After threatening to do it for over 25 years, we are at last offering a one-and-a-half hour workshop on the songs and life of the Watchet shantyman John Short.  There are also two singing-related workshops.  Each was originally developed in response to specific requests from local singers and would-be singers who came to Shammick Acoustic Sessions and the associated workshops. The full workshop takes a day (2 two-hour sessions) but can be adapted for half-day workshops. A different workshop has also been developed which examines Mumming in several aspects. Enquiries as normal - ring, write or e-mail!

The Short,Sharp Shanties

John Short – also known as Yankee Jack - was born in Watchet, Somerset, in 1839.  He went to sea in the local coastal trade with his father at the age of 14, but in 1857 he went deep sea.  He sailed all over world, from Australia to Valpariso, from Canada to Bombay.  He sailed in East Indiamen, in Schooners, and in early steam-assisted boats.  He was sailing North American ships during the American Civil War.  He learnt the trade of a shantyman at the time when shantying was developing into the form we understand it today.  He eventually retired to Watchet to care for his ailing wife and, in 1914 he was visited by Cecil Sharp, the great English folk-song collector.  Sharp collected over 50 shanties from John Short – and they formed the basis of Sharp’s publication of shanties.  Later, R. R. Terry was to do the same with Short’s shanties. From American cotton screwing chants to classic English folk songs, anything that would make a sailor heave with a will was fair game for the shantyman.  Sentiment, bawdry, storytelling and contemporary life are all reflected in the vast range of shanties that Short, the man with the Stentorian voice, left to posterity. 

This illustrated workshop traces Short’s life, his shanties (including some that Sharp did not publish!), and the history through which he lived.  It gives a fascinating insight into shantying and the life of a true shantyman.

Making the song your own

The workshop day is for people who sing a bit and want to explore ways of making their songs their own, looking at aspects other than the ubiquitous 'voice workshops'. The workshop includes: Song styles; Approaches to songs; Effects of rhythm; Telling the story; Speech patterns; Melody and modality; Knowing what you want; Working with what you’ve got; Listening to other singers; Suiting yourself to the song; Suiting the song to you.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway!

Tom and Barbara debunk the mystery surrounding manuscript, musical terms, scales, modes and harmony. Never forgetting that there was music and singing before there was a theory for either, their approach is to enable you to use basic theory - not suffer its mastery.  The workshop includes: The musical stave and what it tells you -  timing, pitch and rhythm - and what it doesn’t; Keys and modes and scales -  and how they are related - bagpipe & mountain scales;  Basic harmony - pedal point and organum  - intervals and counterpoint - finding a harmony. This is seriously music theory for the utterly terrified!

Mumming ~ what it is and what it isn't!

A wide-ranging workshop which examines both theory and practice.  The workshop draws on Tom's MA thesis on the history of mumming and comparison with legitimate theatre, and also extensively uses film of traditional mumming groups ~ loaned by Doc Rowe. Interspersed with practical sessions using a variety of texts, the workshop offers the chance to explore the techniques of traditional drama and vernacular theatre.  

Tom completed his M.A. at the Department of Arts Policy & Management at the City University, London in 1991, one of only two students that year to achieve a Distinction - the other being another folk name, Rosie Cross. Although the taught course covers many aspects of arts policy, Tom's interest in the vernacular arts resulted in essays on the role of vernacular song in the development of early Music Hall and on the economics and social environment of the ascendant Folk Song Revival of the 1960s, 70s & 80s. His long study was an investigation into mumming.  After a break, Tom returned to the Department to commence doctoral research, on a part-time basis, into English Vernacular Performing Arts in the Late Twentieth Century. His Doctorate was awarded in June 2001.  Now, in the local North Devon mumming play, when Father Christmas asks "Is there a doctor to be found all ready near at hand?", there is!
M.A. Long Study/Dissertation. 1991
MUMMING: The Evolution and Continuity of English Vernacular Drama
This study examines the historical and contemporary records of the occurrence and evolution of English language mumming in the form of play performances. It considers the different types of mumming play that have been recorded and their relationship to other kinds of custom. It contextualises the plays against the evolution of drama, in and since the mediaeval period, drawing comparisons between mumming and legitimate drama in the various aspects of all that is involved in production and performance. It examines the social and legislative changes that have shaped performance, and the various changes that mumming has undergone. It considers participant's reasons for mumming and discusses strengths and weaknesses that may affect further continuity of performance.
Doctoral thesis. 2000
Aspects of trends, influences and management style in organisation and performance
This study uses questionnaires, interviews, information from the historical record and other research to examine the conduct of vernacular dance and theatre groups in England and Wales in the later Twentieth Century. It analyses questionnaire returns from 332 groups performing various types of morris, sword, social and step dancing, traditional mumming plays or maintaining annual calendar customs, and reports 12 major case studies on organizations ranging in age from 25 to, reputedly, over 400 years old. It investigates how these groups are organized and managed, the structures, motivations and dynamics within the groups and the influences within which they operate. In doing so, it challenges many misconceptions and presents revised ways of considering the subject activities. Comparisons with classic management paradigms indicate that the groups, however unconsciously, have some dynamic and structural similarities to more conventional organizations although their power structure is effectively inverted.
The thesis concludes that although these folk forms tend to regard themselves as all part of one movement, the Folk Revival, there are four distinct kinds of group operation and approach. The groups use methods of organization which enable them constantly to adapt and recreate their art, allowing them to survive sometimes radical changes in the social milieu. It shows how the apparently opposing drives of creative imperative, contemporary relevance and preservation of the past co-exist within the Folk Revival and produce performances adapted to self-satisfaction, community self-celebration or the commercial markets of festival stages and the heritage industry.
Copies of the doctoral thesis are available on CD ROM for £5.00 including P&P. The text is in Word Perfect 5.2 format, which can be read by any more recent word processing software such as PW6 or Word6 onwards. Contact Tom at Trafalgar House, Castle Street, Combe Martin, N.Devon. EX34 0JD