Sea Shanties

The Folk Culture of Sea Shanties

The shanty is mainly a work song or chant, used to ease the work of men aboard ships in days of old when most of the daily activities had to be done by hand sailors found that if done with a certain rhythm, hauling on lines became less arduous and monotonous for the men.
Many of the lyrics were very bawdy, or at least had double meanings. Over time they changed, new verses were added, and others faded into oblivion.
Work on ships today no longer depends on direct manpower. Modern rigging is no longer done by hand by a group of sailors and the shanty has become redundant. Some decades ago, it seems that the shanty moved from the sea to the museum.

Another type of sea song however survived the scourge of modern times…

The Forebitter

This was a kind of ballad sung by sailors after the work was done; musical stories about the ladies, the foreign harbours, the longing for home and so on. These were adapted by modern folksingers, and with the Forebitter, the shanties returned, now no longer on the ships but in folk concerts and often sung by groups of amateurs that had some relation to the sea eg. retired seamen, pilots, fishermen, lifeboat crews, or simply men living close to the ocean.

Yes… it’s a man thing, this shanty singing, and shows that singing can be a very manly hobby! Our weekly rehearsals with a chat, a beer and a few sturdy songs keep us out from under our partners’ feet and, although just sitting on the sofa watching football, rugby or one murder after another can be fun, so is keeping an old tradition alive… plus singing out is much better for your lungs!


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