There are more songs about the sea then there are barnacles on the bottom of Blackbeard’s boat. Probably more songs than barnacles on Nelson’s entire fleet! We also know that melancholy songs of the sea can often be metaphors for many other states of the human condition – essentially escapism and running away from difficult areas of life. But I will leave this notion for another article.
This week I thought it would be a neat idea to focus on the humble sea shanty.
This kind of music, made popular in recent times by the a capella group Fishermans Friends from Port Isaac, Cornwall, has a rich history dating back to the 1500s.
These songs originated on sailing vessels of yesteryear and were usually sung to relieve the boredom and monotony of everyday working life on board. The lustily sung numbers also gave a cadence or rhythm to the task in hand so that the ships’ company worked as a team and got the job done quickly.
Historians are not quite in agreement of where the origin of the word ‘shanty’ is derived. The argument seems to revolve around the French word ‘chanter’ (to sing) or the English expression ‘chant’. What we are certain of is that they fell into two main categories. The Short/ Long Drag Shanty - used either for jobs requiring quick effort like shortening sails , or shanties where long interval pulling was required, such as windlass/capstan work where an anchor on a heavy chain had to be brought up from the depths.
The other type of shanty was the forecastle (pronounced ‘folk’cel’ ) shanty, which were more reflective . Here, the sailors sung of pining for home, missed love ones , loss , battles and foreign lands which they had visited.
Even Queen Elizabeth I composed a sea shanty in 1588 to celebrate the victory over the Spanish Armada.
You don’t need to be a salty sea dog to enjoy this genre of music – you don’t even need a beard and a parrot (although I know that some of you have both). All you will need to do is to look at the diary for the local folk scene in this article... you’re bound to find opportunity to hear some music of the sea – and who knows , you may find a treasure !
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 20 –MILKMAIDLKMAID FOLK CLUB. Constitutional Club. 8pm. Members £10. Non mems. £8. Winter Wilson. Supported by Tarn.
OAKES BARN. St. Edmunds Day Celebrations in collaboration
with Quirkhouse Theatre. Pubs and Pilgrims, with characters from the past who will visit Oakes Barn to tell their stories.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 21 – WOOLPIT INSTITUTE. 7pm for 7.30pm. £5. Cakes, tea and coffee by Teacups or bring your own. ‘Peter Twitchett and Friends’ with Skylarking Ceilidh Band, Green Shoots, Keith Cilvert and Gayle Wade. In aid of the Stroke Association. Contact Peter 01284 241618 or Lionel
OAKES BARN. 2nd Anniversary celebrations. ‘Clinical Waste’.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 22 – BLACK FEN FOLK CLUB. 7pm. Check before going.
OAKES BARN. Music for all tastes throughout the day.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 24 – POETS ALOUD. Bay Tree Cafe, St Johns St. 7.30pm. £2 on door. Offers a sympathetic platform to local poets. First time readers very welcome. Contact Rob www.poetryaloud.org.uk or 01284 701947
THURSDAY,NOVEMBER 26 – HORNINGSEA FOLK CLUB. Plough and Fleece. 8pm-11pm. Contact Tony 01638 741 743. Check before going.