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JOE DANKS - Seaspeak: Songs And Stories From The National Maritime Museum 

JOE DANKS - Seaspeak: Songs And Stories From The National Maritime Museum 
Private Label 

Seaspeak is the outcome of a residency that contributed to the ‘Musicians in Museums’ project; in this instance a musical collaboration with the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and the English Folk Dance & Song Society (EFDSS). With the vast resources of the Maritime Museum at his disposal, Joe Danks set to work creating a selection of new songs, adapting others, and searching out unusual instrumental pieces. With such a huge archive to sort through and mull over, the result is a bit like the English or drama teacher that takes three objects to class, and the students have to create a comprehensive storyline that somehow links everything together.

The musicianship here is very well crafted. Formally a member of the Anglo-Irish alt-folk band, Ranagri, the influence of the band shines through in Joe’s compositions. Add to this heady mix the guest musicians - Danny Pedler on accordion and hurdy gurdy, Sarah Matthews on fiddle, viola and, I might add, very subtle, supportive vocals, Jean Kelly, a member of the Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, on harp. In addition, Simon Harmer’s intricate foot tapping and distinctive step dancing adds another layer to this musical salty cake.

With such a plethora of source material it is not unreasonable to say that Seaspeak falls far short of the deep well the Maritime Museum has on offer; realistically such a work can only skim the surface. That said, including a version of John Peel on the tenuous pretence that it was “reportedly played on board” by the meteorologist, Leonard Hussey, on several of Shackleton’s expeditions, seems like a missed opportunity.

Amongst a spattering of original material, the CD is riven through with well-known popular tunes – John Masefield’s Sea Fever or MacColl’s Sweet Thames Flow Softly to name but two. Seaspeak will appeal to many, but I feel the definitive musical exploitation of the National Maritime Museum is yet to be realised.

John Oke Bartlett


This review appeared in Issue 140 of The Living Tradition magazine