The best sea shanties collectors in history


“In the world of folk music, you don’t steal songs, you collect them,” says Bryn Stephens of Bristol based slum team The Roaring Trowmen. Nowadays, slum bands can “grab” songs from YouTube, other bands at festivals, or even TikTokbut in the 20th century there were a few historians, shantymen and poets who put pen to paper (or recording device to mouth) to help us build the library of shantys we have today.

The best sea shanties collectors in history

Stan Hugil (1906-92)

Known as “The Last Shantyman”, Hugill hails from Merseyside, the epicenter of The slum tradition in England. He spent 23 years at sea, including a stint as shantyman on the last voyage of garthpool, Britain’s last commercial sailing ship. After retiring in 1945, he transcribed and recorded the songs he had learned at sea. He also wrote several books on songs, which remain an essential resource for singers today.

Alan Lomax (1915-2002)

“What Enrico Caruso was to singing, Alan Lomax is to musicology,” said oral historian Studs Terkel in 1997. A strong advocate for the protection of folk music, Lomax collected and recorded songs, in especially African-American musical traditions. In 1935 he traveled with folklorist Mary Elizabeth Barnicle to record work songs and interview sponge fishermen on the island of Andros in the Bahamas, continuing this work throughout the Caribbean and West Indies.

Cicely Fox Smith (1882-1954)

A leading nautical poet of the early 20th century, Cicely Fox Smith also collected barrackspublishing a book which included ‘Whiskey Johnny’ and ‘Blow up the man‘.


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