Bringing a modern twist to sea shanties and maritime music

Folk duo William Pint and Felicia Dale performing May 8 at Deep Cove Folk Society’s club night.

William Pint and Felicia Dale are bringing their unique blend of traditional maritime music with a modern twist to Deep Cove Folk Society’s next club night

Invoking the feel of a rocking deck beneath, the sound of waves slapping against a wooden hull, and the creak of rigging far above, folk duo William Pint and Felicia Dale are bringing their unique blend of maritime music and sea shanties to Deep Cove Folk Society’s club night this Friday.

“I used to play a lot of traditional songs from the British Isles, and if you do that you eventually start running into sea shanties,” says Pint of their beginnings.

“Over the years we’ve found ourselves focused on music from that tradition of the sea. The mid-19th century was the heyday of that style of song. We realized there was a whole lot of material that we thought was really interesting, and it became our mission to present this material.”

The duo have not only helped keep the tradition of maritime music alive, they’ve taken it and infused it with their own style.

Traditionally, sea shanties are performed in harmony by several singers and with no instruments. Pint and Dale, however, turn those harmonies into big sounds.

“We do a very different thing,” says Pint. “The arrangements are usually much more contemporary sounding, with instruments, and a lot of energy and drive.”

“We make a lot of noise,” says Dale with a laugh.

With six- and 12-string guitars, an octave mandolin, ukulele, whistles and a hurdy-gurdy accompanying their vocals, energetic might be bordering on an understatement.

Hurdy-gurdy you ask? It’s not a barrel organ, Dale says pointedly. Dating back to the 12th century, the hurdy-gurdy features a keyboard and a cranked wheel and sounds similar to a bagpipe with drones, melody and rhythmic percussion.

“It sounds a lot sometimes like an electric violin. It’s mostly used for French dance tunes, but it can be used for almost any kind of music,” she says.

Featured in everything from classical music to heavy metal bands, it’s as versatile as it is complex.

“The engineering involved in building a hurdy-gurdy is very intense, and keeping it in tune is just as difficult,” says Dale.

So much so that you could say it’s been around since the 1100s and people have just about got it tuned, laughs Pint.

With the singular sounds of the hurdy-gurdy, Pint and Dale’s performances are always memorable, but also for the way the duo interact with their audience.

“We like to relax with an audience and get to know each other,” says Dale.

“We do tend to talk about the songs and the background, and set up things,” adds Pint.

“A lot of the songs really benefit from audience participation.”

Singing along isn’t too difficult, as many of the songs follow a familiar pattern with repeating choruses.

“There’s a lot of connection in form between sea shanties and even modern pop music and rock and roll songs,” says Pint. “Things that are very rhythm oriented. It’s fun to take the traditional music as a starting point.”

Some of their tunes have blues or rock leanings, and yet it all still has that definitive folk feel, he adds.

So while the lyrics – and some of the instruments – may be brand new to the audience, Pint and Dale are hoping to entice some sing-a-longs.

“That’s really nice when people feel comfortable enough that they can do that,” says Pint. “We have fun doing what we do, and hopefully that will be contagious to the audience, and then we all have a good time.”

“We absolutely love travelling up to Canada,” adds Dale. “We always have the best time playing.”

The evening opens at 8 p.m. Friday, May 8 with an open mic after which Pint and Dale take the stage. Deep Cove Folk club nights run the second Friday of the month at St. John’s United Church, 10990 West Saanich Road. Admission is $7, and coffee, tea and other refreshments are by donation.

For more information, visit deepcovefolk.ca or pintndale.com.