Halifax in West Yorkshire’s Calder Valley may be around 70 miles inland from the sea, but it’s home to a solid shanty fanbase. Among several excellent local exponents are the mighty 11-man (plus huge 11-pint ‘grog log’, guitar, cajon and digeridoo) The Landlubbers.
As the closing act at the second, free, Mytholmroyd Music Festival, they and their audience squeeze improbably into the smallest space in a local pub. The scheduled one-hour set races rapidly towards two, as the band storms through the set list in defiance of closing time – and the crowd roars along too.
By reworking the shanty and applying it, with lashings of wit, to their original songs about life in a land-locked textile town, The Landlubbers have created a singular genre, which they once perfectly pinpointed as ‘northern industrial shanty’. These are songs with a defined sense of place, songs of love, struggle and pride. The infamous Cragg Vale Coiners are the subject of the loping gallop of ‘Roving Thieves’, while ‘Wainhouse Tower’ is an homage to a local landmark (and – fun fact – tallest folly in the world), “Eiffel, Pisa, London might be symbols of great power, but nothing makes my heart leap more than the sight of Wainhouse Tower”.
Tongues are often set firmly in cheeks, as this band of “roving chantymen from the mills of Halifax Bay” interweave the fictionally maritime with industrial history and contemporary life. Their stories are funny and warm, but a more serious side emerges as they confront the impact of cancer on band members in ‘Climbing Mountains’, its defiant yet empathetic lyrics snaking round a shuffling beat. Despite its rollicking tune and gallant sailing ship metaphor, ‘Withering Lizzie’, is a tender farewell tribute to one who did not survive (a band member’s mother-in-law, if memory serves).
Interlaced with their own very good compositions are many well-loved shanty or traditional standards, plus a couple of solid covers (The Dropkick Murphy’s ‘Rose Tattoo’, Show of Hands’ ‘Cousin Jack’) proving that whether it’s tin mines or wool, that hard-scrabble life and the pain of losing an industry retains a universal resonance.
‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, rather a maudlin tune to these ears, never fails to grab the crowd by the emotions and squeeze: but, then, every song is joined in with gusto. Riffing off the audience (participation is actively encouraged) and each other, whilst staying just the right side of total chaos, The Landlubbers never fail to raise the roof. Playing live finds them in their natural element and they’ve carved out a loyal local following. If you get the chance to see The Landlubbers, do: these guys deliver. With love. From Calderdale.
Artist website: halifaxlandlubbers.wixsite.com/landlubbers
‘Leave Her Johnny’ – live: