John Short, otherwise known as Yankee Jack, sitting on the breakwater
at Watchet. Thanks to the EFDSS/Cecil Sharp Collection for
allowing us to use this image
The John Short statue by the harbour at Watchet
Still on the theme of Watchet, I’d like to introduce readers to a man I hadn’t even heard of until my parents decided to buy a holiday cottage in the little town some years ago.
My ignorance that was my loss. John Short is commemorated in Watchet as Yankee Jack (he earned the nickname sailing in Yankee ships during the American Civil War) and is remembered for being a great seaman. However, he was an even greater singer: Yankee Jack had a tremendous memory and had learned many songs during a widely-travelled seagoing career. In fact, he provided the English folk song collector Cecil Sharp with a splendid collection of sea songs and shanties, many of which have become the standard versions we still know today.
These days, John Short the sailor and singer is represented by a fine statue by the harbour in Watchet, but I think his greatest memorial must be the songs, which from Sharp he sang in fine style with lots of melisma – that is, frequent changes of note within syllables. I only wish I knew of recordings that we could hear!
There’s an impressive list of his songs at the English Folk Dance & Song Society website.