Tag Archives: Kris Hughes

The Wellerman is gone, long live his song!

A guest blog by Kris Hughes

When Nimue suggested that I write something about the living tradition for this blog, I wasn’t sure what I would come up with. However, the kaleidoscope that is social media has provided me with an answer.

If you haven’t been living under a rock the past few weeks, then you may have heard something about sea shanties on TikTok. You’ve likely heard a song called The Wellerman. I’m an old person who likes folk music, but I barely understood what TikTok was until this happened. And what’s a Wellerman? A guy who delivers supplies to a whaling ship in 19th century New Zealand, it turns out.

What happened on TikTok? A young chap from Airdrie, in Scotland, called Nathan Evans, posted a video of himself singing an old whaling ballad. It went viral in a way that is particularly TikTok as other singers, and then instrumentalists, dubbed in their own parts, creating a moment of rare beauty. There are a few mixes floating around now, but this one will give you the idea.

As a music scene, TikTok seems to be a place where currently isolated young people are congregating to try to share a bit of themselves, their talent, and trying to look good in the process. There’s a certain emphasis on image that I find a little uncomfortable, but that’s not limited to TikTok, or a particular age group. Lockdown has created a whole new layer of virtual self-curation for everyone.

This was the second or third shanty that Evans had posted, but he hasn’t really been promoting himself as a folk singer. He’s been singing pop covers, and few things of his own, and taking requests for months. Some of that has been folk music, in the broadest sense of the word.

I’m not here to review Evans’ singing, but his solo performance of The Wellerman is really good. I just listened to various recordings of shanty groups and folk groups’ doing this song over the past few decades, and Nathan’s solo has a depth and power that the others miss. He’s obviously enjoying the song and singing it a cappella except for beating out the rhythm with his hand on the table is perfect. So far, so good.

But it’s what happened next that is so great. People began posting mixes of the song with their own voices dubbed in duets with Evans’ original. That’s hardly unique on TikTok, but the quality and blending of some of these duets, which quickly became a choir, is amazing.

This had been building for a while. Sea shanties have been a thing on the internet since, maybe, September. This massed choir project of “Leave Her Johnny”, organised by shanty group The Longest Johns had over 500 submissions.

To my mind, this isn’t just an example of living tradition because a folk song happens to be involved, although that obviously helps. As other folk nerds have pointed out, The Wellerman isn’t exactly a shanty, but a closely related song-type – a whaling ballad. However, it’s sung here with a shanty feel. A shanty being a work song, which sailors once sang to keep themselves in rhythm when doing work like hoisting sails. With Evans’ fist banging rhythm and the song’s great chorus this works well.

Sea shanties once had an important purpose. Not only did they keep the sailors in a work rhythm, but they helped them to keep going, and stay heartened, under difficult conditions. Under a different kind of difficult conditions this winter, these songs have found another purpose – reminding people how great it is to sing together – in rhythm, in harmony, in making the whole a little bit better with your own contribution. Hopefully, this is teaching us a valuable lesson for when we can sing together again. That’s the living tradition I’m hoping for, anyway.

Kris Hughes blogs at www.GoDeeper.info
has a YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/KrisHughes1
and you can support her work on Patreon at www.patreon.com/KrisHughes


Land Songs and Master Jack – a review

Land Songs by Kris Hughes is a collection of 11 poems. For such a small collection, it manages to bring together a very large amount of myth, folklore, landscape and spiritual insight. It was a pleasure to read and is the sort of collection you can comfortably sit down and go through in a single sitting – there’s a sense of relationship between the pieces that very much enables read it in one go.

I am, I realise, always going to be excited about people writing poetry about non-exploitative relationships with the land. There are some landscape love affair poems in this collection, and that delights me. Some of the myth-based material might not make much sense to a reader who is not familiar with the Pagan heritage of the British isles, but, you can always look up the names and fill in the gaps, so it might in that way prove to be an invitation to dig deeper. There are some notes at the front of the collection to help you navigate this material, which is a good inclusion. It’s never easy to be sure whether to let work stand as it is, or to explain but in this case the notes definitely enrich the text.

I can recommend this collection for anyone interested in poetry, I highly recommend it to anyone on the bard path for both the inspiration in it and what you can learn about writing as a bard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Master Jack is a short story with strong folklore themes, and a dash of the supernatural. It’s written with deep understanding of folk tradition, and the people involved in it, and with a love and respect for living tradition that delighted me. It manages – as folk traditions often do – to square up to death and difficulty while being fundamentally warm and affirming. It’s a lovely read. As someone who has played creatures in mumming sides, I found it really resonant. I’ve never worked with a horse skull, but I’ve always wanted to.

You can find Land Songs and Master Jack on Kris Hughes’ website – http://www.godeeper.info/shop.html