Image Credit: Universal Records
Until recently, sea shanties were not music that would generally be associated with millennials. What tends to come to mind with the mention of sea shanties are images of pirates and sailors from times gone by. But within the space of a few weeks, TikTok viewers have seized onto the style with full-force and turned it into the next big thing. As a result of this unforeseen chain of events, ‘Wellerman’, a traditional New Zealand sea shanty, currently sits at number two in the UK charts, topped only by another TikTok sensation, ‘drivers licence’ by Olivia Rodrigo.
So how did this bizarre chain of events begin? The answer lies with a former Scottish postman called Nathan Evans. After a comment on one of his videos requesting for him to cover a sea shanty, Nathan answered the wishes of his fans in December of last year and set in motion a viral trend which has been named "sea shanty TikTok". Evans’ cover of ‘Wellerman’ became an instant hit and has now been watched over 12 million times. Now, Evans has given up his Royal Mail day job and signed a contract with Polydor records.
We were lucky enough to catch up with the king of the sea shanty himself, to talk about how he got to where he is now and what is in store for the future. It’s clear that the immense fame that Evans has gained in such a short space of time hasn’t quite hit him yet, as he opens by telling me that he’s still “in a dream” and “it just doesn’t feel real”. He can hardly believe his own fame, and neither can I when I think back to a couple of months ago when my friend was showing me one of his covers at our kitchen table. Evans’ case truly illustrates the power of TikTok and the unrivalled influence that this platform has in shaping the music industry nowadays.
I started out with the obvious question: why sea shanties? The answer seems not to be that he feels any close identification with them, but that they are simply what the fans wanted. A comment was left on a video that he posted last year asking him to cover ‘Leave Her Johnny’ and from there things spiralled, with comments rolling in which asked Evans to cover songs such as ‘The Drunken Sailor’, ‘The Scotsman’, and of course, ‘Wellerman’.
I really enjoy his covers but it seems surprising to me that our generation has latched onto such a historic genre - it’s certainly a far cry from the rap, grime and pop that usually dominates the charts. Evans has an answer for this, and it has a lot to do with the pandemic; “right now, we’re all in need of a smile” and sea shanties, whether being sung by TikTok users or seafarers from the 19th century, have a certain way of bringing people together.
Evans is clearly very happy with the recognition that he has gained for his covers but he’s also keen to show that he’s a man of many talents. He started singing aged just six and then went on to learn the guitar at eight, since then it has been a dream of his to write and play his own music. Now that he has signed with Polydor Records, Evans is clearly buzzing to get more of his own music out there; he has a single or two coming out in the next few months and hopefully a whole album by the end of the year, which he points out won’t all be sea shanties either. Looking a little further ahead, when live music makes a comeback then perhaps we might also be seeing him on “a wee stage”.
Despite going from being a postman to a signed artist in a matter of weeks, Evans remains very grounded. He’s clearly still in awe of the power of TikTok and says that he will continue to use this platform to get his music out there and engage with his fans, just as he always has done. Despite his clear talent, he freely admits that his popularity has come as a result of “right time, right place” – it’s nice to hear an artist speak so humbly about their fame.
A question which Evans has been asked a lot since stepping into the spotlight is who else in the music industry inspires him. Every time, his first answer is Ed Sheeran – “I’m hoping that the more I say it in interviews the more likely he is to hear and collaborate with me!” he exclaims endearingly. While he jokes, after the unbelievable sequence of events that have unfolded in Evans’ life over the past few weeks, it wouldn’t surprise me if Sheeran did take him up on this offer. Other artists that he keenly lists off as inspirations include the “absolutely outstanding” Dermot Kennedy, as well as Lewis Capaldi, Paolo Nutini, Anne-Marie and Jess Glynne, and some older artists like Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.
Having come from such humble beginnings, I decided to close with a question that could inspire other hopeful creatives like Evans. Asking what his advice would be for others who were looking to get their music out there, he stressed the importance of consistency and determination. “Whatever you are creating, music, art, whatever, just keep going with it!” From his own experience of becoming a viral sensation, he also emphasises the power of social media. “Make sure you are using every social media platform that you can to your benefit because every one of them has its own audience and if you get to grips with that and use it to your advantage then that will definitely help.”
Evans’ story is an incredible one and as a talented and humble artist, his future seems to be very promising. Listen to the hit single ‘Wellerman’ below and keep an eye out for his upcoming releases.