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"Nowadays a chantey is worth 1000 songs on an iPod"
June 15, 2009 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Stan Hugill, often known as "The Last Shantyman," authored a book called Shanties From the Seven Seas, based on his own work experiences in the last days of sail. Influential in the folk revival, the book is one of the most important written sources for music sung aboard ships in the 19th and early 20th century, the "Bible" of sea music. Decades of chanteying in pubs and at festivals have kept many of the songs alive, but in most cases they've strayed stylistically from the verses and versions Hugill collected, or dropped out of popularity entirely. Now, one musician is returning to the source and creating a new audio archive for the original versions of the songs as written, by singing through the more than 400 songs in the book, one song each week, and posting the songs on YouTube, with commentary.

In case it's confusing, the British spell it "shanty/ shanties/ shantyman" and the Americans tend to spell it "chantey/ chanteys/ chanteyman."
posted by Miko (28 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great stuff! Thanks for posting this.
posted by RussHy at 8:52 AM on June 15, 2009


May Davy Jones take ye, Miko. I had work to get done this week. Instead I'm going to be staring at YouTube with headphones on, surrounded by piles of shanty books, taking notes and compiling and arranging lyrics. I may, or may not, take periodic breaks to go to the bathroom. When it's all done, I'm going to have tendinitis in both arms, a sore neck, an aching back and an utterly insensate arse.

This is all your fault.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:04 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm going to have tendinitis in both arms, a sore neck, an aching back and an utterly insensate arse.

Quit yer snivelin', ye lily-livered sojerin' wretch! Er ye'll taste the cat!
posted by Miko at 9:11 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


P.S. I met the musician at a festival last weekend, which is how I learned of the project. A really cool and interesting guy. I like his notes on the songs, too, showing he has a scholarly as well as musical interest. He knows the genre very well.
posted by Miko at 9:12 AM on June 15, 2009


I wonder how many of these songs live on as lewd songs that are revised to appeal to a certain group (replacing the original character names with a group's own name, or something of the sort), or if those "current renditions" are just awkward attempts at creating new shanties.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:13 AM on June 15, 2009


I'm going to have tendinitis in both arms, a sore neck, an aching back and an utterly insensate arse.

Enough of your love life, we're all about the music!

Another youtube folk singer with hundreds of videos is Raymond Crooke
posted by criticalbill at 9:17 AM on June 15, 2009


Great post, Miko.

The shanty vs. chanty thing is interesting. I'm an American and kind of a music nerd, and yet I've never, ever, ever even seen the word "chanty" until this morning, much less been aware of any color/colour-ish cultural divide there.

You'd think it would be just the opposite -- that Brits would be more likely to use "chanty," as I'm assuming it comes from the French chanson.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:20 AM on June 15, 2009


I'm assuming it comes from the French chanson.

There's debate
. The standard story is that it comes from the command, in French, "sing!" = "chantez," which sounded like "chantey" to British sailors. But there's honestly not enough documentation to state that for certain, though it seems likely. There are other stories about how it derived from the shacks sailors and lumbermen lived in, but that's probably an apocryphal derivation. More here. And in fact the word "chantey" wasn't even used that often, apparently, when the songs were just work songs sung aboard ship. So ultimately it becomes a style decision. Where I used to work a staffer conducted a fair survey of usages and the museum determined it would go with "chantey," as have most US print sources.
posted by Miko at 9:26 AM on June 15, 2009


I wonder how many of these songs live on as lewd songs

Me, too. I kind of suspect that certain rugby songs have their origins in this kind of thing. On the other hand, those wouldn't be chanteys exactly - chanteys are only the songs sung while working. The entertainment songs are a different classification, and I think a lot of today's bawdy songs sung in groups like that are descendents of the entertainment song tradition rather than chanteys.
posted by Miko at 9:29 AM on June 15, 2009


If football chants are anything to go by, all are derived from popular tunes that much of the crowd already knows, either old or new, and then the words filled in with the relevant lyrics
posted by criticalbill at 9:34 AM on June 15, 2009


Stan Rogers! Shoo!
posted by anthill at 9:36 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I give this post 4 "argh!"-s.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:52 AM on June 15, 2009


Here's a song I had in mind (NSFW, if people are reading over your shoulder), but altered for a fraternity. For whatever reason, a variation of this song is sung before local Rocky Horror Picture Show events. It's not based on any common song (as far as I know), but has a cliched "yo ho, yo ho" in the chorus.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:59 AM on June 15, 2009


filthy light theif - that's definitely based on "A-Rovin'," which is the first song in the YouTube collection posted. The verses usually sung to this tune are basically identical to the ones in your song - the "progressive verses" where the singer progresses from waist to thigh to leg to knee etc. In Hugill's version he leaves a lot of the potential verses out. One of the frustrating things about his collection is that he mentions a lot of verses that he calls "unprintable," so it's sometimes bowdlerized - not that what's left is something you'd send to grandma. But that song you linked is definitely a variant of A-Rovin'. Nasty, too.
posted by Miko at 10:17 AM on June 15, 2009


When it's all done, I'm going to have tendinitis in both arms, a sore neck, an aching back and an utterly insensate arse.
posted by Faint of Butt

Eponysterical.
posted by hippybear at 10:20 AM on June 15, 2009


Google has a (partially available) scan of the book as well.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 11:42 AM on June 15, 2009


Woo hoo. I'll be breaking out the old concertinas, and chanteying away.
posted by LucretiusJones at 12:18 PM on June 15, 2009


Fantastic post—thanks!
posted by languagehat at 12:27 PM on June 15, 2009


Someone alert Colin Meloy!
posted by educatedslacker at 12:38 PM on June 15, 2009


I came in here for a Decemberists joke and I guess I am sort of satisfied
posted by danny the boy at 1:07 PM on June 15, 2009


So I don't know the Decemberists well enough to know why this would be associated with them. I've heard a lot of their music and like it, and without a doubt they are deeply influenced - no, consciously drawing from - traditional music. But I haven't heard anything that sounds like or is inspired by a chantey. Can someone explain?
posted by Miko at 1:12 PM on June 15, 2009


Somebody alert Ron Fields!
posted by Sculthorpe at 1:37 PM on June 15, 2009


This is terrific, Miko, thank you! (I am a Decemberists fan and there are a number of songs in their catalogue that would be perfectly at home somewhere on the bounding main, so that's the connection people are making. Also, Jenny Conlee plays the accordian and concertina in many of their earlier songs, so you get that "sound.")
posted by chihiro at 1:48 PM on June 15, 2009


I am a Decemberists fan and there are a number of songs in their catalogue that would be perfectly at home somewhere on the bounding main, so that's the connection people are making.

I guess it's confusing to people coming from the actual tradition to compare those songs to chanteys. They're contemporary singer-songwriter compositions, and I agree that they have that 'sound', but once you start finding your way around the genre of sea music it's clear that they can't be called chanteys. Definitely sea music (non-chantey) seems to be an influence on them, but it's more the popular, entertaining 19th-century recreational songs that they refer to, rather than chanteys. Unless there are some I'm missing that are really designed to fit and support a specific work cadence.
posted by Miko at 2:15 PM on June 15, 2009


Great post--thanks!
posted by Hop123 at 5:05 PM on June 15, 2009


The clancy brothers introduced me to shanty/chanty singing, with their album The Wild & Wasteful Ocean. You can listen to clips on that amazon link, but their version of the song that gives the album its title always sends shivers up my spine for some reason.
Great post.
posted by kev23f at 3:54 AM on June 16, 2009


I was introduced to this genre years ago, by none other than Donny-the-Punk. He was in to them big-time for awhile, back in the 70's. I'm trying to recall some lyrics, and they're all NSFW, else they'd not be proper chantys (and Donny wouldn't have liked them). These undoubtedly were the choruses:

"Bum rules the navy!
Bum rules the Sea!
If you want a bit of bum
you better get it from your chum
cuz you won't get no bum from me!

"Aboard the good ship Davis
You really should have seen us!
With the figure head
of a whore in bed!
And the mast of a phallic genius!"

Oh, and a remembered verse from another:
"First we set sail for the Canaries!
With a cargo of 47 faeries.
We screwed around in the bunks
With those 46 punks.
And that's how we set sail!

It happens that Donny served honorably as a Radioman, in the US Navy. He had a 'thing' for nautical stuff. The night I met him was a Halloween dance, and he was wearing traditional 'Crackerjack' dress blues. I was intrigued, since I was myself in the Navy at that time. We left that dance, together. ;-)
posted by Goofyy at 10:46 AM on June 16, 2009


People interested in the bawdier side of the shanty might be interested in the book What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor, a collection of "unexpurgated sea chanties." (Although I now notice that it's out of print and ridiculously priced even used.)
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 1:38 AM on June 20, 2009


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