Fremantle's very own shanty and sea-song group , THE WINDJAMMERS,
originally had a different name. Around 1985 a bunch
of folk singers got together and
formed a shanty group and called themselves The Foc's'le Firkins.
They started performing around the folk clubs of Perth and landed themselves
their very first regular gig at The Sail and Anchor pub on the cappuccino strip
in the heart of Fremantle, playing for pints of Guinness would you believe. Well,
after a few weeks the publican offered them a fee instead, as he couldn't afford
the amount of Guinness they consumed at the session. Well, that was the start
of a very successful shanty group who played everywhere from folk festivals , folk
clubs and even toured Australia in 1988 for the bi-centennial tall ships
celebrations in Sydney. After they returned, a couple of their members went in their
own directions and that is when they asked me to join them.
I told them I wasn't a singer , but they insisted on me going to their first
practice after the bi-centennial tour . You see,I was only ever been a piper and had
played solo and in pipe-bands for many, many years, but I think they noticed how
keen we all were then, following the "Foc's'le Firkins" everywhere we could ,
especially at "His Lordships Larder" in Fremantle for the famous Sunday sessions.
So I went to my first practise one evening and boy did they have a full on shanty
session; it was great and because I
didn't know much then they shoved a bunch of
music in front of me and just said to sing the refrains and chorus' After
obligatory few beers the lads were in fine form before they ended the evening. The
leader of the group then was
my mentor in the years to come, my good friend
Francis Gill. He was big, barrel-chested, tied his own pig-tail every
walked the rolling walk of a deep water sailor, and he was loud, oh boy was he
loud, but what a great shanty
singer. As I was leaving, I walked down the
driveway only to be called back very loudly by Francis. Well I thought I had
truly stuffed it up, so I turned around and looked back up the driveway to this
towering shantyman staring
down at me. Oh did I mention he also had the full
beard of a sailor and cut an imposing figure. I looked at him and said
Francis", his reply was astounding, he simply said, "Digger, welcome aboard"
in his booming voice, turned on
his heel and walked back inside. I
was amazed, I had been accepted into this fine group after only one sing-a-long.
So that was the start of many fine years of singing, recording and touring with the
"Foc's'le Firkins". As time went on, I started marketing the group and studying the
great art form of the shanties through
the famous shanty book written and
compiled by the one man who was probably the last sea-going shantyman of the
century, Stan Hugell.
And so to our tale of "The Windjammers". As I was promoting the "Foc's'le Firkins",
I also found a market for a duo and with the blessing of the band,went ahead with
getting gigs for this new mini shanty
group. I managed to do this without
interfering with the "Firkins" regular gigs. My very good friend Fred Carter and I
used to sing around the traps together, going busking, playing parties and singing a
lot on the Sail Training Ship Leeuwin.
It was at this time that the duo gigs were
coming in and we had to find a name for ourselves. Well it was easy for Fred.
came up to me one day and simply said--- " Digger, we are going to call
ourselves "The Windjammers". Who was I to argue. I
just thought to myself what
a great name. The Windjammers was the name of the last of the great square-
sailed the oceans with massive cargoes. You are looking at four
thousand tonners carrying the same weight in cargo. That
thousand tons sailing the oceans of the world being propelled by pure wind power.
They must have been
an awesome sight to witness. So there you go, "The
Windjammers" were born. It was many years later that the "Foc's'le
decided to go their separate ways and a new line-up was required. Well,
this happened with two of the original
"Firkins" coming back in for the first time
since the bi-centennial and locking in with myself and one other "Firkin".
The Windjammers" are Neville Threfall, Tony Henry,
and myself, Digger Wilson. What do you reckon, not a bad
If I say so myself.
So The Windjammers hit the marketing trail and have been on a really successful
run since we formed in April 1999. Long may it continue I say, lets keep the art
form of the great shanties alive for many years to come. We produced a CD named
"Bound for Australia" just over two years
ago and it has been a mini success
story selling in over seven countries and also selling very well locally.