Sailing By – A tune on the ocean of sound

Who said that sailors are too though to show a sentimental side? The story of the song “Sailing By” proves everybody wrong who would have said so. This short piece of music was used as a jingle or filler tune for a radio show and became famous among British sailors and other seafaring folks for nostalgic reasons.

“Sailing By” was used by Ronald Binge, who was a British composer and arranger of entertainment music. He was born in a poor neighborhood in Derby (United Kingdom) in 1910. In his early years, he played accordion in the first band of Annunzio Paolo Mantovani. During the World War II, Bings served in the Royal Air Force. Once the war had ended, Mantovani offered him an employment as an arranger and composer for his band.

Bings’ first job, an arrangement of Charmaine earned him international recognition and became Mantovani’s first big success. Today, Binge is still well-known as the inventor of the so-called "cascading strings" effect. This became the acoustic “signature” of Mantovani’s orchestra. Its original intention was to mimic the echo in a building such as a big hall or church. However, later it became particularly associated with the so-called “easy listening music”. Binge died in 1979.

Generations went to bed with “Sailing By”

Binge’s claim to fame came through the British Broadcast Radio 4 (BBC Radio 4). On this channel, at around 00:45 am, “Sailing By” is played every night before the shipping forecast. The melody is light and tends to stick in your mind quite easily. It is meant to make the program readily identifiable to sailors who widely relied on the shipping forecast in previous decades. Beyond that, “Sailing By” was also used as “filler” to buffer the forecast, which has to start precisely at 00:48 am.

Today, not only sailors know the tune – Sailing By is widely popular with many British radio listeners who grew up with the tune and consider it to be the sound of bedtime. Jarvis Cocker, Britpop singer of “Pulp”, chose the tune as one of the “Desert Island Discs”. He noted that he had used Sailing By “as an aid to restful sleep” for many years.

“Sailing By” also featured on a CD that was produced with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia in an attempt to save the Radio 4 UK Theme from being taken off air. Plans to do the same with “Sailing By” itself caused strong reactions among British radio listeners and fans of the tune. Today, “Sailing By” remains a nostalgic aspect of radio culture. The record that Radio 4 uses is not available for purchase; however, an almost identical recording was produced by Seaward Records with Ronnie Aldrich as a pianist.

Further Reading

More on the influence of Sailing on culture in our "books" section

BBC Radio 4, where "Sailing By" is used

Wikipedia on "Sailing By"

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