THE EXMOUTH SHANTY MEN – Tall Ships And Tavern Tales (WildGoose WGS438CD)

Tall Ships And Tavern TalesTall Ships And Tavern Tales is essentially a studio recording of The Exmouth Shanty Men’s stage show, spread across two CDs. It was actually recorded in Lympstone church which gives just the right amount of natural reverb. Like many WildGoose recordings the sound is natural and retains a few rough(ish) edges to emphasise the fact that the buoy band’s natural milieu is the stage or somewhere before the mast.

The Tall Ships disc opens with ‘Leaving Of Liverpool’, a song we all know right well but leader William Rollocks (yes, really) inserts a few variations in the rhythm which somehow emphasise the human story. I could have done without the exaggerated pronunciation of “Cal-aye-forn-aye-ay” but I’m sure that someone will tell me that it’s authentic. The naturalness of the performances is easily detected in ‘Little Sally Racket’ as the singers enjoy the double- (and occasionally single-) entendres.

There are a few lesser known shanties in the middle of the set: ‘Good Morning Ladies All’, ‘Heilan Laddie’ and ‘John Damarey’ some of which I hadn’t heard before. You may rest assured that they all to be found in Hugill.

Tavern Tales includes some pukka shanties but also spreads its net widely. It opens with Tim Laycock’s ‘Heaven’s A Bar’ sung by the only woman on the record, rejoicing in the name Helen Highwater. There’s a concertina on ‘Jack Was Every Inch A Sailor’ which may have been pinched from a music hall song. ‘Betty Stogs’ was written by a former group member in praise of…a premium Cornish ale! ‘Yarmouth Town’ is another well-known song although the Men cast doubts on its origins – I can say no more.

The “real” shanties include ‘Fireship’, ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Row Bullies Row’ and interspersed with them are some fine songs of all shades. There’s ‘Pay Me My Money Down’, a protest song from the southern states and the broadside ballad, ‘Handsome Cabin Boy’ (Helen Highwater again). There’s the ever-popular ‘Maggie May’ and ‘All For Me Grog’; the relatively obscure ‘Lord Exmouth’; the slave spiritual ‘No More Auction Block’ – once recorded by Bob Dylan – and Tom Lewis’ ‘Sailor’s Prayer’, another familiar tale of a sailor duped by a judy. We leave the bar with ‘Row On, Row On’, traditional words with a tune by Tim Laycock.

If you have a taste for songs of the sea Tall Ships And Tavern Tales will be a treat and if you find the Exmouth Shanty Men performing in your area you’ll be assured of an entertaining couple of hours. They have clearly taken their research and their performance seriously, if not themselves as Cannon Fodder, Alfredo Heights and Mal Demaer can testify.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘Betty Stogs’ – live:

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