Sea Shanties and The Wellerman

March 2021

In response to the new global social media phenomenon of sea shanties sparked by the Scottish postman Nathan Evans’ rendition of The Wellerman, Dr Sam Willis speaks to Professor Gerry Smyth, author of a new book published by the British Library: ‘Sailor Song: The Shanties and Ballads of the High Seas’. They discuss how shanties were collected and annotated, how they were inspired by changing commercial conditions at sea in the nineteenth century and how each shanty has a fascinating history of its own. In particular they look at John Kanaka, South Australia, Roll Alabama Roll and the Drunken Sailor – which, did you know, came from an ancient Irish clan march…

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