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The dark side of the sea shanty

Jaunty nautical tunes have been keeping us entertained in lockdown—but songs like the “Wellerman” belong to a cruel age of whaling

By David Farrier  
A whale being speared with harpoons by fishermen in the arctic sea. Engraving by AM Fournier after E Traviès Source: Wikimedia commons

A whale being speared with harpoons by fishermen in the arctic sea. Engraving by AM Fournier after E Traviès Source: Wikimedia commons

The social media sea shanty craze has been one of the more surprising aspects of lockdown life. The original video, by Glasgow postie Nathan Evans, has been viewed over 6m times on TikTok alone, but more remarkable is the spirit of collaboration it has inspired. Evans’s clip can now be found in multiple versions, with vocal harmonies or instrumentation added by other social media users—everything from traditional folk violin to funk bass guitar.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s been a lonely year and sea shanties are songs of community. They tell of people working together through…

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