The Last Shantyman
By Simon Moffatt
Liverpool is recognised as the spiritual home of sea songs...so it should come as no surprise that the king of the sea shanty, the legendary Stan Hugill, came from Merseyside.
Sea shanties were work songs, sung on board sailing ships in the 19th and early 20th Century to ease the hard and repetitive work involved in keeping the vessel on the move.
Liverpool figured prominently in many a shanty because most of the crew either came from the city or had passed through it.
Stan Hugill, who was born in Hoylake in 1906, became the 20th Century guardian of the tradition.
He first went to sea aged 16 in 1922 and spent 23 years on the high waves before retiring to land in 1945.
The Last Shantyman
He was the last shantyman to sail on the last British commercial sailing ship the "Garthpool".
His love of the sea never dimmed, in later life he became an instructor of an Outward Bound Sea School and a marine artist producing more than 250 oil paintings of ships and the sea.
He also penned five books on sea shanties as well as appearing on radio and television.
And he spoke numerous languages, he was fluent in Japanese and Spanish as well as speaking Maori, Malay, Chinese plus various Polynesian dialects.
But it is as the last shantyman that Stan will be remembered.
Jack Coutts, originally from Dundee but now an adopted son of Liverpool, sings with the Merseyside shanty group Stormalong John. They played with Stan and recorded a couple of CDs with the great man.
"Stan was a legend, literally," says Jack.
He wrote the bible as far as shanty singers are concerned."
Jack remembers travelling to Krakow in Poland with Stormalong John and Stan, when the shantyman was in his eighties, and being in awe as he entertained an audience of more than a thousand young people.
Stan died in 1992 in Aberystwyth in Wales.
His two up, two down cottage, by then a virtually museum for shanty singers and marine historians.
And his memory lives on, alongside the visit of the Tall Ships, a shanty festival is taking place in Liverpool.
Called Shanties 08, its centrepiece will be a special concert at the stunning new Contemporary Urban centre on Greenland Street in the city centre on Saturday, 19 July, 2008 at 7.30pm with assistance from Liverpool Council and BBC Radio Merseyside.
Many, if not most, of the shanties performed will be from collections pulled together by Stan Hugill, the last working shantyman.
last updated: 25/07/2008 at 15:55