LONDON — With his renditions of centuries-old sea shanties, Nathan Evans has spawned a global craze on the ultra-modern social media platform TikTok.
Millions have watched his rendition of “Wellerman” and other songs he uploaded to the app, and they have proved so popular that Evans, 26, has been able to quit his job as a mailman after signing a record deal with a major music label, Polydor Records.
“Sea shanties were made to get people to join in, sing along, stamp their feet, clap their hands, keep the morale high,” Evans told NBC News last week, adding that they had helped to unify people isolated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think that in these times when everybody’s stuck at home, they’re quite down, it’s not been the best of times, so I think kind of in a weird way it cheers everybody up. … It makes everybody feel united,” he said.
Evans began producing the videos in his bedroom at his home in Airdrie, a small Scottish town around 30 miles west of the capital, Edinburgh.
“Soon may the Wellerman come to bring us sugar and tea and rum,” he belts in his most popular video featuring the call-and-response lyrics of the song “Wellerman.”
Videos tagged #Wellerman have since racked up more than 65 million views on TikTok, and as users have mimicked him in their own posts, a whole new genre known as “ShantyTok” has sprung up.
Comedian Jimmy Fallon, Tesla CEO Elon Muskand British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber are among those to have taken part, while choirs and orchestras have also produced their own versions.
Commonly sung on ships in the early 19th century, sea shanties thrive off their communal nature, as sailors undertook monotonous tasks and sang in unison, according to music historians.
The “Wellerman” shanty is thought to have originated in New Zealand and has no known author, as it describes a crew at sea wrestling with a whale. The Wellerman is thought to refer to a rescue ship carrying supplies that would aid other ships out at sea.
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Evans had some success singing pop and folk songs requested by fellow TikTok users, he told NBC News. Then came the request for a sea shanty, which he said he looked into and instantly enjoyed.
“Honestly, I didn’t know much about sea shanties until last year. … Now, you can call me a fan,” he said.
Watching the infectious tunes take flight has been a “roller-coaster,” he said, adding that “you don’t really need to be able to sing,” to enjoy them.
While he did not disclose how much the deal with Polydor Records was worth to him, Evans said he was “speechless” after his first single was released on Friday.
“Oh my God, I was a postman on Friday. I have just signed to the biggest record label in the world,” he told fans in a separate video posted to TikTok.
Adela Suliman is a London-based reporter for NBC News Digital.
Kelly Cobiella is a correspondent based in London. She previously worked at CBS News and ABC News in London, following several years with CBS in New York, Dallas and Miami.
Kiko Itasaka is a producer based in London.