At the June meeting of Berkshire Greenpeace, while discussing the ocean campaign on EU fishing policy, several of us were overcome with euphoric delusion; we decided we should write and perform a sea shanty outside Richard Benyon’s office in Newbury. We set a short timetable; within a week we would meet up to practice our sea shanty and meantime we had to get some ideas ready.
I pulled out my 36 year-old guitar. The strings still seemed fine since I vaguely remember changing them a decade ago, and there was little visible rust. The next step was to Google “sea shanties”. “A Drop of Nelson’s Blood” seemed a likely choice. I emailed a link around to those who had agreed to join our artistic foray.
Peter replied within a few hours with some suggested verses. We toyed with the title “A Drop of Benyon’s Blood”, but this felt at odds with the intention of encouraging change and building co-operation.
Instead the main refrain would be 'Reform the EU Fishing Policy - can you do that Richard Benyon'. Before each chorus would be a simple suggestion that wouldn’t do us any harm, starting with 'A sea that’s full of fish' and ending with 'A minister that’s brave'.
When we met in the bar back at Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC) Caroline had been working on an alternative sea shanty. She had written her own words to the tune “Spanish Ladies”, a lament for the state of our oceans ('Farewell and adieu to the life in our oceans'), with a stirring chorus ('We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true Greenpeace Warriors'). Louise also turned up with her ukulele and “new” rescued guitar.
So we now had two quite different shanties, and two gigs! One uninvited outside Richard Benyon’s office and an invitation to perform at RISC on the 30th June at an evening of poetry and song.
We were also well on the way to developing a unique musical style that could be described as “emergent harmony”, and best understood as an attempt to all sing the same tune that doesn’t quite work out.
Pete organised a “Doodle poll” to arrange when we would visit Newbury for our first gig. Juggling personal and work commitments is always a challenge.
We met again the following Saturday lunchtime for a dress rehearsal between parallel activities on the Save the Arctic campaign. The core performers would be Martyn (guitar), Caroline (drums), Louise (ukulele), Brian (as an unemployed fisherman) and Peter (wearing a very fashionable cap). Encouraging us was Pete on media support (video and photographic services).
Later that week, after a final rehearsal at RISC we made our way to Newbury and set up outside the minister’s local constituency office. The minister was not in, but we did invite the office secretary to come down to hear us, or if not perhaps we could come up? In the end we performed on the step outside, perhaps she could hear us anyway and the passing public were entranced, then found sustainable (or at least sustaining) refreshment nearby.
We have since performed another gig at the Greater Reading Environmental Network (GREN) Green Meetup night at which our own Fish* stepped in to play the guitar in Martyn's absence.
* Just a nickname, real fish can’t play guitars
Words by Martyn Cutcher. Video by Pete Chan.