Shanties and Sea Songs
Shanties could also help provide a way for sailors to express themselves without much fear of punishment. Basically, there are two kinds of shanties. First are the work shanties: the short drag, short haul, halyard, windlass, or capstan. Second are the forebitter, forecastle or fo'castle shanties. These generally are the ballads or tell of some historical event. They get there name from the part of the ship where the singing usually took place: the forecastle, which was the crew's quarters. The ballads typically describe the hardships of life aboard the tallships, about the harsh treatment by their superiors, the good or bad properties of the ship or about the sailors ties with the shore. Some of these ballads started out as working songs by landlubbers like woodcutters, railway and farm workers, blacksmiths, and golddiggers. Still others were sung by slaves loading and unloading cargo. When steam and diesel powered ships entered service and began to replace more and more of the great ships of sail toward the end of the 19th century, the use of shanties and the jobs of the shantymen began to decline.
Below is a clickable list to a few of the more popular songs and lyrics. They represent only a fraction of the many shanties and sea songs. Some of these songs below were used during that era, and others are modern creations. I have compiled this list to give you a sense of what the songs were like and a feel for that period in time. The lyrics used are not 'set in stone'. In some cases I have tried to use non-offensive versions for this site, as these old songs could at times be vulgar, and would not be accepted by todays childish censorship standards. The shanteymen themselves would often adapt a songs lyrics based on the task required to be done. The verses could be sung in any order or words altered, added or deleted. Some songs below include a brief bit of information about the tune, and I have added an audio version where possible. The music on this website was designed to be heard with one of the following "up to date" internet browsers: Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Chrome, or Safari. If you like what you hear, support these artists by purchasing their CD's or Tunes, and listen to more of their music. It is unclear if pirates in the golden age of piracy(1650s to 1730), made much use of work type shanties. But some crews probably did sing the forecastle ballads, and sea songs that were popular in their own time for pleasure.
Types of Shanties
Capstan shanties were used for long repetitive tasks, that simply need a sustained rhythm. Raising or lowering the anchor while winding up the heavy anchor chain was their prime use. This winding was done by pushing round and round at the capstan bars, which required a long and continuous effort. These are the most devloped of the work shanties. Capstan shanties had steady rhythms and usually told stories because of the length of time (which could be hours) it took to raise the anchor. Sailors would stamp on the deck on the words. This gave rise to the term, "stamp and go chanties."
Halyard (or Long Drag) shanties were sung to the raising and lowering of sails. Sails hung from wooden cross-pieces called yards. With the canvas and wood, sails could weigh between 1,000 and 2,500 pounds. To set sail a member of the crew would climb the rigging to loosen the canvas. On deck the crew would take hold of a line called the halyard (for haul + yard). The crew would rest during the verse and haul during the chorus. Depending on the weight of the sail, crews could pull one (for heavy jobs) to three (for lighter jobs) times per chorus.
SHORT DRAG SHANTY
Short drag (or short haul) shanties were for tasks requiring quick pulls over a relatively short time, such as shortening or unfurling sails, and raising the masthead.
Sailors would pump handles up and down, making the barrel of the windlass rotate to bring the anchor chain up. Pumps were fitting in ships to empty the bilge (the lowest part of the ship) of water. Wooden ships leaked, but not so fast that the crew could not pump the water out. There were several different types of pumps, which accounts for the variation in the timing of pumping shanties.
Ceremonial and forecastle or forebitter (the crews quarters) songs were those sung by sailors on their time off in the evening, when the work was done. These generally are the ballads or told stories of famous men, battles, romance, of their longing for home or just plain funny songs. Singing was a favored method of relaxation aboard ship. Ceremonial shanties were for times of celebration, such as when the sailor paid off his debt to the ship or when they crossed the equator.
Pirate and Nautical Musical Groups
* The Ancient Mariners - Fife and drum corps with a nautical theme.
* Baggyrinkle: Swansea Shantymen - Group sings a mixture of shanties and maritime songs.
* The Bilge Pumps - Pirate music group that specialize in sea songs, shanties, and celtic tunes.
* Bounding Main - A costumed vocal group that sings harmonic versions of traditional maritime songs.
* The Brigands - This pirate themed musical group performs sea songs and shanties.
Capt'n Black's Sea Dogs - Springfield Mo group. with unique Folk/Rock sound.
Clam Chowder - Homepage for this retired shanty group.
* The Crimson Pirates - Mix of shanties/sailing songs, also Irish drinking songs.
Cztery Refy - This Poland based group performs traditional sea songs.
The Dreadnoughts - Folk/Celtic-punk band from Vancouver .
* Exmouth Shanty Men - Devon's original buoy band, sings shanties and sailing songs.
* Falmouth Shout Shanty Singers - Sing Sea Shanties, Songs of the Sea and Cornish Songs.
* Flash Jack - Performs Sea Songs and Shanties.
* Hanging Johnny - UK group that performs shanties and sea songs.
* The Irish Rovers - Classic folk band has been a favorite for decades.
* The Johnson Girls - This all girl east coast group performs sea songs.
* The Jolly Rogers - Pirate-themed renaissance group, performs sea shanties and humorous songs.
* The Jolly Rogues - Sing sea shanties and nautical tunes.
* Tom Kastle - Singer and tall ship sailor. Contributor to Pirates Magazine.
Kimber"s Men - UK based shanty group.
* The Musical Blades - A comedy/song/swordplay traveling pirate show.
Naufragant - Pirate metal band from Buenos Aires, were called Skull & Bones.
Pirates For Sail - Sings mainly shanty, sea & drinking songs, based in Maryland .
* Rum and Shrub Shantymen - UK group performs shanties, maritime and traditional folk songs.
* Rusty Cutlass - Florida band performs Shanties/Pirate/Traditional Irish/Tavern songs.
* Salty Walt & The Rattlin' Ratlines - San Francisco sea shanty and sea song group.
* The Seadogs - California group performs nautical music, with comedy and theatrics.
* The Shifty Sailors - Whidbey Island, based sea shanty and maritime music group.
* Ship's Company: Chanteymen - US east coast performers.
Shipwreck Rats - Pirate speed folk band based in Berlin.
Skullduggers - Facebook page for this pirate band.
* Stamp And Go - UK group sing Sea Shanties, Songs of the Sea and Cornish Songs.
Storm Weather Shanty Choir - Group based in Stord, Norway
* Tom Mason & the Blue Buccaneers - Band based in Nashville, TN.
* Trim Rig and a Doxy - UK shanty duo.
* William Pint and Felicia Dale - Music of the sea.
Documentary: British Shanties and Sea Songs
This Webpage Was Last Updated On: Mar 10, 2019
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