The Zenith of My Career - Marked with a Kiss
By STAN HUGILL
Re-Printed from the Chicago 2002 International Festival of Sea Songs and Shanties Newsletter
Stan and his wife Bronwen in June 1987
For a large part of its history, Poland had no coastline but Polish ships and sailors are to be found across the Seven Seas and Polish sailors were to be found in sailing ships of all nations, and good seamen they were. Even so, from my knowledge of the work-songs of the sea, the last place I would associate with the shanty would be Poland. Four Poles, two of them oceanographers, one a journalist and one a television producer, sent a video of their shanty singing, in Polish, to Tony Davis of the Liverpool folk group, the Spinners. As a result they were invited to take part in last year's Liverpool Shanty Festival, where they delighted everyone with their music. This group was called Stare Dzwony - the Old Bells. After that several shanty singers were invited by Jacek Reschke to Krakow to take part in the international shanty festival. As well as myself the invitation included Tony Davis who was in charge, Stormalong John from Liverpool, the Bristol Shantymen, Solant Breezes and two individual singers, Ian Woods and Rod Shearman. We were greeted with TV cameras, we were all mentioned in the Krakow newspapers and Marek, of the Old Bells, wrote a column about us in the magazine Wybrzeze. The Old Bells were formed in 1982 by Marek Szurawski and three friends and obtained their songs, which they translated into Polish, from my book Shanties from the Seven Seas. It seems that long before I reached Poland my name was known to a large following ofteenagers and I was told that I had been with them "in spirit" since the first performance in 1978.0n one occasion three young ladies offered me a small wooden model of a sailing ship which they had written "We love you, Stan". Stanislaw, the Polish equivalent of my name, is shortened to "Stacho" and constantly during the concerts there were shouts of "We want Stacho!"
Everyone's heard of Beatlemania but this was Shantymania - I can't find suitable adjectives to describe the scene, the songs and the people. The audience was frantically enthusiastic and responsive and at the end I was given a beautiful bronze medallion for being "the Godfather of the Shanty Revival".Throughout the year over 1,000 young writers and composers of sea songs had been taking part in a competition and Tony Davis and I, among others, were chosen to act as judges. When I presented one young lady with her diploma she gave me a smashing kiss, to a roar of applause from 6,500 teenagers. Among the judges was a Pole from Gdansk University, Jerzy Wadowski, who has written what is probably the only thesis on the world on the subject of sea shanties and for which he was awardedhis doctorate. Before we left he gave Tony Davis a copy oj this thesis for presentation to Liverpool Maritime Museum. The shanties most popular with the young folk of Krakow were John Kanaka, South Australia, Leave Her, Johnny, and The Leaving of Liverpool, the first verse of which,sung in Polish by Tony Davis, brought the house down. They danced to the Bristol Shantymen's version of John Cherokee and for some reason whish I can't fathom they liked the Anglo- Indian shanty Eki Dumah. Rod Shearman became very popular with his own composition London River, substituting the Vistula for the Thames, our lads put on a much-appreciated hornpipe and the Polish youth performed and excellent shanty-opera called Shenandoah, full of Red Indians, totem poles and wigwams. It was a knock-out! At the last concert shanty fever rose to its highest pitch. I had three songs to sing but before I reached the third a lady stepped on the stage and presented me with a beautiful bouquet of red and white carnations - the national colors of Poland. My wife stepped up beside me, I kissed her, held the bouquet aloft and was overwhelmed by a standing ovation. It was the zenith of my shanty career and an emotional scene impossible to describe. Poland, the last of the world's northern states to discover shantying as a musical expression, outshone all that had gone before.And this was not the enthusiasm of old sailors or middle-aged folks but that of teenagers, boys and girls devoted to this new, to them, form of songs. It was shanty magnificence.