The proud local voices keeping maritime melodies alive
Sea shanties carry a rich maritime heritage that harks back to the days when merchant seamen would sing as they sailed. Thanks to a recent craze on social media, the beauty of these songs is being celebrated once more…
The resurgence of the classic sea shanty began in 2020, when Scottish Singer Nathan Evans uploaded a video of himself to the popular social media app TikTok performing a traditional tune called ‘The Scotsman’. Following his second release (a rendition of New Zealand folk song ‘The Wellerman’) countless requests for shanty songs poured in throughout the lockdown of 2021. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I would argue that sea shanties have become mainstream once again thanks to social media,” says Brian Farrow, Musical Director of The Sheringham Shantymen. “When we first started performing in 1988, we were one of the only groups in Norfolk and one of a handful across the UK.”
To put the increased appreciation for these traditional maritime tunes into perspective, Brian casts his mind back to his experience of singing at the first Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival (now the largest free nautical music festival in Europe) in 2003. “I remember there were only about half a dozen acts performing. One of which was Fisherman’s Friends, who went on to become the first ever traditional folk group to land a UK top ten album,” he says. “This year, by comparison, 78 groups performed at the event and there are hundreds of active acts across the UK.”
The movement has certainly had a positive impact on our coastal county, with skilled local singers passionately performing shanties that stretch back centuries.
However, there can be no doubt that The Sheringham Shantymen were well ahead of the times, with the ensemble celebrating their 33rd year as an official shanty group.
“In 1998, some Lifeboatmen and friends got together in Sheringham to form the Augusta Singers in order to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Augusta Lifeboat,” Brian says.
“We enjoyed the singing so much that we continued to perform locally and formed an official group in 1990. It was then we became The Sheringham Shantymen, with the name coined by one of our founding members, Billy Thirtle.”
ABOVE: Nelson’s Shantymen, resident shantymen of The Jolly Sailors (one of the venues where the festival will be taking place), will also be performing at this year’s event (left). Together with Simon Parkin (Manager of The Jolly Sailors), John Rodwell, and Steve and Sue Ireson, Sam Ireson from Nelson’s Shantymen helped organise the event (right).
They take pride in preserving pieces of maritime history by keeping traditional shanty songs alive
Since then, The Sheringham Shantymen have had the pleasure of performing at a range of venues and events across Norfolk and neighbouring counties. They take pride in preserving pieces of maritime history by keeping traditional shanty songs alive.
Along the way, the inspiring group has supported a plethora of well-deserving charities. This includes the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), who the performers have always had a very close connection with. Having supported the charity through a number of fundraising events over the years, the Shantymen have earned the honour of wearing the RNLI badge on their uniform. It’s a privilege the group are incredibly proud of, for they’re the only organisation outside the RNLI allowed to do so.
In September, the seasoned singers will join an amazing lineup of countrywide shanty groups to perform at the second ever Brancaster Staithe Sea Shanty Festival. This will raise further funds for two fantastic local charities, Hunstanton RNLI and Brancaster Coastwatch. “We are really looking forward to it,” says Brian. “It’s nice to finally have a festival in North Norfolk; an event where we can come together locally to enjoy sea shanties being brought to life.”
Running from the 15th - 17th of September across five locations (Brancaster Staithe Sailing Club, The Jolly Sailors in Brancaster Staithe, The White Horse in Brancaster Staithe, Brancaster Staithe Village Hall and Deepdale Church), this year’s entertaining programme will feature no less than 17 stellar acts.
“The 2023 Brancaster Staithe Sea Shanty Festival is going to be a huge event,” says Simon Parkin, Manager of The Jolly Sailors pub and one of the passionate festival organisers. “As well as The Sheringham Shantymen and our resident group Nelson’s Shantymen (who rehearse at The Jolly Sailors every Monday), we will have Sloop Groggy Dogs, Blakeney Old Wild Rovers, all-girl group The Silver Darlings, and more! It’s completely free to attend, with good music, merriment and sing-alongs guaranteed; an event not to be missed.”
At last year’s debut, the Festival raised £1500 for selected charities after an excellent turnout. This year, Sam Ireson from Nelson’s Shantymen (who has helped organise the shanty celebration along with Simon Parkin, John Rodwell, and Steve and Sue Ireson) hopes for even greater success. “We’ve pulled out all the stops to bring groups together to showcase their songs and keep shanty music alive,” he says. “It’s been a privilege to arrange and I can’t wait to perform alongside my family and friends on our home turf. It means so much to us all.”
To find out more about the event and view the full list of acts who will be performing, search Facebook for Brancaster Staithe Sea Shanty Festival. Further information about Nelson’s Shantymen can be found at nelsons-shantymen.co.uk and The Sheringham Shantymen at www.shantymen.com