Sing along to a sea song
He also learned a lot of traditional songs about the sailing and the sea, mostly in French and Spanish, which he brought back here with the idea to get a similar gig going.
“I got in touch with Vorn [Colgan, of the band Vorn] because he’s the only person I know who can play piano accordion,” he says, adding that’s an essential ingredient to performing a good shanty. The duo began putting on shows as the Wellington Sea Shanty Society, adding some New Zealand ditties to the mix. The gigs become full-on sing-a-longs, with lyric sheets passed out to the audience.
“The plan is to get people involved. It sounds better if you’ve got this big chorus. More and more people are coming regularly and they know the words to the songs,” he says. “We like to put on a good show. I’ve seen a lot of old sea shanty groups and its kind of laboured and boring and not fun to watch. The choir I sang with in France was very boisterous.”
At first, he didn’t know any local shanties, so delved into history, finding many about whaling and sealing, “two great pastimes of New Zealand,” he says. “They don’t paint a great picture of the whaling stations.” Sailors were typically given rum, sugar, tobacco and clothing in lieu of wages. “Come All You Tonguers, the moral is a middle finger to the man,” he says. “We can’t live off the tiny wage of rum and sugar.”
He’s also started writing his own shanties, even though he’s only been sailing once and did not enjoy it. He taps a boat-owning friend for jargon and takes a metaphorical view of life at sea.
“Anyone can relate to sentiments of wanting to leave home and dreaming of voyaging. A lot of sea shanties are about how there’s better life beyond the horizon – I just want to leave it all and set off to sea. I’m quite into traveling and seeing the world.”
In the meantime, he’s swallowed the anchor in Wellington, with Urbantramper’s 10th anniversary coming up next month, several electro-infused sea shanties fit for an EP, and more nautical uproar this Saturday with fellow folksters Bond Street Bridge sailing in from Auckland and D Burmester at the oars.
Songs of the Salty Sea – Wellington Sea Shanty Society with Bond Street Bridge and D Burmester, Mighty Mighty, 9pm, October 27.