Sea Song Sessions is a collection of British maritime folk songs and sea shanties, performed by a collective of some of British folk music’s leading lights: Jon Boden, Seth Lakeman, Ben Nicholls, Emily Portman & Jack Rutter.
The concept for the album came to them in 2021, when they were asked to prepare an evening of sea-related songs for the Folkestone Festival. Boden’s celebrated work with Bellowhead (of course no strangers to sea-faring songs) and Ben Nicholls’ band, Kings Of The South Seas (who play exclusively maritime-influenced music), Seth Lakeman’s own extensive body of work from the South West as well as Emily Portman and Jack Rutter’s sizeable oceanic repertoires, all formed the natural foundation and inspiration for these acclaimed musicians to conceive the Sea Song Sessions.
They chose to record material from each artist’s repertoire, traditional songs and some newly written for these sessions. What you are hearing is a record that captures the story of an island nation whose political and social history is so undeniably tied to its relationship with the sea.
The album was handled by seasoned veteran Ben Hillier (Blur, Depeche Mode, Elbow) and recorded live over two days, seeking to harness the immediacy of the studio and utitilise his experience across other genres to bring a deeper complexity to the production of these songs. The performances were tracked at Agricultural Audio, Hillier’s own studio in the Sussex Downs, constructed within a giant farm building made entirely out of hay bales.
The first single, released today, is ‘The Rambling Sailor’:
“I first heard my Father singing this song as The Rambling Miner. This version as The Rambling Sailor is based on the 1968 version from Maddy Prior and Tim Hart and resonates with where I’m from as it mentions young Johnson stopping in Southern ports such as Plymouth.” – Seth Lakeman
Unsurprisingly from the oldest independent record label in the world and an undeniable steward of Britain’s folk music, Topic has a long history of recording maritime/sea songs, this record serves as a continuation of their classic releases of the 60s and 70s (‘Sea Songs & Shanties,’ ‘Blow The Man Down,’ etc).
The album artwork is based on a painting, ‘Taut Ropes With Brick,’ by the artist John Henderson, who recently passed away in April.
“I met him a couple of times at The Chelsea Arts Club on his trips up to London from his native Cornwall. I always remembered his witty, dry humour and him talking about his photo-realist paintings of maritime rope. There was something compelling about this artist who had focused on ropes from the sea and yet made incredible paintings which expressed so much more. Sea songs are like this, a narrow subject matter but one that tells much bigger stories about the wider world. When we were looking for an album sleeve, one of his pictures was an obvious choice.” – Ben Nicholls
You can hear songs from the Sea Song Sessions and more LIVE at three, one-off harbourside and onboard performances from musicians on the album and friends. They will sail by tall ship Anny Of Charlestown from performance to performance along the Cornish coastline: September 27/28/30. More info below.