Ahoy! With the end of commercial sailing ships, many things were lost from a long period of Maritime history – well nearly! Trades, skills and memories of the men who worked them – but thankfully, due to a few dedicated individuals and groups many aspects of that lifestyle were saved.
Whilst the last working shantyman Stan Hugill was preparing to take on a new role in life, a chance accident (and a fit of temper!) led to his epic work “Shanties of the Seven Seas” which saved so many of the working songs used by the seamen, handling the ships. Many of the ships were broken up, but again small groups saved some and offered training to the new generation of young men and women - and amongst these was one which became the Ocean Youth Club. Stan was always prepared to help and teach the traditional working songs to these young people.
Enter The Spinners! One of their most popular programmes was when they teamed up with the Ocean Youth Club on board one of their Tall Ships – singing the songs (many learned from their old friend Stan) – the inevitable LP record was produced and ignited a genuine interest in this part of the folk music tradition. Shanty singing groups started to be formed and many others followed on – it is true that a certain super well known Cornish group were asked to do a shanty set, they panicked “we don’t know any !” but a quick purchase of the Spinners record “ Songs of the Tall Ships “soon solved that problem – and as they say the rest is history.
The ever increasing growth of Shanty groups, and keen listeners, led to Shanty Festivals being held all over the UK, Europe and America and, also encouraged new songs being added to the repertoire of the crews – these were not shanties in the strictest sense of the word, but forebitters, songs of the sea, ballads and tales of love.
It is amazing that from the days of the only sea song being known by most people was “what shall we do with a drunken sailor” in its many, and often bawdy, versions, sea songs have become loved and prized by so many people.
This festival here in Falmouth is a living testament, to the wealth of international nautical music that we now have and this festival is a special chance to look at what has been achieved over the last 30 or so years -we have the surviving Spinners – that well known Cornish group – and so many of the best from all corners of the world. To use another nautical term – onwards and upwards!!!