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Sea Shanties

641 of 1170 nominations


Sea Shanties

Is this an icon?


Sea Shanties

Shanties are not just songs of entertainment, but performed a practical function for sailors during the days of Britain’s naval empire. With their lilting rhythms and often lengthy narrative lyrics, they were designed to be sung to ease the punishing manual labour on board the great sailing ships. There are shanties to accompany the hauling up of anchors, the emptying of bilges, and of course for the hoisting and lowering of sails (read – and hear – more in our sea shanties feature for the HMS Victory icon).

Among famous sea shanties that some of us might remember from junior schools and youth groups of days gone by, the most famous is surely ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?’ Others that may ring a bell with you are ‘Blow The Man Down’, ‘Goodbye Fare Thee Well’ and ‘Whiskey-O’, drink being a favourite theme. These were the only kinds of songs that men were permitted to sing in the Navy, and have endured for that reason.

Photo: 30 Things by 30 Project


Your comments

Shantymen sing these songs worldwide, but it was British sea power that spread the shanty as a work song. Collecting inspiration from Cape Horn to Yarmouth Town.

Dave Wheatley

I think Sea Shanties should be an icon, these days unless you've heard a folk singer who really knows his stuff, you would never know what a sea shanty was, they are a part of our past that we will lose if they aren't kept alive in some way, like the trad Irish songs, they contain stories about our past that could be forgotten forever, my personal favourite is ' The Black Velvet Band '. I visited Falmouth years ago & in a pub a chap was singing, scruffy, big beard, fat, but the songs were haunting, & it was one of the best nights out I've ever had, I just wish I could remember all the songs he sang. They are part of our past & our heritage, we can't let them die. Di Davies - Telford
Di Davies



My nomination is the garden shed.