What are sea shanties?
Sea shanties are traditional working songs sung at sea aboard sailing ships. Performed by a 'shantyman' with the sailors joining in on the choruses, the songs' purpose was to maintain morale and synchronise effort when the sailors were performing different tasks, such as raising the anchor, setting and trimming sails and pumping the ship.
Bend yer backs my bully, bully, boys... heave away, heave away!
Each Shanty has a specific rhythm timed to the job at hand. Shanties would generally be sung only when performing work tasks, not when sailors were 'off watch' or ashore.
Off-watch sometimes the sailors would gather together at the foc’sle head at the front of the ship and sing different longer form songs known as forebitters named for the bitts (large bollards) that they sat on in the forward (fore) part of the ships these songs were occasionally accompanied by musical instruments if any of the crew played. The shanties themselves were always sung unaccompanied.
Why are we still singing the songs today?
They are living history of the most accessible kind allowing us to connect with the lives and loves of the sailors of old and the world that they lived in. The songs themselves are often tragic, frequently humorous and sometimes brutal or bawdy, and all have great tunes and choruses that you can learn very quickly.
Did pirates sing sea-shanties?
Not as far as we know, there is little evidence of this. The shanties we know today come from the period 1850-1920 in the age of merchant sail, mainly aboard the Western Ocean packets, sailing ships running across the Atlantic on a schedule.