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THE EXMOUTH SHANTY MEN - Tall Ships And Tavern Tales 

THE EXMOUTH SHANTY MEN - Tall Ships And Tavern Tales 
Wildgoose Studios WGS438CD 

The Exmouth Shanty Men a cappella singers are not a group in the true sense of the word, but more of an ensemble of like-minded singers. This double CD has been conceived as a ‘concept’ album that represents a typical costumed performance from their ever-popular stage show, and on this level works exceedingly well. Tall Ships And Tavern Tales by definition naturally falls into two camps. Using song as a medium, Tall Ships (CD1) takes you on a winding sea voyage along the old trade routes and finally back to ‘Merrie England’ again. Tavern Tales (CD2) is a different kettle of fish altogether representing, as it does, popular sea songs with the odd shanty thrown in for good measure. This is material sung for pleasure that would have been sung off watch on board ship during precious down time. Fore-bitters or fo’c’sle songs also made their way into dockside taverns where the sailors could vent their frustrations and grievances without recrimination.

Tall Ships begins with a fine rendition by Brian of Holcombe (alias Billy Rollocks) of The Leaving Of Liverpool. The choice of this popular song in many ways sets the tone for both CDs, for this is a double album that celebrates the tough lives, hard conditions, sexual exploits and elations of our sailing forbears. If you are looking for undiscovered sea shanties that have only recently come to light from an old whaler’s log, then you would be largely disappointed. True, there are a number of unusual sea songs, Shiny-O for example. In the main, however, much of the material is relatively well known. If, on the other hand, you have just attended the stage show, then you would be delighted to take a little piece of their performance home with you.

Viewed as a whole, this double album is a capable and enjoyable listen and without a doubt, with its honest simple arrangements, will have an enthusiastic following from The Exmouth Shanty Men’s fan club, shanty aficionado traditionalists and newcomers to the tradition alike.

John Oke Bartlett


This review appeared in Issue 144 of The Living Tradition magazine