Knowing our love of all things maritime we’d like to welcome a guest blogger to you from local sea shanty group, Du Hag Owr ….
My name’s Andy and I am one of the crew of the shanty group, Du Hag Owr (which, in Cornish, means Black and Gold). The six of us, Allan, Chris, Graham, Steve, Vernon and myself, decided to get together back in August 2009, having been asked to sing a few sea shanties at a local craft fair. Most of us had been singing traditional Cornish songs in local pubs and clubs for some years, so to branch off into singing sea shanties seemed like a natural progression for us, especially as we live right by the sea on the beautiful Roseland Peninsula, here in sunny Cornwall.
Cornwall and the Cornish have long had an affinity with the sea. Along with agriculture and mining, it has provided us with the means of making a living for many generations. Historically, Cornish people have used the sea not only for fishing but also to journey to every far flung corner of the world in search of their fortune.
Originally, sea shanties were work songs sung aboard ships in the days of sail to help the crew to work in unison. Shanties were mainly “call and response” songs, led by a “shantyman” who would “call” out the verses, the rest of the crew would then provide the “response” or chorus, all pulling together on the beat of the last syllable. The length and the rhythm of the shanty varied, depending on the task being undertaken at the time. The beat of the song helped the crew to heave on the ropes or turn the capstan around together, working more efficiently. Sea shanties were never sung ashore because, sailors being a superstitious bunch, it was thought to bring bad luck!
Today, the songs and the tales contained within them give us an insight into the lives of the sailors of old and provide a living, historical record of those bygone times at sea. Nowadays, casting superstition aside, shanties are sung on shore and many festivals, such as the Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival held later next month, take place all over the world to celebrate these rousing tunes from days gone by.