Blog: Esther Ferry-Kennington

The She Shanties member on the wall of sound that's a 'feeling that can't be beaten'

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She Shanties is a gang of 12 women singing sea shanties – traditional songs of the sea. These songs originally would have been sung by maritime crew. They were working songs to keep the rhythm of a grim task together or social songs to be sung when the day was done with a tot of rum in hand. We like them because they have great choruses that everyone can join in with and are perfect for making up our own harmonies.

Shanties were traditionally sung by men and in the early days we thought we might get a few funny looks from some of the longstanding shanty crews. In fact we’ve been welcomed as a breath of fresh air. We have made some good friends on the shanty scene including a few other women-only crews around the British Isles.

It is a great gang to be a part of and we get to sing in exciting places, like on a boat in Enkhuizen in the Netherlands and stranded (on purpose!) in a lighthouse near Whitley Bay. This year brings us another new experience as we’ve been invited to open the main stage on the Friday of Cambridge Folk Festival. This is a big step for us and we’re all really excited. Our natural habitat is acoustic, in a beer tent, with the audience within spitting distance, so we’re very nervous about the mics, the cameras and the 24m wide stage!

We all love to sing and many of us have discovered shanties from the folk tradition and shape-note singing but the loveliest thing is to stand at the front of a room, beer in hand, surrounded by good mates. When you sing that first line and a wall of sound hits you as everyone joins in the chorus it is a feeling that can’t be beaten.

It has been acknowledged recently that there is an under-representation of women on headline stages at festivals in the UK. Friday’s line-up at Cambridge Folk Festival is, for the first time, led by women headliners. We feel honoured to be included in such a great programme and to be able to kick it all off with the 12 of us raising the rafters. We may not be traditional sailors but there will be a few tots of rum when the gig is all done.

Esther Ferry-Kennington is executive director of the Horse and Bamboo in Rossendale. Find out more about the She Shanties at

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