KINGS OF THE SOUTH SEAS – Kings Of The South Seas (D.Wink DWINK CD12)

KOTSSYou 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.

Dai Jeffries

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