I can hear everyone at once!

When the dark, wet winter drove us from singing in the outdoor public parking garage, we reZoomed online practice sessions without much enthusiasm. When spring turned to summer, we cautiously tried in-person sessions again, this time, at home in a large kitchen with patio doors open, air purifier humming away, singers masked except when leading a shanty, and physically distanced. It was encouraging to see real faces attached to bodies, but the sense of camaraderie was not at our previous level. And then we received The Invitation.

A friend was helping to organize a Wooden Boat Show and Open House for the Hollyburn Sailing Club in which he was a member and wanted to know if we could come and sing for an hour or two. We’d get a free lunch, and alternate with one other act — a group of guys in matching Hawaiian shirts covering pop songs on ukuleles. This was an ideal re-entry for live performing. After discussing our COVID-19 concerns and precautions, we agreed and showed up at the boat club on a sunny afternoon.

Under the protective canopy, we stepped away from ukulele band’s electronic gear, lined up, and sang for anyone who strolled by, but mostly for ourselves. We rediscovered live harmonies, adjusted volume on the fly, listened closely and watched one another for those little cues you miss from across the kitchen. We were finally singing as a group again and it was a wonderful feeling!

At the Open House for the Hollyburn Sailing Club for our first live performance since COVID hit.

It gave us so much confidence that we agreed to lead some shanties at Folk Music at the Beach on September 9 at the Hollyburn Sailing Club. It will be like old times — almost.

Waiting for our ship to come in

Like so much in our lives, shanty singing has moved online— listening to or watching old recordings, joining in a Zoom session from the privacy of your headphones where no one else can hear your amazing harmonies. We’re missing the live sessions with contributions from every corner of the room and January, in the post-Christmas doldrums, was “traditionally” the month we reserved the back room of the Tipper Restaurant and sang until closing time with anyone who could find the door.

It’s heartening to see this sudden online media interest in shanties, short snippets of favorite songs, built up layer by layer by strangers, resulting in wonderful and wild turns of arrangements. It’s great to see the enjoyment on the singers’ faces.

But it’s not quite the same without sharing a beer and/or a smile in real time, passing quick comments between the songs, and adjusting your musical contribution as you go – depending on who joins in, who takes what harmony line, who finds a new verse. And the laughter that grows from across the room.

And when the session is done, it’s done. It may live on in a few shaky camera recordings maybe, or recorded more carefully so we can play it again to listen critically, and see how we can improve – but we never go back to it. The live session, however, lives in our memory, getting better with each visit, and inspiring the next one.

When safe group singing is no longer a challenge, we look forward to meeting the latest batch of shanty enthusiasts IRL. And we’ll teach them the rest of the verses of “The Wellerman.”

Solo Shanties? An oxymoron!

The Lazy Jacks, like many other musical (and other) groups, tried the online approach to our usual rehearsals. Using Zoom meant we couldn´t sing harmony for each other to hear, and we missed the warmth and laughter of meeting in our kitchens or dining rooms. Some of us adapted quite easily to the restrictions on socializing, and streamed other sessions, and even joined in a few shanty sessions across the continent. But it wasn´t the same.

Respectfully, we reviewed two main aspects of the COVID-19 guidelines for safe meetings:

  • Outside
  • Distanced

And we looked at our own requirements:

  • A roof to keep us dry
  • Good acoustics
  • Inexpensive
  • Adequate lighting

For the last few months, we´ve been meeting in the corner of a underused public parking garage! It´s covered, but open on all sides, with decent lighting, and some pretty interesting acoustics.

We bring chairs, music stands, small clip-on lights for the stands, and music. And we can hear each other, and hear all of us together. And even better, we can see one another in real life, and smile, and make honest-to-goodness eye contact.

This being Vancouver, we might be able to keep on singing all winter in this location. I´m not sure how the acoustics would handle an open shanty session, but until group singing is no longer a ¨dangerous¨ activity — thanks to the pandemic — we´ll work on our repertoire from a safe shanty distance … 3 meters apart, 6 meters, and more. We´ll listen to the live harmonies echo off the the walls, and we´ll hope for better weather for us all.

Shanties, with beer (optional)

Wow! We pulled in about 40 shanty fans and singers and easily filled two hours with traditional shanties, modern shanties, some humourous songs, and a moving recitation of a Les Barker poem, “Disaster at Sea” for our third (?) annual Open Shanty Session at the Tipper restaurant on Sunday, January 26. By the end of the evening, we’d heard songs in English, French, German, and … a Balkan language I need to ask the singer to identify. We’d added in bodhran, penny whistle, concertina, and button accordian, as well as seen the debut of our limber jack dancing doll.

It’s a great room for singing, but not for photographs, so we have no visual evidence. But there may be some audio files at a later date.

Coming Soon! Our annual open shanty session on Sunday January 26

We’ve found a cure for the post-December doldrums

Now that the party season has faded into your rear-view mirror, fancy leftovers are long gone, and lights and decorations taken down, what’s the point of going out?

We wanted an annual celebration but didn’t want it to be lost in the flurry of December holidays. So we’ve been hosting an open shanty session in late January (or early February) for the last three years — a two-hour session in the back room of the Tipper Restaurant, a local venue that is a great supporter of the local arts community.

We’ve booked the room this year for Sunday, January 26 with singing from 7-9 pm. Come earlier and have dinner. Friends, shanty fans, and shanty-curious are are all welcome to bring their voices and their own shanties to lead as we sit around long tables and make the rafters roar. There’s no cover charge, a good food and drink menu, and it’s a great way to sail into the New Year. Here’s our full list of events.