Mary Humphreys of Mardles
reviews Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 3 by Collected from John ShortThis is tha last of a series of recordings masterminded by Tom & Barbara Brown. All sixty of the songs communicated to Cecil Sharp in 1914 by the Watchet shantyman John Short ( a.k.a. Yankee Jack) have been recorded by a crew of performers of the highest order including Sam Lee, Jackie Oates, Jim Mageen, Jeff Warner, Keith Kendrick, Roger Watson and of course Tom and Barbara Brown. It is only by looking at the extremely useful supplementary notes published on Tom & Barbara's website - essential viewing to get the full information about this project - that we discover the amazingly inventive guitarist used on some of the tracks is none other than Brian Willoughby of the Strawbs . He gets no credits on the sleeve notes - what an omission!
First impressions from the album cover and its tracklist are that we have here a superb resource for any respectable shanty group. However the treatment of the songs by the individual performers is anything but uniform. An interesting inclusion to the crew is Sam Lee, not hitherto known for his shanty singing . He "swings" his songs - particularly the Rosabella where he is joined by Brian Willoughby on guitar - one of the most delightful accompaniments on the whole CD. I am not so sure about Sam's rendition of Bull John Run, which departs rather distantly from the tune in a rather jazzy interpretation. Fortunately the chorus keeps it from departing the genre completely. Haul Away Joe is reassuringly much more what we expect from a shanty but Sam's light, almost crooning vocal style doesn't convince as much as that of the others who appear on the album.
Jim Mageen,Keith Kendrick and Tom Brown all well-known as shanty singers have the open-throated style to which we have become accustomed in festivals and folk clubs. The squeezeboxes (played superbly by Keith and by Roger Watson) are sensitively and economically used. I particularly loved Keith's Anglo concertina accompaniment to Paddy Works On The Railway which has the lightest of touches on the octave mandola by Tom Brown and Jackie Oates' lovely fiddle variations.
Jeff Warner, who sings several American shanties deserves special mention. Billy Riley is both short and sharp and a superb example of shanty singing as it might have been done on board ship. It builds up from free rhythm to a good hauling beat. His sparkling banjo playing on his shanty He Back, She Back is spellbinding. The CD is worth buying just for this track.
It is always interesting to hear women singing shanties, as it is most unlikely they were ever sung on board by females ( unless they sneaked on board dressed as boys?) . Barbara Brown makes light of this incongruity and gives a superb rendition of the shanties she is allocated. One could believe the tracks she gives us were sung by a rather youthful sailor whose voice hadn't quite broken. Not so Jackie Oates whose rather lighter timbre of voice could never be mistaken for that of a boy. Her rendition of the verses of Hog-eye Man sounds refreshingly innocent ( inspite of the text) and is a superb contrast with the racucous chorus which is more reminiscent of the usual shanty crew rendition. It was a new experience to hear her singing to Jeff Warner's banjo picking. It is like a sorbet course after a heavy main course - beautifully light and leaving one ready for more shanties. That is good programming!
The last shanty track on this CD is so poignant - Roger Watson performing Homeward Bound, with the refrain Goodbye Fare You Well. It is probably the last recording he made before his enforced retirement for health reasons. It is a fitting finish to an astoundingly productive and inventive life involved in all things folk.
There is a bonus track - a song of John Short's sung by Jeff Warner Crossing the Bar. Beautiful.
It was good to hear the whole CD and I would recommend the album to all shanty singers not just for the repertoire but for some of the best renditions I have heard. Good old WildGoose Studios - where else could this project have been so well recorded?