Backstage with The Longest Johns
A pretty niche – and perhaps less well-known – music genre is making waves in the social media world. If you’re a user of video-sharing app, TikTok, you’re likely to have come across the latest global music trend: Sea Shanties.
In short, this music genre dating back to the 1800s, is a form of work song that was once commonly sung by sailors while performing physical labour together.
So why the sudden surge in sea-shanty enthusiasts? The traditional songs are doing the rounds on social media, experiencing viral popularity with thousands of users sharing their takes, mass singalongs spreading like wildfire, and some sea shanty songs proving so popular that they have sailed on through to the UK Top 40. That’s precisely what happened to Bristol-based group, The Longest Johns with their cover of “Wellerman”.
The band – Robbie Sattin, Dave Robinson, Andy Yates and Jonathan Darley – formed in 2012 and have long been singing their highly catchy songs to live audiences at international folk festivals and music venue tours, with the mission of spreading the world of sea shanties to a younger generation.
And it’s fair to say they’ve done exactly that. The band’s song “Wellerman” became viral on TikTok after one user posted a video singing along to it. Since then, the song has been shared globally, steering a massively growing shanty community and propelling the Bristol band onto the world’s stage and into the charts. Shortly after going viral, the single reached number 33 on the Official UK’s Single chart, and number one on both Spotify’s UK and US Viral Charts.
Wanting to hear more about this incredible story, we went #BackstageWith The Longest Johns. Read on to find out the history behind their much-loved song, what they miss about performing live, how they feel about their city getting an arena of its own, and more.
Firstly, a huge congratulations on the success of your single “Wellerman” which is currently number 33 on the Official UK Singles Chart! How does it feel to have your music recognised in this way?
Absolutely incredible. We’ve known for a long time that this genre and these songs were something special and now it’s amazing to be able to share them with so many people and let them find that out for themselves.
Was it a surprise to see your song go viral on TikTok and other platforms?
Definitely. TikTok was a complete mystery to us at the beginning but we tried to have some fun with it and our fans responded well. As for the song itself, we’d seen smaller spikes of people discovering just how catchy it is, such as when we made a video of us singing it to other players in the game Sea of Thieves. That got shared all over the place.
What’s the history behind the song?
The Weller Bros were a shore-whaling company in New Zealand during the 1830s and 40s. They’d accumulate oil from harvested whales and when the ships came to collect it, they’d also bring much needed supplies. Whether the tale of the captain battling one such whale for more than 40 days is true, it’s hard to say, but it sure sounds like a dodgy boast to us.
It seems like platforms such as TikTok and Twitch are playing a key role in helping musicians make a big break. In what way do you feel these platforms help you as a band? Are you able to make a living through these platforms alone?
We’ve found these platforms, and others, have a great capacity to connect with people. Reading Twitch users comments while in the middle of singing is an experience you’d never get at a gig and can often be hilariously distracting. But being able socialise with fans so directly is incredibly fulfilling, as is watching TikTok users duet with our music or use it to create memes. I often find myself wasting hours scrolling through them all.
Why do you think the explosion of sea shanties, which is a pretty niche genre, are proving to be so popular at this current time?
Shanties have always been very communal, from call and response songs to just stamping your feet, or even just shouting ‘Ho!’. At a time when a lot of people feel isolated, to be able to join in with a TikTok chain of 40 others is some much-needed connection.
Do you plan on touring in the future when events can continue to spread your sea shanties further?
Oh absolutely. Gigging is very much the heart of us. If there comes a day when everybody forgets who The Longest Johns are, we’ll still be down the pub, belting them out for anyone who will listen.
What do you miss most about performing live?
Hearing hundreds of people singing back at us, there’s no feeling quite like it. It’s like being the conductor of a beautiful vocal symphony.
What does it mean to you for Bristol to finally be getting an arena of its own?
I think it’s going to be great. As much as we love performing in tiny pubs crammed to the ceiling, it’ll be nice to take that party atmosphere to somewhere we can fit a whole hoard of wannabe sailors, whalers, and pirates. And fingers crossed it also attracts some of our favourite artists for incredible shows.
What’s your favourite things about the city?
We’re big craft beer fans, and there’s possibly no better city for both quality and quantity. So many of our planning sessions and celebrations have been fuelled by a glass of something fancy in a cosy bar.
And finally, can you share an all-time favourite song/ a song that means a lot to you so we can add it to our YTL Arena “Backstage with” playlist?
It’s got to be Northwest Passage by Stan Rogers. It was one of the first maritime songs we heard and sung together and it’s so special to us, I’m not sure we’ll ever stop performing it.
To listen to music from The Longest Johns and to stay up to date with future touring information, head over to www.thelongestjohns.com.