Sea shanties provide perfect soundtrack for G7 summit

As Britain raises anchor from Europe and sets sail into the choppy waters of independence full of bravado, booze and bad dentistry, forcing workers protections off the plank and eager to steal other countries’ stuff, it’s fitting that G7 leaders will be entertained on the beach with sea shanties from local shantymen Du Hag Owr during their Cornwall summit this week. Shanties are, after all, the perfect soundtrack to Brexit: brash, reckless and misty-eyed for the 1850s.

Our esteemed visitors might already be aware of this bawdy folk work song tradition used to synchronise labour on merchant ships as far back as the 15th century, particularly if they represent a country that was colonised to the strains of Blow the Man Down. During their 19th century heyday, a spritely young Joe Biden might even have sung some while mopping down the deck of a tall-sailed clipper.

They’re unlikely, however, to know of the genre’s recent UK resurgence, driven by a TikToker named Nathan Evans posting a video of himself in December singing 19th century New Zealand whaling song Soon May the Wellerman Come accompanied only by thigh thump. As fellow TikTok users added harmonies, violins and dance remixes, the clip went viral and copycat shanties swept the nation, with timely reason. The isolations of seafaring life echoed those of lockdown, and songs of collective effort to overcome hard journeys naturally forged connections between men with curly moustaches slapping orange crates everywhere.

The shanty does come with some unconventional forms of political etiquette. Roaring is expected, reeling encouraged, although roistering should be left to the individual delegate’s discretion. Formal greetings may include both parties either swinging 360 degrees by the elbow or clanking tankards (cheer optional). As the uproarious performances of John Kanaka by London’s premier punk shanty merchants Skinny Lister have established, one should only stop howling “too-rye-ayyy-AH!” at the top of one’s lungs to swig heartily from the communal flagon of rum and pass it on. This may not be the best time, all told, to make any hasty handshake trade agreements.

Leaders should also be prepared for a certain amount of culture clash with the 19th century seafaring fraternity. If any random singer belches out a loud and incongruous “T’me!”, they’re not referencing South Park. It was common practice for shanties to pass frank and ungentlemanly judgment upon the virtue of the women of various global cities, so it’s merely honouring tradition for Boris Johnson to whoop loudly, punch the air and grin to himself at those points. And when the band complains of poor wages, unsanitary working conditions, cramped and depressing transportation and widespread resultant alcohol and addiction issues, just smile and swig along. For once, you’re in the clear.

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