Thousands of pirates and singers flock to Falmouth as the iconic Sea Shanty Festival returns

Last weekend thousands of people descended on Falmouth to attend the iconic Sea Shanty Festival which returned to the town for the first time since the pandemic. This year’s festival which ran from the 17 to the 19 June had organizers expecting 50,000 visitors to come to Falmouth across the three days. Extra stages were added for the first time at Church Street, The Princess Pavilion and the Greenbank hotel, the festival has only grown in popularity with 25 stages across Falmouth and 70 groups.

The Sea Shanty Festival was first set up in 2003 by Falmouth BID, its mission being to keep the history of the sea alive and “the days of sail by performing sea shanties, songs of the sea and Cornish songs”. Falmouth was chosen as its location with Falmouth Docks the being a first safe port of call for deepwater sailing ships, the third-largest natural harbour in the world and the deepest in Europe. Today the festival is the largest free nautical music and song festival in Europe which brings both national and international groups into Falmouth as well as many shanty lovers and pirates which Cornwall is well known for.

The festivities kicked off on Friday the 17 with a surprising heatwave bringing many people out to drink and dance on Events Square. Most stages around Falmouth saw singing from 1 PM to around 10 PM with 21 stages opening on the first day of the festival. The main “Skinners Stage” on Events Square drew large crowds all day with the: Breton Bash, Nankersey Male Choir, Pirates of St Piran and the Molgoggers all performing on the stage. An opening ceremony also was held on the main stage at 6:30 PM with organizers Richard Gates and Mayor Steve Eve addressing the audience. Gates went on to thank organizers and volunteers who support the festival: “A huge round of the applause for everyone’s involvement. The planning that goes into this to try and work out who fits where is just unbelievable. Three weeks ago we had a problem where the whole stage and marquees weren’t able to go ahead so we had to re-source everything in the last three weeks. A thank you to James Hatton, Tim, and Steve Skinner. We would not be standing here if it wasn’t for them”, as well as the event’s main sponsors, Skinner’s Brewery and Seasalt Cornwall: “you cannot be here enjoying this event without their support!”.

Steve Eva also recognised the hard work of volunteers and Gates himself, saying:”without Richard Gates, Vicky and the team this would not be happening”.

Drinking and singing went on into the night with special bar and food venues operating on Events Square for the festival.

The local group, Falmouth Marine Band leading the parade | Jory Mundy

Saturday saw more musical performances and the annual Sea Shanty Parade despite the change in the weather. A Parade led by Falmouth Marine Band gathered on the Prince of Wales Pier at 11 AM with crowds lining the streets to watch, accompanied by the Mayor and Mayoress, a mermaid, a seagull, many Pirates and sea shanty groups such as the Stoop Groggy Dogs as well as the Queen of Cornish Ales herself Betty Stogs who was practicing for her charity bike ride later this year.

Unfortunately for shantyers, the typical Cornish weather struck back later in the evening with strong winds and heavy rain forcing serval of the outdoor stages to close. Around 4 PM an announcement was made to close the main Skinners stage with most of Events Square also being closed to the public. A spokesperson on social media stated that: “Your safety and comfort is paramount to us and we want you to enjoy the festival”. That night the popular Fishermans Friends could not perform as well as the Sheringham Shantymen, the Old Gaffers and the Captain Cat and the Sailors. The Church Street Stage and The Pier Stages also closed due to the weather but all other shantying in indoor locations continued as normal.

The Final day of the festival was marked by the Falmouth Classics sailing event, which is scheduled for the same weekend. The Parade of Sail and Power took place off the coast of Pendennis which featured many sail boats and tall ships. Back in Falmouth, despite the rainy weather most performances went ahead as normal on the main stage. From 12 PM the Skinners stage saw the Longest Johns, the Navy Larks, Short Drag Roger and the return of the popular Oggymen, Betty Stogs even came to the stage for a singalong raising money for the RNLI with her bucket.

After the Oggymen’s performance, Richard Gates returned to the stage for the closing ceremony with a long list of thanks which included all the groups, volunteers and supporters of the event and encouraged anyone wanting to volunteer to do so next year. The winners of the Betty Stogs and fundraising challenges (who raised the most with their bucket) were also announced by Gates. A group singing of “Bye Bye My Roseanna” concluded the programmed events, but groups remained on Events Square to sing sea shanties with the bar remaining open until 11 PM that evening.

The dates for the next International Sea Shanty festival were also revealed: 16-18 of June (for 2023) and 14-16 of June for (2024) which will both happen in Falmouth.