Category Archives: Culture: songs, stories, photography and art

Traditions and culture relevant to the world of real boating and sailors

John MacAulay, Hebridean boatbuilder with an interesting theory

Like many Brits I’ve been enjoying the BBC television series Coast, which is made up of interesting segments about various stretches of our coastline. It’s been good stuff most of the time, and has covered areas of our coast most people never get near, such as Spurn Point, and it has often been illuminating and informative.

If I was to make a complaint it would be that at times I have felt the influence of middle-class London youngsters laughing just a little too hard at people who live or holiday at Northern seaside resorts. Directed largely from London as it is, I suppose we should not be surprised that the BBC should be like this from time to time.

Watching this otherwise very enjoyable piece of television couple of weeks ago, I noticed a segment on the Hebridean boatbuilder John MacAulay, and was inspired to use Google to see what I could discover about him.

Here are the BBC’s notes from the programme:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/coast/programmes2/07-outer-hebrides.shtml

Here’s what I found when I Googled for John Macaulay. First, here’s a picture of his yard:
http://www.pbase.com/dwerner/image/50645025

Here’s a scrap of video from the film Am Baile in which he talks about boatbuilding and his ambition to pass his skills on to a younger generation:
http://www.ambaile.org.uk/en/item/item_videofilm.jsp?item_id=18182

The way that Google can broaden one’s perspective of people can be wonderful. Here’s a review of MacAulay’s book making the plausible argument that all those songs, stories and legends about seal people were based on real encounters with a kayak-using people who used to be seen along the Scottish coast:
Seal-folk and Ocean Paddlers: Sliochd Nan Ron

I’m reminded of all those Australian Aboriginal stories about giant creatures that seem to be supported by fossil evidence – or was it that the fossils were the source of the stories?

Anyway, in case you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, here are some sites that may give some insight:
http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/selkiefolk/index.html

There are lots of these stories and ballads. Here’s one recorded by the Oxford book of ballads of 1910:

http://www.bartleby.com/243/31.html

And here’s the Child Ballads version:
http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch113.htm

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More great songs from Keith Kendrick and friends

Tonight, I think it’s time for a couple more sea songs from the great Keith Kendrick.

The Lowlands of Holland is from his latest CD on the Wildgoose label Songs from the Derbyshire Coast; it’s not a shanty, but a forebitter and designed for a much more contemplative purpose.

The second, South Australia from the album All Tied Up puts us straight back into shanty territory. Keith sings here with the singing trio Three Sheets to the Wind, a top-drawer example of how to perform maritime music for entertainment without betraying the authenticity of the genre. Their approach is raucous yet harmonious and with lashings of zany humour – and, like Keith himself, they are in demand for concerts all over the world.

Lowlands of Holland.mp3
South Australia.mp3

Songs from the Derbyshire Coast and All Tied Up are available from Keith’s CD site:

http://www.keithkendrick.com/

Keith Kendrick, singer of sea songs and concertina player

Photo by Andrew D C Basford (2006)

sea songs, chanties, chanteys, forebitters

Nelson’s Praise: a legacy of music

Two hundred years after his death, Admiral Nelson continues to fascinate and inspire the British. One aspect of his legacy that is not often mentioned is the fist-full of songs and dance tunes composed in his memory – or at least re-named after him.

A little time ago, I wrote a short article for the English Folk Dance & Song Society’s magazine about this material, and about the kinds of music and dancing that would have been popular among the seamen of Nelson’s time.

For the article, see:

eds_autumn05_pp8-10.pdf

For the magazine, see:
http://eds.efdss.org

Sailors; Nelson; music; dancing