Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shanties and Sea Songs

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, you can read this post in full on my blog). I saw a superb programme on BBC4 last night: Shanties and Sea Songs presented by Gareth Malone. You can watch it on BBC iPlayer here. It'll be downloadable for the next few days, so I strongly recommend that if you're into rural folk culture and traditional music that you get it while you can. Here's a summary from the BBC website:

The story of Britain's maritime past has a hidden history of shanties and sea songs, and choirmaster Gareth Malone has been travelling Britain's coast to explore this unique heritage. From dedicated traditionalists to groundbreaking recording artists, Gareth meets a variety of sea-singers from across the country.

His journey begins in Portsmouth where he meets a devoted shanty singer, before continuing on to Tyneside and the Yorkshire coast, where the Filey Fisherman's Choir, with an average age of 70, are determined to keep the tradition alive.

Gareth gets a fascinating insight into the songs of the Herring Girls when he visits Gardenstown in Scotland. In Whitby, he meets Kimber's Men, a local group who have dedicated themselves to writing and singing songs celebrating heroes of the sea, such as a rescue of 1881 when the sea was so rough the people of Whitby had to carry their 2-tonne lifeboat some six miles overland on a wooden trailer and in heavy snow to the bay where a ship had hit the rocks. Despite the exhaustion, they still managed to rescue the shipwrecked crew and passengers.

Gareth's journey ends in Port Isaac in Cornwall, where a group of local fishermen sing shanties and sea songs alongside their day job. Calling themselves the Fishermen's Friends, they have been so successful that they have landed a lucrative record deal.

Go to about 25 minutes in to hear a wee flash by Filey Fisherman's Choir of Londonderry man Henry Gilmour's mighty hymn "I've Anchored My Soul in the Haven of Rest". Great television, great music - a perfect example of how traditional cultures can be treated with respect and insight to produce compelling programmes.


Philip Robinson said...

I listened to the clip and it did strike a chord. The Portavogie Fishermen's Choir do "I've anchored my soul" as well - but I didn't know it was written by a local man! I think every thing he said about the Filey Fisherman's Choir could apply to the PFC - what a pity he didn't come to Portavogie!