Sea shanties… we’re a month into 2021 and already it’s ridiculous. These songs got sailors through storms and all the hardships of being at sea, and now they’re getting us through a bloody pandemic – cheers, TikTok. They came when we needed them most, and I hope they’re here to stay. With nothing better to do, I’ve gone down the sea shanty rabbit hole so that you don’t have to and listed the top five shanties to get you through these stormy times.
5. ‘Randy Dandy Oh’ – Sean Dagher, Nils Brown and Michiel Schrey.
This one thrusts you straight onto the deck of a pirate ship setting sail for somewhere in the Carribean; the waves are sloshing on board and you’re on your third bout of scurvy this month. Luckily, you’ve got your pals to sing and keep you going. This one’s raw, guttural and bellows with pride: stick it on your playlist for your next seaward voyage, or maybe, more realistically, your next wistful look out of the window – you’ve got to use your imagination these days.
4. ‘Wellerman’ – The Longest Johns
The track that started it all. A cover of this certified banger went viral on TikTok and started the shanty phenomenon. It tells the story of a ship transporting goods that gets its journey disrupted by a whale – not too dissimilar to the Amazon truck stuck in the snow at the top of your street, en route to delivering your tenth unneeded parcel of the week. It embodies the traditional storytelling nature of folk music and it’s clear to see why this was the tune that brought shanties back into the mainstream.
3. ‘Roll Down’ – John Roberts, The Revels Chorus
This shanty oozes a feel-good community spirit. It evokes a sense of togetherness that you could only feel after being at sea for five months – more of an unavoidable togetherness, really: maybe try and replicate this with your family before starting another tea time argument, ay? It’s perhaps a more musical number than other sea shanties, but this makes it quite unique. The elegant bellowing of a multitude of layered voices makes it seem quite otherworldly… how peaceful.
2. ‘Migalay Boat Song’ – The Fisherman’s Friends
The number two spot belongs to The Fisherman’s Friends’ morbidly hopeful track. Various baritones sing of returning to their families after a long fishing trip. Although positive, this song holds connotations of the strife of being a fisherman, and the tolls being away from your family can take on you. Alas, no matter how you look at it, it still sounds eerily and wonderfully ethereal.
1. ‘Leave Her Johnny’ – Sean Dagher, Nils Brown and Michiel Schrey.
Embodying the folk tradition of altering the lyrics as the song passes hands, ‘Leave Her Johnny’ has been moulded countless times since it was initially written in 1917 – some for the better and many for the worse. This version, however, is as melancholic as it is powerful. It wasn’t sung at sea, but after the voyage was finished, used today as a modern ode to the eventual disappearance of a certain virus – the end is in sight, I hope. As the men cleaned the deck they’d sing this before returning to their families – the “her” in question being the ship itself. It tells of the perils and hardships of the sea and acts almost as a warning to budding sailors: perhaps a life at sea isn’t for everyone.