If you’ve been on social media at all during the last 2 years you’ll be familiar with the sea shanty ‘Wellerman’, which found life on TikTok as a much repeated/stitched/duetted sound, and was the originator for the #shantytok trend on that platform.
Although the trend can be first traced back to Scottish singer Nathan Evans, it was The Longest Johns, a group of friends who game as much as they sing, who first breathed new life into the the 19th century New Zealand sea ballad. The Longest Johns first formed in the kitchen at a friend’s barbeque back in 2012, and they took the gaming world by storm when they broke into song while playing “Sea Of Thieves“.
The combination of the Covid 19 pandemic and our intensified interest in social media saw ‘Wellerman’, and as a consequence, the band was signed to Decca Records in January last year. ‘Smoke & Oakum’ is their debut album on the label.
‘Smoke & Oakum’ is 14 tracks long, and although at first that might seem like a lot of sea shanty music to get through, The Longest Johns are adept at a wide range of styles. Nonetheless, it’s the acapella close harmonies which sees them excel.
You won’t find ‘Wellerman’ on this album – it was previously released on The Longest Johns’ 2018 album, ‘Between Wind & Water’ – but it’s not needed. Tracks such as ‘The Workers Song’ (featuring Seth Lakeman) and ‘Pride Of The White Start Line’ are more than worthy substitutes.
It’s not all acapella. Tracks 5 and 6, ‘Hog-Eye Man’, and ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, feel like a perfect pair, and with their fingerplucking banjo have a vibe that would find an ideal home on the soundtrack for ‘Copper’, or another wild-west style tv show or film. Final song, ‘Beer Is Great’, is a barbershop quartet style track, and appears to have been recorded live, giving the listener the sensation of being right in amongst all the action – clinking glasses and crowd chatter and all.
But it’s the folk songs we’ve come for, and we’re not disappointed. Not simply sea shanties, but there’s plenty of “land” shanties as well, such as ‘Hammer And The Anvil’ with its catchy “sparks a flying passions strong” chorus, and the upbeat and jaunty ‘Johnny Come Down To Hilo’.
You certainly get the feeling that The Longest Johns enjoy every second they’re together, whether they’re gaming, or singing. Their close harmonies are proof enough of a group who work well together.