What’s selling? Sea shanties

What’s selling? Sea shanties


norman lebrecht

January 17, 2021

A Tik-Tok video last July by a Scottish postman has provoked an explosion of Google searches for ‘sea shanties’ and the 9th fastest-growing interest on Reddit.

The postman, Nathan Evans, 26, has been all over national media, all the way down to BBC Radio 3. He seems quite bewildered by it all.

But people are bored during lockdown and the swaying rhythms of the song have a similar hypnotic effect to the Greagorian chant craze of some years back. It’s the music of the moment. Here’s what the fuss is about.

More here.


  • KEVIN C SUPER says:

    I’ve always liked this scene; it almost relates to NL’s wonderful post! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5l_04k_sLDM

  • Brettermeier says:

    Jedes Jahr – immer nur Planken,
    weißer Wal wir woll’n uns zanken,
    die Nase rot, der Bart voll Eis und Möven als Begleiter.

    Hurrah, wir sind auf Walfang,
    hurrah, den ganzen Tag lang,
    hurrah, und abends machen wir uns denn mit Rum dumm!


  • Don Pasquale says:

    He has an amazing rhythm.

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    The Sea Songs of Charles Dibdin went for $70 yesterday at the Raymond Leppard estate auction; John Francis Barnett’s Ancient Mariner cantata for just $60; Granville Bantock’s Hebridean Symphony score for $400; and Charles Stanford’s Irish Rhapsody No. 4 (The Fisherman of Loch Neagh and What He Saw) for $2,600. A very mixed market for seafaring music.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Very nice. What ;anguage is he singing? Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s songs of the fleet and the seaa by strling Gerald Finley and chorus on Chandos offer more formally such fare. and collectors will recall Robert Shaw’s Chorale LP of sea shanties. I thin there were also some by baritone Leonard Warren.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Fortunately the songs don’t burden the mind with too much sophistication.

    It’s liberating stuff for the locked-up over-educated.

    • V.Lind says:

      That sounds rather snide.

      I like a nice sea shanty. Of course I am locked up and over-educated, but I have enjoyed them since childhood. I could sing O Soave Fanciulla by the time I was 3, but it might just as easily be Poor Wand’ring One, Scotland the Brave, Ave Maria (either major version), Phil the Fluter’s Ball, Heidenröslein, or What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor.

      My mind was only burdened, by my musical parents, with an interest in all sorts of music. It was mostly classical, as well as religious music and the songs of my people (Scots descended from Irish) but had lots of room for G&S and some other popular music. If that makes me unsophisticated, so be it. Rather that than the intolerant I see so much around here.

      • John Borstlap says:

        But there’s nothing against being liberated, as there is nothing against simple songs. There’s even nothing against sea shanties, even if one tries very hard to find something. It’s only its popularity that is surprising. Probably it has something to do with the entirely unadultered rendering, as if coming from the remotest island, isolated from the world for centuries. It seems that such popularity explains something about collective desires of populations filled-up with efficient modernity that no longer works.

  • Edgar Self says:

    I love it and jus listened to it again,– true folk, pure, simple, sounding authentic and very engaging. Probably Scots dialect, related to erse or Gaelic, with Celtic blood, of which I have a drop.

    • Anon9 says:

      To be annoyingly pedantic, Scots is the language of the lowlands of Scotland, derived from (not a dialect of) Anglo-Saxon, whereas highland Gaelic is an unrelated Celtic language. The Lowland/Highland divide seems not to be well understood outside Scotland! Earlier twentieth-century scottish nationalists used to champion an extreme synthetic form of Lallans (lowland Scots), but few could understand it and it seems to have been quietly buried.
      Rabbie Burns wrote both in his native Scots and in standard literary English. But the words of this song are in fact universal English, though the accent is Scottish: “I thought I heard the old man say, Leave her Johnny, leave her. Tomorrow you will get your pay, and it’s time for us to leave her. … for the voyage is long and the winds don’t blow … I hate to sail on this rotten tub … no grog allowed and it’s rotten grub … we swore by rote for want of more … but now we’re through so we’ll go on shore, leave her Johnny, leave her”.
      Can modern working practices produce songs as powerful and enjoyable as these shanties?

    • V.Lind says:

      It’s just English, with a Scottish accent. I find it perfectly clear.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Thanks, Anon9 and V. Lind, for help with the words. They’re powerful, sure, wonderfully sung by Nathan Evans, and starting to get through to me.

  • Edgar Self says:

    With its whale’s tooth and rum, now I wish I knew the connexion Brettmeier’s ditty has with Nathan Evans’s shanty, which I’ve now heard for a fourth time. With Anon9’s text. and V.Lind’s encouragement, I can now just make out the English words and Scottish accent., which will now I think be unforgettable.