Gary Caines, Jim Stephenson, Paul-Emile Chaisson, Rick Clark, Roland d'Abadie, Dale Peters, Bob Burgess and Greg Marquis
Before the Mast is a sea shanty group based in Saint John, New Brunswick, which was once a major ship-building centre and whose tall ships routinely sailed to every major port in the world during the Age of Sail. The men of the group sing to entertain, to introduce audiences to the amazing richness and vitality of shipboard work-songs and to celebrate the rich and storied maritime heritage of this area. Shanties were of necessity sung without instrument accompaniment and so are sung 'a cappella'.
The name 'Before the Mast' refers to the fact that ordinary sailors were berthed uncomfortably in the forecastle (fo'c'sle or fo'c's'le) which was forward of the foremast or before the mast.
Formed in 2007, the group has performed over 200 times throughout the east coast in venues as diverse as museums, tall ships, church halls, Masonic lodges, folk festivals, parks, historic inns, a Martello tower and a sea captains' re-enactment dinner. The group has also sung on the stages of city pubs, small town bistros and grand theatres and has enjoyed singing for a great many community concerts and benefit events over the years.
Before the Mast is proud of the fact that its CD 'Rolling Down' received an East Coast Music Association nomination in the Roots/Traditional category in 2012. Last year Before the Mast released its new CD 'Hand Over Hand'. Its live tracks, recorded in a variety of venues, capture the energy of actual performances, as well as the compelling and often unique harmonies created by a group of men who love to sing together.
Before the Mast has performed Canada Day concerts at Fundy National Park on two occasions and has been invited to sing at the Miramichi Folksong Festival four times. Before the Mast also was chosen to perform at "La Fête des chants de marins" in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, Quebec, a festival that attracts groups from around the world. In addition, the group has sung at the Tay Creek Folk Festival, at Fogfest in Campobello, at the Swallowtail Lighthouse Benefit concerts on Grand Manan, at the Pirate Festival in Eastport, Maine as well as at a number of community concerts around the province.
For the past few years, Before the Mast has also regularly performed for the Road Scholar Educational Travel and Learning Program hosted by the Tidal Watch Inn in St. Martins. Singing for visitors from all over North America, in a community that was once famous for its fine wooden ships, is very satisfying.
Before the Mast has had a number of very successful collaborative ventures. The group has sung a number of times with an a cappella women’s group from the Moncton area called Riversong and has sung with Saint Mary’s Band in a joint concert at the Imperial in Saint John. The group also enjoyed singing with the Yarmouth Shantymen in a series of concerts in Yarmouth, Saint John and Grand Manan. During the last few years, Before the Mast has also had the great privilege of singing with Pressgang Mutiny, an amazing shanty group from Toronto.
“Well, I am still hearing great things about your performances here in Saint-Jean Port-Joli, I do believe you were this year's favorite group!!! In French, Le coup de coeur du festival !! You will definitely be on our list of groups to ask back.”
- Louise Fortin, President, Fête des chants de marins, Saint-Jean Port-Joli wrote about Before the Mast:
"Before the Mast has great energy and presence on stage, rich harmonies , and a wonderful rapport with audiences. Group members don't merely sing shanties, they live them !"
- Jean-Francois Blais commented on his internet radio show Bordel de Mer, recorded at "La Fête des chants de marins" in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, Quebec:
"Wow... there's something so moving about the sound of a number of people all singing a simple tune together that literally resonates in my soul. I've grown to enjoy singing very much, but usually only at work or when I am alone... this inspires me to go and find a group and join in !"
- The following comments were posted on Facebook:
"Fabulous concert last night! I love your harmonies, the way you build the music and also the banter between the songs. I was thinking of the relationship between music and work this afternoon, as I was kneading my bread to the rhythm of Shenendoah. I think what groups like yours and the Yarmouth group do, in keeping this part of our history alive, is essential."
"Loved your show last night! Very enjoyable music and commentary in a unique and yet somehow appropriate venue."
"We really enjoyed the show last evening. Each group brought its own special interpretation of the music and presentation, and the sound produced when you performed together in that great space was amazing."
"... the Saint John area's premier folk act Before the Mast makes shanties and other sea songs an art form. An a cappella group that varies the lead and harmony voices, Before the Mast pays homage to our maritime heritage....Before the Mast is just about as energetic as a traditional sea-song singing chorus can get ..."
- Music columnist Gerry Taylor wrote in the Telegraph-Journal: