Martin Powell, from left, Daniel Millar and Pete Bowman (both obscured behind) Tom Cumming, Cameron Langdon (obscured) Ben Bamford, Will Wragg and James Carroll from the band the Salty Wailers perform Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand. The Salty Wailers started singing together a year ago as an “excuse to go for a pint on a weeknight,” performing in pubs across Wellington. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

Social media stars sail away with sea shanty record deals

Social media stars sail away with sea shanty record deals

LONDON — The long forgotten sea shanty has been enjoying a renaissance on social media and is now moving into popular music with two U.K. artists landing record deals, following their online performances.

Scottish postman Nathan Evans and Bristol folk band The Longest Johns signed record deals last week, with Evans even securing a No.1 record in the U.K. for his recording of the New Zealand song “Wellerman,” which he originally performed on TikTok.

For some artists, the sea shanty has long been part of their repertoire. New Zealand band The Salty Wailers started singing together a year ago as an “excuse to go for a pint on a weeknight,” performing in pubs across Wellington.

Group member Ben Bamford said the intention was “to get the entire pub involved with us, so that you can really bring the house down. You want people to be walking past the pub thinking, ‘What the hell is going on in there?’”

He added that none of the group have TikTok, but hearing the music gain traction in the charts and in the news encouraged the band to get back out there and perform their biggest show at the end of January in The Welsh Dragon Bar in Wellington, which he said was “a blast.”

Sea shanties were work songs developed on 19th century sailing vessels. Gerry Smyth, an English professor at Liverpool John Moores University and author of “Sailor Song: The Shanties & Ballads of the High Seas,” points out that chart-topping single “Wellerman” isn’t technically one: Shanties have a call-and-response structure that was used so sailors could sing and work in unison while performing physically demanding tasks.

“When (Evans) is singing the first four lines on his own before everybody joins in on the chorus, the sailors are sitting around, biting their nails and having a fag and so on. That’s not going to work,” Smyth explained.

However, the professor said the song could be adapted for a shanty since it is about “maritime matters” such as whaling.

Whether or not “Wellerman” counts as a shanty, there is no denying it has caused a stir online. Evans’ rendition, posted late December on TikTok, has gotten 10.9 million views to date. Claire Maddocks, a neurologic music therapist, said she thinks sea shanties appeal to people because of the “simplicity of a human voice,” and the repetitive, predictable nature of the song.

“We hear exactly where it is going to go next” so we are drawn in, Maddocks says. “I guess a bit like when you start watching something on Netflix and you kind of start to keep watching because you care about the character. There’s almost that kind of emotional draw to that.”

Nathan Evans’ version of “Wellerman” was remixed by 220 KID and released by Polydor Records/Universal Music. The producer thinks sea shanties are having a modern moment on TikTok and this year because of the feeling of inclusivity promoted by both the format and the app – the duet function allows users to sing along with the artist, having “many voices together.”

Evans adds in the contemporary context of lockdown, with “everyone stuck in the house,” performing “Wellerman” has “uplifted us and kept us going.”

David Robinson of The Longest Johns agrees, saying the trend is about other ways to interact with someone over the internet. People can sing “while waiting for their Uber Eats” added his bandmate Andy Yates. In the past week The Longest Johns — who also recorded a popular YouTube version of “Wellerman” — signed deals with Decca Records and UTA. They have announced a U.K. tour for later this year.

And Professor Smyth says he’s fine with people calling “Wellerman” a shanty if they want to.

“If they want to use it, if they’re getting pleasure, if they’re getting joy, that’s absolutely fine. I’m not coming along to rain on anybody’s picnic. In technical terms, I don’t think it’s a shanty, but I’m absolutely fine with people using it that way if they want to” he said.


Associated Press reporter Nick Perry contributed to this story from Wellington, New Zealand.

Sian Watson, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Central Alberta Freestyle Ski Club is hoping to win $50,000 through the Mackenzie Investments Top Peak contest. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta ski club trying to win $50K in online contest

A central Alberta ski club has entered a contest where it can… Continue reading

Ben King scores for the Red Deer Rebels during the third period of a Western Hockey League game against the Calgary Hitmen at the Westerner Park Centrium Saturday. (Photo by Rob Wallator/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels complete comeback to pick up first win of season

Rebels 3 Hitmen 2 (OT) The Red Deer Rebels were able to… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

Mount Pearl Senior High in Mount Pearl, N.L., remains closed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The provincial health authority says there were 185 cases at 22 schools, including 145 infections among staff and students of one high school in Mount Pearl that was an early epicentre of the outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
In Newfoundland and Labrador, three ingredients made for explosive COVID-19 outbreak

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — With her classes, three part-time jobs and a… Continue reading

A passenger places a tag on luggage at the departure terminal at Toronto Pearson Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, May 24, 2019. The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and familial connections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

OTTAWA — The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic… Continue reading

Rail cars wait for pickup in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 23, 2014. The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian oil and gas on trains destined for the United States — a country experts fear is ill-equipped for the potential consequences. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
As debate rages over cross-border pipelines, U.S. analysts brace for more oil by rail

WASHINGTON — The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian… Continue reading

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

VICTORIA — Legal experts and a mother whose ex-partner was convicted of… Continue reading

Radio and television personality Dick Smyth is shown in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Dick Smyth, Canadian maestro of news radio commentary, dies at 86

TORONTO — Radio and television personality Dick Smyth, whose booming commentary filled… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

Most Read