Joe Danks – Seaspeak: Album Review

Joe Danks does songs and stories from the National Maritime Museum.

Release date: 9th July 2021

Format: CD / digital

Seaspeak is an album created as part of the English Folk Dance and Song Society ‘Musicians In Museums‘ project. Joe Danks spent a year in residency at Greenwich’s National Maritime Museum during which he sourced, arranged and wrote the material on Seaspeak. Inspired by stories and artefacts from paintings to model ships, he’s joined by Danny Pedler, Sarah Matthews and Jean Kelly in bringing the subjects to musical life.

Inevitably given the nature of the beast, there’s much seafaring story telling plus some element of what might pass for ‘shanty’ going on. Quadrilles collects a couple of dances which are patched with some clogging and bodhran to ensure a wild frenzy of percussive challenges to get your feet tapping. The Dorsetshire Hornpipe set does a similar job.

In a nice balancing act where the atmospheres range from similarly lively interjections of tunes crossing swords with sympathetic and emotive songwriting and tale-telling, many of which are fascinating and perfect examples of why such a project is so vital and enlightening. There are so many amazing stories to be discovered. Seaspeak is only the tip of the iceberg.

The Jumbo/The Matthew Scott Schottische is a particularly fascinating revelation – the transportation of Jumbo the elephant from London Zoo – with a suitably ominous seafaring tune. What quickly emerges is that this is a set which pays tribute to the events and the characters who inhabit the songs whilst inspiring further research into a subject that may have passed you by.

The traditional Man Of War is a brooding and stirring piece. Imagine viewing Turner’s Battle Of Trafalgar painting and casting some life on the scene, from ominous drones to subtle full-on band mode. Sung with a sensitivity and subtle passion by Danks, he shows he’s a fine interpreter of traditional song in much the same way that the sublime Jim Moray softly inhabits his songs.

Credit too as he digs deep into some of the many lesser-known stories where the no-less-brave are celerated. Jutland 1916 is just one such case where he’s created a sympathetic musical accompaniment to the story of London laudry boy, John Blackwell, is told. Add Ewan MacColl’s Sweet Thames Flow Softly – a much more restrained take than Jon Boden’s swirling version with his Remnant Kings that folk fans may have encountered of late – as the closing piece is a bold move in ending on a delicate harp and voice arrangement that brings closure via the famous river.You may even be similarly inspired to go down to the sea today, the lonely sea and the sky…ah, you must know the words.

The making of this album was supported by the EFDSS, Help Musicians UK and the National Maritme Museum, Greenwich.

Listen to Sea Fever here:

Joe Danks online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube

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