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TOM BROWN - A Sailor's Life: The Life And Times Of John Short Of Watchet 1839-1933

TOM BROWN - A Sailor's Life: The Life And Times Of John Short Of Watchet 1839-1933
S+A Projects ISBN: 9780993046803

A beautifully produced volume here, by noted singer Tom Brown, which goes well with the (separately available) three-CD recording of the shanties John Short sang to Cecil Sharp. 

John Short was a fairly boring man: happily married, didn't booze or scrap and enjoyed a quiet night in - not the normal type of subject chosen for a biography!  However, Tom Brown has used Short's career to investigate the various ships he served on and voyages he undertook to give us a fascinating and rounded picture of what life as a seaman at that time would have been like.  And a damn fine job he's made of it. Alongside copious attractive illustrations and photographs, this is a really excellent and highly readable piece of work.

A couple of questions remain unanswered: Why didn't he sing The Watchet Sailor? Did he know Captain Lewis from Minehead who did sing it? But those answers are too far lost in the mists for even such a diligent researcher as we have here.  The second part of the book is a transcription of all of Short's songs - very useful as a performing edition, but it is here that the ‘ha'porth of tar’ crops up.  A random sampling of three of the songs showed numerous errors:  incorrect time signature, transposition to another key (for no stated reason), regular errors in slurring and inconsistency in indicating solo and chorus passages.  Nothing some proof-reading wouldn't have cured.  This in no way stops the usefulness of the book as a performing edition - most people will correct these matters without even noticing.  However as this is likely to be the definitive (and unrepeated) work on the subject it is a little disappointing.  Don't let these quibbles put you off though!  The whole work is too fine a thing to be overlooked and is thoroughly enjoyable.

Paul Burgess

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.