Last Saturday's Guardian carried an interesting piece by James Fenton on the origins of shanties.
I was puzzled by the article's last paragraph as much as the interviewed singer mentioned in it. Could anybody help?
"But the great thing to understand is the way they (shanties) relate to work: "Now this song," says a singer recorded in 1939, "it commences ... The solo is sung by the shantyman sitting on the capstan head ... The shantyman sits there and does nothing, while the crew, walking around the capstan, are singing." The interviewer asks the singer where the pull comes. The singer doesn't understand. "And that's where they pull?" repeats the interviewer. "There's no pull in a capstan shanty!" says the singer: "They're walking around the capstan with the bars." In other words, they are pushing continuously, and that fact will be somehow reflected in the song."