Sea chanteys were an integral part of life at sea. Just as soldier marched to song, sailors used songs to regulate their work. Pulling and hauling on ropes, working at the capstan, etc., had chanteys fitted to the pace and type of work being carried out. Chanteys went through a brief popularity in the 1970s which probably peaked when Country Joe MacDonald (of Woodstock and the Fish Cheer fame) released Save The Whales.
The clip above from the 1956 movie, Moby Dick, and from the notes”
This scene contains two chanteys (shanties). The first is “Blood Red Roses,” which is being used to haul up a tops’l yard. Then we hear “Heave Away My Johnnies,” being used for the old fashioned spoke windlass to warp the ship out of the dock.
Below is Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy performing Haul Away, Joe, a chantey in the mode of Blood Red Roses.
One of the interesting thing I’m encountering in this project is teasing fact out from fiction. In reality, we don’t know a whole lot about life on an man o’ war of the Age of Sail. Some accounts have come down to us but they don’t talk about a lot of the details because that information was self evident to people of the time. Novels by people like Frederick Marryat can provide us with a lot of insight but we are hampered by the fact that they are fiction and we know how well our own fiction reflects modern society and current events.
Obviously, a novelist writing of this period must use his imagination and knowledge to fill in blank spots much as a modern archaeologist works to fill in the historical record based on clues, intuition, and deduction. The better the author, the harder it will be to tell where the seams are between what is known and what is guessed. For an excellent example of work in this genre, read Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal
So where is this going?