A folk ode to Dorset’s quarrymen

THE Mowlem Theatre at Swanage, close to some of Purbeck’s ancient quarries, was the setting for a film and recording of a new song, Drop The Hammer, described as a “captivating ode to quarrying in Dorset,” written and performed by the West Country folk and shanty band, The Longest Johns.

The song was commissioned by Artsreach, Dorset’s rural arts charity, and Dorset National Landscape (formerly the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). It captures the history and traditions of quarrying around the Jurassic Coast, including particularly the Purbecks and the island of Portland.

The Longest Johns are a Bristol-based folk band covering everything from maritime songs to experimental contemporary folk. Jonathan Darley, Robbie Sattin and Andy Yates started singing sea shanties in a kitchen and now are regulars at international folk festivals, have toured the world and made many television appearances. They have recorded eight full-length albums, four EPs and nine singles, including the 2021 version of The Wellerman, inspired by a YouTube recording which went viral and sparked a sea shanty revival, reaching millions of new fans across the world.

The band members researched Dorset’s history of quarrying and visited some of the sites along the Jurassic Coast. Writer Robbie Sattin was particularly inspired by archive footage, held by the south Wiltshire-based Windrose Rural Media, showing Portland quarrymen working to shanties using a ‘call and response’ technique.

The lyrics and musical scores for the song were shared with choirs from across Dorset to learn, before coming together en masse with The Longest Johns to record Drop the Hammer live at The Mowlem in January. A film of the recording features dramatic images reflecting the impact of the stone industry. It was premiered as part of The Longest Johns’ sell-out album launch concert in Swanage on 9th February.

Artsreach hopes other singers and choirs from across Dorset and beyond will learn Drop the Hammer, record themselves singing and share it on social media. For more information about this project and to listen to the song, visit https://artsreach.co.uk/projects/drop-the-hammer