Shantyhead, Catholic Church Hall, Bishop’s Waltham

This week was a bit different… We played to a rather select audience back on Wednesday. Several local Women’s Institute groups were treated to a bit of Shantyhead action at the Catholic Church Hall in BW. A nice local gig for us, which started fairly early in the evening, meaning we could go for a pint afterwards.

The event was some kind of ‘meeting of the clans’ that happens every now and then and included Bishop’s Waltham WI, the Whiteley WAGs and some other local groups. It was a first for us – four blokes in a room of 60 women, all looking at us. A bit unnerving to start with, but as the evening progressed, it was clear they were all enjoying themselves, singing and clapping before the night was out.

It’s an interesting venue, with a small, very low (but high enough to trip you up if you’re not careful) stage facing the room. The stage was odd, from a technical point of view as it didn’t have any plug sockets, so our longest extension lead was employed to get power from the room behind, through two doors, to run the PA. Setup was swift, to say the least, and the room was full when we were done, so sound checks weren’t possible and mixing was carried out on the fly. The acoustics of the room are perfect when it’s empty, but fill it with people and it’s a completely different kettle of fish (should that be jam, considering the audience?).

We were asked nicely to sanitise the set a little, leaving out songs such as ‘Dogging’ and restricting the favourite ‘Seven Drunken Nights’ to ‘Five Drunken Nights’ for fear of causing offence to the mild mannered ladies of the WI. We needn’t have altered the set that much as they were definitely up for everything we threw at them.

There was a higher than usual level of cock-ups, with my whistle deciding it didn’t want to play at the right octave on more than one occasion (cue standing further from the mic so it wasn’t as loud, hopefully they wouldn’t notice…) and most of us forgot the words at various points… I’d like to add that this isn’t our usual modus operandi, but I put it down to the eagle eyes of the good ladies of the Meon Valley eagerly anticipating our next move. Never have we had a more attentive audience.

Certain tunes didn’t work that well, but others were surprising in their popularity. The instrumental piece, ‘Larking Around With The Morning Wood’ was especially well received, although as usual, I play the whistle on that one with,  my eyes shut, so I couldn’t gauge the reaction myself.

We started with the slower songs, then after the break, the tempo picked up considerably. If they didn’t know what a sea shanty was before this evening, they do now. And they know how to sing one!

Fueled by cans of cheap lager from Budgens and the hope of cake, we were rather excited about the gig. Then the hurdy gurdy came out and the ladies were excited too. We have since christened said device ‘the hand-cranked-multi-stringed-babe-magnet’. Whenever Widge brings it to a gig, be it in a pub, a house concert or, evidently, in a church hall, he has a small queue of ladies after the gig wanting to know more about it, some even getting the privilege of playing it. If only the same worked for banjos…

We finished off with ‘Chicken On A Raft’, a modern sea shanty about the dubious egg on toast served by the Royal Navy. Amid great applause, those of us that could shuffle off this mortal stage did so, then came back on for an encore. Those of us that didn’t have anywhere to shuffle, stood there, smiling sweetly to ourselves. We often do ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor’ as an encore with melodeon, but I decided to start it slowly then pick up to normal tempo, and as I started it in the wrong key, the squeezebox couldn’t match it when we were at full speed, so a capella it was. Via some miraculous intervention, we all ended up in tune, and we finished off rather well, with the ladies singing heartily and me in a state of surprise, that we had actually managed to pull it off.

After the gig (and the impromptu hurdy gurdy demonstration session) we began the dismantling of the Shantyhead machine, only to be presented with cakes! There were profuse apologies that they were shop bought, but they were cakes. And they were free, provided by the lovely ladies of the WI. Cakes consumed, pack up was completed and a speedy retreat to the Bowman was made for a pint of rather strong beer and a shakedown.

At the rehearsal today, Roger came in with a card, pictured below.

The card. Front bit…



This week, Shantyhead are gigging again on Friday, at the wedding of the daughter of a good friend of the band. Cue an oh-too-familiar situation – there’s a few bands playing that night that I’d like to go and see, but being very much pre-booked, I’m going to have to miss them.

Highlights of the list, which you may be interested in if you’re in the area and free on Friday are 71 Chain at the Robin Hood in Sholing and The Drystone Cowboys at Samuel’s Rest in Shedfield.

I’m going to sign off now, sat as I am, at the kitchen table, with a keyboard attached to my phone as I really can’t be bothered to fire the PC up. I’ll tag this post later in the week when I am at the PC, but until then, stay safe and long live the music!


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