"Soon May the Wellerman Come", also known as "Wellerman" or "The Wellerman" [c. 1860–70][3] is a sea ballad from New Zealand.[1][2] The song refers to the "wellermen", pointing to supply ships owned by the Weller brothers, who were amongst the earliest European settlers of Otago.[citation needed]

"Soon May the Wellerman Come"
Song
Written1860–1870
GenreSea song[1][2]

In early 2021, a cover by Scottish singer Nathan Evans became a viral hit on the social media site TikTok, leading to a "social media craze" around songs erroneously considered sea shanties.[2][4][5]

Historical backgroundEdit

The history of whaling in New Zealand stretches from the late eighteenth century to 1965. In 1831, the UK-born Weller Brothers Edward, George and Joseph, who had emigrated to Sydney in 1829, founded a whaling station at Otakou near modern Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand, seventeen years before Dunedin was established.[3] Speaking at centennial celebrations in 1931, New Zealand's Governor General Lord Bledisloe recalled how the Weller brothers had on their voyage to New Zealand "brought in the 'Lucy Ann' (the Weller brothers' barque) a good deal of rum and a good deal of gunpowder...and some at least were rum characters".[3] From 1833, the Weller brothers sold provisions to whalers in New Zealand from their base at Otakou, which they had named "Otago" in approximation of the local Māori pronunciation.[3] Their employees became known as "wellermen".[1][3] Unlike whaling in the Atlantic and northern Pacific, whalers in New Zealand practised shore-based whaling which required them to process the whale carcasses on land.[6] The industry drew whalers to New Zealand from a diverse range of backgrounds encompassing not just the British Isles but also Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and Indigenous Australians.[6] The whalers depended on good relations with the local Maori people and the whaling industry integrated the Maori into the global economy and produced hundreds of intermarriages between whalers and local Maori, including Edward Weller himself, who was twice married to Maori women,[6] thus linking the Wellers to one of the most prominent local Māori families, the Ellisons.

At its peak in 1834, the Otakou station was producing 310 tons of whale oil a year[3] and became the centre of a network of seven stations that formed a highly profitable enterprise for the Wellers, employing as many as 85 people at Otago alone.[7] From the Otakou base the Wellers branched out into industries as diverse as "timber, spars, flax, potatoes, dried fish, Maori artefacts, and even tattooed Maori heads which were in keen demand in Sydney".[8] However, given that the Colony of New Zealand would not be declared until 1840, the Wellers were treated as foreign traders and were affected by protectionist British import tariffs on whale oil.[7] By 1835, the year that Joseph Weller died in Otago, the brothers became convinced of the need to abandon the station even as they branched out into massive land purchases in New Zealand, which amounted to nearly 3 million acres (12,000 km2) by 1840.[8] The Weller brothers' success in the whaling industry was fleeting, and they were declared bankrupt in 1840 after failed attempts at large-scale land purchase in New South Wales.[7] The Otakou station closed in 1841.[3] In 1841, the Court of Claims in New South Wales ruled that the Weller brothers' purchases of land in New Zealand were legally invalid, after which the Wellers "slipped unobtrusively out of the pages of New Zealand history".[8] Commercial whaling in New Zealand continued until the 1960s.

SynopsisEdit

Soon may the Wellerman come To bring us sugar and tea and rum

One day, when the tonguin' is done We'll take our leave and go

"Wellerman" chorus

The song's lyrics describe a whaling ship called the Billy o' Tea and its hunt for a right whale. The song describes how the ship's crew hope for a "wellerman" to arrive and bring them supplies of luxuries. According to the song's listing on the website New Zealand Folk Song, "the workers at these bay-whaling stations (shore whalers) were not paid wages, they were paid in slops (ready made clothing), spirits and tobacco."[1] The chorus continues with the crew singing of their confidence that the "tonguin'" will be the last step of their plight. Tonguing in this context refers to the practice of cutting strips of whale blubber to render into oil.[6] Subsequent verses detail the captain's determination to bring in the whale in question, even as time passes and the quadruple of whaling boats is lost in the fight. In the last verse, the narrator conveys how the Billy o' Tea is still considered locked in an ongoing struggle with the whale, with the wellerman making "his regular call" to strengthen the captain and crew.

HistoryEdit

The song is believed to have been written in New Zealand around 1860–1870.[3] While its authorship is unknown, it may have been written by a pirate or shore whaler[9] and may have served as a "cutting-in shanty" that whalers would sing as they slaughtered a whale.[10] It was originally collected around 1966 by New Zealand-based music teacher and folk music compiler Neil Colquhoun[11] from one F. R. Woods. Woods, who was in his 80s at the time, had allegedly heard the song, as well as the song "John Smith A.B.", from his uncle. The song "John Smith A.B." was printed in a 1904 issue of The Bulletin, where it was attributed to one D.H. Rogers. It is possible that Rogers was the uncle of Woods and that Rogers had worked as a teenaged pirate or shore whaler in the early-mid 19th century, composing both songs in his later years and eventually passing them on to his nephew as an old man.[1] In 1973, "Soon May the Wellerman Come" was included in Colquhoun's book of New Zealand folk songs, New Zealand Folksongs: Songs of a Young Country.[12]

RecordingsEdit

The song has been frequently performed and remixed, with over 10 recorded renditions between 1967 and 2005.[citation needed] In 2010, the New England-based folk trio of Gordon Bok, Ann Mayo Muir, and Ed Trickett recorded and released a version on their studio album And So Will We Yet, produced by Folk-Legacy Records of Sharon, Connecticut.[13]

In 2013, the Wellington Sea Shanty Society released a version of the song on their album Now That's What I Call Sea Shanties Vol. 1.[4] A particularly well-known rendition of the song was made by the Bristol-based a cappella musical group The Longest Johns on their collection of nautical songs Between Wind and Water in 2018.[14] In the wake of the "ShantyTok" social media sensation in 2021, Wellington Sea Shanty Society member Lake Davineer remarked that their recording had experienced a new burst of popularity.[4]

In 2021, German Pirate Metal band Storm Seeker covered Wellerman.[15]

Popular culture adaptations and referencesEdit

The Longest Johns OriginalEdit

"Wellerman"
 
Song by the Longest Johns
from the album Between Wind and Water
ReleasedJune 8, 2018
GenreFolk
Length2:18
LabelDecca
Producer(s)The Longest Johns

The version of the song recorded by British folk group the Longest Johns (under the name "Wellerman") was not well known,[14][9][16] The song features as the third track on the group's second studio album, Between Wind and Water (2018). A remix of the song was released on January 12, 2021.

Chart (2021) Peak
position
Canadian Digital Songs (Billboard)[17] 38
UK Singles (OCC)[18] 37

Nathan Evans versionEdit

"Wellerman (Sea Shanty)"
 
Single by Nathan Evans
ReleasedJanuary 22, 2021[19]
GenreFolk music, Pop
Length2:35
LabelPolydor
Producer(s)Saltwives
Nathan Evans singles chronology
"Wellerman (Sea Shanty)"
(2021)
"Told You So"
(2021)
Videos
"Wellerman" (music video) on YouTube
"Wellerman (220 Kid x Billen Ted Remix)"
 
Single by Nathan Evans
ReleasedJanuary 22, 2021
GenreDeep house, Pop, Electronic
Length1:56
LabelPolydor
Songwriter(s)
  • Nathan Evans
  • Alexander Oriet
  • David Phelan
  • William Graydon
  • Samuel Brennan
  • Tom Hollings
Producer(s)
  • 220 Kid
  • Billen Ted
Nathan Evans singles chronology
"Throw It Away"
(2020)
"Wellerman (220 Kid x Billen Ted Remix)"
(2021)
220 Kid singles chronology
"Too Many Nights"
(2020)
"Wellerman (220 KID x Billen Ted Remix)"
(2021)
"Unconditional"
(2021)
Billen Ted singles chronology
"Satisfied"
(2020)
"Wellerman (220 KID x Billen Ted)"
(2021)
Music video
"Wellerman" (220KID x Billen Ted Remix music video on YouTube

A version by Scottish musician Nathan Evans further increased the song's exposure, popularized as a sea shanty despite being more accurately described as a ballad. leading to a surge in interest in sea shanties, and a multitude of remixes and new versions. Evans's version has been praised for its "authentic sense of stoic forbearance" that has appealed to young people in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, who like 19th-century whalers "are similarly marking time". In the Rolling Stone article discussing his success, Evans cited The Albany Shantymen version of the song as inspiration.[20]  Because of its origins on TikTok, the trend of performing sea shanties like "Soon May the Wellerman Come" on social media has been called "ShantyTok".[21] The song, jointly credited to Nathan Evans and remixers 220 Kid and Billen Ted by the Official Charts Company (OCC), reached number one on the UK Singles Chart.[22] A new version of "Wellerman" with German folk band Santiano was released as a single on 19 February 2021.[23] This version was included on the track listing of Santiano's EP Sea Shanties – Wellerman, which was released digitally on 26 February 2021.[24]

In February 2021, Evans, 220 Kid, and Billen Ted performed the song for the CBBC television programme Blue Peter.[25] In March 2021, Evans performed the song for the "End of the Show Show" segment on Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway Soon When the Saturday Come along with the programme's presenters.[26] The performance included altered lyrics for the occasion and was accompanied by video footage of sing-alongs by celebrities, including Joan Collins, Josh Groban, Laura Whitmore and Dermot O'Leary.[27] Crew members of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, including those from Portishead and Sheringham, also submitted video for the performance, and Queen guitarist Brian May provided a guitar solo.[28][29] In the seven countries where the remix has reached the top of the record charts, 200 non-fungible tokens were sold, which each include a new dance track, digital art, and a password redeemable for a future asset, with part of their proceeds going to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and a scholarship by 220 Kid.[30]

Track listingsEdit

Digital download[19]
No.TitleLength
1."Wellerman (Sea Shanty)"2:35
Digital download – karaoke version[31]
No.TitleLength
1."Wellerman" (Sea Shanty / karaoke version)2:34
Digital download – 220 Kid x Billen Ted remix[32]
No.TitleLength
1."Wellerman" (Sea Shanty / 220 Kid x Billen Ted remix)1:56
Digital download – 220 Kid x Billen Ted remix karaoke version[33]
No.TitleLength
1."Wellerman" (Sea Shanty / 220 Kid x Billen Ted remix / karaoke version)1:57
Digital download – Argules version[34]
No.TitleLength
1."Wellerman" (Sea Shanty / Nathan Evans x Argules)1:47
Digital download – The Kiffness remix[35]
No.TitleLength
1."Wellerman" (Sea Shanty / The Kiffness remix)3:03
Digital download – Santiano version[36]
No.TitleLength
1."Wellerman" (with Santiano)3:11
CD maxi single[37]
No.TitleLength
1."Wellerman" (Sea Shanty)2:36
2."Wellerman" (Sea Shanty / 220 Kid x Billen Ted remix)1:57
3."Wellerman" (with Santiano)3:11

PersonnelEdit

Credits adapted from "Wellerman" at Discogs.

  • Saltwives – producer, engineer, studio personnel
  • Alex Oriet
  • David Phelan
  • Nathan Evans – associated performer, vocals
  • Samuel Brannan
  • Tom Hollings
  • William Graydon
  • Mike Hillier – mastering engineer, studio personnel
  • James Reynolds – mixer, studio personnel

ChartsEdit

Weekly chart performance for "Wellerman"
Chart (2021) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[38] 62
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[39] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[40] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[41] 21
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[42] 54
Czech Republic (Rádio – Top 100)[43] 5
Czech Republic (Singles Digitál Top 100)[44] 8
Denmark (Tracklisten)[45] 10
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[46] 6
France (SNEP)[47] 36
Germany (Official German Charts)[48] 1
Global 200 (Billboard)[49] 16
Hungary (Rádiós Top 40)[50] 1
Hungary (Single Top 40)[51] 4
Hungary (Stream Top 40)[52] 7
Iceland (Plötutíðindi)[53] 19
Ireland (IRMA)[54] 2
Latvia (EHR)[55] 1
Lithuania (AGATA)[56] 12
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[57] 1
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[58] 1
New Zealand Hot Singles (RMNZ)[59] 39
Norway (VG-lista)[60] 1
Poland (Polish Airplay Top 100)[61] 5
Portugal (AFP)[62] 154
Romania (Airplay 100)[63] 81
Slovakia (Rádio Top 100)[64] 31
Slovakia (Singles Digitál Top 100)[65] 13
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[66] 9
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[67] 1
UK Singles (OCC)[68] 1
UK Dance (OCC)[69] 1
US Bubbling Under Hot 100 (Billboard)[70] 16
US Digital Song Sales (Billboard)[71] 4
Year-end chart performance for "Wellerman"
Chart (2021) Position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[72] 1
Belgium (Ultratop Flanders)[73] 14
Belgium (Ultratop Wallonia)[74] 91
Denmark (Tracklisten)[75] 40
Germany (Official German Charts)[76] 1
Global 200 (Billboard)[77] 66
Ireland (IRMA)[78] 35
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[79] 17
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[80] 12
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[81] 25
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[82] 1
UK Singles (OCC)[83] 11

CertificationsEdit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Austria (IFPI Austria)[84] 3× Platinum 90,000 
Belgium (BEA)[85] Gold 20,000 
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[86] Gold 45,000 
France (SNEP)[87] Gold 100,000 
Germany (BVMI)[88] 3× Gold 600,000 
Poland (ZPAV)[89] Platinum 50,000 
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[90] Gold 10,000 
United Kingdom (BPI)[91] Platinum 600,000 
United States (RIAA)[92] Gold 500,000 
Streaming
Sweden (GLF)[93] Platinum 8,000,000 

  Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.
  Streaming-only figures based on certification alone.

The Gingertail versionEdit

"The Wellerman"
 
Song by Alina Gingertail
ReleasedMarch 13, 2021
GenreFolk
Length3:21

The Russian multi-instrumentalist musician and singer Alina Gingertail released a cover of the song on her YouTube channel [1] on March 13, 2021. By the end of 2021 the video gathered upwards of 7,000,000 views.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Asbjørn Jøn, A. (2014). "The Whale Road: Transitioning from Spiritual Links, to Whaling, to Whale Watching in Aotearoa New Zealand". Australian Folklore. 29: 99. Archived from the original on 19 January 2021. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
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  5. ^ Craven, TinaMarie (7 March 2021). "TikTok's viral 'Wellerman' isn't a real shanty — and more facts about maritime songs". Connecticut Post. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
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External linksEdit