The Roaring Forties is a Sydney-based folk group renowned since 1988 for making a powerful impact when singing unaccompanied traditional songs.
The group is made up of strong individual singers and the vigour and interplay of their combined voices makes for a distinctive sound.
Sea shanties and other songs of maritime and industrial history and union songs feature large in their repertoire, songs with a robust quality that tell of real people, their lives and work.
Much of their material has been honed by generations of folk singers; other songs are contemporary – some are accompanied – but composed with respect for the tradition.
They enjoy harmonies and encourage audience participation.
Members of the Roaring Forties are:
Don Brian, Robin Connaughton, Tom Hanson, Chris Maltby, Margaret Walters and John Warner. (biographies)
Recordings at a glance:
(Use the CD tab to link to reviews, track listings, notes, sound bites, how to order.)
The Roaring Forties’ latest CD, We Made the Steel was recorded in 2012; it is a collection of 23 original songs inspired by Robin Connaughton’s time at Port Kembla and Newcastle working for John Lysaghts. The songs – mostly by Robin but a few by or with John Warner – describe episodes of danger, mischief and ratbaggery, starkly contrasting with a deeply compassionate look at the industry’s impact on its workers and the indigenous inhabitants of the region. The CD spans a variety of musical styles as well as the spoken word.
Prior to that came the CD of sea shanties and forebitters, Life of Brine, featuring a good proportion of material with Australian connections and settings of poems by Cicely Fox-Smith.
Yarri of Wiradjuri tells the moving story of the great flood on the Murrumbidgee in 1852 that destroyed the original township of Gundagai in a song and verse cycle by John Warner.
Shore Leave doesn’t strive for a theme but showcases ship-fulls of bloody good chorus songs. Their first recording – Hazard, Hardship and Damned Little Pay – signalled the birth of the Roaring Forties in 1988 – doing what they love best – singing sea shanties.
Besides giving concerts on the themes covered by their recordings, the Forties have presented a number of interesting workshops/theme concerts over the years:
- Tolpuddle: the Australian Connection – about the lives of early trades unionists transported to Australia;
- Shellback Sheila – the working lives of sailors in verse and song by Cicely Fox Smith (1882-1954);
- Working Lives in Australia – songs about doing it hard in Australian town and bush;
- Don’t Let Religion Stand in the Way of a Good Song – the Forties take on Gospel and other god-bothering songs.
The Forties are happy to perform in unamplified venues and they’re great at hosting singing sessions.
The Forties have performed frequently at the Australian National Maritime Museum, and in recent years at the National Folk Festival, Illawarra Folk Festival, Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival, Maldon Folk Festival, Yackandandah Folk Festival, Cobargo Folk Festival, the Loaded Dog Folk Club, Hornsby-Kuring-gai Folk Club etc etc; and have also appeared at Woodford, Port Fairy, Jamberoo Folk Festivals, Majors Creek Music Festival, the Merry Muse, the Sydney and Melbourne Acappella Festivals, and elsewhere.