The Longest Song Wiki

Written by Nicholas Smythe for Canadian Cider Punk band The Dreadnoughts for their album Into The North, Roll Northumbria is a modern folk song in a traditional shanty style and could easily be mistaken as having a traditional origin.

It pays homage to the creation, launch, and retirement of the ship after a little over a decade of service.

Andy occasionally covers the song during his livestreams.


The £6.5 million Northumbria was christened by Princess Anne and launched in May 1969. Not only did the size of the vessel require cutting away a significant portion of the river bank opposite the launch berth, it had to be launched on a particular day in May when the spring tide would be highest or risk scraping the bottom.

The Dreadnoughts reference "Wallsea Yard" as the place where the ESSO Northumbria was built, but it was in fact constructed by Hunter Swan at Wallsend on Tyne, North Tyneside, England.

The closing of the Red Sea referenced in the song is a direct reference to the Suez Crisis, which was in no small part a motivator for the Northumbria's construction.

There is no Port of Hulal, it was likely just a name that the Dreadnoughts slotted in place to keep the rhyme.

Though the song references the Mersey river, Northumbria never travelled it, it was launched on the river Tyne.

Carpathia, Vengeance, and Celestial are all oil tankers registered at one time or another to a variety of oil companies.

The ESSO Northumbria did not actually suffer an oil spill, though plagued by repeated technical and mechanical issues. Concerns were raised over the ship's single hull design and due to the potential risk of a major spill if the hull were punctured, Northumbria was decommissioned in 1982 after just 12 years of service. At no time did the vessel, in fact, limp away through an ocean of flame.


These lyrics are based on those sung for the album version of Roll Northumbria, transcribed while examining the original lyrics as found on the Dreadnoughts Bandcamp.

Twas late '65 at the old Wallsea Yard
Where she was commissioned to haul the black tar
We built the Northumbria there on the bar
Roll Northumbria Roll

For when the Egyptians, they closed the red sea
The call came on high from the powers that be
To build a royal monster right down on the quay
Roll Northumbria Roll, me boys
Roll Northumbria Roll

Carpathia, Vengeance, Celestial call
she was the tanker to outsize 'em all
From the banks of the Mersey to the Port of Hulal
Roll Northumbria Roll

And fair Princess Anne threw a bottle of wine
And watched as the giant set down in the Tyne
What lay ahead could no mortal divine
Roll Northumbria Roll, me boys
Roll Northumbria Roll

And it's one for the hot sun above
Two for the empire we love,
and it's three for the fire that burns down below
Roll on Northumbria,
Roll Northumbria Roll

{Chorus again}

So come all you good workmen, beware the command
That comes down on high from the desk of a man
Who's never held steel or torch in his hands
Roll Northumbria Roll

For atop a wild breaker the cracks in her frame
spilled 'er black guts all across the wild main
And she limped away through an ocean of flame
Roll Northumbria Roll, me boys
Roll Northumbria Roll