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Sea Shanty Days

"🎶 What shall we do with the drunken sailor,
What shall we do with the drunken sailor,
Put him in the long boat 'til he's sober.
Early in the Morning?"

~ Traditional

This is the season for many Sea Shanty Singing Festivals including the famous Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival, the largest free nautical music and song festival in Europe! Many sea shanties date back to the Golden Age of Sail, the period dating from the mid-16th (or 15th) through the mid-19th centuries, during which sailing ships dominated the world of global trade and warfare prior to the Age of Steam. A sea shanty, chantey, or chantyis a genre of traditional folk song, commonly sung as a work song to accompany rhythmical labor aboard large merchant sailing vessels. They were found mostly on British and other European ships, and some had roots in lore and legend. Many maritime work tasks required a coordinated group effort in either a pulling or pushing action, included weighing anchor, setting sail, or heaving actions, such as winding its rope around a capstan. One of the most well known is the "Drunken Sailor", which is thought to be one of the few shanties allowed in the Royal Navy! ⚓ 🎵

As original work songs, sea shanties usually had a chorus of some sort, in order to allow the crew to sing all together. Many shanties had a "call and response" format, with one voice (the shantyman) singing the solo lines and the rest of the sailors bellowing short refrains in response (compare military cadence calls).  The shantyman was a regular sailor, usually self-appointed,  who led the others in singing. 




'Blow the Man Down' is a well-known halyard shanty, used for hoisting sails and 'pulling' activities, was particularly well used between 1840 and 1870 on packet ships. It makes reference to the infamous 'Black Ball Line', one of the first commercial shipping ventures between Liverpool and New York across the Atlantic ocean. It was notorious for being brutal to its crew members, and references to it crop up in many other shanties – including one called 'The Black Ball Line'.


For more on sea shanties, click the sailors!