Johnny & Jim

The following story was published in a special edition of “Spiegel der Zeilvaart” on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the festival in 2002. It has been slightly adjusted for this website.

John and Jim in Workum for 25 years

"Every year I enjoy your performance.”

By Larissa van Duuren

Johnny Collins (1938 – 2009) and Jim Macgeean (1948 - ) have been the regular performers since the beginning of the International Shanty Festival. Many a festival visitor is fond of the two leading singers because of their strong voices and their compelling way of singing.
Johnny and Jim about themselves, their inspiration, passion for music and the special bond they have with the shanty festival in Workum.
Johnny and Jim met on Midsummer’s Day 1975 in a field near Reading , Berkshire England. They knew about each other as solo singers. Jim: “I used to work in the North of England and Johnny in the South. I had just moved to London and it turned out that I lived only 10 kilometres from Johnny. So we decided to meet at our homes and to sing together just for the fun of it.”
They both worked as solo singers until a London club owner asked them to sing together in his club. Since then they have been singing at the same time as soloists and after that as a duo they were more than welcome on festivals from Norway to Canada. In 1980 they sang at the first Liereliet Singaroud in Workum. In 1983 they won the Intervision Song Contest in Rostock (DDR) with their shanty repertoire.
After he retired Johnny worked full time on his musical career. Besides singing shanties he sang other types of folk music. Jim was an engineering-technology teacher. He sings solo but he also sings in a band “The Keelers”. They sing shanties but also other traditional folk music from the North-East of England. Many of these songs are from other “singing” professions like fishermen, farmers and miners.

Music and inspiration
Johnny’s mother was a music teacher and when he was only 6 years old he started playing keyboard. When he was young he used to sing in several church choirs. Music was in his blood. During the fifties he lived in London. There he heard pop songs. Johnny played the guitar and sang pop songs himself. Johnny: “The problem with a musical instrument is that you can’t play when you haven’t got the instrument. Singing is possible at all times. Through the years I came into contact with all kinds of music styles and I was influenced by different singers. So now I also sing in different music styles.”
In 1964, Jim was 16 years old at the time, for the first time he saw Stan Hugill sing on a festival. He was immediately very much impressed by the force of the voice and Stan Hugill’s vast knowledge. There was an exchange of letters between Jim and Stan Hugill and they met regularly. Jim: “It is true that because of his passion, I have got my passion for this music. But also before I met Stan I was already interested. At school we used to learn shanties and I remember a school play. I was a pirate and I sang the shanty “Billy Boy” . I was 8 years old then and I loved it.”
CollingMageeanAfter he met Stan Hugill, Jim got the book “Shanties From The Seven Seas” as a present from a girl. “It turned out to be a collector’s item, because it was one of the first printings. When I met this girl again lately I thanked her very much.” Jim tried to learn every song from the book. During his meetings with Stan Hugill Jim sang the songs he had learned and Stan corrected his pronunciation and rhythm . “I have learned an awful lot from Stan. He knew how the shanties were sung on board.” Johnny and Jim’s texts are from books, records and writers. Johnny: “Of course there are a lot of texts from “Shanties From The Seven Seas”. But besides singing the old songs we make new material ourselves.”

Love for Workum.
Jim remembers the first years of the festival as cold and foggy. “We all stood around a large open fire trying to keep warm.” Jim remembers the early years of the festival as fantastic years. It was tradition that they came to the festival every year and after Johnny’s death Jim is the traditional guest. When Jim buys a new diary, the first entry is: Shanty Festival in Workum. The festival is special because of the combination with the “Strontrace”. “Singing and sailing belong together, of course”, Jim says, “moreover, it’s great to see the festival grow. From just singing to singing combined with theatre and workshops. Absolutely unique is the performance in the church, which is packed with people every year. You won’t find it on any other festival.” For Johnny the regular group of people he used to meet every year was reason enough to come back. ”We have become one big family, so to say. I remember a friend from this group and she was pregnant at the time and now her daughter is 16 years old. I saw her grow up. I have got many memories in Workum. One of the finest memories is the day that I needed a battery for my watch. I found a shop in Workum that sold them. When I took my purse to pay, I wasn’t allowed to pay. “You have given me so much already”, the shopkeeper said, “every year I enjoy your singing.” So a got the battery for free. It is good to return to a place every year where they know you and where you are so welcome.”