Occasionally on this blog I touch on music I’m listening to. I’ve been delighted to see the uptake of sea songs and sea shanties on the internet. It’s such a great source of shareable – people being able to sing together without a lot of skill required – music. It made me think back over some of the tunes that I sang the kids at bedtime.
There are lots of great resources on sea songs. I used the Digital Tradition database to find the words for songs I *mostly* learned growing up. The keepers were printed out and put in a binder I kept in the kids bedroom.
The research was fun too. I sang them The Golden Vanity but it was this footnote that I’ve always remembered, often better than the lyrics:
This has got to be the only version of this song song that plugs life jackets. It’s also typical of the Canada penchant for providing tidy retribution in ballads
Digital Tradition Mirror, The Golden Vanity
It’s become a bit of a joke that they were brought up on songs involving murder, drinking, and the like. I’d tweak some words but, for the most part, the song and singability would outweigh the prurience. Some of our favorite sea songs came from non-shantymen.
The Pogues – South Australia
This is a true sea shanty, a work song. The occasional screams and a pace you couldn’t possibly work at bring it back into the normal Pogues approach. Simple choruses aren’t just for kids.
Great Big Sea – General Taylor
When we moved to Canada, we immersed ourselves in Canadiana. At the moment, Great Big Sea was going great guns and we enjoyed their music. “General Taylor” is a good, simple sing-a-long. “The Old Polina” was another favorite, and a great example of the great variety of naming and words, when you compare it to “The Baleana“.
Assassin’s Creed – Captain Kidd
One of the enjoyable parts of the non-work songs is that the baddie gets his just deserts. As Ms. Prism says in The Importance of Being Earnest,
The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.”
It was enjoyable, then, to see the kids start to run into songs like Captain Kidd (Great Big Sea has a good version) in their own lives. Like computer games!
So I am enjoying this general sharing of songs we’ve enjoyed in our own family. It’s a bit sentimental. But there’s also a simple joy to it all.
Even Machine Learning
There’s always a machine learning angle these days. I had to laugh when I saw the Wellerman song added to a meme photo to make this memorable, albeit creepy, video.
Get Your Own
I’m obviously a fan. If you are looking for some good sea songs, here are some ideas. Bandcamp is running one of its regular Artist Fridays – all the money goes to the artist – on February 5. You might try The Longest Johns, source of the current “Wellerman” hype.
Another Bandcamp artist is one of my long time favorites, John Roberts. I’ve literally been listening to his music since the mid 1970s. His Ye Mariners All is a particularly good collection of tunes.
Smithsonian Folkways is also a great source of shanties. Their sea songs are mixed in with shanties from other contexts – like Ontario logging camps – but the classics are all here. If you want to go all-in, a Louis Killen & Stan Hugill recording is what you want. Hugill was known as “The Last Working Shantyman” and his songs are captured in a book, Shanties from the Seven Seas.
Then spin the music up and sing along.