TOM BROWN – A Sailor’s Life

John ShortS&A Projects
ISBN: 978-0-9930468-0-3
Softback – 165 pages

The life of John Short of Watchet is, in many ways, an ordinary life. We was born in 1839, married and fathered three children and died at the grand old age of 94. He also sailed around the world and became something of a local hero as ‘Yankee Jack’ the shantyman – not quite so ordinary, then.

John did not keep a diary nor did he write many letters but because of the detailed record keeping of the merchant marine in the 19th century, Tom Brown has been able to piece together the details of his voyages. He first went to sea with his father at the age of nine – not full time – working the coastal trade between Somerset and South Wales. We know that he had some education and could read and write but he began work full-time at the age of fourteen. His first deep-sea voyage was probably to Quebec in 1857 aboard the Promise where he learned his first two shanties. He was one of the earliest shantymen and his versions are consequently among the least developed. In his twentieth year he doubled round the horn on the Hugh Block to Valparaiso and followed that with a voyage to India aboard Earl Balcarres. It by referring to Lloyd’s List and Short’s own discharge papers which he kept after each trip that Tom’s researches have managed to detail these voyages.

John’s story is also the story of the merchant navy in the second half of the century and to the point when he left the sea in 1901. There had been many changes, not least the giving way of sail to steam and John hated steam ships. The book is packed with fascinating details of maritime law and the fluctuations of world trade that he would have seen.

The reason that we are now interested in John Short is that Cecil Sharp collected his entire repertoire – some fifty-seven songs – in 1914 and published many of them in English Folk Chanteys that same year. All his shanties have been recorded by an international cast (of which Tom is a member) on three CDs under the title Short Sharp Shanties and the texts and notations are also included here. Without Sharp, Short’s contribution to the world would have been as ephemeral as anyone else’s and it is fitting that his life story, even pieced together from official documents, should be recounted.

Dai Jeffries

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114-mark-radcliffeBBC Radio 2 Folk Show presenter, Mark Radcliffe, has announced that the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards are to return on Wednesday 19 February 2014. Mark also announced that the awards will be returning to London and taking place at the Royal Albert Hall. Tickets for the event are available now from

The awards, which celebrate their 15th anniversary in 2014, will see some of the biggest names in folk music come together under one roof to celebrate the UK’s thriving folk music scene.

The event will welcome a whole host of star guests, with Bellowhead, Suzanne Vega, Clannad and The Fisherman’s Friends confirmed to perform live on the night. Other acts on the line-up will be announced at a later date.

This year’s awards will see the addition of a new element – the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame will recognise the special contribution of an individual to the world of folk music; someone whose impact and influence has had a lasting impression.

The first entrant to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is Cecil Sharp – widely regarded as being a key figure in having helped lay the foundations for the modern folk revival in the early 20th century.

Al Booth, Editor Specialist Music at Radio 2 said:

“As the country’s most prolific collector of folk music and dance, Cecil Sharp amassed a collection which includes songs and tunes that have been part of the fabric of English life for hundreds of years. Without his work the careers of Martin Carthy, Fairport Convention, Nic Jones and Kate Rusby might have been very different. It is fitting that he should be the first inductee into the Radio 2 Folk Awards Hall of Fame.”

Nominees for the Folk Award categories were announced by Mark Radcliffe in the Folk Show on Wednesday November 20. The categories include: Folk Singer of the Year, Best Duo, Best Group, Best Album, Horizon Award, Musician of the Year, Best Original Song, Best Traditional Track and BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. The awards show will also include the presentation of Lifetime Achievement and Good Tradition Awards.

Bob Shennan, Controller BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music, said: “Folk Music is an integral part of the BBC Radio 2 schedule. It is a much loved genre by our audience and we remain committed to bringing our listeners the widest possible range and choice of music. This year The Radio 2 Folk Awards reach an important milestone in their history. And what better way to celebrate their 15th anniversary than them taking place in the very special location that is the Royal Albert Hall. I’m sure it will be a night to remember.”

Mark Radcliffe, presenter of the Radio 2 Folk Show, said:

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be hosting the Folk Awards again this year, particularly on the event’s 15th anniversary and in the very grand Royal Albert Hall. Folk music is in rude health, and we’re all relishing the chance to make a big fuss about the genre’s vibrancy, diversity and sheer quality.”

Drivetime presenter Simon Mayo will be broadcasting a special programme live from the Albert Hall (5pm). The interval will feature performances from the nominees for the Young Folk Award 2014.

The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards will be broadcast live on Radio 2 from 8pm, and in vision via the Red Button and online at, with video highlights to follow the next day. The audience can also follow the event and get involved via the Radio 2 website.

Lucy Ward releases 2nd album Single Flame

Lucy Ward Single FlameSomething’s change, some remain the same. For her much-anticipated second album (the follow up to the 2011 début Adelphi Has To Fly), the 23-year old singer, guitarist, ukulele and concertina player LUCY WARD delivers a finely tuned synthesis of original and traditionally arranged material. Production is again by Stu Hanna (of acclaimed folk duo Megson, both of whom also sing and play here). There, however, the similarities end as the new album – Single Flame – finds Lucy organically broadening her musical palette whilst remaining firmly rooted in a folk tradition that gives shape and form to her sound. Balancing the contemporary and the traditional is never an easy act to achieve but Lucy balances it well. 

Ward grew up in a household where she heard recordings by the likes of Melanie and Bob Dylan and absorbed their lyrics and impact. The album opener ‘I Cannot Say, I Will Not Speak’ has the lines “they sang the songs of Safka / Candles in the rain”. “The idea behind this song” she says “was how a generation of people sung songs of peace and protest in the 1960’s and yet peace has still to come. The lyrics”, she continues, “were born out of imagining there was just a candle left in the rain, a single flame, a ray of hope that we must protect because it only takes one flame to start a fire”.

Her song ‘For The Dead Men’ made a first appearance as a single in January 2012 and was subsequently used in the soundtrack to the award winning director Kim Hopkins’ documentary film Folie a Deux (“Madness Made of Two”), which premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in November 2012. It’s a moving song and performance. “I wrote this song for the dead men” she says. “The dead men are all the people who marched before us, campaigning for justice. The dead men are also those who are apathetic to what is happening around them and their power to affect it. Lastly, the dead men are all those who are left to fall off the thin end of the wedge.” It’s a song about time passing; how we react to it, how we shape our history or allow it to shape us. What we do to stand up for the rights of ordinary people. “Stand up and take to the streets / they can’t ignore us if we all choose to speak”.

‘Shellback’ she says “is the first song I ever wrote. Its inspired by a generation of men, my grandfather included, who were conscripted, lost sight of what was at home and in some cases found vices to fill the void of what they had left behind.”

Ward’s songs are compassionate and insightful.  One of the interest is called ‘The Consequence’ and it’s about violence within the domestic environment and how it destroys and changes the nature of family and home forever.

Moving to the upbeat, ‘Marching Through The Green Grass’ is a Ward and Hanna arrangement of a song also known as the ‘Soldier Boy’ or ‘Sailor Boy’. Collected in the Appalachians by the folklorists Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles, the song comes from a time long before the birth of the modern army and the advent of combat soldiers of both sexes.“ The recording includes a tune that Stu and I wrote together”. The performance is a feisty, strident comment on soldiering.

‘Lord I Don’t Want To Die In The Storm’ is a traditional song, collected in America by Cortez Reece. After struggling to source a tune for this song, Lucy and Stu decided to write their own. The results are a haunting, doleful piece of minimalist Americana.

Lucy’s song melodies are as memorable and engaging , our favourite was ‘Icarus’, languid and dreamy with floating vocals and ethereal instrumental soundscape.

Collectively, the songs here showcase Lucy Ward‘s consummate performance and creative songwriting abilities, her genuine and sparkling personality. The new album Single Flame is a statement of how far her talent has grown and developed.

Ashley Hutchings – An Hour With Cecil Sharp

Not exactly an hour but who’s counting? Bearing in mind the current debate on the nature of Englishness, this is a timely and welcome re-issue of the 1986 vinyl album that followed up Ashley’s successful show, “An Evening with Cecil Sharp and Ashley Hutchings”.

Part entertainment and part documentary, it is a celebration of the work of Cecil Sharp and an intriguing insight into one of the most influential characters of the folk revival.

There is a great deal of fascination in hearing some of the early cylinder recordings featured here and the whole album should be regarded as essential listening for any one who has an interest in the folk tradition and its development.

Throw in some terrific playing from Richard Thompson, Martin Carthy and Dave Whetstone and you have a CD that’s well worth the price. It fits easily as part of series that includes “Rattlebone and Ploughjack”, “The Complete Dancing Master” and “A Word In Your Ear”.

Review courtesy of Folk on Tap

Originally posted on folking – 17-May-2001