Sea Shanties are typically not my preferred listening, but my recent research into the genre as a whole has yielded some fascinating results. Long before TikTok made it trending, The King’s Busketeers – Joshua Gannon-Salomon, Andrew Prete, and Sam Atwood – were continuing the traditions of many sailors before them hundreds of years in the making.
The King’s Busketeers are carrying these traditions forward with their traditional, yet updated sound. Joshua provided a bit of additional context for their work: “One thing the sea shanty trend has demonstrated clearly, is that folk music is not a genre but a process. Shantymen in the days of sail were constantly rehashing old songs into new, taking inspiration anywhere a good rhythm for hauling or working the capstan could be found.”
Joshua spoke of the interesting time of history we’re in that mirrors the old world into which the shanty genre was born: “Many articles have pointed out interesting parallels between modern shanty fans under pandemic conditions and the confined, monotonous, overworked and precarious lives of the sailors who sang them. We have comforts they never dreamed of, and their work was intensely social rather than isolated, but suddenly many more people feel solidarity with the sailors of old, their exploitation at the hands of captains and empires, and their lust for life in spite of it. If COVID-19 is today’s stormy voyage, then our visions of post-pandemic celebration parallel the sailors’ dreams of the bars and bawdy houses in the next port.”
That might be why shanties are having the cultural moment that they are. And in the universal embrace of a common emotion, it’s been a much-needed way to reconnect.
Sea Shanties were a rhythmic way for sailors in the 1400s to carry out manual labor at just the right timing to keep a boat moving. From that very clever utilization of folk tunes sprang a new culture of raucous music characterized by a plethora of stringed instruments and colorful characters in various medieval-inspired garb.
My inner English major also enjoyed the etymological knowledge provided by the informational source I found, which explained how the term “shanty” likely came from the French “chanter” (“to sing”), also possibly related to the English word “chant.” Like so many subcultures and artistic moments in history, the shanty has withstood many storms and lived to tell the tale. The King’s Busketeers bring so much life and energy to a lesser-known genre. And best of all, you can tell just by listening to them that these guys are having the absolute time of their lives.
The King’s Busketeers have their first EP, Boston to Belfast, available for your listening enjoyment. I appreciated their keen sense of rhythm, and pleasant vocal harmonies. The storytelling quality of their music is clever, as well as canon with the rich history of the shanty culture as a whole. Each band member also plays multiple instruments, which definitely earns my respect because I know that keeping a working knowledge of different instruments up to snuff is no small matter. Their prowess ranges from mandolin, to banjo and fiddle – just to name a few.
Their newest tune, “Disappointment Island” has a very bright and sprightly feel, with a great storyline to it. I really like the sparkling tone that seems to mimic the glittering seawater in the sunshine amidst the tenor and bass vocal harmonies. The band said that this one has recently gotten some extra love on TikTok — a significant achievement in today’s increasingly digital-based marketing world. It’s even been added to a viral Spotify playlist, hilariously titled “Sea Shanties that Drop My Panties.”
I also appreciate the sheer amount of heart and emotional content of their music. One concept that stood out to me was something I read on their site about their song “Chilly Arms of Ocean.” It was meant to pay homage to a college student wrongly accused of inciting the Boston Bombing of 2013, and later found dead in the Seekonk River. It’s a powerful eulogy that brings the comforting side of folk music in the wake of tragedy to the forefront.
The King’s Busketeers build upon storytelling and heartache with roots in both folk and pop music. These musicians are talented in their craft, and are using their platform to spread joy and celebration even amidst the struggle of the pandemic. Before you know it, we’ll all be merrily celebrating together in person once again.
Listen to the King’s Busketeer’s on Spotify HERE: open.spotify.com/artist/59LOExQz4tvCg7iUiDdbxL?si=_qaZD16GRLi6LwSBHBE9Wg; Read more about The King’s Busketeers on their website HERE: thekingsbusketeers.com/about.html