My Shanty Scene - Part 3 - Germany & Poland

So the adventure continues in Germany. I was very unsure of what to expect before heading to Rendsburg for the ISSA (international shanty and sea song association) shanty festival. I was informed that it was the first time that this had happened and I was very surprised to see so many very large shanty choirs coming from all over Germany and Holland. This tells me and shows me how large the shanty choir tradition and culture is in Germany and it's neighbour Holland.

The shanty choirs out here seem to be a social gathering of friends getting together for a sing, a great form of entertainment formalised into a show and presented to the audience to boast about your community / neighbourhood.

The first thing you expect to hear when hearing the term shanty choir is the work songs that we are all familiar with, however this was surprisingly not the case. Most of the choirs and songs were presented using accordions a small rhythm section and between 25 - 60 singers. The songs being sung were not traditional shanties either but land songs about the romantic idea of a sailor / sailing. It was not out of place for a shanty choir to sing songs such as 'my bonnie lies over the ocean' or the song made famous by Rod Stewart 'we are sailing'.

Although not many shanties were being sung there were a few heard now and again by the choirs and myself and two other groups (crossjack and stowaway) were booked to add variation to what would be the normal expectations of the shanty choirs.

All in all this was a wonderful festival and I had a great time performing and singing with many different groups of people. My next stop is Poland for 2 very different festivals. My experiences in Poland are always great and I am very excited about the next few days.

Now I am on my last long journey home from Stansted airport after a hugely adventurous couple of weekends in Poland. It started in Stzynort with a couple of concerts with Banana Boat, a great Polish acapella group who over the past year have become very dear friends. It is hard to bottle up great experiences and express the emotion when putting it to paper and the two festivals in Poland really are something that you have to be there to experience.

After a day of sailing the Mazurian lakes the first show began. Banana boat take to the stage to a screaming fan base of roughly 500 people. They really are the Polish equivalent to a well known boy band. The songs I heard were some classic shanties but mostly original sea songs and shanties written by Banana boat themselves. This experience in Stzynort was more of an outdoor Banana Boat concert where the audience were just wild. The whole summer there were various different concerts being held at this touristy holiday goers venue. I suppose the equivalent in the UK would be a Butlins holiday park but without the red coats and with shanties.

The first thing that strikes me about Poland is the popularity of shanty song amongst the younger generation. I am unsure as to whether is the popularity of the sailing in Poland or linked to the communism era and the work song theme. I also discovered that many of the shanties being sung were a translation into the native language, this is different to the German and Dutch choirs who when singing these songs would sing them in English. These Polish translations were fairly recent and a main bulk of them were done by Marek Szuarowski who I was to meet and play in a duo with the following week in Polanczyk. Marek is responsible for the translation of mast of the songs in Stan Hugills book 'shanties from the seven seas' a book I so aptly heard being described as 'the shanty mans bible' by Jim Mageean. I thought that because these translations are fairly recent that these songs a relatively new to the Polish ears and therefore not so overplayed / sung which i believe is sometimes the attitude of British audiences.

The Polish festivals certainly let off a different vibe to others within Europe and to me are always a great experience. The audiences are younger and are very lively and willing to join in and sing, giving off this real sense of community and belonging when performing.

For now I return home before heading back out to Germany for a large festival in Vegesack and also in Brittany. See you soon.

Chris Ricketts
Pics:Tomasz Golinski

Chris Ricketts

An Introduction

My Shanty Scene Series

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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