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MORNING STAR readers may know The Silver Darlings for their contribution to the GFTU charity CD Working River, a song about the last working Thames barge under sail, The Last Barge.
They describe themselves as the only female “shanty crew” in Southend but they have been making waves further afield including returning again to this year’s international shanty festival in Harwich.
Like many shanty outfits, they do more than perform familiar maritime call and response work tunes and they have collected a wide repertoire of songs of the sea.
We caught up with them at one of their many rehearsals of singing harmonies a cappella.
The Darlings “captain” Laura Tanner recalls how easy they thought it would be to capture their live performance despite never working in a studio before. “We thought we’d just turn up do it and going home…..wrong! It took a lot of hard work not least from [producer] Mark [“Snowboy” Cotgrove[ who clearly knows his way around a recording studio,” she says and her fellow singers nod with approval.
Laura has worked hard arranging harmonies which reflect the emotions behind the songs: “All of us are drawn to the sea in different ways and we are always learning more about this wonderful maritime singing tradition which has created a special bond between us.”
The carefully chosen songs include a short haul shanty Haul Away Joe, a song used mainly during the tightening of sheets, capstan shanties, Randy Dandy O and South Australia sung during long, repetitive tasks and Shiny O, a halyard shanty featuring work and rest rhythms.
There are two well-known whaling songs in The Wellerman and Rolling Down to Old Maui which both filled with longing for better (and warmer) times.
There are also compelling renditions are the ballads and laments which are such an important part of the maritime tradition: Adieu, Sweet Lovely Nancy, Davy Cross and Davy Lowston — dealing with the perils of seal hunting in off New Zealand and made famous by Martin Carthy — and The Padstow Farewell Shanty are all standards to which The Silver Darlings have added their very own vitality.
Where the depth of their commitment and hard work really shines through is a powerful rendition of the French whaling song Pique La Baleine.
Their commitment to passing on and popularising song is also clear on The Last Barge which they heard sung by the King Discolls at a festival in Suffolk and now made it their own.
The secret to their appeal is in the infectious sense of fun. There is a long legacy of women singing about the sea around these islands and The Silver Darlings are taking that tradition forward in their own way.
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