Sea Shanties

I learnt ‘What shall we do with a drunken sailor’ as a child.

I learnt a few more shanties and taught them in school – linked to pirates, adventures on the high seas, treasure island, working songs. Easy to teach, easy to learn, easy to sing….

I like: ‘When I was a little boy my mother always told me…That if I did not kiss the girls, my lips would grow all mouldy.’

In the past all work was manual. Labourers sang as they worked – digging, harvesting, spinning, weaving… At sea, sailors sung shanties to coordinate their actions when heaving lines, setting sails, or turning the capstan.

Folk-singers have always sung traditional songs – including sea shanties; groups of men, especially in coastal towns, still meet to sing sea shanties.

This year a postman became famous singing the New Zealand whaling song ‘Wellerman’. I’ve enjoyed the response of the Marsh family (below)


It’s now a year since I sung with my friends in church. Musing on sea-shanties and church-singing…

  • Both shanties and church songs have a deep and rich history. We follow a tradition of those in different times and conditions who wanted – needed – to sing.
  • They’re both done by people living and sharing in a community. It isn’t just individuals in the same place doing the same thing. There’s a togetherness as people are united by singing together.
  • They’re both sung people sharing similar experiences of life, love, work, sharing hardships, problems, people ‘in the same boat’. The song is relevant to that shared life
  • Both are whole hearted and purposeful – not sung with a mumble, excuse or apology. They are not sung to entertain or for an audience… although faith points to a divine audience.
  • Both involve the whole person – actions, mind and feelings come together in the song. Body, intellect and emotions combine in declared intent.

I’ve missed corporate singing, expressing my faith in song, singing my faith-shanties.

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