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Heave away me hearties: It’s shanty time

Michael Weaver 28 July 2019 2
Ewan Lawrie leads the Canberra Shanty Club

Ewan Lawrie (left) leads the Canberra Shanty Club in full song at the Old Canberra Inn. Photos: Michael Weaver.

“Heave away you rolling kings. Heave away, haul away. Heave away, now hear me sing. We’re bound for South Australia.”

Now, if you sang those words and imagined yourself sailing the high seas with a crew of likely sailors at your call, then the Canberra Shanty Club wants you!

The club may be a tad land-locked from the ebb and flow of the ocean, but that hasn’t stopped a hearty group of singers who gather each week to bring life into a fine shanty or two.

“People are talking about shanties again,” says organiser Ewan Lawrie.

Ewan leads the growing group of shanty singers, who now meet weekly at the Old Canberra Inn for about two hours on a Monday night.

The Canberra Shanty Club sang its first auspicious calls in December 2017 and the response since has seen a wave of singers of all ages and backgrounds join in.

The group regularly gets between 30 and 40 people each week, even in the middle of winter on a Monday night. Someone leads a shanty by singing the verses, someone keeps time with a foot and everyone joins in for the chorus.

The result is a spectacular harmony of tenors and sopranos, and others who prefer to pitch at their preference. They sing of sugar cane and rum, Galway shale and Liverpool town, cooks in the galley and a captain in his quarters, with a bit of Irish turf and tatties for good measure.

Canberra Shanty Club bring songs of the high seas to the nation’s capital

The Canberra Shanty Club sings songs of sugar cane and rum, Galway shale and Liverpool town, with a bit of Irish turf and tatties thrown in for good measure. Here’s a preview of the choir in full voice – and if you think you’d like to join them, new members are most welcome.

Posted by The RiotACT on Thursday, 25 July 2019

This week, Jeff from Western Australia, joined the group while visiting Canberra and heard there was a local shanty club. He said there are lots more shanty clubs in WA, especially in the Fremantle area and down to Albany.

There are also four shanty clubs in Sydney, two in Melbourne, one in Wollongong and one in Brisbane.

Jeff led a shanty called The Sailors’ Creed and had the room in fine voice with the call and response style of singing.

Bruce from Canberra has been singing with the group since it began and says a lot can be said for the value of a community singing together.

“We’re all here having a go and once you start singing, it always lifts your mind and soul,” he says while holding a glass of stout.

“For me, it highlights the spirit of pubs in Ireland and you don’t really see that kind of thing here anymore unless it’s at the end of a night with someone singing Khe Sanh.”

Ewan says a good shanty is not necessarily about life at sea, despite its origins of sailors keeping a rhythm in their duties on a ship.

“It’s about a leader singing the call and the workers following in response,” he says. “They are songs that make the work less monotonous.

“We always encourage new singers to come along and eventually lead a shanty. It doesn’t matter what your level of singing ability is. You will always be supported by everyone else, hopefully in pitch.”

Ewan said the Canberra Shanty Club began from the late-night singing sessions at the National Folk Festival in Canberra. The group now conducts shanty singing workshops at other festivals in the area, and a core group from the club will perform at the Merry Muse Folk Club on August 11.

There has even been a request to perform at a heavy metal gig at The Basement in Belconnen, although they’re not quite sure if heavy metal shanties could be such a thing. Watch this space.

You can find out more about the Canberra Shanty Club on their Facebook page or simply come along to the Old Canberra Inn on a Monday night from 7 pm. You don’t need to be able to sing well or know any of the lyrics. They will teach you the parts you need to sing.

Canberra Shanty Club members gather to bring the tradition of singing shanties to life at the Old Canberra Inn. 


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