Shanties and Sea Songs
Shanties could also help provide a way for sailors to express themselves without much fear of punishment. Basically, there are two kinds of shanties. First are the work shanties: the short drag, short haul, halyard, windlass, or capstan. Second are the forecastle or fo'castle shanties. These generally are the ballads or tell of some historical event. They get there name from the part of the ship where the singing usually took place: the forecastle, which was the crew's quarters. The ballads typically describe the hardships of life aboard the tallships, about the harsh treatment by their superiors, the good or bad properties of the ship or about the sailors ties with the shore. Some of these ballads started out as working songs by landlubbers like woodcutters, railway and farm workers, blacksmiths, and golddiggers. Still others were sung by slaves loading and unloading cargo. When steam and diesel powered ships entered service and began to replace more and more of the great ships of sail toward the end of the 19th century, the use of shanties and the jobs of the shantymen began to decline.
Below is a clickable list to a few of the more popular songs and lyrics. They represent only a fraction of the many shanties and sea songs. Some of these songs below were used during that era, and others are modern creations. I have compiled this list to give you a sense of what the songs were like and a feel for that period in time. The lyrics used are not 'set in stone'. In some cases I have tried to use non-offensive versions for this site, as these old songs could at times be vulgar, and would not be accepted by todays moronic censorship standards. The shanteymen themselves would often adapt a songs lyrics based on the task required to be done. The verses could be sung in any order or words altered, added or deleted. Some songs below include a brief bit of information about the song, and I have added an audio version where possible. The music on this website was designed to be heard with one of the following "up to date" internet browsers: Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Chrome, or Safari. It is unclear if pirates in the golden age of piracy(1650s to 1730), made much use of work type shanties. But some crews probably did sing the forecastle ballads, and sea songs that were popular in their own time for pleasure.
Types of Shanties
Capstan shanties were used for long repetitive tasks, that simply need a sustained rhythm. Raising or lowering the anchor while winding up the heavy anchor chain was their prime use. This winding was done by pushing round and round at the capstan bars, which required a long and continuous effort. These are the most devloped of the work shanties. Capstan shanties had steady rhythms and usually told stories because of the length of time (which could be hours) it took to raise the anchor. Sailors would stamp on the deck on the words. This gave rise to the term, "stamp and go chanties."
Halyard (or Long Drag) shanties were sung to the raising and lowering of sails. Sails hung from wooden cross-pieces called yards. With the canvas and wood, sails could weigh between 1,000 and 2,500 pounds. To set sail a member of the crew would climb the rigging to loosen the canvas. On deck the crew would take hold of a line called the halyard (for haul + yard). The crew would rest during the verse and haul during the chorus. Depending on the weight of the sail, crews could pull one (for heavy jobs) to three (for lighter jobs) times per chorus.
SHORT DRAG SHANTY
Short drag (or short haul) shanties were for tasks requiring quick pulls over a relatively short time, such as shortening or unfurling sails, and raising the masthead.
Sailors would pump handles up and down, making the barrel of the windlass rotate to bring the anchor chain up. Pumps were fitting in ships to empty the bilge (the lowest part of the ship) of water. Wooden ships leaked, but not so fast that the crew could not pump the water out. There were several different types of pumps, which accounts for the variation in the timing of pumping shanties.
Ceremonial and forecastle (the crews quarters) songs were those sung by sailors on their time off in the evening, when the work was done. These generally are the ballads or told stories of famous men, battles, romance, of their longing for home or just plain funny songs. Singing was a favored method of relaxation aboard ship. Ceremonial shanties were for times of celebration, such as when the sailor paid off his debt to the ship or when they crossed the equator.
Pirate and Nautical Musical Groups
* Baggyrinkle: Swansea Shantymen - Group sings a mixture of shanties and maritime songs.
* The Bilge Pumps - Pirate music group that specialize in sea songs, shanties, and celtic tunes.
* Bounding Main - A costumed vocal group that sings harmonic versions of traditional maritime songs.
* The Brigands - This pirate themed musical group performs sea songs and shanties.
* The Crimson Pirates - Performs a mix of sea shanties, sailing songs, Irish drinking songs and renaissance faire song standards.
* Exmouth Shanty Men - Devon's original buoy band, sings a mixture of shanties and sailing songs.
* Flash Packet - Sings traditional maritime and shanties.
* Hanging Johnny - UK group that performs shanties and sea songs.
The Irish Rovers - Classic folk band has been a favorite for decades.
* The Johnson Girls - This all girl east coast group performs sea songs.
* The Jolly Rogers - A pirate-themed renaissance folk group that performs traditional sea shanties and humorous songs.
* The Jolly Rogues - Sing sea shanties and nautical tunes.
* Tom Kastle - Singer and tall ship sailor. Contributor to Pirates Magazine.
* Kimber's Men - Sing traditional sea songs and shanties.
* Mallory and McCall/ The Skeleton Crew Pirate Band - Perform a wide variety of nautical and Irish tunes.
* Marooned - Sings sea shanties, Irish folk songs, and drinking tunes.
* Monkey's Orphan - British group singing shanties and maritime music.
* The Musical Blades - A comedy/song/swordplay traveling pirate show.
* The Pirate Flags - US band gives a modern twist to shanties and maritime songs.
* The Pyrates Royale - Plays a mix of traditional and modern acoustic maritime music.
* Rum and Shrub Shantymen - UK group performs shanties, maritime and traditional folk songs.
* Rusty Cutlass - Florida band performs authentic Sea Shanties, Pirate songs, Traditional Irish tunes, Tavern songs, and more.
* Salty Walt & The Rattlin' Ratlines - San Francisco sea shanty and sea song group.
* The Seadogs - Group performs nautical music, with comedy and theatrics. Located in California, USA.
* The Shifty Sailors - Whidbey Island, Washington based sea shanty and maritime music group.
* Ship's Company: Chanteymen - US east coast performers.
* The Sons of the Buccaneers - Performs sea songs and piratical tunes.
Tom Mason & the Blue Buccaneers - Band based in Nashville, TN.
* Trim Rig and a Doxy - UK shanty duo.
* William Pint and Felicia Dale - Music of the sea.
Documentary: British Shanties and Sea Songs
This Webpage Was Last Updated On: Apr 9, 2017
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