Tag Archives: sea songs

Two more songs for singing sailors

Two more sample recordings of songs from my temporary bedroom recording studio: John Connolly’s widely sung Fiddler’s Green, which is today so beloved by real-life fishermen, accompanied by my pre-war Hohner Erika melodeon, and the classic broken-token-my-love’s-a-sailor-but-he’s-been-gone-seven-years piece The Dark Eyed Sailor, which like many people I learned from the singing of Fred Jordan.

The eventual aim is eventually to make a CD – working title ‘Songs for singing sailors’ – that will hopefully be available through the usual commercial channels. We’re months away from that result, but I hope these samples tickle someone’s fancy!

Sea songs from Sails, Whales and Whiskey

Sails, Whales and Whiskey

Fancy getting all maritime as you huddle over your computer? You could do worse than download and play back Waiheke Radio’s weekly programme Sails, Whales and Whiskey.

Despite its hokey name, the New Zealand radio programme has the good taste to include some good singers of sea songs – last weeks playlist included Ewan McColl, Bert Lloyd, Seamus Ennis, The Shanty Crew and others.

Thanks to Chris Brady for pointing this one out.


The history of shanty singing

Pete Truin of the youthful shanty singing outfit The Ballina Whalers has written a thoughtful, informative article about the history of shanty singing. Great stuff Pete!

‘During this period of history, it has been said that there was an Irishman onboard every sailing ship of every nation and there can be no doubt that the prevailing folk song and ballad tradition in Western Europe gave rise to shanties with distinct narrative verses, often warning the sailors of the perils of venereal disease or unscrupulous landlords!’


‘The influence of African-American and West Indian work songs within the shantying tradition is profound, with many songs being closely related to plantation and railroad work songs in their structure, and many West Indian shantymen, such as Harry Lauder, being revered as excellent seamen and singers long after their passing. In the southern states of the USA, many European sailors rubbed shoulders and swapped songs with the dock workers loading their ships, when the hard work of screwing cotton bales down in the hold of the ships required both songs to haul the lifting tackle, and heaving songs to turn the heavy screws. Unlike the more narrative songs of the Liverpool-Irish tradition, the words of West Indian shanties were often improvised and interchangeable.’

I should add that The Ballina Whalers have a new album out…

Scottish cultural treasure to return to the Firth of Forth


Intheboatshed.net readers north of the border may be interested in this press release from American folklorist Bob Walser, who has been working to return ‘dreg song’ work songs used in the oyster fishery to the Firth of Forth.

I’m fascinated by the development, and particularly delighted that he has been able to join up with the Scottish Coastal Rowing movement, the progress of which I have often reported, and followed with interest since the building of the first St Ayles skiff. What’s more it sounds like a great night out!

After a Century, Scottish Cultural Treasure Returning to the Firth

Portobello, June 2012

‘On the 20th of June, an international collaboration will restore to the Firth of Forth the ancient ‘dreg songs’, unique traditions of the local oyster fishery. From 7:30pm, just off Portobello Promenade near the Dalriada Bar, Boatie Blest, Rowporty and Newhaven Coastal Rowing, three Scottish Coastal Rowing clubs, will offer their interpretations of these rowing songs both in their boats (weather permitting) and in the pub.

‘Using recently discovered wax cylinder recordings and typed texts from the 1920s and 30s the clubs will recreate these songs assisted by American folklorist Bob Walser. Wednesday evening will be the first singing of these songs on their home waters in a century!

‘To add to this festive occasion, Edinburgh Museums & Galleries will be bringing traditional fishwives costumes from Newhaven and a display of photographs related to fishing in the Firth.

‘Councillor Richard Lewis, culture and leisure convener, said: “Edinburgh Museums & Galleries are a real treasure trove of the city’s history. Our Newhaven collection is especially cherished by those who live or have lived in the area. This event will showcase some of the artefacts we hold in our collection, providing a fascinating insight into the lives of Newhaven residents from days gone by.”

‘In addition, a special ‘Dreg Songs Ale‘ has been brewed by Inveralmond Brewery and will be available on the night. Of course, a celebration of oyster fishing songs requires oysters and Michael Pollington of Pollington’s Fine Food and Drink has arranged with a local fishmonger to have fine Scottish oysters to enjoy.

‘This will be a truly historic occasion. Recognizing this, both Edinburgh Napier University and Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh will be sending students to document the evening, interview participants and create an archival record of this once-in-a-lifetime occasion.

‘The event is being created with the help of the James Madison Carpenter Collection Project, Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen and the Library of Congress (USA), which holds the wax cylinders where these songs were discovered. In addition to all the participants, thanks are due to the National Endowment for the Humanities (USA), the American Folklore Society and The British Academy for supporting the research that will enable these communities to celebrate their traditions in this unique way.

‘Come enjoy an evening by the Firth celebrating these unique and fascinating Scottish song traditions!’

Legendary sailing barge skipper Bob Roberts sings Johnny Todd

Skipper of the engine-less sailing barge Cambria from 1949, singer and musician, newspaperman and writer, old Bob Roberts was what you might call a multi-talented chap.

Read all about him at the East Anglian Music Trust website and at the Wikipedia, and read about his barge at the Cambria Trust’s web pages.

We spent a great evening singing and playing on board the now restored Cambria a few days ago, and look forward to returning some time.

More songs from Bob can be found here and here.