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.”