Although they are five releases and ten years into their career, the sea-shanty singers The Longest Johns received a boost to their profile due to a recent trend on Tik-Tok.
The six musicians who played to a large and enthusiastic audience at Lichfield Cathedral though were no flash in the pan – they were all talented players and singers, putting a new sheen on some old songs.
Accompanying themselves on banjo, harmonium, guitar and whistle, the four singers Jonathan Darley, Andy Yates, Dave Robinson and Robbie Sattin added a double bassist and drummer to their sonic mix to produce a sound that had the punk-folk energy of the Pogues, while also allowing their affecting blend of voices to be heard clearly in the mix.
They started their set with the ballad Mingulay Boat Song which featured some fine close harmony singing – something that was also shown during Crossing the Bar, its sad lyrics and beautiful melody holding the attention of the audience.
As well as the sea shanties, they also played some songs from the Americana tradition, with Hard Times Come Again No More and Wayfaring Stranger being particularly well performed.
Hammer and the Anvil saw items such as beer barrels and hammers providing the percussive ballad to a song about the tough working conditions that many faced.
There were also moments of levity, with songs such as Got No Beard discussing the basic qualifications that are needed to sing songs of the sea.
The musicianship on display was also of high quality, with the banjo being particularly suited to such pieces as Bonny Ship the Diamond, Nantucket, and the completely original version of Hog Eye Man that mixed elements of dance music with rock to produce one of the stand out moments in the entire evening.
Wellerman – which bough fleeting fame to the group on social media – appeared towards the end of the set, following a rousing Mary Ellen Carter which saw a couple of people dancing in the aisles. The encore of Santiana bought the ensemble a very well-deserved standing ovation.