This weekend I was lucky to meet Dan Worrall, an anglo concertina player from Texas who has written a series of fascinating articles about the instrument.
His latest paper examining the widely-held perception that the instrument has a strong connection with sailors is required reading for those of us with an interest in sea songs and music!
For some years there has been a widely held view that the ‘tina-playing sailor was a myth – they might bring a concertina bought on the quayside home as a present, but they would be impractical instruments on a boat because steel reeds would be subject to corrosion. With no real evidence to work from, I tended towards this view myself.
However, from the evidence Dan has found, it turns out that sailors in times past did play concertinas. In a way, that should be no surprise when one considers the limited options sailors have had for entertainment during their precious leisure hours at sea – ask a ex-merchant navy seaman over fifty years old who remembers voyages made before video players were widely available, and he’ll usually tell you how important music making was on board ship.
That being so, then why shouldn’t an instrument as popular as the anglo concertina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries be an important part of the music-making scene on board ship, if a way can be found of keeping the instrument dry? After all, many types of instruments are susceptible to damage from damp and salt, not least the fiddle.
For shanties and other sea songs, see Stan Hugill’s books at ABE Books