Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Beat of the Shantyman

I have a lifelong love of sail - to be specific, tallships and in particular, 19th century clippers.

Since being bitten by the concertina bug back in July, I've been eyeing 19th century concertina's on Ebay.

Modern instruments are fine, but unless you spend a small fortune on custom built ones (£2500 and up), modern concertinas are "hybrids" - they use accordion style reeds.

The older concertinas have the real thing and sound slightly better (you probably would never notice unless you heard both, one after the other).

Anyway, I've been lusting for a while and by a quirk of fate, secured this beautiful example.

The photograph doesn't do it justice, but it was manufactured in London around 1873, a hansom-cab ride from the Wapping and Limehouse Docks where the clippers used to discharge tea and other cargoes.

To put this timeline into perspective, Cutty Sark was built in 1869.

The fretwork ends are Rosewood and the bellows are green leather.

Ironically, the leather is the same colour as a settee that I once saw in the panelled masters dayroom of a sailing ship in a museum.

The instrument has been refurbished with new straps, pads etc, but I believe the fretwork, bellows and steel reeds to be the original ones.

Anglo concertinas tended to be owned by the lower classes - English concertinas which are a very different design were more the squeezebox instrument for the middle and upper classes.

My anglo, which is quite a basic one, would have cost its original owner around 30-40 Shillings - a lot of money then (about 770 Pounds based on todays earnings).

It still plays bright and clear..

There is a shanty called the "Old Fid"

The words go:

"To a melody sweet with a shantyman beat,

Don't ask me where I've damn well bin,

Don't ask me what I did,

For every thumb's a marlin spike

and every finger's a fid"

Regular blog-spotters will know that my revelation passages are often circular.

Fids are used to make narrowboat fenders..

Happy boating..

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