Firkins riding the wave

• Fo’c’s’le Firkins: Jon Cope, Greg Hastings, Peter ‘Murf’ Murphy, Peter Bugden and Steve Cope.

ALMOST 40 years before a Scottish lad sparked a TikTok craze with his rendition of traditional folk tune Wellerman, a group of Perth youngsters formed what is now one of Australia’s oldest sea shanty groups.

Remarkably, the Fo’c’s’le Firkins are still together, boasting an all-original line-up (other than a few who’ve had to hang up their sailor’s caps along the way) and a new album which they’ll be launching later this month.

Peter “Murf” Murphy said it had been great fun riding the wave of the sea shanty revival, though he points out that strictly speaking Nathan Evans isn’t singing a shanty but a “song of the sea”.

Work songs

“Sea shanties are the work songs on the ships, and only on the commercial ships,” Mr Murphy said.

“There were different songs for all the different jobs.” 

Ballads were for sailors to enjoy below decks or down the pub while on shore leave; in fact, they were forbidden to sing shanties when they weren’t working.

Mr Murphy said like the Wellerman phenomena, when the Fo’c’s’le Firkins formed in 1985 at a workshop for the National Folk Festival, they were a great hit and soon turned semi-professional.

Former Kulcha manager Jon Cope was one of the original members – though barely old enough to qualify as a cabin boy – and said it was a great time for folk music.

“In the late 80’s, the group was in great demand during the America’s Cup celebrations in Fremantle and toured Australia for the 1988 Bicentennial Tall Ships voyage,” Mr Cope said.

Mr Cope said they took a break in the mid-2000s, but reunited for a one-day charity concert in 2013 and have continued going strong.

Cabin boy

“The global shanty renaissance in recent years has created an abundance of great shanty groups throughout the world, including Western Australia, and the Fo’c’s’le Firkins are proud to have been part of this ongoing folk tradition for nearly 40 years,” Mr Cope said.

Mr Murphy says the group, which originally started out a cappella before deciding they needed to spice things up with some instruments, has always focussed on performances, but have released a handful of albums over the years.

So it’s appropriate the latest release Live at the Fremantle Navy Club captures them before an appreciative audience – female fans of the Fremantle Football Club who call themselves Sirens.

Fo’c’s’le Firkins Live at the Fremantle Navy Club CD Launch
Saturday 20 August 2022, 7pm
Fremantle Navy Club
With special guests Phil Beck and MC Bernard Carney
Tickets $30 (includes 


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