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Peter Crabbe-Wyke of Folk London

reviews Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 1 by John Short

In 1914 Cecil Sharp met John “Yankee Jack” Short of Watchet in Somerset. Mr Short was a former shantyman and gave Sharp over 60 shanties. These were remembered from a period decades earlier than when Stan Hugill was learning his repertoire so are often different from the versions that are sung today.

Tom and Barbara Brown were instrumental in starting a project to record the entire set, there will be 2 more CDs following this, and also to produce a book about Mr Short’s life.

This CD has eight different singers taking the shantyman role on the 18 tracks plus Doug Bailey and Brian Willoughby by helping on the choruses. Keith Kendrick opens the CD with Sing Fare You Well a capstan shanty in waltz time which he accompanies on concertina. This fades out at the end, as do several other tracks, which is a conceit that I find irritating although not enough to detract from the content. This is followed by Roger Watson with The Blackball Line with the sort of roof raising delivery that we generally regard as appropriate for shanties although that probably has more to do with the late great Johnny Collins than with historical accuracy.

Sam Lee and Jackie Oates make unlikely shantymen but Oates’ gentle delivery of Fire Down Below brings out the underlying double entendre beautifully.

Jeff Warner accompanies himself on banjo on Won’t You Go My Way with Jackie Oates on the chorus and puts it down for A Hundred Years on the Eastern Shore, a very fine halyard shanty.

I did wonder if there had been some bowdlerisation of the texts as there are a couple of shanties where the better known versions include language no longer thought acceptable but they have been true to the texts as noted by Sharp although Mr Short only had fragments of some songs and these have been filled out from other sources.

The other singers on the recording are Tom and Barbara Brown of course and Jim Mageean whose performances are as excellent as you would expect.

If you expect every shanty to be belted out at full volume then you are going to be a little disappointed with this. A good proportion go off in full bodied bar-room style but each singer gives his or her own interpretation which gives interesting variations and variety to the finished product. This CD comes with a buy recommendation not just for the shanty specialist but for the general listener too.