What a tumultuous, tempestuous torrent we’ve all experienced on the national political scene over the past few weeks and months. I’ve felt like little Johnny Helpless strapped to the main mast of a plucky little fishing boat as the waves of a wild, furious sea crash onto the deck, washing away the last vestiges of decency and common sense, making my sou’wester all wet and soggy.
I just yearn for some down-to-earth sanity, some fun and a good night out. So what could be better than a monthly trip out to The Barn at Baston and an evening shared with Kimber’s Men, ‘the UK’s finest shanty band’.
The band comprise Neil Kimber, Steve Smith, John Bromley and Gareth Scott, all excellent singers in their own right and together they make up as strong as a vocal ensemble that ever sailed the seven seas or travelled the tedious tarmac.
The secret of Kimber’s Men’s success is quite simple. They come across as ordinary. This is a compliment since it means that their connection with the audience is immediate and long-lasting. Judging by tonight’s audience they clearly have a devoted following. They sing of simple situations, intermingled with the sort of adult fairytale songs which might have come from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. They intersperse their songs with anecdotes and humour, well illustrated by the tale of a young woman, popular with sailors, who is described as “working in a warehouse”. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink!
However, their real skill is to sing boldly and beautifully both individually and collectively and to choose material which is varied yet fits together so well. We are transported (no, not that one) to the Rio Grande, we’re Frozen in Frobisher Bay, taken to Shawnee Town, wrecked on the Titanic (God Moves On The Water) and introduced to Bamfield’s John Vanden. We Fall Down Below, are a Chicken On A Raft, eventually leave Shenandoah and then Go To Sea No More. Quite a journey – and all in a couple of hours with a raffle in between!
One song that was strikingly different from their usual shanty/chorus fare was Don’t Take The Heroes, the tribute to the loss of life suffered by the crew of the Penlee lifeboat in 1981 whilst attempting to save the crew of the Union Star off the Cornish coast. This is indeed an outstanding song about a real event, sung in a timeless way. It deserves to be embedded in the nation’s psyche in the same way that perhaps Ralph McTell’s Street of London has become a classic.
Just as over the past few weeks we’ve stared at four slightly differing designs of wooden podiums in Downing Street, all bearing the Parliamentary crest, tonight we are faced with four individuals, all sturdy chaps with strong voices who can belt out tunes but with subtle and listenable harmonies. I know which I prefer to look at! In a period of such uncertainty and instability it was great to spend an evening with four chiselled and grounded Mount Rushmores of folk.
By all accounts the impending winter is due to be difficult – the cost of living is rising sharply and many people are rightly concerned about the costs of basic food and fuel. So, here’s a suggestion – buy, beg, borrow (but not steal) recordings of Kimber’s Men and sing along vigorously. Increased warmth of both body and soul guaranteed! Better still, go and see them live – the cockles of your heart (and other bits) will be warmed, I promise!