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July 6, 2011

Waves of emotion: what makes a great sea shanty?

The Guardian (UK):

Out on the bay, the boats are jostling in the breeze, rain speckling their pale masts and the bright red buoys. Back on land, in the low-lit warmth of the Chain Locker pub, a group called Bone Idol have just taken to the stage: eight men in jeans, polo shirts and comfortable shoes, looking entirely ordinary until they start to sing. "Let your harbour lights keep burning," they begin, a rich, stirring sound. A man in a pirate hat stops stock still in the middle of the pub, clutches his tankard to his breast and cocks his head. "Send your beam across the way," they sing on. "Some poor faint and struggling seaman, you may rescue, you may save."

Now in its seventh year, the Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival draws hundreds of performers to this idyllic corner of Cornwall. Organised by local shantyers the Falmouth Shout, and with proceeds donated to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, for three days the town is transformed. From the Custom House Quay down to the new harbour-front development, and all through the taverns that line the shore, some 30 shanty groups perform. Some are dancing, some in costume, others armed only with a pint of grog, but all of them are singing songs of the sea.

The festival draws a diverse crowd – music fans, seasoned cagoule-wearers, ale-drinkers, women in Breton-striped tops. They fill up the bars and join in on the choruses, tales of fair Nancy left behind, of liquor and maidens and days spent a-roving and stamping-and-hauling.

The sea shanty began as a work song, its rhythms marked by the various tasks undertaken at sea: raising anchors, hauling ropes, the emphasis falling on particular syllables. Most followed the pattern of call and response, with a shantyman calling out the line and the men joining in on the chorus – usually coinciding with a heave. They helped synchronise a team and chronicle their adventures at sea and ashore.There are various types of shanty — among them the steady-rhythmed, narrative capstan shanty, performed while raising the anchor. There is the halyard shanty, sung during the raising and lowering of the sails; and the pumping shanties, sung as the sailors pumped the handle of the windlass. Musically, the shanties vary, some sharing features in common with the gaillard or West African work songs. There are regional variations, too — the shanties of Brittany, for instance, have more in common with those of the Cornish coast than those of North East England.

Read more.

Although I strongly dislike it when people chew gum while singing I think that singing while drinking beer is most agreeable. On a close to 100 degree day here in California those pints look mighty appealing.

Posted by acapnews at July 6, 2011 12:00 AM


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