A little bit of history.

Shanties (chanteys to American sailors), were the musical currency on English speaking ships in the nineteenth century. Shanty, may be sailor twang for chant, or perhaps it comes from Sean Ti, plaintive songs sung aboard westward bound slavers during the Cromwellian wars. What we know for certain is the shanty as a work song had it's hey day from 1815 - 1875.

During the British-American war, Maine shipyards built fast new craft to harass the Royal Navy, this lead in peacetime to the development of Top-sail schooners that could make a good "clip". Such vessels required well co-ordinated crews and the shanty was the easiest way of getting a rough and ready meitheal to pull or pump together.

The famine period saw at least a million Irish travelling "
Across the Western Ocean" some on the fast Packet ships of the Blackball Line (offices on Eden Quay Dublin), others on dangerously slow coffin ships. Many of the latter were built in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The British government having placed an embargo on Baltic pine, Canadian ship yards operated a virtual monopoly making slow, deep sided vessels on speculation for the growing Atlantic trade, emigrants west and cotton east.

We do not know how many young men left Ireland during the famine on these boats to settle briefly in the seaport towns of Liverpool and Boston, only to return within a few years to the rough, dangerous adventure of life at sea, but we are sure many did so. The mostt famous collector of Irish tunes , Chief O'Neill of Chicago ran away from his native Cork for an adventurous life at sea, which began in March 1865. Certainly during and after the famine, Irish tunes entered into the world of ship songs. Sung by the packet rats, Boston-Irish and Liverpool- Irish in the most part.

The Garthpool - Hull 1929 - The Lst Windjammer

The American Civil war, freed southern slaves, and soon African -American rhythms were common in sailing vessels, often tagged on to existing Irish and British tunes. Of course there had been African music at sea prior to this. Minstrel shows were very popular, their songs often picked up by shore bound mobs of matelots. Slave owners would hire out or sell surplus men to ship owners during the winter when work dried up in the cotton fields, in this way new chants came into the shanty man's repertoire. By the 1870s so called chequer board crews were common in sailing ships, often arranged in maritime apartheid, one white watch followed by a black one. The songs on the capstan bar readily crossed the colour divide.

By 1875 steam was more reliable, cheaper and of course faster than sail, so with the exception of a few bulk-load Ironclads and smaller coastal vessels, tall ships began to fade away and along with them the chantey songs.


Luckily for us Stan Hugill shipped aboard the last (ill fated) British windjammer, the Garthpool in 1929. (She was a frequent visitor to Cork, Dublin and Belfast where she discharged her cargo of Australian wheat). From this unhappy start he went on to collect over 450 shanties and sea songs, first hand, from old mariners who could remember a time when commerce was oiled by the wheel's crack and the spread of canvass in a stiff south westerly.

Stan provided the inspiration and a heavy dose of reality to capture the imagination of many a romantic land-lubbing folk singer. Warp Four were proud to be following in Stan's mighty footsteps. You can read about the Shanties recorded on One Hundred Years ago by clicking

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