Deep Sea Chanties
Recording on 7″ vinyl to accompany exhibition and performances
Exhibition January 15 – February 25 2012, The Substation, Newport
Performances 19-21, 27-28 January 2012

Deep Sea Chanties is a recording by American artist Martha McDonald, in collaboration with Melbourne musician Craig Woodward, to accompany her exhibition and performances as part of the ‘Stories from the city, stories from the sea, queer urban tales’ project at The Substation, Newport, commissioned by Simon Maidment on behalf of Satellite Art Projects.

Deep Sea Chanties draws from the history of maritime culture and life at sea, referencing both the historic location of Newport and the artist’s own family history of seafaring. McDonald’s installation consists of a sea chanty record she recorded playing on a vintage record player and rope sculptures inspired by the fancy knot work of traditional sailor’s crafts. The installation distils elements of McDonald’s performances aboard the heritage HMAS Blackbird, journeying from the city to The Substation during the exhibition.

Sea Chanties, also called ‘Shanties’ are working songs from the heyday of merchant sailing ships in the mid to late 19th century.  Chanties were rhythmic, call-and-response songs used to coordinate the efforts of many hands into one unified action of hoisting the sails or raising the anchor.  In their free time on long sea voyages, sailors entertained each other by singing ballads of adventure on the high seas and laments of longing for home and the girl they left behind. After the steamship replaced the sailing ship, the need for manual labour was greatly reduced and chanties lost their practical use and became part of the repertoire of sea songs that sailors sang for recreation.

I am interested in the lot of the sailor – the loneliness of always traveling from place to place, never really having a home – and fascinated by how sailors expressed their feelings of longing for home and loved ones through song. I love the idea of the salty dog sailor singing these poignant, deeply felt laments. The song on the record in the installation is The Grey Funnel Line, which was the nickname sailors gave to the Royal British Navy steam ships, and it deals with the sadness of a sailor coming to the end of the day and realizing that he is still far from home. These songs really resonated with me as a tonic for the uncertainty and ache of my life far from home.

The making of the record and its placement in the installation – looping on an old record player – is an homage to my late father-in-law who served in the merchant marine during the 1940s and 1950s.  He was a hale and hearty sailor with a real sensitive side who taught himself opera by singing along to Enrico Caruso records on a wind-up victrola aboard his ship. He’s been a huge influence on me as a singer.

‘Stories from the city, stories from the sea, queer urban tales’ is curated by Jessica Bridgfoot for The Substation: further details and visitor information.
The performances aboard the HMAS Blackbird depart CBD 7:30pm, arrive The Substation 8:30pm, conclude 9:30pm: further details and bookings.

Martha McDonald has performed extensively in the US, and Melbourne since moving to Australia four years ago, blending singing with lecture/demonstrations, autobiographical narrative, and sculptural elements and costumes that she knits, sews and embroiders to transmit stories and ideas. McDonald’s art practice often focuses on site-specific ‘interventions’ in historic houses and gardens that explore how these public places connect with private histories and emotional states.

Recording features Martha McDonald (vocals) & Craig Woodward (concertina & fiddle)
Graphic design Boruk Gradman
Recorded at fatsound studios
Commissioned & published by Satellite Art Projects as an edition of 200
ISBN 978-0-9805501-9-1