29 Jul 2017

A Sailor's Life

Rain lashing down on a slippery ship’s deck.  Gales whistling in between the rigging.  And through the sound of the wind and the water,  sailors’ voices are singing in unison roaring between the hauling of wet rope…

Walking around the sailboats in the Bristol docks has really fired my imagination - the S.S. Great Britain standing tallest among them, peering proudly down over the lowly little boats surrounding it.  I've always felt like harbour towns have a strongly poetical connection to their past.  Looking out to where ships used to pass is like standing at the edge of another world where history can almost sail up through the ages to meet you.

My latest collection, now up on my website
As my Facebook and Instagram follows will have seen, I'm very happy to have finished my latest collection, ‘Seafarer’, which I have been planning for a long time and finally can announce this week.  Living in Bristol, a nautical-themed collection always felt like something I would like to draw and design for and they are now all up on my website at www.katherineoshea.co.uk/seafarer

My new Seafarer lampshade featuring denizens of the darkest ocean
I wanted my illustrations to have a darker edge to them - less beach hut holiday, and more Jules Verne adventure!  A sailors' life, magnificently adventurous though it must have been, would have been full of mysterious peril, so I let my own designs to reflect a little more of the dangers of the deep… After all, would the British ships have continued set off across the seven seas, were it not for the draw of the ocean’s unknown wonders?

The perils and pleasures of life of the waves

For this third collection, I thought I'd share a little bit of historical sea shantying to set the scene for my new adventurous seafarers theme.  This one is from the wonderful 'Roaring Trowmen' - who I’ve seen set a room singing with nothing but their own voices and some traditional tunes:

The sea shanty - a derivation from the French word “chanse” - to sing, came into the world of sailing for surprisingly practical reasons.  When you listen to these types of songs, you soon notice they have a particularly rhythmic pattern to them, with a lot of 'call and response' parts to them.  Interestingly, the origins of 'shanty' can be traced back to the work songs of the Deep South, when sailors spent their days hauling onto loading vessels the cotton picked by African Americans in the plantation fields.  Around this time, the magnetic beats of African music were just beginning to blend their way into the songs of the West, and music to make you move became more popular.  

The infamous Kraken
The work on a boat was hard-going manual labour, but also required precise rhythm, meaning that timing your efforts to the sound of a shanty was useful as well as entertaining.  For sailors heaving the heavy ropes of the enormous merchant vessels of the day, the Heave Ho! of a hearty tune belted out in time with your crew mates' labouring became an integral part of surviving the hard graft of naval life. 

Unfortunately, the days of public singing are long gone.  For years and years, work songs were carelessly belted out and handed down as a matter of course, however I doubt you find a factory or a worksite where you could get away with that now!  I'm really not sure why this has happened, but I think it's kind of a shame...  Wouldn't it be hilarious if it became a trend again?

So the next time you find yourself humming along to Drunken Sailor, maybe you'll think of our brave boys on the waves, hanging on to a rope, and possibly eachother, for dear life, belting out some happy tunes all the way home.

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