The lead track from the album Lady Franklin is a broadside from the 1850s. After the disappearance of her husband, Lady Jane Franklin sponsored several expeditions to discover his fate and worked hard to keep the search going for decades. When explorer John Rae returned with Inuit stories of cannibalism, she refused to believe them, but they’ve subsequently been proven largely accurate. In fact the recent discovery of the two Franklin ships is mainly thanks to Inuit oral histories, which were mocked by the British Navy at the time of the ships disappearance
Following their acclaimed debut Kings Of The South Seas (DWink Records 2014) this second release by Kings Of The South Seas vividly brings to life the music left by these events and their cultural fallout. Lady Franklin features Canadian Voyageur paddling songs, English folk ballads and songs composed onboard ice-bound wintering ships to Victorian parlour pieces – all delivered in powerful, foreboding and effecting style by this unique band.
The British expeditions in search of the NW Passage through the North of Canada and in particular the loss of Franklin’s expedition to the ice during the 19th Century affected many. The Navy and families who waited at home, the Inuit encountered and the British public who looked on from afar and seemed to signal the beginning of the end of British Empire. These losses and failures left a large wealth of musical, theatrical and literary material as the nation tried to make sense of events. The material was also derived from printing presses and musicals created on board some of the icebound ships during those long, brutal winters.
Lady Franklin was recorded in St Andrews Mission Church in Gravesend under the glow of stained glass windows dedicated by Lady Franklin (wife of John Franklin) to the sailors who lost their lives on his last voyage.
Kings of The South Seas are:
Ben Nicholls – vocal, concertina, organ, banjo (The Full English, Seth Lakeman Band, Nadine Shah Band)
Richard Warren – guitar (Spiritualized, Mark Lanegan Soulsavers)
You may have strong views about the whaling industry and when it comes to the 21st century model I’d agree with you. But when it comes to the practices of two centuries ago go and read Moby-Dick and we’ll talk about it. The point is that all the songs on this album relate to whaling throughout the 19th century.
That fact may call to mind visions of horny-handed sons of the sea in sailor caps and roll-neck jerseys but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Kings Of The South Seas are led by Ben Nicholls, best known for his rôle in Seth Lakeman’s band along with Richard Warren (The Hybrids, Echoboy, Starsailor) on guitar and Evan Jenkins (Neil Cowley Trio) on drums. Rock and jazz alongside modern folk – this is nothing like you were expecting.
To be fair, some of it is fairly conventional, with Ben’s duet concertina as the melody instrument and a few bars wouldn’t scare your granny. Some songs have been heavily re-written from broadsides and other sources and any bowdlerisations have been deftly removed. The traditional nature of the songs remains even when Richard’s guitar is doing its best to obscure it so ‘Weary Whaling Grounds’ is dark and grim, offering an entirely new view of the song. There are oddities, too. The opening ‘I Never Missed My Home’ comes from a broadside collected in West Wittering but sounds not unlike an American hymn. One highlight is ‘King Of The Cannibal Islands’, which I’d previously known only as a dance tune, rendered here in all its unlikely glory and which is followed by ‘The Great Sea Snake’, another improbable tale.
On the first hearing Kings Of The South Seas can come as a bit of a shock but familiarity breeds both acceptance and understanding. You really should get to hear it.
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