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

Time to wet your whistle and let out a song

Tonight, I think it’s about time we had some music on the intheboatshed blog. Boating isn’t just about boats and sheds, boatbuilding or restoration, or even about navigating your boat – it’s also about a rich tapestry of personalities and culture.So tonight we have sea songs from my old friend Keith Kendrick. I hope Keith won’t mind when I say that with his dangerous smile he has something piratical about him and that when he sings with his concertina, he looks every inch everyone’s idea of the old fashioned sailor man. I’m sure he won’t mind when I say he’s a great singer of sea songs, as the MP3s I’m posting tonight will prove.

Ironically, Keith is a land-lubber by birth, originally hailing from the English county of Derbyshire and still living there today. Despite this, he did live on the East Kent coast for eight years where he was able to nurture more effectively an already strong leaning towards all things maritime. He has a long established and well documented history of performing and recording all kinds of music of the sea worldwide both solo and with various collaborations over forty years!

Keith is clearly passion-driven in his performance of sea shanties, fore-bitters and various other maritime related material including dance tunes on the English and Anglo concertinas.

He draws his influence from the old sailors and source singers of the material like: Stan Hugill (the last real shanty man), Bob Roberts and Cyril Tawney to name just three.

All of these three great singing heroes are now sadly gone and singers who have really studied their singing styles and songs, such as Keith, play an important role in carrying their legacy forward.

Listen in particular for the breaks and turns in his voice in the shanty set, for example – they’re one of the keys to real shanty singing.

Here are two tracks from his latest CD on the Wildgoose label Songs from the Derbyshire Coast. The first is the shanty Bold Riley (I’ve read somewhere that it’s a halyard shanty) and a set of three shanties, A Hundred Years Ago, Essiquibo River, and Rolling Down the Bay to Juliana. The files will take a moment to download but I can assure you that they’re well worth the short wait – this is shanty singing with real class.

Bold Riley is a windlass shanty that started life making the sugar run from the West Indies to the UK. Who ‘Riley’ was, unfortunately, is anybody’s guess.

A Hundred Years Ago is to one of two melodies commonly associated with this halyard Shanty from the USA – the other one is English in origin and both can be found in Stan Hugill’s seminal book, ‘Shanties From The Seven Seas’. Two other shanties: ‘A Long Time Ago’ and ‘Leave Her Johnny Leave Her’, share the same metre and are likely its two closest relatives.

The name of the Essiquibo River gives away the West Indian origins of this song – it would likely have been used originally inland for heavy shifting work and would have been lead by a Negro ‘shantyman’ eventually finding it’s inevitable way to sea where it’s use would need little adaptation. I take this at a slightly faster lick than it would have been sung in a working context.

Among the shanty set, I guess Rolling Down the Bay to Juliana, sometimes called Emma, is probably the least well known. It’s nevertheless one of the best halyard shanties around, and Keith tells me he believes it was collected in the early 1950s by folklorist A L Lloyd from ex-sailor Ted Howard. Ted, it is said, was on his death bed in a sailors’ hospital surrounded by all his shipmates when he sang this to Mr Lloyd. Apparently, his dying words were ‘Strike up South Australia and let me die happy!’

Bold Riley

Shanty set

Songs from the Derbyshire coast is available here:
http://www.guestlistwebarts.co.uk/eyup/cds.htm

More songs from Keith and friends:
https://intheboatshed.net/?p=78

A song from me:
https://intheboatshed.net/?p=609

Keith Kendrick, singer of sea songs and concertina player

Photo by Andrew D C Basford (2006)