The Big Issue’s crystal ball has been remarkably reliable of late. In an earlier instalment of this column, we recommended that sea shanties were just the tonic for these troubled times. A week or so later, Scottish postman Nathan Evans posted a TikTok video of him singing 19th-century whaling song Wellerman, accompanied only by his own hand tapping.
The clip went viral, as others added their own layers to the vocal line. A resonant bass brought out Evans’ own gorgeous gravely tone, while string harmonies and a snare drum sent shivers down spines. One ambitious young musician even arranged a four-part version for bassoon. A piano part appeared – recorded by one Andrew Lloyd Webber.
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Within a few days, thousands were singing ‘Soon may the Wellerman come to bring us sugar and tea and rum’ and record labels were clamouring to sign Evans. The original TikTok clip has reached more than 10 million views and Evans has been a regular fixture on magazine TV shows, including Good Morning America, where he sang a solo via video link. A dance remix of Wellerman by producers 220 Kid and Billen Ted climbed the mast to take the number one spot on the official UK chart.
It’s bizarre to watch the generally enlightened Gen Z singing so enthusiastically about harpooning whales (‘One day when the tonguing is done we’ll take our leave and go’). While the lyrics have dated, the simple melodies and rhythms have not.