The Portsmouth Shantymen were originally formed in 1978, at the request of the organisers of Christchurch Folk Festival. In those dim and distant days, most festivals ran shanty singarounds as part of the pub session scene and that year the group booked to host the Christchurch sessions had to pull out at very short notice. Rather than cancel the sessions outright, the organisers contacted club organisers in Portsmouth, reasoning (falsely as it turned out) that as the South Coast’s premier Naval base, the city would have a strong tradition of shanty singing. The word was quickly passed around the Portsmouth clubs and various resident singers were asked to help out in return for a free festival ticket. Thus it was that a motley crew, including Sooty Broughton, Tom Lewis, Bernard Potter, Brian Dennett, Nick Gough and Brian Ingham arrived in Christchurch on a sunny Friday evening to find themselves billed as The Portsmouth Shantymen.
The rest of the weekend’s memories tend to be blurred in an alcoholic haze, but we remember that we had a good time and no-one actually threw anything at us!
And that was that. We all went our separate ways and thought nothing further of it. That lasted only a couple of years until the advent of the late lamented Folk Afloat festival. The folk world had started to take a renewed interest in shanties, with artists such as Johnny Collins and Jim Mageean leading the way, so it seemed natural to set a concert of maritime music aboard ship, in this case the hulk of H.M.S. Foudrouyant in Portsmouth Harbour. The Portsmouth Shantymen were asked to re-form to provide ‘interval’ music as people arrived aboard and during the beer breaks. By this time Tom Lewis and Bernard Potter had moved on to richer pastures and Brian Dennett was deeply involved in the organisation of Folk Afloat. Peter Watkinson was invited to join us and for the next couple of years we carried on in this fashion, meeting up once a year to perform on Foudrouyant. Then someone took a rather large gamble and actually offered us a spot during the main concert. We quickly co-opted Pete Luscombe to join us and never looked back.
As our repertoire increased, we started performing in folk clubs, still singing shanties almost exclusively. This continued until the Australian Bi-Centennial celebrations in 1987, when we were asked by Portsmouth City Council to record music for an audio-visual display in the Round Tower in Old Portsmouth.
This music was also released as an EP. About this time, Pete Watkinson moved away from Portsmouth and left the Shantymen, leaving behind the ‘classic’ line-up of Pete and Nick, plus Brian Ingham and Sooty Broughton, both now sadly no longer with us . This line-up was to persist for over 20 years. We spent a fair bit of that summer singing aboard the various ships that were forming the replica First Fleet, including a very early morning spot on Radio 2’s Derek Jameson’s Breakfast Show.
Since that time, Britain seems to have woken up to its proud Maritime Heritage and shanty singing is now seen as an integral part of any Maritime, as well as Folk Festival. We have appeared at Liverpool, Bristol, Swansea, Lancaster, Hull, Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland, Portsmouth New Hampshire in the USA and Brest in Brittany as well as many folk festivals, folk clubs, conferences, a book launch for author Douglas Reeman, sessions on HMS Victory/Warrior and many more events, too various to mention here.
We have also extended our range and although we are still known as The Portsmouth Shantymen we by no means restrict ourselves solely to shanties and songs of the sea. We have a variety of land based songs in our repertoire; if it can be harmonised we’ll give it a go!
Born in South Devon, he lived there and in Cornwall until going to university. At university, he developed an interest in folk music and was involved with the running and compering of two folk clubs. He moved to Portsmouth in 1977, continuing his interests by supporting various local clubs in the area and also joining the local morris side. He was ‘pressed’ into the Shanty Men about 1984. Down the years he has also been a member of Harmony group ‘Ramskyte’, performed as a duo ‘Wholehearted’ with John Bartlett, and also with the addition of the late Derek Wheeler as ‘Three Rounds Blank’ . He has developed a bit of a side-line doing backing vocals for other people’s CDs, in particular for Mike Nicholson and Peter (Big Pete) Collins from Sussex. He has (very) occasionally been known to write songs, and the group currently perform a couple of them.
After having been a founder member of the group, Pete re-joined the group in 2004. Pete has been singing in Folk Clubs, either solo or in various duos and groups, since 1973. He is a much respected M.C. formerly at the Railway Folk Club in Portsmouth where he was a resident for many of it's last 20 years. His roots are firmly in English Traditional song, from the close harmony groups ‘Long Felt Want’ (with Tom Lewis) and ‘The Portsmouth Shanty Men’ and then ‘Cantoris’, contributing throughout the range but most distinctively in the warm harmonies at the high end. He collaborated with Portsmouth Shanty Men to produce, ‘Mutiny 1797 - Songs from the Spithead & Nore Mutinies’ for the 100th anniversary exhibition at Portsmouth’s City Museum. He was selected by Johnny Collins for his ‘Shanties and Songs of the Sea’ album where he provided a contrast by leading the softer and more reflective songs.
aka "Long John" - is a more recent recruit to The Portsmouth Shantymen, but far from being "pressed" is a willing volunteer. His association with Portsmouth goes back to the late 60's when he studied Electrical Engineering at Portsmouth Polytechnic and was actively involved in Portsmouth Folk Clubs. At that time his lusty singing was also on the Polytechnic Rugby Club coach on away matches, but more recently, has won singing prizes in the Chichester Festival - winning the opera novice section and shocking the classical judges with two shanties in the "traditional"section ! Having enjoyed the singing of Victory Morris, he joined them as a musician and dancer .He describes himself as a "late starter" and is determined to enjoy every opportunity to sing in harmony.
Kev describes himself as a reluctant folkie, and is more likely to be found listening to the likes of Nick Cave or Led Zeppelin at home or in the car, or attempting to play bass guitar in his man cave, but he has always enjoyed a good sing .
He started dancing and singing with Victory Morris in the early eighties and was a regular at the Broadside folk club for many years. He now dances with Seven Champions Molly Dancers from Kent.
Quote of the year so far....
“Well, it hasn’t been the greatest start to the year, but at least I’m not old enough to join Portsmouth Shantymen.....”
Our newest member Rod was born on Merseyside, but he and his family have now been settled in Hampshire for the last thirty six years. For more than twenty five years he has been a keen member of Victory Morris, enjoying dancing, singing and the ‘odd’ light refreshment now and then! Rod often ‘sings out’ with Victory and has penned a few songs to add to their repertoire.
Rod would describe himself as a “folkie” at heart and for many years he was organiser and MC for the Hambledon Folk club. He is still a regular performer at this club, accompanying himself on guitar. Rod also enjoys other styles of music and he has been a member of a number of cover bands over recent years, playing guitar and providing lead vocals.
Over time Rod developed a keen interest in tall-ships and has undertaken a number of voyages (encouraged by his sea-faring daughter!). This included one rather storm tossed shanty trip when members of PSM performed as the shanty crew, when weather permitted! Hearing working shanty songs performed on board a tall ship, he was hooked!
Born in Jersey, Nick first became involved with folk music in the early '70's whilst a student at Portsmouth Polytechnic. Nick was a founder member of the Shanty Men, and had a broad knowledge of a large repertoire of sea and land based songs as well as having a fine singing voice. He also played fiddle, viola and mandolin(although not usually with us). Unfortunately he was forced into retirement from the group for health reasons, and passed away in June 2023
Brian was a founder member of the group and part of the 'classic lineup' . Originally from West London, with a fine strong voice, he was a frequent sight in the Folk clubs of the Portsmouth area singing and playing his guitar. He was also a leading member of the local Morris side. Sadly he became ill in the early years of the new century, and although he carried on performing with great courage he passed away in 2006.
Clive 'Sooty' Broughton was a founder member of the group and part of the 'Classic Lineup' . He was also the only member of the original group with any sea-faring background, having served in the Royal Navy for many years. His interest in Folk Music went back to the 60's in Scotland and the North of England. After moving to Portsmouth he ran the Railway Folk Club for many years. Latterly his health began to fail him, eventually forcing his retirement from the group, and he passed away in 2013.
Oliver 'Ollie' Alsford was a member of the Shantymen between 2014 and 2016, thus knocking a couple of decades off the average age of the group. We met him through our pal John Bartlett, who taught him drama at Southdowns College. It turns out that not only can he act, but he can sing rather well too! Although he fitted in very well, he eventually decided he really had to get a life, and moved on, however, he is still living in the area and may pop up at occasional bookings.