From UK pubs to U.S. tour: The Longest Johns ride sea shanty craze wave

Members of The Longest Johns pose for a photograph, in Bristol
FILE PHOTO: Members of The Longest Johns pose for a photograph, in this handout picture, in Bristol, Britain, September 7, 2021. Decca Records/Handout via REUTERS

February 21, 2022

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

LONDON (Reuters) – Two years ago, British a capella folk band The Longest Johns performed their sea shanties in local Bristol pubs.

This week they embark on their first U.S. tour, enjoying a wave of success stemming from a lockdown social media craze for the traditional tunes sung aboard ships.

“We went into the pandemic … maybe we could sell out a pub in Bristol … We came out of the pandemic playing this huge festivals,” member Robbie Sattin told Reuters.

“We’ve had a two-year gap where we’ve released albums, we’ve done a lot online. We’ve made a huge effort to try and make the most of our time inside and then we come out the other end and suddenly the crowds are 20 times as big and we’re like ‘ooh, we need to up our game really quickly’.”

The Bristol-based, four-member group has used online platforms like TikTok and Twitch to engage with fans during lockdowns, gaining a widespread following.

Their version of “Wellerman”, an early 19th century New Zealand whaler’s song, reached no.37 in the UK charts.

“Sea shanties (are) all work songs from the great days of sail when people used to haul on ropes and they would have to be kept in time…it was this big thing of having to get everybody working at one time. There was a lot of camaraderie,” Sattin said.

“I think people do miss that nowadays. We’re all on our phones, we’re all on our computers all the time. Something about all getting together and being as one, I think people really see the value in that.”

Fresh off the release of new album “Smoke & Oakum”, the band begins on Friday a tour of the U.S. east coast, where they have a significant following.

“It’s our first time in the U.S….so it’s very exciting,” Sattin said.

Upholding their environmentally-friendly stance, The Longest Johns last month favoured a wooden disc, over traditional gold and platinum discs, in recognition of more than 300 million streams.

“When we started in 2012, we were all just musicians and we’d come across sea shanties from people like Stan Rogers and Fisherman’s Friends,” Sattin said.

“We just loved the harmonies and we loved the way it feels, which is what we want to try and impart on people now.”

(Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)