Avast ye landlubbers! Whidbey Island’s Shifty Sailors and the Saratoga Orchestra are performing two pop-up concerts this Saturday.
“The Wellerman’s Cometh” outdoor performances — in honor of 2021 being named the Year of the Sea Shanty — are scheduled for 1 p.m. at the South Whidbey Community Center and 4 p.m. at the Coupeville Town Park Pavilion on July 24.
This is the first time the Shifty Sailors, a men’s choir from Greenbank that’s been singing sea shanties for nearly 30 years, has teamed up with the Langley-based Saratoga Orchestra, formed in 2007 and conducted by Anna Edwards.
The concerts feature “The Wellerman,” a sea shanty that has recently become a TikTok sensation. The song, written circa 1860 in New Zealand, refers to the “wellermen,” or the supply ships owned by the Weller brothers who were settlers from England.
“We thought it would be kind of fun to have the music from social media played,” said Larry Heidel, executive director of Saratoga Orchestra.
This year the English folk band The Longest Johns, Scottish singer Nathan Evans and Scottish pirate metal band Alestorm recorded their own versions of the song on TikTok, each of them becoming viral hits on the social media site.
Since then, the Shifty Sailors have received several requests to sing “The Wellerman.”
“It’s an old, old song that went viral on the internet this winter when a guy from the U.K. decided to sing this song,” said Jim Lightner, who has been singing with the choir for 17 years.
In addition to “The Wellerman,” the men’s choir will also sing “Drunken Sailor,” “Away to America” and “Greenland Fishery.”
“Drunken Sailor” is listed as No. 322 in the Roud Folk Song Index. Capt. W.B. Whall, a veteran English sailor, claimed that the song written in the 1820s was one of only two shanties that was sung in the British Royal Navy — even though singing while working was frowned upon.
“Away to America” isn’t a shanty, but it’s a favorite among the Shifty Sailors. The song from 1971 is about the composer’s grandfather, who immigrated to America from England. It goes, “Sail away, away to America / Far off over the sea / There is something there in America /And it’s calling to me.”
“The Greenland Fishery,” perhaps the most famous of all whaling songs, was written before 1725. It was given Roud No. 347. The Dutch and English had opened up the Greenland grounds, where they fished for right whales, in the 16th century.
“We sing harmony, and most shanty groups do not,” Lightner said. “We have four-part harmony, so we have a little bit more entertaining sounds than typical shanty groups.”
Oak Harbor musician Sean Brown, a member of the Saratoga Orchestra, composed the arrangements to accompany the four songs to be sung by the Shifty Sailors. Not only does he play the French horn for the orchestra, he composes music and teaches brass lessons.
The orchestra also will be playing a few songs on its own, including selections from the “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Johnny Depp, who stars as Capt. Jack Sparrow in the Disney franchise, reportedly developed an interest in sea shanties while filming “Pirates.” As a result, in 2006, Depp helped produce the compilation album “Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys.”
No need to batten down the hatches. The weather is supposed to be nice this Saturday for the two outdoor performances of “The Wellerman’s Cometh.”
“Bring a hat and a lawn chair,” Heidel said.
South Whidbey Record reporter Kira Erickson contributed to this article.
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org; @sarabruestle.
If you go
Whidbey Island’s Shifty Sailors and the Saratoga Orchestra present “The Wellerman’s Cometh” outdoor concerts 1 p.m. at the South Whidbey Community Center, 723 Camano Ave., Langley, and 4 p.m. at the Coupeville Town Park Pavilion, on Front Street NW, on July 24. Both pop-up concerts, which are about 45 minutes long, are free of charge. Go to www.pnwmusic.org/pop-uppops to make a reservation.