Falmouth Shout Shanty Singers Association Falmouth Shout Shanty Singers Association
Falmouth Shout Shanty Singers
Falmouth Shout Shanty Singers Association Falmouth Shout Shanty Singers Association

Shanty History

Sea Shanties (chanties): The word 'chanty' (or shanty) is probably derived from the French word 'chanter' - to sing. Shanties were originally shouted out, with emphasis on a syllable or word as sailors performed their work. Shanties developed separate rhythms for the various chores at sea - for raising the anchor (which was done by marching around the capstan), hauling ropes, etc.

Most songs involved a lead singer and a choral response. The words were called out by a chanteyman and the men joined in on the chorus. The words of the chorus usually coincided with a heave, or pull.

Shanties served both as a mental diversion and synchronized teamwork. They also provided an outlet for sailors to express their opinions in a manner which would not cause punishment. The 'golden age' of shanties was in the nineteenth century.


There are different types of chanties:

Capstan shanties

The capstan was a mushroom shaped object with holes along the top. Sailors inserted bars into the holes and marched around the capstan to raise the anchor. Capstan shanties had steady rhythms and usually told stories because of the length of time (which could be hours) it took to raise the anchor. Sailors would stamp on the deck on the words. This gave rise to the term, 'stamp and go chanties.'

Halyard shanties

Halyard shanties were sung to the raising and lowering of sails. Sails hung from wooden cross-pieces called yards. With the canvas and wood, sails could weigh between 1,000 and 2,500 pounds. To set sail a member of the crew would climb the rigging to loosen the canvas. On deck the crew would take hold of a line called the halyard (for haul + yard). The crew would rest during the verse and haul during the chorus. Depending on the weight of the sail, crews could pull one (for heavy jobs) to three (for lighter jobs) times per chorus.

Stamp and Go Shanties

The main yards were raised and lowered by a team hauling the braces away from the lead block in one long movement and were given timing by 'stamp and go' shanties.

Short drag shanties

Very difficult tasks meant crews could pull less. Short drag shanties were used for such tasks - such as trimming the sails or raising the masthead.

Windlass and pumping shanties

the windlass is also used to raise the anchor. Sailors would pump handles up and down, making the barrel of the windlass rotate to bring the anchor chain up. Pumps were fitting in ships to empty the bilge (the lowest part of the ship) of water. Wooden ships leaked, but not so fast that the crew could not pump the water out. There were several different types of pumps, which accounts for the variation in the timing of pumping shanties.

Ceremonial shanties and forecastle songs

Ceremonial and forecastle (the crews quarters) songs were those sung by sailors on their time off (of which they didn't have a great deal). These usually told stories of famous battles, romance or of their longing for home. Ceremonial shanties were for times of celebration, such as when the sailor paid off his debt to the ship or when they crossed the equator.


Cornish Songs.

The Cornish love singing. In common with other celtic nations music and song has always been an important part of our culture. Whether it be miner, fishermen or farmer, after the work was done, there were always stories to tell, songs to sing and pints to drink. Of course Methodism was very strong in Cornwall and in all the chapels hymns were sung heartily on Sundays. Indeed, John Wesley was known to have thought that the Cornish took far too much enjoyment out of their church singing. Interesting how the joy of singing seemed to span from Chapel to Snug with such ease. In fact, in the church's view, too easily, and it was in Cornwall that the service of nine carols and lessons was introduced at Christmas to entice the menfolk out of the bars and into the church! The tradition of Cornish singing continues in many forms - male voice and ladies choirs are popular throughout Cornwall, and their members naturally add to and initiate much of the pub singing.

Songs of all types have been sung in Cornish pubs for generations, with new songs being written, even to this day, with modern songwriters such as Harry Safari, Roger Bryant and others writing some beautiful and stirring new Cornish songs in recent years.

Our repertoire of Cornish songs therefore spans history, from the days of the industrial revolution when Richard Trevithick's harnessing of steam into locomotion caused the horse and carts to stop and be replaced by steam driven wheels on Camborne Hill to the last shift at South Crofty Tin Mine in recent years and the lament written boldly along the South Crofty Estate wall to Cornish Lads and their future. The songs tell stories of changing traditions such as the colourful description of the Truro Agricultural Show, now annually manifest as the Royal Cornwall Show. Like any traditional folk music, other songs in our repertoire tell of love, life and sorrows in the beautiful land that is Cornwall.