Following the successes of 2011 and 2012 this year's Sea Shanty Festival at the National Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port had a high standard to maintain but in my opinion they not only matched the earlier week-ends, they excelled them!. Just as Lancaster used to be THE place for maritime performers to start the season, Ellesmere Port at Easter is now the only place to be and that goes for the public too.
As usual the musicians and singers were a carefully blended mixture of local, national and international performers. Some just starting out on the scene and some with well-deserved world-wide reputations.
The overseas contingent was well represented and the Enkhusen 4 pleased their audience with their singing and musicianship but also with their good natured banter, last year's hit group Males de Mer continued to impress and are now firmly established on the maritime scene. For a linguistic duffer like myself it is nice to be able to listen to these people performing wonderful sounding songs (and joining in with what are to me oddly worded choruses) and then to hear comprehensive explanations in English. It shouldn't be surprising in this rapidly shrinking world that people can speak other people's language but to hear singing, joking and instructions from these visitors to our shore is great. As proved by the enthusiastic applause and the volume of chorus singing at their sessions; not to mention the attendance at Hans Weeshuizen's bones classes.
Contributions from locals were equally enjoyable. The polished performance from old stagers Marrow Bones and relative newcomers The Nervous Wrecks may not have had to travel very far themselves but they were the equal of any of those that did.
My well known liking for the Yorkshire group Monkey's Fist was not harmed by their performances over the week-end but I also confess to enjoying many of the other groups as well including the aptly named She Shanties who performed some well thought out sets and managed to stamp their own personality on well-known songs without detracting from my enjoyment of those songs. Sharp as Razors managed to live up to their name and their reputation despite singing one-man-short with crisp clear performances that had even those new to genre happily joining in.
A nice thing this year was the greater number of individual singers such as Gaye Anthony, Anna Shannon, John Thrall and Jon Heslop to name just 4. Having only previously heard Gaye with her one time partner in the duo Trish & Gaye I was more than happy to hear the wide range of songs delivered in that wonderful voice. Anna proved once again how good she is not only singing her own well-penned offerings but also displaying instrumental dexterity. John and Jon sing great old songs as well as some more traditional offerings with a relaxed style that comes of vast experience in similar settings. Their well-crafted sets are well worth hearing.
There were some superb duos present over the week-end as well, including those "War of the Roses" opponents Hissyfit and Scold's Bridle. It is hard not to enjoy listening to these two talented twosomes with their distinctly different styles. The acapella artistry of Hissyfit especially singing some of Linda's marvellously written songs and the well-honed skills of Scold's Bridle showing why so many good writers are more than happy for them to cover their songs. I would be in the dog-house if I didn't mention at least one other duo. John and Joy who make up Dogwatch are always good on the ear (especially when singing Cicely Fox Smith poems to Joy's tunes) and gave some sterling performances at this year's festival.
With more than a 100 individuals combined into nearly 3 dozen acts there isn't space to mention everyone even though everyone I heard this year deserve a massive vote of thanks for some really excellent musical performances.
However the week-end wasn't just about music. There were some fine sessions from a number of very informative folk such as Jim Radford who broaden my knowledge of nautical exploits with his talk about the wartime rescue tugs. There were a variety of demonstrations of craft and skill covering themes such as carving, knot tying and boat painting. There were museum tours and ghost tours. There were model boat demonstrations and boat tug-of-war. There was face painting and craft sessions just for the children. There were too many boats to count including some to clamber over and some to enjoy trips in as well as a flotilla just to look at.
Add to that all the museum's regular exhibits and activities and a very pleasant café not to mention a well-stocked bar with an almost continuous sing-a-round and it's no wonder there were so many happy smiling faces on view throughout the week-end. There were even happy smiling faces when it came to paying since all this entertainment (apart from the Saturday and Sunday evening concerts) was included in the museums standard entry fees.
Ellesmere Port's Easter Boat gathering and Sea Shanty Festival has become a fixture on the entertainment scene and plans are already well under way (or should that be under weigh) for 2014. Get more details from the museum web-site www.nwm.org.uk or from www.shanty.org.uk the web-site of Shanty U.K. and put it in your diary for next year.
pictures from top, National Waterways Museum, Males De Mer, Anna Shannon,
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