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Auntie Shanty FAQs

What is happening?!

Awesome inclusive sea songs!

Welcome to Auntie Shanty! This is an open folk music session where all are welcome to sing sea songs and shanties. It was set up in 2015 by Hannah Jakes as an intersectional, feminist session - we respect the history and tradition of shanties but also respect the diversity of people who come to sing and socialise here, so we edit and update some songs to make sure we’re not perpetuating outdated views.

How do you all know the words?

We don’t! Grab a songbook or just join in.

We try to remember to share the name of the song with the whole group before we start singing to help people find the words and sing along. If someone forgets, just ask. There’s a crowdsourced Auntie Shanty songbook and you can view the website of songs here: https://www.auntieshanty.org.

If a song’s not in the book, have a google or copy someone who seems to know the chorus - it’s all about having a go and learning together. No-one will judge you for reading lyrics off your phone or forgetting them halfway through.

Are we meant to join in the verses too?


Traditionally the shantyman sang the verse alone and the crew joined in the chorus. But we’re not exactly a traditional session, and some singers will be very happy for you to join in the verses too - especially if you’ve got some cool harmonies to add.

What’s important is to take your lead from them and let their own interpretation shine through - they might be using different lyrics, timings or notes to the ones you know.

Can I bring a musical instrument and accompany some of the songs?


I’d like to lead a song - how do I work out whose turn it is?

Find the parrot.

Whoever has the parrot is singing the next song. Ask them for the parrot - now you’re next.

I’d like to lead a song but what if I’m not confident about my singing?

Just give it a go - you’re awesome!

Folk sessions can feel a bit scary if you’re not a seasoned performer but Auntie Shanty is all about making room for different voices - it can be intimidating to start a song but everyone will be backing you 100%.

Shanties definitely do not require musical perfection so just give it a go - read the lyrics off your phone, find a singing buddy, or do whatever you need to take the plunge and sing!

Inclusive sea songs, you say? So how do we know which songs are ok to sing?

We start by ditching the racist and sexist ones…

In general, we try very hard to avoid songs that perpetuate racist and sexist stereotypes. Most of us enjoy some some fun swearing/innuendo/consensual sex jokes but we’re really careful about songs that glamorise or trivialise coercive sex. Songs that glorify oppressive regimes need careful thought.

Sometimes these issues are very easy to spot, but some of the more subtle ones include vocabulary or historical references that are no longer well-known, but can still be problematic when you know their background. Just to make things more complicated, the same song may have a different resonance when sung by a woman or a person of colour, for example. We also actively seek out (or write!) songs that focus on the experiences of women and people of colour, who don’t tend to have starring roles in traditional shanties.

There isn’t a simple answer to the question of which songs are ok to sing at Auntie Shanty, because there isn’t a single person in charge who passes judgement on lyrics - we’re a group of individuals, we all have different views and knowledge, and we’re all learning. It’s everyone’s responsibility to think carefully and critically about what our words and actions might mean to different people.

Auntie Shanty was specifically set up to make a space in the local folk scene where we committed to doing this together so, by joining this session, you’re becoming part of that tradition of questioning and creatively adapting shanties for the 21st century.

But isn’t changing the original words a kind of censorship…and historically inaccurate?

That’s not really the point of Auntie Shanty…

For a start, shanties were always fluid and open to improvisation, and shanties as they are sung today have changed significantly from their original form as work songs. More importantly, lots of the sea songs we love to sing come from a time when attitudes about gender, race, and many other things were very different.

Auntie Shanty isn’t about pretending that certain views didn’t exist or certain historical events didn’t happen, but it recognises that walking into a pub where people are singing songs containing racist slurs, celebrations of colonial/confederate victories, or ‘jolly’ references to non-consensual sex alienates a lot of people today. We don’t sing blackface minstrel songs either, however catchy the tunes might be.

Folk music’s a living tradition and we want to share the joy of shouty pub singing with everyone, so we’re working together to bring it up to date and make it welcoming for all.

This all sounds complicated and I’ve had a few drinks already and I don’t want to offend someone…where do I start?

The songbook!

Don’t panic! We’ve created a songbook together featuring lots of songs which we think are good to go - sometimes thanks to some rewrites or missing out the occasional dodgy verse. We can’t promise that nothing dubious has slipped through (we’re all still learning too!), but the songbook’s a great place to start. Find it online here: www.auntieshanty.org.

My favourite song’s not in the book - can I sing it?


Just think about whether you might need to make any edits to make it Auntie-ready - it’s often as easy as missing out that one dodgy verse. Feeling creative? Rewordings, re-genderings and whole new verses can often massively improve an old song! If in doubt, have a chat with people around you - listening and learning from each other is the key.

What do I do if I’ve got concerns about a song someone else has sung?

Share them if you can.

We assume that everyone singing here is trying their best to create an inclusive space, but we all have different life experiences and we all make mistakes sometimes. It can be awkward to raise concerns, but by sharing your views you’re helping us all learn.

If you feel able to have a conversation with the singer about the issues directly, that’s brilliant. If you prefer to speak privately to one of the organisers or a friend of the singer, that works too. There’s also a contact form on the website and comment slips which you can complete and leave at the end of the session.

What do I do if someone has a problem with a song I sing?

Listen and reflect.

It’s really hard to hear that something you’ve done has upset someone - especially if you’re just singing a song you love and don’t mean to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Although it can be tempting to jump in and respond with your point of view if you feel defensive, the best thing to do is to take time to listen to the person and try to understand their concerns.

We don’t all have to agree, but Auntie Shanty isn’t any old session - missing out a few questionable lyrics from a favourite song is a small price to pay to create the magical welcoming atmosphere that we all love!

I’ve led a couple of songs already tonight - can I sing some more?


Auntie Shanty aims to be a place where we get to hear from diverse voices, and where everyone who wants to sing gets a chance. So if you’ve already led a song, it’s good to pause (have a drink!) and make space for other people to take their turn - some singers may need a bit more time and space (and grog?) before they are ready to lead.

What is intersectional feminism anyway?

The word ‘intersectionality’ was coined in 1989 by American civil rights advocate and law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to explore how society often treated issues of race and gender as if they were mutually exclusive, when that has never really been the case. Different kinds of prejudice can be amplified in different ways when put together - a person’s life experiences are affected by how their multiple identities intermingle.

So instead of solely focusing on discrimination based on gender, (and therefore tending to focus on straight, white, cis-women) intersectional feminism recognises that race, ethnicity, age, gender or sexual identity, class, socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, or religion can also play a role in the prejudice someone experiences.

How do I find out more?

Join the Auntie Shanty Oxford facebook group, have a look at the website at www.auntieshanty.org, or check Daily Info for upcoming dates.

When & Where is the next session?

Auntie sessions are on the 3rd Monday of every month, at the Jolly Farmers, Oxford