Colin Cater of Mardles
reviews Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 1 by John ShortTom and Barbara Brown of Combe Martin, North Devon have assembled a singing crew in collaboration with Doug and Sue Bailey of WildGoose to bring back to life the songs of John Short of Watchet, a.k.a. Yankee Jack, in a three volume CD set of which this is the first. John Short sailed before the mast in the mid C19, the glory years of sail and was collected in the early C20 as an old man both by Cecil Sharp and Richard Runciman Terry. Although Short's On Board the Rosabella is now well known, most of his versions have faded from memory as a result of work undertaken largely by MacColl/Lloyd and Stan Hu gill in the 1960s / 70s, a situation that hopefully this project will reverse. 'Short
Sharp Shanties' stands favourable comparison with Topic's 'Farewell Nancy’ and other past compilations. Not many of the song versions have been aired anywhere recently and there are some rattling good performances. Keith Kendrick's languid concertina playing and singing (Sing Fare You Well, Poor Old Man particularly) mark him out as a master craftsman, while Jim Mageean's leathery old shellback Stormalong John is the work of a true Old Master. Tom Brown's Bully Boat (Ranzo) is a joy, while the banjo playing and gravelly singing of America's Jeff Warner (A Hundred Years on the Eastern Shore; Won't you go my way) will hopefully contribute more next time. Neither should anyone be sexist: Barbara Brown (Cheerly Man) is an excellent shantyman, while Jackie Oates does poignant beautifully closing the set with Tommy's Gone, ever more like Anne Briggs every time you hear her.
Although shanties / sea songs probably originated in the triangular trade between Britain, West Africa and the Americas (C17 19, they spread all over the world and reflect myriad musical traditions. Neither were they exclusively work songs as many originated in the pubs, bordellos and knocking shops on shore. This collection reflects this well ? also the fact that singing conventions have changed in England since the 1960s ? things are softer now and recreation is emphasised as much as work, a reality also recognised in the song interpretations offered here. Hopefully several festivals, both specialist shanty bashes and folk festivals will have the dosh to assemble this splendid crew to perform Short's shanties live, but if you like sea songs or dare I even say it, want to learn a new one, this CD is a more than worthwhile investment. Congratulations to all concerned in its making.