For most of us, the last couple of years have been a wash out.
Not so for Nathan Evans.
Before lockdown, this 26-year-old was a Royal Mail postman in Airdrie, who did a bit of singing in his own time.
Among many other things, he now has a platinum-selling single, Wellerman, he’s appeared on Good Morning America, opened the second day of Glasgow’s TRNSMT festival and has a Polydor Records deal, which included releasing his single, Told You So, back in June.
Now, his hardback, The Book of Sea Shanties: Wellerman and Other Songs from the Seven Seas, with illustrations by Sally Taylor, will be out on October 14.
“Lots has happened in the last nine months”, says Evans, who’s just back from doing a live television show in Austria and is enjoying a rare day off. “But probably a couple of my best moments would be performing on Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. Then Brian May mentioned me online, that's got to be a highlight as well. And obviously getting a number one with the single and going platinum, that’s right up there”.
While we were baking banana bread and doing living room workouts, Evans’ career was growing from a gentle ripple to a tsunami, and it happened almost by accident. He’d been using the TikTok platform to post his acoustic performances, and someone in the comments section requested a sea shanty - Leave Her, Johnny.
“This shanty means a lot to me. It’s the first one I sang and posted online, and it carries one of the most beautiful tunes out there”, he says in The Book of Sea Shanties. The video of him singing a cappella in his bedroom went viral and inspired the ShantyTok trend, with nearly three billion TikTok videos now marked “sea shanty”. He currently has 1.4m TikTok followers, and has become a bit of an authority on the genre.
The book features 35 of his most requested sea shanty’s lyrics, from the 19th-century Wellerman - Evans’ version of which charted at number one in the UK singles chart, as well as in Austria, Germany and Switzerland - to the more familiar Drunken Sailor and Heave Away, and includes their history and meaning.
“A lot of people always request certain songs in comments and these are probably the most asked for”, says Evans.
As the book reveals, some of these working songs are sweating up chants, sung while the crew were tightening up the sails, others are capstan and windlass shanties, to accompany jobs including the raising of the anchor. They would all be synchronised to the movements of whatever task was being undertaken. It also explains that the Wellerman was a New Zealand whaling ship and that the song is a “cutting-in shanty”, which may have been sung as sailors sliced up the whale they’d harpooned, to be made into oil for industrial lubricant or lamp fuel.
Along with TikTok dance routines and increased use of the platform while we were all virtually housebound, something about these tunes tapped into the lockdown consciousness. Their themes always seem to include a longing for food, drink (usually rum), or wives and girlfriends left at home.
Those sailors were trapped on their boats and centuries later, we were all stuck in our flats, similarly pining for our old lives. Not quite as much of a hardship, but there’s definitely a connection. Although Evans finds the songs optimistic and morale-boosting, there always seems to be a wistful longing to the lyrics.
“They are sad too, but they’re very relatable”, he says. “They're also really catchy, which makes them very inclusive”.
Ironically, Evans doesn’t have his sea legs, and doesn’t even like fish.
“I actually hate the sea. Well, I don’t hate the sea, but I hate being on a boat,” he says. “I get sea sick. It’s such a strange one, because loads of people have been asking me if I go out on a boat a lot. I’m the complete opposite of the songs”.
Evans, who has been playing the guitar since he was eight-years-old, hopes to eventually move away from the shanty theme, and produce more of his own songs, in the same vein as some of his favourite performers.
“The plan in the future is to write some music that is more ‘me’ if that makes sense”, he says. “On a day-to-day basis I listen to Ed Sheeran, Lewis Capaldi and Dermot Kennedy - singer song-writery pop folk music. That's my usual genre”,
He’s not phased about chasing the next viral hit, or feeling the pressure to get millions of clicks.
“No, not really. I'm doing this for me”, Evans says. “If one other person likes it, that's amazing. If 100 people like it, or 1000 people, whatever it is, it’s all the same. As long as someone out there does, that’s all that matters”.
Next up is the book release, then there’s lots more in the pipeline to keep him busy, including his new single, Ring Ding (a Scotsman’s Story) being released on October 8.
“It’s going to be really good, I’m excited for that”, he says. “Then I've got a UK tour in December and I’ll be travelling to Leeds, London, Manchester, Dublin, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. It’s going to be incredible”.
While his music is so in-demand, it’s strange to think Evans was a postman, only a few months ago.
Although he’s happy with his new life, he does miss some elements of his old job, which he quit back in January.
As he says, “Exercise. I don't get anywhere near enough now and, as a postie you walk everywhere. I definitely miss that.”
Maybe marching songs will be the next viral hit.
‘The Book of Sea Shanties’ is published by Welbeck on 14th October priced £12.99, hardback.