My sea shanty addiction is helping me survive isolation | Matt Mohan-Hickson

Soon may the Wellerman come, to bring us sugar and tea and rum. One day when the tonguin’ is done, we’ll take our leave and go.’

By Matt Mohan-Hickson
Monday, 18th January 2021, 4:55 pm
The Selsey Shantymen performing
The Selsey Shantymen performing

If you’ve spent any time on the internet during the first few weeks of the year, you are likely to have stumbled across someone singing these lyrics at least one time or two.

Sea shanties have exploded in popularity in early 2021, bursting out from Tik Tok and into the mainstream.

It doesn’t matter which platform or social media site you frequent, they are everywhere. From Reddit to Twitter and YouTube, the internet has been taken over by work songs.

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I have spent the last week in self-isolation after two of my housemates tested positive for coronavirus, which has left me with plenty of time to scroll aimlessly on my phone, at least it was aimless until I fell down a merchant sailing vessel-shaped rabbit hole.

I have lost count of the versions of Wellerman I have heard in recent days – including house remixes of sea shanties.

There is an almost magnetic pull to the songs that I cannot explain.

Perhaps it is because I have been reduced to being stuck indoors, staring wistfully out the window, dreaming of a return to a more normal life.

Or maybe it is because the very nature of sea shanties being work songs and thus fostering a sense of community has struck a chord in this time of separation and isolation.

The majority of the ShantyTok – as the clips have been dubbed – videos I have watched make use of Tik Tok’s duet feature, resulting in collaborative works with strangers from around the globe banding together to add extra layers of vocals and harmonies to make the texture of the song richer, perhaps in the exact way sailors on the deck of a ship in the 18th century would have done.

We have been deprived of the normal every day social interactions that help build a sense of community – seeing friends, family, enjoying office jokes and conversations.

And in a weird way that is what this sea shanty craze has offered, for a brief time at least.

It has certainly helped distract me from my frustration and fears for a moment or two over the last week.

Waiting on Deliveroo

My period of self-isolation was somewhat sprung on me in the form of an early morning text last Monday.

I woke up, checked my phone and wham, I suddenly discovered that I was now confined to my home.

Once I was over the sudden shock, there next came the dreaded realisation that I did not have enough food or supplies to survive the coming days.

Being the naïve young fool I am, I waved it away and thought: ‘I’ll just do an online shop it’ll be fine’ – only to then discover that the earliest slot I could get was late January.

Not much use for me in the short term.

I was left with two options, turn to cannibalism or fork out fortunes on ordering takeaway after takeaway.

To my surprise, I then discovered that you can actually get groceries delivered via Deliveroo and Uber Eats.

So that is how I have spent multiple days over the last week, over-paying for kitchen staples and then nervously checking my phone to track the progress of my order.

Good riddance Donald Trump

In the generations to come, I am sure that students beavering away at GCSE or A-Level coursework, if they still exist, will be scratching their heads trying to adequately explain the rise of Donald Trump.

I do not envy them; it feels almost impossible to explain while living through it, let alone with added time and distance thrown into the mix.

From Home Alone 2 cameo to most powerful man in the world, but at least he didn’t nuke anyone.

Although as I am writing this days in advance of President Biden’s inauguration, there is still time for that sentence to age extremely badly.

The last four years have been one of an almost constant start of bewilderment and head scratching.

Children locked in cages, Muslim bans and in its final act a botched coup attempt. Heaven knows how much worse this will look in hindsight.

But we did it guys, we all survived the Trump years – sure we are more jaded, worn down and left with a bitter taste in our mouths.

Considering in the last 40 years, the Americans have elected a film actor and then a reality TV star what will be next – the holographic characters from the Gorillaz, or maybe someone from the Vine days.