Recorded at the Albert Dock:

Stare Dzwony
(The Old Bells):

Live In Liverpool

During the mid-1980s maritime music revival in America and Western Europe, a new and totally unique sound arrived on the scene from Poland that amazed audiences. It was embodied by the group Stare Dzwony, the leaders of a sea shanty movement in Poland that translated tradition songs of the sea into Polish and sung them with harmonies never before heard by Western audiences. When Stare Dzwony first arrived in Liverpool in 1986, they had only recorded in Poland, and as my group the Press Gang shared the same stage, we soon became fast friends, inviting us to Poland the following year.

When they returned to Liverpool the next time, I couldn't miss the opportunity to drag them into a tiny, cramped recording studio at the Albert Dock to make the first, live, on-the-spot recording outside of their native land, which included a hauntingly beautiful translation of "Hail Queen of Heaven" crafted at the request of Liverpool Spinner and festival producer Tony Davis for a performance at the Liverpool Cathedral.

In the years since, we have performed together many times, including sadly at the 1995 Warsaw funeral of group member Janosc Sikorski, an irretrievable loss. But here, at the height of their expansion, is the original four, fueled by the excitement of singing at the Liverpool birthplace of so many of the songs that they took and made their own.

                                                                   -- John Townley

1.      Royal Oak
2.      Mobile Bay
3.      A Hundred Years Ago (Bob Webb, guest vocalist)
4.      Sailor, Sailor, Sail On
5.      Running Down To Cuba (John Townley, guest vocalist)
6.      Codfish Shanty
7.      Shallow Brown
8.      O Shake Her
9.      Hail Queen of Heaven
10.  Eliza Lee
11.  Roll, Alabama (Bob Webb, guest vocalist)
12.  Hiss ‘em Up
13.  Lowlands
14.  Sally Rackett
Essoquibo River (John Townley, guest vocalist)
16.  John Cherokee
17.  Going Home Song
For more on the current incarnation of Stare Dzwony, go here...

More on the Polish "shanty movement":

    Sea shanties and the tall tales, maritime arts and crafts, and nautical history that go with them have a place unique in Poland -- and mostly unknown in other countries --  with a huge popularity which has sustained itself in the youth culture since the late 1970's.   Back then, it began as a quiet protest movement -- if they won't let us go to sea, well we can at least sing about it.  And sing they did, organizing dozens of shanty groups and festivals first among small boatniks at sailing clubs and later spreading to the rest of the culture.  Collecting and translating mostly English and American songs (Poland has only a few native sea songs), young people began to gather in larger and larger groups, until festivals like the oldest and biggest at Krakow (miles from the sea, in the cold of February!) drew easily ten thousand to a concert.
    By the late 1980's, groups from abroad were invited in and the movement took another big leap, swelling its international roots.  Meanwhile the originators had become parents and their children were learning sea songs in school.  It's hard to think of children being enthusiastic about their parents' favorite tunes, but one school has a fifteen-year-old shanty program (only the best students get to participate full-time) with a group of performing 12-13-year-olds that regularly tours the Baltic.
    Whenever you are in Poland, there is a chance to take in some of this phenomenon.  There are shanty festivals all year long, from the shores of the Baltic through the Mazury Lake District, down to the Carpathians, with each new generation varying but carrying on the tradition, whether it's a capella purists or maritime rock and roll bands equally devoted to traditional and modern songs of the sea.

Marek Siurawski

Jerzy Porębski

Original cassette cover
click here for original cover insert A
click here for original cover insert B

Ryszard Musaj

Janusz Sikorski

  Copyright © John Townley 2005-10. All rights reserved.
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