About this Recording
NA0044 - MCMILLAN, R.: Pirates! (Unabridged)

Roy McMillan


If you think of the word ‘piracy’, the chances are that one of two things will occur to you. One is a free music or video file available via the Web; the other is someone on a boat with a big beard holding a sword and shouting ‘Aharrrr, me hearties!’ The two are actually linked. There’s still a lot of piracy about, even if less of it these days involves boats. Film piracy, music piracy, software piracy, Internet piracy: if it can be pirated, it will be. Nowadays, pirating generally means to copy something illegally and sell it on (or just pass it on without paying the owner for it), but the link with the bearded, shouting man is in the name. It’s called ‘piracy’ rather than just stealing or theft, and this might be because pirates have always had a particular place in people’s imagination.

They have a reputation as freedom-loving folk who steal from those who, apparently, deserve it—or at least from those who have a lot of money anyway, so won’t miss a bit. Pirates are thought of as dashing and outside the law. When music and film piracy first became a problem, those who were doing it used to claim that they were stopping really rich corporations from getting even richer. As a result, although the corporations want to call it ‘copyright theft’ (which, after all, is what it is), everyone else calls it ‘piracy’ because it seems a bit like the rather romantic idea of old-fashioned pirates. And it’s the old-fashioned (but still thriving) pirates that Pirates! is about.

As it turns out, old-fashioned pirates were rarely romantic; but they still remain hugely popular and appealing characters. For centuries they have featured in fiction (from adventure stories like Treasure Islandto pantomimes such as Peter Pan) and they have inspired literally hundreds of films. They are now so much a part of everyday culture that you’ll find pirates at theme parks, water parks, ports, naval exhibitions, lakeside amusements—in fact, pretty much anywhere where there’s a boat, and often where there isn’t. Many people are so familiar with the way in which they think pirates used to talk that you can use a popular Internet search engine in pirate jargon; and there is even an ‘International Talk Like a Pirate Day’ when everyone is supposed to greet their friends with ‘Aharrrr, shipmates!’ (it’s on September 19th).

A lot of this is to do with Treasure Island. The book was a huge success when it was published in 1883, and it introduced to the public many features of pirate lore that we take for granted now: the peg-leg, the eye-patch, the map, the buried treasure, the drinking and general wildness of the pirates, and many of the phrases (such as ‘Shiver my timbers!’). Then the various films of the book promoted the idea of a gnarled, west-of-England accent thanks to the actors Lionel Barrymore and Robert Newton; and thereafter, the public notion of pirate-speak has been getting more and more popular, and more and more fixed.

But as this history of pirates explains, much of this seemingly fictional myth had a good deal of truth behind it, with pirates saying things that sound just like lines from films (‘Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarters, or take any from you!’); and the things that weren’t in the popular myths were often even more extraordinary—try listening to the stories of Anne Bonny and Mary Read or Stede Bonnet, for instance.

The books and films are obviously written and made because people want to hear about pirates, and they’re thrilling, brilliant tales. But the real-life tales of all the pirates were as dramatic, astonishing and comic as anything a writer could think up. And it’s the dramatic, astonishing, comic or eye-popping truth that you’ll hear about in Pirates!.

There are stories about the most famous, most unusual, most unpleasant, most successful pirates that have ever sailed a ship, as well as a couple of pirates who didn’t really make the grade as terrifying adventurers but are worth hearing about anyway. Many of the best-known ones are here of course: Blackbeard, Barbarossa, Captain Kidd, Captain Morgan and so on; but hopefully there will be a few whom you haven’t heard much about, and possibly some who are completely unknown to you—which might just include the most successful pirate ever. To warn you about any approaching horrible bits, you’ll get a ‘Gruesome Alert!’

There is a brief guide to piracy from the very earliest times, as well as information about how it developed in different parts of the world; how it has been suppressed and keeps coming back; how the ‘Golden Age’ in the Caribbean came about; and how it was that very often pirates were actually given permission or even encouraged to attack other ships—they were basically working for their governments! There’s a look at why people became pirates in the first place (would you choose to become a burglar?); what life was like on board (if you were lucky, not too bad, and probably better than being in the Navy); what happened when ships attacked (a lot of noise, smoke, confusion and death, generally); and whether the most famous stories about pirates are true (such as maps, buried treasure and pieces of eight).

There is also a look at the fact that pirates are still operating today and using almost the same methods as they did thousands of years ago. Nowadays you can employ special security services to help protect you and your crew if they are sailing through pirate-infested waters, and it’s probably worth the several thousand pounds a day it will cost: today’s pirates are just as likely to kill or kidnap as any of those in the past. This is not virtual piracy; this is very much the real thing.

Notes by Roy McMillan


Pirates Glossary

Splice the Mainbrace
Literally, to repair one of the biggest and most important ropes on a sailing ship (a very difficult thing to do). Once it was successfully done, the captain would offer the crew a drink as a reward. As a result, the phrase now tends to mean simply ‘Let’s have a drink’.

Davy Jones’s Locker
A sailor’s term for the bottom of the sea, and usually about something that is lost forever or a person who has died at sea. If ‘He’s gone to Davy Jones’s Locker’, he’s drowned.

To destroy a ship deliberately in order to stop anyone else taking possession of it.

The left-hand side of a ship or boat if you’re on it facing forwards.

The right-hand side of a ship or boat if you’re on it facing forwards.

All the guns on one side of a ship firing at the same time.

Anything valuable taken by force or illegally; much the same as ‘Loot’.

Much the same as ‘Booty’. Anything valuable taken illegally; or, if used as a verb, the process of taking it.

Safe Haven
For pirates, a harbour in a town where they knew no-one was going to try to arrest them.

Flintlock Pistol
An old-fashioned gun that could only fire one bullet before it had to be reloaded.

A sword, quite heavy and short, and usually curved.

A wooden frame for hanging people on; a gallows.

A traditional Chinese sailing ship, usually with a high pointed front, and a flat bottom.

To rob a place ruthlessly and with violence.

The openings in the top deck that allow people and cargo to get to the lower parts of the ship.


The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue

DEBUSSY La Mer 8.550262
BRT Philharmonic Orchestra (Brussels); Alexander Rahbari, conductor

On the Way to Bethlehem 8.553132
Ensemble Unicorn

Under the Greenwood Tree 8.553442
Estampie; Graham Derrick, arrangement

GOTTSCHALK A Night in the Tropics 8.559036
Hot Springs Music Festival; Richard Rosenberg, conductor

Elizabethan Songs and Consort Music 8.554284
Rose Consort of Viols; Catherine King, mezzo-soprano

BOYCE Symphony No. 8 in D minor 8.557278
Arcadia Ensemble; Kevin Mallon, conductor

TANEYEV Oresteia Overture and Interlude 8.570584
Novosibirsk Academic Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Sanderling, conductor

BERLIOZ Le Corsaire 8.550999
San Diego Symphony Orchestra; Yoav Talmi, conductor

MENDELSSOHN The Hebrides 8.554433
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Anthony Bramall and Oliver Dohnányi, conductors

ELGAR Pomp and Circumstance 8.557273
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra; James Judd, conductor

Music programming by Sarah Butcher

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