Due to a tendency to feel seasick at the mere thought of a ferry crossing, and childhood memories of being tossed upside down and unceremoniously dumped by massive waves, it’s fair to say I never yearned for the ocean, understood the allure of rum (despite efforts in student days), and certainly have never hummed along to a sea shanty. Until now.
Listening to this compilation of sea-inspired songs from The Wellington Sea Shanty Society, I’ve not only learnt to appreciate these songs of yearning, loneliness and loss, but have found them hugely enjoyable and catchy. I’ve also gained a new respect for the sea shanty musical tradition with the realisation that my own forbears, like many New Zealanders’, probably sung many a ditty like these to keep spirits up on long and perilous voyages to settle on this tiny island at the bottom of the Pacific. The WSSS songwriter personas Vorn Dont le Père Etait Marin and Lake Davineer, sound like they’ve been performing these rousing harmonies and raucous foot-stomping shanties all their lives, yet come from very different (and mostly land-based) musical backgrounds. With traditional tunes blended around their own, I like how Vorn Colgan and Brendan McKenna (Lake South / Urbantramper), through clever songwriting and arranging, have given their shanties a distinctive local flavour. It’s certainly not all swooping accordian and upbeat British bravura in the face of adversity stuff, there’s space, remorse, irony and melancholy. As indicated by the title, this is the pair’s second such sea shanty collection.