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Clare Button of The Living Tradition

reviews Short Sharp Shanties Vol. 3 by Collected from John Short

Back in 1914, a man named Cecil Sharp met a man named John Short, and the world of shanties became a hell of a lot richer. Short’s nickname was Yankee Jack, he had sailed around the world as a shantyman, and Sharp collected nearly sixty shanties from him, many in rare versions. This is the third and last volume in this (brilliantly titled) collection, which sees a hearty crop of fine traditional singers putting their own slants on Short’s repertoire.

There is a fine mix of voices and styles: no nonsense, straight down the line treatments from stalwart shanty singer from the North East of England, Jim Mageean, and raucous voiced Derbyshire gem Keith Kendrick; American flavours from renowned US singer Jeff Warner; and fabulously off kilter interpretations from polymath extraordinaire Sam Lee. It’s also good to see female singers being represented in the typically male shanty domain. Barbara Brown’s darkly powerful voice is perfectly suited to grime and brine, while Jackie Oates adds a charming, if incongruous, prettiness to lines like “Mary Ann and Sarah Jane / is the two biggest whores on Whitemoor Lane” (Hog Eye Man). Lesser known shanties like Billy Reilly and Blow Away The Morning Dew haul away alongside their more popular counterparts, such as Homeward Bound and the Bull John Run (although you’ll never have heard it done like Sam Lee!).

Yet behind the rambunctious choruses chimes a poignant note: the recordings are dedicated to renowned shantyman Johnny Collins, who died in 2009 and “who was to have been part of this project”. And a mighty fine contribution he’d have made too but I think he’d be pretty chuffed with what his singing cohorts have done here. Don’t just get this CD, get all three!