The International Sea Shanty Festival

June 13, 2015 by becca.lazar No Comments


The Cornish love a good song: any excuse to dust off the pipes can and will be taken. In The Blue Anchor in Helston, the regulars are even prone to spontaneous bouts of beautiful, melancholy harmonising as they prop up the bar. Music and song has always been an important part of the county’s culture: whether it be miner, fishermen or farmer, after the work was done there were always stories to tell, songs to sing and a few pints to drink.


In celebration of this we have the International Sea Shanty Festival in Falmouth this weekend. Expect over 40 shanty groups, 22 venues and 250 hours of shanty singing. The town will be filled with music, singing and infused with a great community spirit across the weekend, from Friday 12th to Sunday 14th June. Groups come from far and wide including Netherlands, France, USA and right across the UK.


There are 51 acts taking part which had to be whittled down from over 100 bands applying to take part. The event is completely free with special stages on the Events Square and Custom House Quay. Other venues will include pubs, churches, Falmouth Art Gallery, the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club and Princess Pavilion.


Town manager and Shanty committee chairman, Richard Gates told The West Briton: “We were really pleased with the number of groups wanting to take part and it was a very difficult process to slimming down the programme.

“The interest alone really signifies the festival’s growing success and its position as one of the biggest and best festivals of its kind in the world.”


Some even say that it is the biggest festival of shanties on the planet. Maybe Mr Gates is just being modest.


The Festival was founded in 2003 by Falmouth Shout, a group of singers whose mission is to keep alive the history of Tall Ships and the days of sail by performing sea shanties, songs of the sea and Cornish songs. It provides a platform where that heritage of storytelling through song comes alive. It’s a great way to soak up the true atmosphere of Falmouth’s seafaring past and you’ll find it hard to stop your feet tapping along to the infectious rhythms. Especially as it now takes place alongside the Falmouth Classics Regatta; a must for boat lovers and a great way to bring the town and sailing scene together.


The Festival’s aims are to raise money for the RNLI and to preserve and promote the maritime heritage of the area and a lot of the fundraising is done by the Skinner’s Brewery mascot, Betty Stogs, a large Cornishman in drag, wielding a bucket in one hand and a pewter tankard in the other.


Writing this has had Cornish Holiday Cottages wondering about the origin of the word shanty, being educated sorts. Its origins are a little hazy, but it is often said to have come from the French word, chantez, the imperative form of the verb “to sing”. With the rhythmic beat keeping the teamwork synchronized, singing shanties helped sailors go about their tasks on board like hauling ropes or raising the anchor.  The perfect accompaniment to a sailing regatta then.

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