Flotsam and Jetsam: British coastal songs of jettison, discovery, and retrieval (1984-2021)

Flotsam and Jetsam: British coastal songs of jettison, discovery, and retrieval (1984-2021)
Author: Manwaring, Kevan (30 December 2022)


In this chapter I look at a cross-section of songs that emerged from the British ‘Indie’ music scene and Counterculture of the 80s (and its evolution into the 21st century) – songs evoke an eco-conscious awareness through their use of imagery and ambience. As an island nation it is no surprise that the surrounding seas and wider ocean have influenced and defined the collective ‘British Isles’ for millennia. One pervasive example of this is in the way it has manifested in the pop song (a 20th Century iteration of a long-running tradition of sea-inspired ballads and sea shanties – and one that has come full circle in the recent number one by the Scottish postman TikTok sensation, Nathan Evans). Focusing on three main ‘waves’ or creative approaches, we’ll consider the personal lyric, the political, and the ecological. Starting this tripartite survey, we’ll look at The Waterboys’ song, ‘All The Things She Gave Me’ (1984), which describes a journey to the docks to discard all the physical associations of a failed relationship. Other songwriters who have adopted this personal, lyrical approach will include Martha Tilston, with her album, ‘The Sea’ (2014); and Johnny Flynn, with ‘Country Mile’ (2013). We’ll then move into more explicit political waters with The Levellers’ apocalyptic song, ‘On the Beach’ (2008), and equivalent acts of the more radical protest scene, including Seize the Day. In the third section we’ll look at more explicitly ecological songs, specifically ones with a potentially redemptive message – in particular, the song ‘In the Anthropocene’ by Nick Mulvey (2019), which raised money for Surfers Against Sewage. Whileas some of these examples will be seen as very contemporary, it will be argued that such songs of solastalgia (Glenn Albrecht) draw upon a long tradition of folksongs that explore liminality and longing, songs such as ‘Carrick Fergus’, ‘Donal Og’ and the ‘Skye Boat Song’ – the Hebridean tradition of the ‘cianalas’, which eco-songwriters are bringing into the modern age.

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