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Salty Singalongs

Gorgeous Gary 11 Aug 07 - 09:32 PM
Joe Offer 11 Aug 07 - 09:48 PM
GUEST,meself 11 Aug 07 - 10:23 PM
Bill D 11 Aug 07 - 11:34 PM
Barry Finn 12 Aug 07 - 02:47 AM
Bill D 12 Aug 07 - 11:30 AM
Charley Noble 12 Aug 07 - 04:43 PM
Jon Bartlett 12 Aug 07 - 05:07 PM
Severn 12 Aug 07 - 06:40 PM
Gorgeous Gary 12 Aug 07 - 08:04 PM
Chanteyranger 13 Aug 07 - 03:56 AM
Bill D 13 Aug 07 - 10:08 AM
MMario 14 Aug 07 - 12:04 PM
jeffp 14 Aug 07 - 12:45 PM
MMario 21 Sep 11 - 11:22 AM
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Subject: Salty Singalongs
From: Gorgeous Gary
Date: 11 Aug 07 - 09:32 PM

This weekend's Sunday Source section of the Washington Post carries a nice article on the Royal Mile and other local chantey sings. If you've spent any time hanging around FSGW, you'll likely find a familiar name or two (or three...) lurking around the article.

(I'm of course reminded that my Tuesdays are actually *free* now since Three Left Feet practice moved to Mondays. So I could actully *make* a Royal Mile sing now.)

-- Gary

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: Joe Offer
Date: 11 Aug 07 - 09:48 PM

Hi, Gary - articles like this have a habit of disappearing, so I make a practice of copy-pasting them. But say, do I see mention of somebody named Day, singing sea songs from a book prepared by his father? Gee, it makes me feel not so bad about the Blue Book that I hide inside a cover from Playboy....

    Salty Singalongs

    By Sarah Schmelling
    Special to The Washington Post
    Sunday, August 12, 2007; M01

    The facial hair is what gives them away. Sitting around the tartan-draped dining room of the Royal Mile Pub, a Scottish outpost in Wheaton, the men in the crowd sport double-take-worthy sideburns and goatees, whiskers that arch over mouths and curl up toward eyes, substantial beards and the occasional elegant mustache.

    It's a personal-grooming phenomenon that occurs at the bar on the first Tuesday of the month, Sea Chantey Night, when maritime historians, Civil War reenactors, Renaissance fair regulars and those who would just love to put "pirate" on their résumés come together to sing about living on the sea.

    When the hostess seats Darriel Day, 25, of Wheaton (goatee, long ponytail, carrying a large Celtic drum) and a friend at a small table between a fireplace and a woman with a "got mead?" T-shirt, Day smiles contentedly. Like almost everyone nearby, he opens a chantey songbook. His was custom-made by his father; most others are ever-evolving "hymnals" that are put together by regular Vince Wilding (Civil War-esque facial hair that covers everything but his chin).

    It is just minutes before the chanteys (SHAN-tees) commence. All seats are filled. No one in this crowd of about 100 will be leaving for two hours except, perhaps, for the soon-to-be startled few who have shown up not realizing what's about to happen.

    * * *

    When the ship's whistle blows at 8 p.m., all talking stops. Patrons flip pages and huddle together while scarfing last bites of Beef and Guinness Pie or Maryland Fried Chicken, washed down with swigs of Smithwick's or Black Douglas Ale. For those in need of true liquid courage, the menu features dozens of Scotch whiskys. The crowd hushed, Myron Peterson (he of the expansive mutton chops), stands and belts out a song:

    It was Friday morn when we set sail
    And we were not far from the land
    When our Captain he spied a mermaid so fair
    With a comb and a glass in her hand

    At the chorus, the crowd joins him, harmonizing with voices of all range and pitch. "It's all about inclusion," Peterson, 50, of Severn, says later. A member of the Chanteymen, a group that organizes weekly "chantey sings" at area bars and coffeehouses, Peterson doesn't much worry about pitch and harmony: "Volume and clarity are more important than tonal beauty."

    Though the song, "The Mermaid," is a dire one -- according to folklore, a mermaid sighting meant a ship's quick detour to the ocean's bottom -- the tune, like most chanteys, is lively and addictive. "You want to get everybody feeling good," Peterson says.

    For its part, the Royal Mile Pub seems built for chanteys, with its antique fixtures, maps, hearty beer mugs and the oversize Royal Mile sign. Owner Ian Morrison, 32, whose parents started the pub in 1981, says his staff doesn't really mind this one night a month when vocal customers take over, even though they can often be seen lifting trays around singers' flailing arms, skirting past stomping feet and backing way up when singers spontaneously reenact climbing a ship rigging or fighting off a shark attack.

    * * *

    The Chanteymen formed out of Ship's Company, a living-history organization that interprets "many aspects of maritime life between 1775 and 1865," according to its site, where you can see photos of participants in full uniform. The singers, who perform at more than 20 events a year, began rehearsing songs at the Royal Mile in 1996, and when people started joining in, no one stopped them. Now various Chanteymen lead sings and welcome anyone who wants to participate at five venues in the region, "each with their own kind of character," Peterson says (see "Sites for Singing Along" at right).

    The purpose of chanteys -- with their frequent boat-rowing gestures and repetitive lyrics -- is clear. "They've been around since people started pulling on ropes," Peterson says. "That's what they're designed for, to make work easier. You'll find work songs in a lot of industries where things can be boring: railroads, mines . . ." He pauses. "Computers."

    And maybe because they are meant to relieve monotony, a lot of chanteys are ridiculously fun. In the "hymnal" alone, there are odes to all kinds of liquids (martinis, rum, whiskey, coffee and many, many beers), to women (lovely Nancy, black-eyed Susan, Molly the Bold and the maid of Amsterdam), to Bertha's mussels and to a dog named Bunts. Many chanteys are like early road songs -- about heading for the Rio Grande, Maui or Sacramento -- and there's a lot of leaving and missing of homes, both old and newfound.

    They can have a folk-tale aspect as well, with sea battles or fantastic chases a la "Moby-Dick." Herman Melville himself praised the virtues of the songs in his 1849 novel "Redburn": "I soon got used to this singing; for the sailors never touched a rope without it."

    For modern-day singers, it helps that chantey tunes are often vaguely familiar; anyone who has ever been around a campfire probably knows one ("Sloop John B"? Chantey. "The Itsy Bitsy Spider"? Well, it's "The Eensie Weensie Spider," and much longer, more allegorical and involves the myth of Sisyphus, but still: chantey.)

    They're also back in fashion, from the hugely popular "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies (the first film begins with young Elizabeth singing "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me") to music by such bands as the Decemberists, who ended their recent show at Merriweather Post Pavilion with a nearly 10-minute musical tale called "The Mariner's Revenge Song," for which they instructed the audience to screech like hungry whales.

    Chanteys also have an improv element -- people constantly invent verses -- which makes them easy to join in on, a bit like "organic karaoke," says singer Janie Meneely of Wheaton, adding that verses are generally short, snappy and "sometimes a bit bawdy." They also "rarely carry any kind of political message," and they're often "irreverently secular" and "stem from an international tradition that crosses race and ethnicity," she explains. "What's not to like?"

    * * *

    The singers at the Royal Mile on this night are an eclectic bunch. Steve Winick, 38, of Silver Spring (formidable hair and beard) keeps both hands in his pockets as he performs a booming "Congo River." Meneely (alas, no facial hair), who says she has celebrated her 50th birthday "several times over," sings a song she wrote with an unusual-for-chanteys female perspective called "China Sea." And Mike Bosworth, 54, of Vienna (one of the few cleanshaven men in the room) leads "Wild Rover," a tune involving much complex hand clapping and pounding on tables.

    Many of them have considerable chantey credentials. Peterson and Bosworth were in the Navy for decades. Meneely, until recently the managing editor of Chesapeake Bay Magazine, has recorded several albums and is working on a new one. And when the singers need terms defined or explained, they often seek out Winick. A writer and editor with the Library of Congress's American Folklife Center, he has a doctorate in folklore and has taught courses on folk songs and ballads, making him the go-to guy for answering chantey riddles.

    "I'm just fielding questions today from other chantey singers on the meaning of some terms, like 'hog-eye,' " he says. He then explains that the word has two definitions: "a kind of flat-bottomed barge and a very private part of a woman's anatomy." Ah, of course.

    By 10 p.m., after people from each table in the room have had the chance to lead a song, the evening of seafaring songs is coming to a close. After people shout out reminders about upcoming events, everyone stands for the closing chantey, "Nelson's Memory." The stirring song concludes with:

    May the Lord put an end to these cruel old wars

    And bring peace and contentment to all our brave tars

    For a second, there's silence. Then Peterson sends off his comrades-in-song with a seafarer's finest blessing: "Fair winds, folks."

    Chantey Night Do's and Don'ts

    Do: Sing.

    Don't: Worry about how well you sing, Chanteyman Myron Peterson says. "You don't need a voice like, you know, Enrico Caruso or Beyonce."

    Do: Consider your audience.

    Don't:"Sing songs you wouldn't sing for your mother or sister or pastor or rabbi," Peterson says. "You are in public."

    Do: Sing sea chanteys about, well, the sea.

    Don't: Sing non-nautical drinking songs just because they also lead people to rock back and forth and put arms around strangers.

    Do: Come with a song or two prepared. (Just Google "sea chantey lyrics.")

    Don't: Be surprised if your well-prepared song takes off in an unexpected direction or gets an enthusiastic response, or if people start arguing about your "interpretation" and you didn't know you had one.

    Do: Get right to it.

    Don't: Give long preambles about your last trip to Italy or what this song means to you or how bad your morning was. If you did this on a ship, you'd get so wet.

    Do: Shout out lines and participate when appropriate.

    Don't: Heckle mean-spiritedly. "It won't be tolerated," Peterson says, and with several part-time pirates in the room, that sounds dangerous.

    Do: Remember: If at first you don't succeed . . . keep singing. "Some of these guys sound horrible at first," chantey singer Janie Meneely says. But soon, "these [formerly] quavering voices begin to boom out, and the pitch is true and the singers seem to be standing a bit taller."

    Don't: Worry if you're feeling too shy. There's always next week.

    Sites for Singing Along

    The Ship's Company Chanteymen lead "chantey sings" at five venues across the region. Here's their monthly schedule:

    ROYAL MILE PUB , first Tuesday, 8-10 p.m. This venue, where the chantey sings got started, boasts a menu of mostly traditional Scottish fare and a selection of more than 80 Scotch whiskys. Established in 1981, the family-run pub and restaurant has a true neighborhood feel.

    2407 Price Ave., Wheaton, 301-946-4511,

    THE WHARF RAT , second Wednesday, 8-10 p.m . According to chantey singer Janie Meneely, this spot, just blocks from the water in Baltimore's historic Fells Point neighborhood, is the "quintessential mariner's bar." Known for its wide beer selection and nautical feel (there's a tall ship and a parrot in its logo), the Rat tends to have smaller sings, and at times the bar crowd gets rowdy, Meneely says. "But the atmosphere is so salty, we'd be loath to go anywhere else," she says.

    801 S. Ann St., Baltimore, 410-276-9034,

    GALWAY BAY, third Wednesday, 8-10 p.m. The Annapolis sing moved here recently when it outgrew the basement bar of the Maryland Inn. A homey but large Irish restaurant and pub, with antique folk instruments on the brick walls, Galway Bay has a reputation for pouring fine pints and encouraging conversation. (There's not a TV in the place.) The sings in Annapolis often draw families, Chanteyman Myron Peterson says.

    63 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, 410-263-8333,

    STACY'S COFFEE PARLOR, fourth Tuesday, 7-9 p.m. The newest of all the sing venues, this coffeehouse is drawing crowds of about 20 people -- "and without liquor!" says Chanteyman Mike Bosworth, who leads the event there. Meneely says it has a "cozy living room" feel and attracts a younger crowd.

    709 W. Broad St., Falls Church, 703-538-6266,

    THE WELLWOOD, fourth Wednesday, 8-10 p.m . The Wellwood in Charlestown, Md., the most distant-from-D.C. of all the sing venues, has been owned by the same family for more than 40 years. The Chanteymen have use of the club's bar area, a large open space with plenty of seating. The sings -- in June, July and August only -- can be a bit eclectic, Meneely says, including Irish music and "just plain drinking songs."

    523 Water St., Charlestown, Md., 410-287-6666,

    · For information on other events where the Chanteymen perform, as well as on the group Ship's Company, visit

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: GUEST,meself
Date: 11 Aug 07 - 10:23 PM

I love this one: 'Do: Come with a song or two prepared. (Just Google "sea chantey lyrics.")'

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: Bill D
Date: 11 Aug 07 - 11:34 PM

*grin*...even before the Sunday paper arrives, my kid is read about all over the world! Ain't technology...ummm...scary?'s a good place. I wasn't there last month when the article was 'researched' and video made, but I was there on Tuesday, having a couple of beers and singing a couple of songs...("Cape Cod Girls" and "I Likes a Drop of Good Beer")

Nice article, even if they did the usual and got a couple things wrong and emphasized minor stuff while missing important stuff...but it gives a good sense of the place.

(oh...and although my son, Darriel, takes his song book along for ideas and for, perhaps, last minute reminders, he does NOT, as some do, read the song~! He just sings it...and usually with no memory problems.)

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: Barry Finn
Date: 12 Aug 07 - 02:47 AM

He must be young then, don't let him get any older, it's not naturally healthy.
Nice to hear that there's so many shanty sings, few places are lucky enough to have one. I'd love to make it there someday.

Here are some that are held in the New England area.

Gloucester, Mass - at Cameron's on every Tuesday evening

Portsmouth, NH - Press Room on 3rd Saturday afternoon of the month

MIT Shantey Sing - MIT Boathouse (on the Charles River), Cambridge, Mass 3rd Sunday afternoon of the month

Maybe NYC & San Francisco will put up there's here too & any others that are happening elsewhere.

Thanks for starting this threat


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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: Bill D
Date: 12 Aug 07 - 11:30 AM

"Thanks for starting this threat"

*grin* The only 'threat' involved is "what we shall do with the drunken sailor typist.

I love meaningful typos!

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: Charley Noble
Date: 12 Aug 07 - 04:43 PM

Good idea to post the full text of the article so that future generations can enjoy reading it on Mudcat.

It certainly sounds like the folks gathered at the Royal Mile have surpassed critical mass necessary for a great shanty sing.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: Jon Bartlett
Date: 12 Aug 07 - 05:07 PM

"Critical mass" - yes, THE prerequisite.

Jon Bartlett

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: Severn
Date: 12 Aug 07 - 06:40 PM

Actually, at most of them you can readily find an extra seat, but The Royal Mile is always filled to overflowing already, so it always helps to either get there early or know someone already at a table. Neptune help us if we get "discovered" because of this article! But a good time is always to had by all!

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: Gorgeous Gary
Date: 12 Aug 07 - 08:04 PM

Bill: We get the comics and a few of the other Sunday sections (Travel, Arts, Book World, and the Sunday Source) delivered along with Saturday's paper. That's how I saw the article yesterday instead of this morning.

-- Gary

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: Chanteyranger
Date: 13 Aug 07 - 03:56 AM

Joe Offer -

Was this man's ancestor Thomas Fleming Day? He wrote an 1898 book of sea lyrics (or poetry: no tunes given)) called "Songs of Sea and Sail."


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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: Bill D
Date: 13 Aug 07 - 10:08 AM

No, I can guarantee that we cannot claim Thomas Fleming as an ancestor.*grin*...As the 'father' in the article, I have to confess that, although the chantey songbook was a present to my son, all I did was print it from a PDF file sent to me. It was actually compiled by an old friend who has sung these things professionally. Darriel has added to it from other printed sources, so he now has a pretty extensive collection of lyrics to fuel his growing knowledge of sea songs.

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: MMario
Date: 14 Aug 07 - 12:04 PM

I'm just hoping the Royal Mile Chanty sings continue long enough that I eventually get to go to one. I've been hearing about them for years and years and years. But Tuesdays are hard for me to make...

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: jeffp
Date: 14 Aug 07 - 12:45 PM

Maybe you could stay over on an MDRF trip.

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Subject: RE: Salty Singalongs
From: MMario
Date: 21 Sep 11 - 11:22 AM

And if the info on the website is accurate I should be at a Royal Mile Pub sing on the first tuesday of October!

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