaced by more recent escapades in Switzerland. Today, however, I saw a video that was posted from that concert and the memories came rushing back.

This is a video of the Ancient Mariner Chantey Men singing a goofy, crowd-pleasing song called the German Clockwinder. What the Chantey Men didn’t know was that the rest of the Swiss Mariners and Ancient Mariners had spontaneously lined up behind them and started bopping up and down, and singing along…if you can call ‘boop, boop’ singing. And, in the end, for reasons I never understood, we all decided to fall down. Goofy, corny, odd, but the crowd loved it. I guess sometimes people just want to see the entertainers make clowns of themselves. And we did. But, more importantly for me, it was the first real moment that I understood what a special group of friends I had, both here and abroad.

Incidentally, Roger and I are the baby faced ones hanging out somewhere over in the left side of the line.

Posted in History, Video | No Comments »

Late for the Parade

October 12th, 2010 by Dan'l

So I might have missed the first few strains of ‘Hornpipe’ but I made the rest of the last parade of the 2010 season.

By Tim Martin for The Day

By Tim Martin for The Day

Thanks to all the parade goers, organizers and fellow fife and drummers who have made another season so much fun.

And in case anyone is wondering, I was NOT the last Mariner in line!

Next stop- the Old Saybrook Christmas Muster.

Posted in Photos, Press | 1 Comment »

A Long Time Ago

September 28th, 2010 by Dan'l

What better way to get the blog back up and running than a little trip over the pond. Here’s a sampling of a day from the 1990 trip to Basel, Switzerland. A lot of familiar faces looking awfully young, and a few that have moved on to Fiddler’s Green.


Posted in History, Music, Video | No Comments »

Go Eric!

October 1st, 2009 by Dan'l

Our very own Eric Chomka, being interviewed before last weekend’s ‘Spirit of America‘ show in Providence.

Congratulations are also in order, as Eric will be getting married to Elizabeth Williams this weekend!

Posted in Announce, Video | No Comments »


September 20th, 2009 by Dan'l

We welcome Declan Charles Haverhampf, born September 20, if the 2am text message I received was close on the heels of his arrival.

We hear everyone is doing well.  What say you, fifer or drummer?

clint and declan

Posted in Announce, Photos | 2 Comments »

Guilford Fair Weekend

September 17th, 2009 by Dan'l

The Mariners will be performing in the annual Guilford Fair parade this Saturday morning, the 19th of September.  Parade steps off at 10am.

Guilford Fair banner

Apparently, so will at least one of the ‘Fying Wallendas.’


Now, as if these guys weren’t fascinating enough on their own merits, I have some dim memories of childhood when every stupid acrobatic thing I tried (that mostly ended in disaster) was referred to as “tryouts for ‘The Flying Wallendas'”  So there you have it: for me- hometown parade, hometown memories.  Hope to see some of you there.

Posted in Announce, Stories | No Comments »

Nutmeg Muster ’09

September 6th, 2009 by Dan'l

From the grounds of scenic Fort Griswold, the Nutmeg Junior Ancients Muster.

Fort Griswold

Two very nice photos by Lisa Kirt-Palm:

mariners in fortmariners 1

The fort has quite the history and a beautiful view over the river of downtown New London.


From the Fort Griswold website: “This is the historic site where, on September 6, 1781, British Forces, commanded by the infamous Benedict Arnold, captured the Fort and massacred 88 of the 165 defenders stationed there. The Ebenezer Avery House which sheltered the wounded after the battle has been restored on the grounds. A Revolutionary War museum also depicts the era.”

The obelisk in the left of the first photo that bears remarkable resemblance to the Washington Monument, being designed by the same Robert Mills, is also open for climbing, all 160-something steps.  And from those lofty heights I captured these interesting, if mediocre, photos of the Westbrook Juniors on stand.



The Muster Season’s winding down, but there’s still time to get out and lift a pint with us in Marlborough or Sudbury MA. Hope to see you there!

Posted in History, Photos | No Comments »

What a pain…

August 14th, 2009 by bacon

broken-ankle.thumbnail has been busted for a couple of days now. The good news is that we are on the way to resolving the problems and returning to the happy goodness that once was. Please stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

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