Music review: Glasgow Shanty Day, The Tall Ship, Glasgow

The world of the sea shanty is one of hard labour, camaraderie, drunken mischief and yearning for home – a spirited and moving tradition of work, rest and play which was heartily celebrated on board Glasgow’s beautiful tall ship, the Glenlee, at the city’s first Shanty Day.

Glasgow's tall ship, the Glenlee, played host to the city's first Shanty Day
Glasgow's tall ship, the Glenlee, played host to the city's first Shanty Day

Glasgow Shanty Day, The Tall Ship, Glasgow ****

Landlubbers were welcomed aboard with a shot of whisky and the call-and-response began with a handful of standards led by Russ Clare. The joy of the shanty is its simplicity as a chorus song – anyone can pick up the much-repeated refrains – coupled with its depth of feeling.

This shanty-literate audience were on board from the get-go and the communal spirit prevailed through a more sophisticated set by a capella harmony quintet Muldoon’s Picnic, encompassing songs of slavery and skulduggery, the hymnal swell of Harbour Lights and even a guttural shanty in Japanese, all sung with precision, creativity and character.

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    Lusty local choirs Govanhill Voices and Voicebeat rounded off the first half with the latter adding a French whaling song to the international catalogue, while Yorkshire trio Monkey’s Fist reached beyond the strictly seafaring fare with versions of Randy Newman’s tough but tender Louisiana 1927 and Ewan MacColl’s Sweet Thames Flow Softly. There was great poetry, soul and cheer in their varied set, embellished with guitar, bodhran and concertina.

    The 14-strong Voicemale demonstrated the massed power of the a capella choir, while female harmony trio Annorlunda tempered the testosterone levels with their own vigorous take on the shanty tradition.

    Bristol quintet The Longest Johns added harmonium, guitars and some original songs to the mix, but the star attraction was their potent vocals, whether individually or collectively. They packed a pure emotional punch on The Grey Funnel Line before rounding off the life-affirming proceedings with a raucous Cajun-style Pay Me My Money Down. Fiona Shepherd