Here's luck! I have recently been given a first edition of Stan Hugill's Shanties of the Seven Seas. The lady who kindly gave it to me was the widow of the man named in a flyleaf dedication handwritten by Hugill himself - they worked together at the Outward Bound Centre in Aberdyfi. Jill Davies heard me singing in the street at the Ashburton Festival, and generously thought I would give it a good home.
Stan Hugill is often called the last of the shantymen, having had that role on board square-riggers in the 1920's and 30's. He was born in 1906, and we are fortunate that he was singing till a ripe old age - there are several records, and are now we have videos on You-Tube dating from about 1990, shortly before his death at the age of eight-five. He was still in pretty good voice even then. With his beard, ear-ring and pigtail, he looked the epitome of the old salt, no doubt self-consciously so. But he was the Real Deal.
The book (and he was a proficient marine artist too) is a tribute to Hugill's enthusiasm for the subject, and his comprehensive knowledge both of the shanty and its maritime background. It would be difficult to find any shanty in English that it does not contain - and many in Norwegian, German and other languages too. That may be because it became the final record of an oral art which as a living form became extinct with Hugill's passing. But you name it, and the song is almost certainly here, with all its variations and with provenance and usage attached. Indeed the book is so comprehensive that the central text is more a work of reference than a straightforward read. If there is a criticism, it is that it has to leave aside most general history of the ships and the trade that necessitated them. You must largely look elsewhere for that, although the introductory chapter is a fine summary of how the shanty was born and grew. I learned a lot, and lost a few fond misconceptions at the same time.
The book was published in 1961. Fifty-six years later, you must be prepared for a quaint air. It is self-censored to suit pre-Chatterley sensibilities (tho not quite as irritating as a Baring-Gould re-write) yet is full of the salty slang for other races that we would now see as perjorative. Hugill clearly admired, for example, his source the Barbadian Barbarian, but we can only speculate how comfortable the West Indian shantyman himself was with being unwittingly patronised in that way. But that was then. Now we can only be grateful that Stan Hugill survived so long to speak to us from the past.