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Sea Shanty Festival

Now a “Tradition”?

Written By Tom Kelly

Some events in Hastings Old Town are prefixed by the word ‘traditional’. The Hastings Shanty Festival, both by its content and survival, is surely entitled to join the ranks! The 18 and 19 of July this year see the third consecutive festival, undoubtedly establishing it on the Hastings cultural and music scene. 

Sea shanties are work songs, primarily, but not exclusively, used in the working of sailing vessels. Hastings had a rich heritage of shanty singing, particularly among the fishing community, but this had declined over the years. About five years ago a group of friends in The Stag pub in Hastings Old Town, decided to try to resurrect shanty singing in the town.

This led to the establishment of a regular session, which continues to draw crowds to The Stag on three Thursdays each month. These sessions provide an informal opportunity for regular singers to perform, for newcomers to have a go, or for visitors to just sit back and enjoy. The audiences span both gender and generations. It’s not unknown for famous musicians playing Bexhill or Hastings to turn up at the session unannounced - one of The Unthanks sisters during a visit tweeted ‘I’m singing sea shanties in The Stag in Hastings – I don’t think I’ve ever been happier!’

A singing group emerged from the weekly sessions –‘ The Hastings Shanty Singers’. This year, in addition to several local appearances, the group is singing at the prestigious Wickham and Tenterden festivals.

The Hastings Shanty Festival was also conceived during those singing sessions at The Stag. First held in 2012, the festival was originally largely funded by the Arts Council and Hastings Borough Council as part of the ‘Stade on Saturday’ programme. For 2014, although Hastings Council has generously provided some funding, the majority has had to be raised by the organisers from sponsors who this year include, in addition to some private individuals, the Jenny Lind in the High Street, The Land of Green Ginger in the High Street and The Stag in All Saints Street.

The festival has, right from the start, been able to attract top class performers. This year in addition to singers from all over the South East, we will be welcoming the incomparable Jim Mageean from Cullercoats in Northumberland. In addition to Jim, the full line up of visitors: Bosun’s Call, Graeme Knights, Kerry & Mandy, the Shanty Crew (Chris Roche & Dominic Magog); and local talent: the Hastings Shanty Singers and Titus; represents probably one of the best gatherings of Shanty and maritime singing talent to be seen anywhere on a stage in the UK this year.

The opening concert is at the Stag from 8.30pm on Friday 18 July. On Saturday 19 there are performances on the Stade Open Space and in the Hastings Fishermen’s Museum from 1pm to 5pm and again on the Stade Open Space from 7.30pm to 9pm. Admission to all performances is free. 

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