Link to Living Tradition Homepage





THE LONGEST JOHNS - Smoke & Oakum 

THE LONGEST JOHNS - Smoke & Oakum 
Decca 3876697 

This heroic Bristol shanty-crew had prior to last year followed a conventional career trajectory, self-releasing a series of increasingly attractive CDs that delivered energy-fuelled performances of shanties and original compositions with a maritime flavour. Then all changed overnight with the runaway viral TikTok success of Wellerman, and the higher profile has brought with it a switch to a major label for Andy Yates, Dave Robinson, Jonathan ‘JD’ Darley and Robbie Sattin. And with it, the customary glossy package, lyrics booklet and all, that comes with the Decca stable.

And with it too, a clear and laudable determination to extend their appeal to a wider potential audience. Such a gambit can seem suspiciously “all things to all men” and may prove the undoing of a band without the talent or versatility to carry it off. But fortunately, The Longest Johns are well up to the task. On the bread-and-butter shanty repertoire, Smoke & Oakum delivers the band’s trademark gutsy close-harmonised a cappella stamp-and-go for Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate and Johnny Come Down To Hilo, while they also turn in a rollicking Hog-Eye Man, which employs an idiomatic banjo accompaniment. Andy’s banjo prowess also features on thoughtful accounts of Wayfaring Stranger and Stephen Foster’s Hard Times and a stirringly driven take on Stan Rogers’ mighty, empowering Mary Ellen Carter, as well as on two of the album’s fine original maritime-themed compositions, Nantucket and Rolling Along. Another standout original is the doomy, atmospheric Downed And Drowned, while highlights among the purely a cappella tracks must include Ed Pickford’s biting Workers’ Song. A solid account of the Copper-bottomed singaround favourite, Thousands Or More, and a gleefully self-explanatory Beer Is Great complete the tracklist.

On Smoke & Oakum the band also imports occasional guests – including Sam Sweeney and Seth Lakeman – to augment their own instrumentation, and the overall feel is that of an accomplished and well-rounded maritime-flavoured folk record with a pronounced good-time feel, which should win the Johns even more friends outside of the niche shanty market.

David Kidman


This review appeared in Issue 143 of The Living Tradition magazine