Shanties in the harbour

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Martin Bruce and his shanty group Round Rye Bay Singers

There is a long-standing tradition in Rye Harbour of shanty singing, harking back to the days when the river was bustling with fishing and other vessels plying their trade. In the 60’s and 70’s local fisherman Johnny Doughty was often to be found on a Saturday night at the William the Conqueror pub in the village, singing both well-known and his own shanties (as long as the beer flowed) to an enthusiastic audience. The BBC’s Down Your Way featured him in a programme about Rye and the surrounding area and to this day villagers like to watch the clip, recognising parents, other relatives and family friends singing along.

At the start of 2018 Martin Bruce decided to revive this tradition and founded a group called Round Rye Bay Singers. The idea was to meet every two weeks in the Village Hall to learn shanties and singing technique. The group became well-liked and performed at many functions in the Harbour and in Rye. In 2019 the CEO of the RNLI, Mark Dowie, came to Rye Harbour to dedicate the Mary Stanford Pebble Memorial by the Boathouse, remembering the seventeen crewmen who died whilst trying to save lives at sea in 1928. Martin’s group sang a shanty he had composed recalling the events of that dreadful night which is also performed at the annual service of remembrance in the village church.

The pandemic, of course, put a stop to rehearsals and performances. In the great scheme of things, not being able to gather with like-minded folk to have a good sing is not the end of the world, but all the singers missed their regular shanty “fix”. Last Friday the group reconvened and after a thorough warm up were sounding strong in voice. There is a mixture of ages and many have connections to the days of Johnny Doughty through their families.

Despite lockdown restrictions Martin was not idle and took the opportunity to set up his own YouTube channel dedicated to shanties and their history

Both widely-known favourites like “What shall we do with the drunken sailor” and local Sussex gems such as “Round Rye Bay for more” are only a click away.

We will keep you updated about future concerts.

Image Credits: kt bruce .

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