Another Sea Shanty Signing: The Longest Johns Partner With Decca, UTA

The Longest Johns
Courtesy of The Longest Johns

L-R: Jonathan Darley; Andy Yates; Dave Robinson; Robbie Sattin

The U.K. group, whose song "Wellerman" kicked off the shanty trend on TikTok, was the subject of a transatlantic bidding war.

U.K. folk group The Longest Johns, whose song “Wellerman” kicked off the TikTok sea shanty trend after it was covered by Scottish singer Nathan Evans on the platform, have signed global recording and touring deals with Universal Music’s Decca Records and UTA, respectively.

The recording agreement, a partnership between Decca in the U.K. and Verve Records in the U.S., covers multiple albums, Billboard has confirmed. Decca/Verve and UTA beat out multiple major labels and live agents to sign the group, who became the subject of a transatlantic bidding war.

The Longest Johns’ version of “Wellerman” – a New Zealand whaler’s song written in the 19th century – was recorded in 2018 but didn’t catch on until Evans’ rendition of the track and other traditional sea shanties caught fire on TikTok, spawning EDM remixes, skits and more. The Longest Johns iteration has since been streamed over 14 million times and also hit the top 40 in the U.K. In the U.S., the group’s album Between Wind and Water, which features "Wellerman," currently sits at No. 13 on Billboard's Americana/Folk Albums chart.

News of the signing follows the announcement of Evans' multi-release deal with UMG's Polydor Records last Friday (Jan. 22).

Comprised of Jonathan “JD” Darley, Andy Yates, Robbie Sattin and Dave Robinson, the Longest Johns had amassed a sizable following even before Evans’ rendition of "Wellerman" caught fire. In addition to hosting popular weekly live sessions on Twitch, the group’s 245,000-subscriber-strong YouTube channel received a boost from a popular series of videos that shows them serenading players of the online video game Sea of Thieves. Since forming in 2012, they’ve released three albums, two EPS and multiple singles.

With the TikTok sea shanty phenomenon now seemingly on the wane, the question has become whether The Longest Johns, Evans and other artists associated with the trend can use it to catapult to long-term success. Decca co-managing director Tom Lewis, for one, seems hopeful that they can.

“We see our job to help them to best capitalize on the current shanty fever with a view to taking everything they do to the next level and on a global basis,” said Lewis in an email sent to Billboard. “They should be performing at gigs and festivals around the world and we’re so excited about the chance to explore the huge amount of shanty and folk repertoire that they could very much make their own.”

This isn’t the first-time sea shanties have enjoyed a popular revival: In the 1970s, the debut album of popular Canadian folk artist Stan Rogers included the song "Barrett’s Privateers," an original song in the style of a traditional shanty. Another Canadian group, Great Big Sea, became known for their renditions of traditional sea shanties beginning in the 1990s.

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