VARIOUS ARTISTS – Sea Song Sessions (Topic TSCD612)

Sea Song SessionsSea Song Sessions is a self-explanatory title…except that it isn’t quite so simple. The project grew out of a commission to put together a maritime-themed show for Folkestone Festival. It features five well-known names: Jon Boden, Emily Portman, Seth Lakeman, Jack Rutter and the distinctive voice of Ben Nicholls of Kings Of The South Seas. The songs are taken from the individual singers’ repertoires and reworked for the group and not all are traditional.

The set opens with ‘The Rambling Sailor’, a rousing version probably led by Seth Lakeman – it’s hard to be sure without notes. So far so conventional. Jack Rutter leads an equally boisterous ‘The Dreadnought (Bound Away)’, a shanty (if that is the correct term) from the 1920s. It has a good pedigree, being previously recorded by Ewan MacColl, Barbara Dickson and Louis Killen. Emily Portman brings her own delicate style to ‘Rock ‘n’ Row Me Over’, telling the tale from the point of view of the young girl in the first line. See Stan Hugill’s Shanties From The Seven Seas for a full discussion of the song and, indeed, every other traditional shanty.

The first “new” song is Jon Boden’s gentle ‘Salvation Army Band Girl’ which tells of a girl who plays the tenor concertina and the young sailor she promised to wait for. It’s followed by the broadside ‘Jack And The Bear Skin’ sung with appropriately deadpan humour by Ben Nicholls in his rolling bass voice. Emily again takes the female viewpoint on ‘Short Jacket And White Trousers’, a naval version of the familiar female drummer story probably from Bert Lloyd. ‘The Good Ship Anny’ is an instrumental named for the tall ship on which the performers sailed between gigs around the Cornish coast while ‘Fire Marengo’ is immediately recognisable as Jon Boden – you couldn’t mistake him.

‘Some Old Salty’, a favourite song of mine by Lal Waterson and Oliver Knight, lacks the loose swing of the original – instead Emily brings a wistfulness to the lyric. Ben follows her again with ‘The Mermaid’s Song’ – not the rollicking traditional shanty but a rather more sedate 18th century poem. Seth adapts a Cornish folk tale for ‘The Lady And The Lantern’ and Jack reprises ‘Young Susan On Board Of A Man-Of-War’ from his otherwise land-locked album, Hills. Finally Jon closes the set with the reflective piano-based ‘Deep Blue Sea’.

Sea Song Sessions is a perfect example of ensemble work. These guys have known each other for years and everyone fits together so well that they have room to experiment and be imaginative and perhaps a little daring.

Dai Jeffries

Artists/label website:

‘The Dreadnought (Bound Away)’ – live:

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