TikTok craze propels Albany Shantymen to online stardom

Campbell WilliamsonAlbany Advertiser
Gary Greenwald sings with the Albany Shantymen.
Camera IconGary Greenwald sings with the Albany Shantymen.

The Albany Shantymen have been riding a wave of popularity this year thanks to a surprising global obsession with sea shanties that took off online during the coronavirus crisis.

The viral phenomenon started in December after Scottish musician Nathan Evans posted his cover of a sea shanty called Wellerman to the social media app, TikTok.

The post triggered the “ShantyTok” trend, generating a swell of interest around the world that drove the success of the Albany Shantymen’s version of Wellerman on Spotify.

Wellerman is a shanty that dates back to the mid-1800s in New Zealand, when it was sung on whaling ships.

Albany Shantymen founder Gary Greenwald said views of their version on Spotify had skyrocketed from several thousand to half a million.

And while the audience ages had previously been spread, the new listeners were mostly from a younger demographic.

The video that started the viral ShantyTok trend.
Camera IconThe video that started the viral ShantyTok trend. Credit: Nathan Evans (TikTok)

Sea shanties were historically sung by sailing crews as they worked in unison and Mr Greenwald thinks they might have a unique capacity to connect people.

“I definitely think that people have sought social connectivity (through the coronavirus crisis),” Mr Greenwald said.

“People live in groups — we wouldn’t survive on our own and these kinds of activities reaffirm the social bonds.

“It’s a really accessible way of getting into music. You are part of a group, you don’t have to be trained and you don’t have to have the confidence to sing on your own.

“It’s a communal thing. It’s a way of reaffirming social bonds. You feel like you’re a part of something.”

The increased Spotify interest has resulted in a revenue spike for the group of about $1000, which has been reinvested into growing shanty singing in the community.

Mr Greenwald said he wanted to prioritise long-term growth and sustainability over the rise and fall of TikTok trends.

Founder of the Albany Shantymen, Gary Greenwald
Camera IconFounder of the Albany Shantymen, Gary Greenwald

“It has basically paid for our recent tour of the South West where we helped a new shanty group get started in Walpole and then did a fundraiser for the fireys out at Dunsborough,” he said.

Despite the sudden rise in popularity of sea shanties, Mr Greenwald is keeping a lid on his expectations for the turnout at the International Folk’n’Shanty Festival in July.

“I’m hoping that we get a couple of thousand people, but I’m not sure,” he said.

Mr Greenwald said anyone interested in starting a group could be reassured that “big bellies and beards are optional”.

For more information, visit the Albany Shantymen on Facebook.

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