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“There is something magical about the sea shanty style. Seafaring songs and chants from the 17th century are now the rage of the world. The old halyards, which sailors used to stave off boredom on long voyages, but also to communicate with crew members during the night or to coordinate their movements when pulling ropes and hoisting sails, have become a popular musical style in recent years. And three Bristol friends who used to meet in cheap pubs have found themselves at the biggest music festivals.”
We’re talking about the band The Longest Johns, who scored big in 2021 with their version of Wellerman and jumped on the wave of sea shanty flooding TikTok at the time. The fringe style suddenly became a trend spreading among the younger generation around the world. And The Longest Johns suddenly became a band with millions of followers anyway. After many years of playing together just for fun, the trio of musicians rocketed to the top of the UK charts, and the song Wellerman became one of the most streamed tracks on Spotify in the United States. Alongside sea shanty and folk classics, The Longest Johns also offers original songs with stories of the sea, lost ships and sailors.
The energy and magic of singing together was also demonstrated by the band at this year’s Colours Of Ostrava. The euphoric clapping, stomping and unison singing of the audience swept away even the visitors who do not know sailor songs. The tight rhythm and phrasing of the lyrics draw the audience into a common world where everyone can enjoy to the full the feeling of being part of a large live orchestra. Therein lies the communal appeal of the sea shanty, which The Longest Johns have tapped into on social media. For Twitch, for example, they invented the live-streamed online game Sea of Thieves, which anyone can enter with their voice. They have released nine studio albums to date, most self-produced. This year it was two albums – March’s The Longest Pony, recorded with Spanish band El Pony Pisador, followed in May by a record called C-Sides.
According to the band members, singing together is akin to dancing in a club – “Even if you don’t know the song, you know internally what to do and you can feel the energy coming from the people around you. And then it starts to take off on its own, you start dancing and singing and you know you’re part of something bigger.”