A stellar crew of the UK’s top sea musicians will be performing, and competing with budding songwriters for the coveted Song for the Sea during Whitby’s new Fish and Ships Festival in what will become one of Britain’s largest gatherings of maritime musicians this year.
Free for anyone to enter, Whitby’s song competition will be the finale to a weekend which includes more than 40 hours of free, live music non-stop from morning to night, all inspired by Whitby’s ancient sea-faring way of life and fishing industry.
The event runs from Saturday May 16 to Sunday May 19.
At the festival, visitors will be able to hear some of the world’s leading shanty-singers, balladeers, folk instrumentalists and songwriters, all specialists in sea music, performing alongside locals and schoolchildren in a tribute to Whitby’s maritime culture.
“This festival is not just about celebrating the past, but also the future of Whitby as a fishing town,” said Janet Deacon, tourism and corporate marketing manager for Scarborough Borough Council and area director for Welcome to Yorkshire.
“That’s why the Song for the Sea competition is so special, casting a light not just on Whitby’s fishing – from its boat-building to some of Britain’s best fish restaurants - but how seafaring also inspires the town’s culture, art and music, today. The festival is celebrating a way of life."
Competition organiser Richard Grainger, one of Britain’s leading songwriters and performers, said: “We’re an island nation, and sea music connects anyone who dreams of wandering the waves, from surfers to sailors, so we’re encouraging everyone – young or old – to have a go at composing a new Song for the Sea, celebrating Whitby as a fishing town, a maritime centre, and a place to visit, work or simply call home.
"The winner will get to perform their song on the main stage as part of the festival’s finale later that day, with the honour of appearing alongside some of the greats of the UK’s sea music scene, so it’s a wonderful opportunity for any singer or songwriter.”
The Song for the Sea competition is free for everyone to enter, but as spaces are in demand it’s a good idea to register in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org, stating the competitor’s name and song title.
"The competition will take place on Sunday 19 May from noon until 2pm at Whitby Library, with the winner chosen by a panel of four musical experts.
All songs must be acoustic and pay tribute to Whitby, its maritime heritage and fishing industry.
Richard said: “Sea songs are the folk songs of the sea and are quite different from many of the popular hits you might hear on the radio.
"They resonate with the sounds of the sea, and the joy and lament of the mariner. The music is rooted in tradition, and so on the one hand the judges will be looking for songs which honour this legacy; but they also recognise that it’s a music that constantly evolves – just like our relationship with the sea, so we’re also seeking creative songwriters who can bring something different, musically and lyrically.
"It can even be about fish and chips. What’s most important is that the song captures the essence of the sea and connects us, through the music, to Whitby’s fishing and maritime heritage.
"There’s been a local sea-song competition in Whitby for years, and winning the title has become highly-prized by professional musicians, so we’re really excited that Song for the Sea is becoming such an important part of Whitby’s new Fish and Ships Festival, showcasing sea music to a much wider audience than ever before – and opening up the competition to new talent. We can’t wait to enjoy the show."
Alongside sensational seafood cooking and demos, madcap street entertainment, stunning art-works, heritage displays, and a firework finale, the weekend’s headline music acts include one of Britain’s leading folk singers and songwriters Richard Grainger, who has been a musical ambassador for Whitby and the surrounding region for over 30 years.
His latest album was included in FRUK’s Best Albums of the Year. As well as organising the musical line-up for the festival, he will perform his unique solo collection of Whitby songs during the weekend – tales of Whitby's whalers, fisher-folk, mariners and ships, which illustrate the unique character of the town through the years, as well as taking the stage with the Endeavour Shantymen. Especially for the festival, he will also be joined by one of the folk world’s great accordion players, Chris Parkinson and Fiddler Tom McConville to perform as the Whitby Wailers.
Festival headliners include Grimsby-based John Conolly, one of the country’s top sea song writers and performers; Malcolm Ward from Kent, a UK festival favourite with a vast repertoire of sea songs and shanties; the John Ward Trio from East Anglia, with their memorably show-stopping and thought-provoking songs, capturing the spirit of the times; and Keith Kendrick & Sylvia Needham from Derbyshire, with their special tribute to ‘Yankee John’, the first and and probably last of the great Shantymen.
Visitors will also be able to enjoy the sounds of UK favourites such as South Yorkshire shanty crew Monkey’s Fist; Marske Fishermen’s Choir, the Men of Staithes; Newcastle fiddler Tom McConville; and Dick Miles, a champion of English & Irish traditional sea music.
Whitby’s Fish and Ships free music timetable includes:
17 May, 7pm ‘All Aboard’ festival opening concert at Whitby Brewery
18 May, 10am – 10pm at Dockend
18 May, 1.30pm – 3.30pm at Whitby Abbey
18 May, 11.00am – 6pm at Whitby Brewery, including Open Session of sea songs and shanties from 11am, plus an extra evening gig from 7.30 – 10.00pm
18 May, 2pm – 3pm at Whitby Library
19 May, 10.30am – 5pm at Dockend
19 May, 11.00am – 6.30pm at Whitby Brewery, including an Open Session of sea songs and shanties from 11.00am.
19 May, 12.00 noon – 2pm Song for the Sea competition
There are also special Backyard Concerts (ticketed) on May 17 and 18 at 7.30pm in Sander’s Yard Bistro, starring festival headliners.