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Chris (Yorkie) Bartram of Shreds and Patches

reviews Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 1 by John Short

This is the first of three CDs of shanties from John Short of Watchet in Somerset collected in 1914 by Cecil Sharp. Short – Sharp – Shanties; get it?

Well, apart from the title, it’s a terrific CD. These are interestingly different versions of shanties collected from a man who had sung them countless times on board working ships. They are full of the genuine rhythms and concerns of work-songs. Various Artists, in this case, means Jim Mageean, Jeff Warner, Keith Kendrick, Tom and Barbara Brown, Jackie Oates, Roger Watson and Sam Lee with additional backing vocals by Brian Willoughby and Doug Bailey. With a list like that you can be assured of a high standard of performance.

In the notes they explain that they do not try to produce ‘authentic’ renditions – “we were in a recording studio, not working a ship”. So several tracks are accompanied and several are sung as slow, lilting songs rather than the testosterone-driven bellowing employed by some shanty crews. This may upset a few purists but, in my opinion, leads to a much more entertaining and listenable album. Full details of the songs, the singers and more on John Short can be found at the umbermusic website.

The inclusion of female singers might also be frowned upon in some circles but, again in my opinion, they actually produce some of the best tracks! Barbara Brown sings a very ‘authentic’ work-song version of Run, Let the Bulgine Run (not to be confused with Clear the Track and Let the Bulgine Run). It’s very difficult not to move in rhythm to her singing and would be ideal for any old-style pulling on ropes. Jackie Oates, on the other hand, sings a lovely, delicate song called Tommy’s Gone (a very distinct variant of Tommy’s Gone to Hilo) with some beautiful instrumental and vocal accompaniment.

However, in truth, I shouldn’t pick out these tracks – most of the CD is of similar high standard. Listen to Jim Mageean on superb versions of Stormalong John and the hauling shanty Shallow Brown (which is very different from the forebitter song), for example. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sing better. I look forward eagerly to the next two volumes of Short Sharp Shanties.