Albany International Folk’n Shanty Festival 2022

This article also appeared in edition 152 of Trad And Now magazine in November 2022.

Having not ventured from Perth/Fremantle since landing in Western Australia in April 2022, it was great to zip off for two weeks in a rented campervan to see the great south west, mostly to take in the 2022 Albany International Folk ‘N Shanty Festival. Heading off towards a weekend of music, song, and good people is hard to beat.

It was my first time driving in Western Australia and proved quite the revelation. WA for me conjures up images of stark rocky ranges, miles of pindan dust, and a harsh, dry climate. But Freo to Albany and return via Denmark, Nannup, and Margaret River has the look and feel of south east NSW or Victoria. Dairy cow, vineyard, and tall tree country.

Albany is quite stunning. Turning up early and staying late was wise. A boat across Oyster Harbour and up Kalgan River, a morning zip around King George Sound on a whale-spotting boat, a spin out to the wind farm, and wanderings around the tops of Mounts Melville and Clarence (Corndarup) – all recommended diversions. Bring a jumper.

Add in a trip to a local brewery and the giniversity and that was a pretty full first visit. Now add 2.5 days of a shanty festival and stir liberally.

Albany Town Hall

I offered my MC skills and told the festival director I’d buy a ticket, but was informed that wouldn’t be possible. (The ticket purchase, that is.)

It’s a totally free festival.

Not only is there no charge for punters, the performers come from far and wide to provide their services for free.

Festival creator Gary “Grizz” Greenwald explained how it came to be:

“There’s shanty groups all around the coast of the UK; shanty festivals all over Europe and North America. I got to [Western] Australia and assumed there’d be a shanty group and there wasn’t one (in this town). Started a shanty group in 2016.

As soon as we got the group going, The Lost Quays were the only group gigging in WA at that time. The Fo’c’s’le Firkins came out of retirement – they’d never called quits, they just weren’t doing a lot. The She Shants (wives and partners of The Lost Quays) were around and we did a workshop.

Colin Anker came around for tea and a few beers and a bit of a sing with us. We put a post on social media and something went in the newspaper, and they had 25 lads come and started The Anchormen.

Then we suddenly realised we had enough groups for a shanty festival.”

À La Souche (Canada) at The Albany Club

Grizz also enlightened me on why there are no performance or attendance fees:

“The model in the UK is (Falmouth would be your example): you perform for free and raise money for charity. What we’ve been trying to do is get charity buy-in, so you’ve got charities who want to use it as a vehicle to raise money.

We would like to pay the musicians’ expenses, but you’ve got to have the money to do it.”

Like other festivals without a camping element, Albany keeps its administrative overheads a little lower by holding events mostly in four centrally-located, established venues, all within an easy walk of each other. That’s a good thing when there’s rain around and the temperatures are a little brisk. While Perth/Freo was just tentatively dipping a toe into 30+ Celsius territory, Albany and surrounds were noticeably milder.

As one radio presenter observed: “21C in Albany today – that’ll feel like 30C to them!”

The Albany festival is still in its infancy having kicked off in 2019 and taken a year out for the plague. In these still uncertain times, John Henderson (festival director since 2021) had some pre-festival nerves.

“It’s been an education for me because I’ve never done anything like this before. Last week, I went to bed one night and was lying awake worried that noone was going to come. Then the next night I was lying awake worried that too many people were going to come.

But because we don’t sell tickets, we didn’t know how many people were coming. You just sit there going, ‘Let’s see what happens.'”

The Albany Shantymen at the Earl of Spencer Inn

Crowds ended up being Mother Bear level: just about right. Venues started filling up when sessions started for the day about 10am and ebbed/flowed til stumps, peaking at early to late-evening. Canny planning saw the rowdier, noisier shanty groups on later in the evening, and the Premier and Earl of Spencer Inn were rocking and rolling.

I take a kind of vicarious joy in standing down the back of venues like the Earl of Spencer on Saturday night when the home team, The Albany Shantymen, were in full hue and cry. I could only see the singers’ heads over the top of a sea of bobbing heads.

Watching the band crank out shanty after sea song after shanty with relatively little chat, I was mesmerised by a group of people in front of me that must have been late teens to early 20s at the very oldest. Despite their youth, they were belting out the chorus gustily. Everyone, every word.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, but they didn’t look like your archetypal shanty crowd or even folkies, come to that. (Shocking generalisation, I know, but let’s move on.) It was only after talking with Grizz and John the following Tuesday night after the festival had wrapped that I discovered I’m the last person in the world to find out about the worldwide shanty craze that had erupted on Tiktok, especially ‘Soon May The Wellerman Come’.

Accordingly, there were several opportunities over the weekend to sing of our expectation of the imminent arrival of sugar and tea and rum.

The Marmaduke Marauders at The Albany Club

The following day there was an even younger cohort to witness carrying on shanty traditions with a duo called Marmaduke Marauders from Margaret River. Harper (12) and Otis (10) were on the blackboard at The Albany Club belting out shanties in the front room.

Harper: “When I was 11 I heard some shanties on the radio after The Wellerman hit by The Albany Shantymen, and that’s what got me into them.”

Otis: “I didn’t hear it on the radio but Harper played some songs at dinner that night and I heard them and decided that I liked shanties.”

Harper and Otis went to the Albany festival after that to further their interest in the genre. They count The Anchormen, The Albany Shantymen, and The Pogues as their favourites.

40 Degrees South at Six Degrees Albany

Appropriately enough, the WA shanty groups hug the shoreline from Albany on the south coast up to Geraldton, with one group of very welcome interlopers from Sydney. Performing groups included: The Albany Shantymen and The Shantylillies (Albany); The Anchormen (Bunbury); Dunn Bay Wailers (Dunnsborough); 40 Degrees South (Sydney); The Lost Quays, The She Shants, The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins (Fremantle); Mandurah Mariners; Rum Jungle (Geraldton); and The Salty Sea Dogs (Denmark).

Jon Cope from the Firkins had foreshadowed that despite the number of groups, there’s enough diversity of interests and songs that you don’t get the same ones endlessly repeated (see Trad and Now, edition 151). That proved to be the case, and it was only later on Sunday night that this occasional chorister thought, “Yeah, that’s probably enough ‘Barrett’s Privateers’ for a while now.”

Other performers included a mix of genres and ages offering folk, alt-country, a bit of bluegrass, and old timey. One of the crowd favourites was visiting Canadian duo À La Souche from Newfoundland, although when Keirsten began to speak to introduce herself and Bryan, she did so in a Perth accent. (Kiersten is originally from WA.)

It was great to see some artists I knew of but had not previously seen perform such as Sea Swallow (folk duo Claire Moodie and Bill Laurie), Martin & Coole (Jon Cope and Emma Birkett), and Gav Brown. My new discovery pick would have to be Matt Black (and the Gloss Whites) performing selected songs of John Prine. Matt has one of those voices that belongs on the mantle piece in the good room. Superb.

Se Swallow at the Earl of Spencer Inn

For audience participation and great fun, Saturday evening’s singing session with Albany’s Playlist Choir was hard to beat. The group took enthusiastic participants through two songs: ‘Gràinne Mhaol’ and ‘The Pirate’s Gospel’, and I’m fairly confident many walked away from the Six Degrees venue that night with two enduring earworms. I was sing/humming for days.

A tip of the hat to Phil Gray who did a great job wrangling reciters and readers to the two poets breakfasts at The Albany Club which drew close to capacity crowds. A highlight was Robyn Minee (Shantylillies) doing an hilarious version of ‘The Man From Ironbark’ with actions, ably assisted by the biggest ham this side of the Darling Downs, Jeff Swain (The Lost Quays).

Crowd at the Poets Breakfast at The Albany Club

Come Sunday morning about 10am and there was a boisterous crowd down at the Boat Shed to witness the epic tug of war contest between The Albany Shantymen (dressed as requested by their opposition as barmaids from the 1700s/1800s) and The Anchormen (dressed as used car salesmen, I mean, as news anchormen). Under appropriately leaden skies and a drop or two of rain, the two teams heaved, ho’d, and hauled for about four minutes before the Bunbury team claimed victory, and both groups joined in an enthusiastic rendition of ‘South Australia’.

Tug of War: The Albany Shantymen and The Anchormen (Bunbury) at The Boat Shed, Albany
Front page of The Albany Advertiser, Tuesday 4 October 2022

Sunday evening wrapped things up with a raucous performance called a ‘Shipload Of Shanty’ featuring the local shantymen followed by wave after wave of singalong shanty walk-ups from festival performers.

Watch out for the 2023 festival – everyone is welcome on board.

Full interviews with Gary ‘Grizz’ Greenwald, John Henderson, and the Marmaduke Marauders will be available soon-ish-ish at www.OverheardProductions.com.

My full photo album for the festival is at: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.546037140856123

Fo’c’s’le Firkins – Shanties And Songs Of The Sea

Image courtesy of The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins

This article also appeared in edition 151 of Trad And Now magazine in September 2022.

Here in south west Australia, and in niche but growing enclaves around the country and the world, many of us are starting to get a little excited for the upcoming Albany International Folk ‘n’ Shanty Festival which takes place from Friday 30 September to Sunday 2 October 2022.

“From fireside folk sessions and concerts, to full blown pub shanty singing, from tales of pirates, whales and shipwrecks; the Albany International Folk ‘n Shanty Festival turns historic Albany/Kinjarling into a playground of maritime culture.” – shantyfest.com

Albany may not lay claim to the most remote festival venue on the continent, but there would be few that could beat it. Albany is 3,335kms by road from Melbourne, 3,864kms from Sydney, and about a five hour drive south from Perth.

But more of the festival itself in a future edition. I mention it here for context to say I’ve been booked in to attend for a while, so when news of a CD launch of sea shanties and songs of the sea* bobbed up, my interest was already piqued.

* There’s a difference between the two. All shall be revealed hereunder.

The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins launched their live CD in Fremantle at the Navy Club on Saturday 20 August 2022. It was a nice piece of musical recording symmetry as the album was recorded in 2021 at the same venue.

Band members were understandably taking any chance to plug the CD and gig around Fremantle in the lead-up, and group member Jon Cope spent some time during ‘Folking Around’ on Radio Fremantle to talk in detail about the recordings’ evolution and background.

Normally, I would have been one of the interviewers, however, I was struck down by a debilitating (non-plague) illness that week, so my colleagues of the airwaves manned the bridge and took the wheel: Frank Hodges (asking the lion’s share of the questions) and Alan Dawson (on the panel, knobs, buttons, and light comic relief).

Image courtesy of The Original Fo’c’s’le Firkins
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EP release and tour dates for Co-cheòl (Victoria), October 2014

Co-cheol
Image courtesy of Co-cheòl

Victorian Celtic quartet Co-cheòl are launching their debut EP (‘Co-cheòl’) at the Boite World Music Café in North Fitzroy on Saturday 11 October 2014.

Boasting a wealth of instrumental skill and experience, a real strength of the group is in their vocal harmonising which comes to the fore in their EP. The group was also recognised with a runner-up award in the recent AUS-ACA A Capella Championships, plus awards for ‘Best Band’ and ‘Best Comedy Song’.

Co-cheòl made their festival debut in January 2014 at the ever-popular Cygnet Folk Festival in Tasmania to rapturous responses from audiences.

Co-cheòl EP cover
Co-cheòl EP cover

The group started singing together in October 2013 and this self-titled EP is their first recording.

Co-cheòl comprises Claire Patti (vocals/harp), Georgina Walton (vocals/ukulele), and twins Merrily Hansen (vocals/flute) and Ginger Hansen (vocals/accordion).

Claire Patti was recently awarded the 2014 Female Vocalist of the year in the Australian Celtic Music Awards.

Ginger Hansen provided a little more background on where the band originated and what makes them hum (no pun intended):

‘Claire, Merrily and I have all sung together in the past at one point or another in a community choir. Claire has her own solo career as well as singing with Taliska. She was doing a solo album and obviously can’t do harmonies with herself while performing!

So she asked Merrily and I if we could give her a hand with concerts.

We did the backing tracks on her album and thought this is a good thing; we’ll keep doing this.

Claire works at a school where Georgina works, and one day Claire was singing to herself at work and then this other voice, Georgina, joined in with a great harmony line – and that was it!

We want to do more original material. We have one or two original numbers, as well as some lyrics that are ready to be put to music. Aside from this, we do all our own arrangements of a mix of traditional and more modern stuff.’

Co-cheòl is pronounced ‘Co-shaal ‘ and appropriately means ‘harmony’ in Scots Gaelic. Ginger spoke briefly about the origins of the band’s chosen music.

Co-cheòl
Co-cheòl

‘We have a family connection with Celtic music to varying degrees. We’ve all just had different amounts of exposure to it.

The National A Capella Championships were great. The event was incredibly well-organised, really well-attended, and it was just amazing to get in contact and make friends with a lot of other musicians and groups.

Quite of lot of groups from New South Wales and South Australia as well. When we go to Adelaide we’ll be meeting up with those people.

It was great to be in the company of a lot of other music nerds who enjoy singing as much as we do!

A capella is definitely a buzzword at the moment, so people are focussing on that aspect which is fine. They don’t necessarily have a picture of our music when they think of our singing, so that’s a nice surprise for them when they come to see and hear us.’

Victorians and South Australians have several chances to see Co-cheòl perform starting with the EP launch:

Saturday 11 October — Boite World Music Café, North Fitzroy (Vic)
Saturday 18 October — Darebin Music Feast, Wesley Anne, Northcote (Vic)

21 to 22 November — Carnival of Music, Clare Valley (SA)
Sunday 23 November — Creatively Celtic, Church of Christ, Aldgate (SA) EP Launch

More details on these dates are on Co-cheòl’s gig page.

You can see and hear more of Co-cheòl on their Youtube channel, Facebook page and Soundcloud site.

The EP is available from 11 October 2014 and pre-sale details are at Bandcamp.