Tuesday 26 July 2016

The Friend Ship

Here’s another one of my singable translations of the great French singer-songwriter, Georges Brassens, into English. This time it’s Les Copains d'abord: a pun in French meaning both “friends on board” and “friends first”. I tried to keep the spirit of the pun by translating it as The Friend Ship. The French original, written for the movie Les copains (1964), is probably Brassens’ most recognisable song - the movie has long been forgotten, but the song lingers on, and even most teenagers will recognise it, albeit vaguely. It is sung at almost every family gathering with my French in-laws. Needless to say, the song is about friendship, and about a boat with the same name as the song title.

Julie Anne Workman: An old fishing boat on the pebble beach of Dungeness, Kent. 10 April 2009

Here are the lyrics:

The Friend Ship a (singable) translation of Les copains d'abord, by Georges Brassens
Translation copyright © 2012 by Moyshelé Rosencrantz - unauthorized reproduction prohibited

This old boat needed just one look
To know her captain wasn't Cook
Nor yet Columbus, Pizzaro, Magellan or Drake
She had “the Friend Ship” for a name
In faded letters, more’s the shame
The kind of boat no sensible sailor would care to take

The conversations on the boat
Were not the type you might hear quoted
By professors, politicians, lawyers and such
The captain, sailors and first mate
Were not descended from the great
But just a bunch of old childhood friends trying to stay in touch

They were not chosen by Voltaire
For their refined and noble air
They were not Hamlet and Horatio sung by the Bard
Their manners hardly would have won
Much admiration in Salons
To see them thumping each others' bellies a wee bit hard

They were not angels either no
They had not read the Bible though
They knew what friendship meant when sailing out on the sea
Jim, Andy, Joe & Company
It was their only litany
Their credo, their philosophy, their holy trinity

When came the icebergs of Titanic
Friendship helped them not to panic
Friendship pointed to the North Star high in the sky
And when they fell into distress
Arms flailing wildly S.O.S.
You would have said that they're trying to fly, that they're trying to fly

In every Sunday get-together,
They'all came, fair or rotten weather
And if one didn't show up it's cause he was dead
But let a hundred years go by
Time enough for many a last good-bye
The naughty memory of a lad wouldn't go to bed

Of all the boats I've ever known
There's only one and one alone
That never threw me overboard, to swim in her wake
She had “the Friend Ship” for a name
In faded letters, more’s the shame
The kind of boat no sensible sailor would care to take

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