I'm just trying to uncover the truth
Where's the Captain? 
It's over, Cap'n
Consider the helm, the helm. 
The captain is in his bunk berth, 
asleep as he should be.

Just trying to uncover the truth
It's over for you except scream.
Ah/ah ah/ah [coughing]

We're just trying to uncover the truth
Oleano  (2)
Where's the captain? 
Captain asleep in his bunk 
Esconced in snow 
The hell of.... 
This was the hell of Oleano HMS 
Ensconced in snow 
And still she is ensconced in snow.


1. This is a sketchy and obscure story of a nautical disaster with no real-world correlate I can discover; that is, I can find no record of such an event involving a ship named Oleano, Oleanna, or Oleander (or any spelling variants), and if the ship is pseudonymous the song could refer to just about anything (in that case, it certainly could be yet another song about the Titanic). There was a British fleet ship called Oleander that participated in the Falklands war, but by that time it was renamed Olmeda and it doesn't seem to have sunk (nor is there much snow or ice off the coast of Argentina).

However, Colin in the comments below attests that in at least one live performance the song was introduced with a spiel by MES claiming that song is about the Falklands war. In lieu of corroborating evidence about a similar incident, we have to assume the lyrics are fictional, or a fictionalized account of a real incident that is similar in some respects to the story told here.

There was also a supposedly secret US post office called "Oleona Base" in Antartica that operated some time in the mid-20th century. As you can probably imagine, information about this on the web seems a bit dubious, and I don't have the patience to wade through it but, secret or not, the post office seems to have been real. Of course this may have little to do with the song, certainly "HMS" seems to suggest a British ship rather than an American post office.


2. MES seems to say "Oleana" throughout.


Comments (25)

  • 1. Colin | 27/10/2013
This is about the Falklands War. I have a Fall live bootleg where Mark explains the meaning before the song begins.
  • 2. bzfgt | 29/10/2013
Thanks, Colin. Could you give me the date, please? I added your testimony to the notes above but it would be good to have more details (if you want to take the time to transcribe his exact spiel I would appreciate it a lot, but I understand if you don't have the time).
  • 3. Colin | 29/10/2013
I have over 100 Fall bootlegs spanning from 1979 to 2013 so I'd have to fish it out. I wish I could give you an exact date. Mark says something to the effect of "This next one's about the HMS Oleander....Falklands....." then "Oleano" starts.
  • 4. bzfgt | 29/10/2013
Yeah, "Oleander" is the right name (see note 1), so that's promising. The song was only played from 96-98, so that narrows it down at least some, but I understand you have better things to do. If you happen to be listening to that tape some time in the future and it pops up, maybe you'll do me a favor and weigh in here. Sorry, though, I don't mean to be demanding.
  • 5. Martin | 12/02/2014
I've listened to some of the live recordings I have of the song and unfortunately so far haven't found any evidence of what Colin asserts above. Not to say he isn't right, of course. What I have heard is that on the backing vocals in 1996 performances, while Brix was still with the group, she definitely doesn't sing "Oleano" on the backing vocals, but "Oleana"...or even, if you didn't have the title of the song as some kind of anti-corroborative evidence, "Oreana". Anyway, I know need to listen to 1997 and 1998 renditions of the track to find out/remember who did backing vocals and what exactly was sung.
  • 6. Martin | 16/02/2014
To finish off what I started, 1987 and 1988 performances of the song don't - as far as my research shows - contain any backing vocals.
  • 7. dannyno | 17/02/2014
There was a secret post office in Antarctica called "Oleana":

  • 8. dannyno | 24/04/2014
More on Oleano/Oleana Base: http://www.thelivingmoon.com/41pegasus/01archives/Oleana.htm

It was near the Falklands, you know.
  • 9. dannyno | 24/04/2014
And there's also the Oleana colony, founded in Pennsylvania in 1852 by the Norwegian violinist Ole Bornemann Bull (and therefore also known as "Ole Bull"). It's eventual failure as a colony inspired the mocking Norwegian folk song "Oleanna" (spellings vary), covered by Pete Seeger.
What is interesting, perhaps, is that there was a ship called "Incognito", which brought settlers from Norway who ended up in Oleana colony, which sank in 1853, see: http://www.norwayheritage.com/p_ship.asp?sh=incog

I wrote about this on the forum, but nobody bought it. Fair enough, I have no more convincing details. But I want to record it here because I could imagine MES reading the story and writing a bit of a narrative around it which he then boiled down into this vaguer song.
  • 10. Colin | 02/08/2015
"However, Colin the comments below attests that in at least one live performance the song was introduced with a spiel by MES claiming that song is about the Falklands war. In lieu of corroborating evidence about a similar incident, we have to assume it is a fictionalized account."

Excuse me but I didn't fictionalize a thing. I have the tape. What motive or incentive do I have to make up a story about the lyrical theme of Oleano?
  • 11. bzfgt | 25/08/2015
I meant that the lyrics must be a fictionalized account of a supposed incident in the war, I'll try to make that more clear.
  • 12. Martin | 07/09/2015
I've been listening to the Peel version of this to see if it adds anything to our understanding of the song. There are definitely extra words in there (compared to the album version) but as I'm not good at all at making out lyrics perhaps someone else could help. There's a reference (I think) to the captain "slurring" and (maybe) "heading for the sun...two hours" (??) Then at the very end there's something like "confined to wee nucky in the bemused bella states"...(I'm spelling all this as I hear it, so don't expect anything to make any sense!)
  • 13. Martin | 07/09/2015
One more thing. The captain is asleep, "as he should be". Why? Because he's tired, or because he's been drugged, or because he's drunk (see "slurring" reference in my comment above)?
  • 14. dannyno | 25/06/2016
Echoes here of the legend of the Octavius:
  • 15. dannyno | 25/06/2016
... and legend of the schooner Jenny, commemorated in this poem:
  • 16. Rob | 24/03/2019
The captain asleep in his bunk faintly echoes a line from Under Milk Wood: "Captain Cat, the retired blind sea-captain, asleep in his bunk in the seashelled, ship-in-bottled, shipshape best cabin of Schooner House". I don't reckon there's any connection - just a similar image.
  • 17. dannyno | 05/06/2019
Here's a new angle, based on some alternative lyrics to the song from the gig at the Tivoli, Buckley, 26 November 1997:

Let me take you down to the former (...) Water and show you the wooden tits of the goddess that took away your peg-leg, father.

This of course is a loose quotation from Captain Beefheart's "Orange Claw Hammer", off Trout Mask Replica:

Come little one with yer little ole dimpled fingers
Gimme one 'n I'll buy you uh cherry phosphate
Take you down t' the foamin' brine 'n water 'n show you the wooden tits
On the Goddess with the pole out full sail
That tempted away yer peg legged father
I was shanghied by uh high hat beaver mustache man 'n his pirate friend

Mike Barnes, in Captain Beefheart: The biography, says that Orange Claw Hammer

evokes the atmosphere of the 'Cutty Sark' section of Hart Crane's epic poem from 1930, The Bridge. There, an old mariner comes back disoriented from a long voyage. "I don't know what time it is - that damned white Arctic killed my time," he says.
  • 18. dannyno | 05/06/2019
There are lines in The Bridge that refer to Rip Van Winkle. In Washington Irving's story, the titular colonial sleeps through the American Revolution, after encountering a group of strangely dressed men and drinking their beer. It turns out that they were the ghosts of the crew of the Halve Maen, captained by Henry Hudson. The real life Henry Hudson got his ship (The Discovery) stuck in ice in James Bay, part of what became Hudson Bay, Canada. They had to wait for the ice to melt, and mutinied when it did because they wanted to go home.

So there's various echoes of all this, and the other connections made in earlier notes, in the lyric if you want to look for them.
  • 19. bzfgt (link) | 03/07/2019
Wow, yeah. Are you sure it's "former" and not "foaming"?

I don't see much connection here between the lyrics on the studio version and Orange Claw Hammer, though...
  • 20. dannyno | 03/07/2019
Comment #19 - former/foaming. I got the lines from http://thefall.org/gigography/gig97.html. I don't have a copy of the bootleg so cannot confirm either way.
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 12/07/2019
It would be an odd alteration of the lyric. Not that we haven't seen other such.
New Fall Fan
  • 22. New Fall Fan | 01/12/2019
Comment #13: re:. The captain is asleep, "as he should be"...I understood this as a satirical / wise-ass observation. Obviously the Cap'n should not be asleep in his bunk.
  • 23. bzfgt (link) | 21/12/2019
Yeah I guess I thought that was evident.
  • 24. As | 10/01/2020
There was a David Mamet play called Oleanna about sexual harassment in a University. He made it into a film in 1994.
  • 25. dannyno | 29/12/2020
Been listening to all the live versions I've got (c18 of them), just as Martin did comments 5 and 6. Just in case I could find the Falklands reference that Colin mentions in post 1.

Krazy House, Liverpool, 2 Dec 1997, begins: "This is the tale of HMS Oleano..."

Bristol Bierkeller, 9 Sept 1997, beings "This is the tale of HMS Oleano..."

Nothing about the Falklands. But of course a reference to the Falklands wouldn't make it a lyric about the Falklands war,

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