Reviews

Hazard, Hardship, and Damned Little Pay is only now availabe in CD format. Here are two reviews of when it was released as a cassette in 1988.

Hazard, Hardship and Damned Little Pay

Hazard, Hardship and Damned Little Pay

Leonard, Regnier, Sydney , Music Diary Nov 1988

This cassette provides a fascinating insight into the world of nineteenth century commercial sailing. Viewed from the comfort of our living rooms this era must seem a romantic one, yet, as the title suggests, there were hard realities confronting the men, and these “most remarkable work-songs in the English language” (cassettes leaflet) were born out of gruelling work in very adverse conditions.

The Roaring Forties (Robin Connaughton, Brian Grayson, Tom Hanson, Len Neary, Tony Cochrane, Bob and Margaret Walters) are to be commended on their effort to bring these songs to our attention in their raw, unaccompanied original form, together with much genuine atmosphere of those bygone days. Their singing is consistently clean, which, with all the fourth and fifth intervals, is not as easy as it sounds. The words, for the most part, are clearly understandable. It pays to listen to the words, for they are full of remarkable lines of rough, poetic beauty.

The cassette’s musical presentation is so appealing that one becomes interested in the subject.


Cierwen Jones, Cornstalk, August 1988

I have always felt it odd that so much joviality is associated with shanty singing, especially when they are, after all, work songs, formulated to add rhythm and co-ordination to manual labour. But then, my association with them is being two sheets into the wind and feeling frustrated because my fellow alcoholics are slurring the lyrics.

The Roaring Forties shanty group, previously known as the “Ensemble of Fat Bearded Shanty Singers” (EFBSS) comprises a varying collection of singers. For the purpose of this recording, the members are Robin Connaughton, Brian Grayson, Tom Hanson, Len Neary, Tony Cochrane, and Margaret Walters, most of whom I have heard as individuals, and as such are fine performers. With this collection of people, I can’t help wondering whether the name refers to the trade winds or their ages.

The 24 shanties on this tape are sung unaccompanied. While unaccompanied singing is by no means a new phenomenon, it is only relatively recently that it has been successfully combined with the technology of the recording studio. This is not without good reason. Our ears are accustomed to a broad range of sound emanating from our stereo speakers, so that voice alone may sound lost and thin.

Where a number of voices of varying tone and timbre are combined in close harmony, as in this case, the sound is remarkably full, and added instrumentation would probably confuse rather than enhance the sound. Refer to Ladysmith Black Mambazo to see what I mean. The similarity with LBM doesn’t stop with singing a capella. There is a structural similarity in that the songs comprise call-and-response with a heavy emphasis on rhythm. In the case of LBM this comes from the natural rhythms of the Zulu language; in the case of the shanties, it comes from the pace required by the tasks which the songs accompany.

I can recommend this tape to all those who would otherwise be left mute when a shanty session develops at the bar, Armed with a copy of Hazard, Hardship, and Damned Little Pay, you’ll have enough ammunition to contribute something more than , “two pints, please.”

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