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Albert Dock Panorama At Dusk, Liverpool UK

One of my favourite evening strolls with a view is along Wapping/Strand Street in Liverpool when dusk draws in. You can almost imagine the sea shanties from years gone past wafting up from the old clippers and other boats that must have plied the Mersey river to make this the great city that it is.


Shanties go way beyond the stereotype of a song about the sea that simply ends "..never to return". In the days when human muscles were the only power source available aboard ship, sea shanties served a practical purpose: the rhythm of the song served to synchronize the movements of the sailors as they toiled at repetitive tasks. They also served a social purpose: singing and listening to songs is pleasant; it alleviates boredom and lightens the burden of hard work, of which there was no shortage on long voyages in those days.


Most shanties are "call and response" songs, with one voice (the shantyman) singing the line and the chorus of sailors bellowing the response (compare military cadence calls). For example, the shanty "Boney":


Shantyman: Boney was a warrior,

All: Way, hey, ya!

Shantyman: A warrior and a tarrier,

All: Jean-François!


Shanties can be split into a number of catagories. Long-haul or "halyard" / "long-drag") sung when hauling a long rope rope. Short-drag - as before, but a short rope. Capstan Shanties: Raising the anchor on a ship. Pumping Shanties, for pumping out the bilge hold. By now you probably realise how hard sailing used to be!


Sailors reputed to be good shantymen were valued and respected, although were expected to do their proper jobs too.


In recent times, the shanty style has been recycled by artists as wide afield as the Sex Pistols ("Frigging in the Rigging") and the Decemberists ("Mariners Revenge Song").

The theme song for the television show SpongeBob SquarePants (a version of "Blow the Man Down") is one. Even the song "Reise, Reise" by the german metal band Rammstein is based on a shanty.


A number of sea shanties mention Liverpool and the Mersey. have a look at Ron Smiths excellent site and connect with some seafaring history!

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(c) Hotpix / HotpixUK Tony Smith - WDCC

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Taken on February 19, 2010