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Jacqueline Patten of Whats Afoot

reviews Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 1 by John Short

With the current interest in shanties the timing of a project about the Watchet shantyman, John Short, is very opportune. John Short, also known as Yankee Jack, provided Cecil Sharp with nearly sixty shanties and it was these that were the impetus for the project. This album will be followed by a double CD: together the three CDs will comprise fifty seven shanties. The first includes eighteen.

Sharp wrote of John Short's rich, resonant and powerful voice, commenting on his delicate execution of "trills, turns and graces". As Yankee Jack spent over fifty years at sea and the rest by the seashore, the sound of the sea, the rhythm of the waves and the sea birds flying above, as well as the industry of his workmates, would have provided the backing for his singing. Wisely, no attempt has been made to make the setting authentic. In the sleeve notes the principles that guided the recording, the settings and the arrangements, are explained clearly. The recordings were, therefore, made in a studio rather in situ out of doors, and the performers give their own rendition and interpretation of the shanties, adding instrumentation where appropriate.

A number of John Short's shanties were included in the Novello songbooks widely used in the first half of the twentieth century, and people will be interested to hear which frequently sung shanties originate from Short. There are also many excellent ones that have not been sung much by revival singers. With the advent of these CDs, hopefully more of these shanties will become widely known.

The fine array of performers includes Tom & Barbara Brown, Doug Bailey, Keith Kendrick, Sam Lee, Jim Mageean, Jackie Oates, Jeff Warner, Roger Watson and Brian Willoughby, as well as vocals between them they play concertina, fiddle, banjo, melodeon, and guitar. There is great variety, both in arrangements and repertoire, which may not be what is perceived of shanties. The addition of two female singers adds another dimension which enhances rather than detracts.

Another fine album from Wildgoose, I await the double CD with eager anticipation.