The song Mabel Grey, by Brown Bird contains peculiar lyrics.

The lyrics are awfully specific about what happened to this ship, which is a common pattern I see when a song is referent to a real-life event. It's reminiscent of Barrett's Privateers, in that it appears like it could be referring to a specific event, and is written in the form of a historical allusion.

But, while Barrett's Privateers is fictional, it contains the details needed to tell a full story. Mabel Grey here seems to be a snapshot of some existing story - its descriptions are both cursory and rather specific, leaving a great number of holes for the listener to either fill in, or, alternately, understand within a pre-existing context.

That leads me to wonder if the Mabel Grey was a real ship and person. There certainly have been both ships and people named "Mabel Grey" (or, Gray). Notably, two schooners that wrecked have borne the name: one sunk on March 11, 1904, off the coast of California, and the other has an entry on ShipIndex, but doesn't seem to have any other public information.

These are my best guesses as to where I would start. But I really have no clue.

Is this song referring to a real event? If not, is it new fabrication, or does it refer to something else?

1 Answer 1


According to an interview (link) with surviving band member Joe Fletcher, "Mabel Grey" is in reference to a real ship of the same name, but was written by the late David Lamb and details about the inspiring shipwreck are unknown by anyone except possibly Lamb's wife.

Is David Lamb the original writer of that song?
He is. He actually co-wrote it with another friend of mine.

Do you know the background of that song?
I do know it was an actual ship. From what I’ve read about the ship, it does not sound as though the song was written about that particular story. It was a shipwreck. It was kind of a well-documented shipwreck. I haven’t read anything about it in a long time. [...] I wish now that I would have asked him more about the song. [...] I never really inquired any more deeply, but he had a great imagination. He was very interested in sea stories, just like I am and he worked in a shipyard until he stopped working fully to concentrate on the band. I have a feeling, if I had to guess... I could ask MorganEve about it, she would probably know.

Since Fletcher says the shipwreck was well-documented, I'd guess it's the 1904 California wreck you link in your question.

There's also speculation (link) that the song references a real woman, Diana of the Dunes (link) AKA Alice Mabel Grey, but that looks like somebody just Googled the name and made assumptions; I can't find any connection to Alice Mabel Grey in the text of the song--the closest is folklore that Diana of the Dunes appears to sailors before a storm (link).

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