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Shanty UK Maritime Music Gathering
Easter 2013
29th-30th-31st March

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At the turn of the century Easter was regarded by many as the start of the maritime festival season and Lancaster was the cradle. Times have moved on and Lancaster Maritime has gone but it is NOT forgotten because from the cradle has emerged Ellesmere Port Festival and it has grown from the crawling stage through the toddling stage and now is a fully fledged entity in its own right. From now forward Easter is still the start of the season but the National Waterways Museum is now its home.

Walking through the door at Ellesmere Port one is greeted by people who care and, organisers or not, you know they are here for the same purpose as you; to have fun. The whole ShantyUK set-up seems to have the same ethos. By all means promote and preserve maritime songs and singing but on the way entertain as many people as possible including yourself.

The prime movers gather together artistes from all points of the compass and from near and far using their knowledge of all those involved who are really happy to join in the fun without breaking the bank. Indeed many artistes, both newcomers as well as established names, eagerly contact them to get a slot. By some amazing technical juggling of timetables they manage to put together a program that showcases as many as possible with relative new names like "Run out the Guns" and the "She Shanties" on equal terms with veterans (and I mean that in the nicest way LOL) such as "Shanty Jack" and "Scolds Bridle".

To get some idea of the task there are 4 days of entertainment , 7 different venues and nearly 100 people in at least 3 dozen acts to juggle around and still produce a workable programme that is balanced musically as well as thematically. Then add in specialist talks and workshops and catering as well as co-ordinating with the museum organisers and the scale becomes almost unconceivable but it is achieved successfully each year.

2013 saw a fantastic line-up that included a host of artistes. Shanty crews such as Monkey’s Fist from Yorkshire, The Portsmouth Shantymen (from Portsmouth of course), London based She Shanties and the Enkhuizen 4 from the Netherlands appeared alongside solo singers such as Roy Clinging from Cheshire, Gaye Anthony from Scotland, Jon Heslop from Cornwall and Liam Robinson from Lincolnshire.  There were duo’s such as Scold’s Bridle from the Fylde and Hissyfit from Humberside, Dog Watch from the North East and festival organisers Trim Rig and a Doxy as well as a whole host of other performers all sharing their talent and enthusiasm with festival visitors

These performers from around the UK and from the continent performed with enthusiastic verve on a variety of stages such as onboard a restored barge [Big Mere], in a converted stable block, in a former Toll House, in a converted warehouse and in the wonderfully acoustic lobby of a conference centre. Add to that an almost continuous session of unrehearsed performances by both guests and visitors in the bar area of the Island Warehouse and there were opportunities to see almost all the acts in a range of informal settings and at a variety of different times without frantic rushing from venue to venue.

Then there were the craft stalls where you could observe or purchase from a host of specialists with different foods, clothing, wood carving, musicians and instrument makers. Talks and demonstrations on knot making, figurehead carving, horse sculpting, the songs and ditties of the Merchant Navy, playing the “bones”, different types of sea poetry and lyrics and model boats. With face-painting, puppetry and specialist craft workshops and singing sessions for the children there was plenty of activity for all the family.

With boat trips, demonstrations including a boat tug-of-war, a ghost trail, museum tours and treasure hunts, book stalls and both a café and a bar there was also space for rest and relaxation and to meet and chat with friends old and new.

Jim Saville

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