2020 Statement

Dear Artists, Performers, Friends, Supporters, Pirates, Craftspeople, Workshop Leaders,

I know that many of you have been waiting for an announcement on plans for the 2020 Harwich International Shanty Festival. I also know that many of you are desperately keen to hear that we will be going ahead as usual. Not only those performers who earn their living from events such as ours, but also many who are looking for light at the end of what can seem like a long dark tunnel.

We have delayed our decision for as long as we felt able, in the hope that the worldwide Coronavirus situation might change sufficiently for us and many others to make concrete plans for the Autumn onwards. But we have reached the stage where we need to make a decision. The available time left is not now sufficient to allow us to confidently plan and deliver a Festival of our usual standard. The uncertainty still surrounding whether and how hospitality venues can operate, the possibility of a “Second Spike”, the increased danger of this virus to the portion of the population who form a large part of our audience; all these things make it impossible to be certain of running a Festival this year. In addition there is the vexed question of cash. We will be unable to secure grants and sponsorship for an event which might not be able to run and we cannot be sure of a sufficient audience to cover ticketed events.

And so, sadly we have come to the following conclusion:

The 2020 Harwich International Shanty Festival, together with its planned emphasis on the 400th Anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower, will be deferred until 2021, in common with virtually all other Mayflower celebrations both in the UK and overseas. We would therefore like to invite all artists who were confirmed for 2020 to come instead in 2021 on the same terms and conditions. I can only apologise profusely that we find ourselves unable to run this year and hope that you will all understand that it really is out of our control. The dates for 2021 are 8-10th October and we really hope you can all make it. I would be very grateful if those interested in this re-run next year could let me know as soon as possible so that we know if there are gaps we may need to fill.

There is still however the possibility that we may yet hold a Festival this year. We are asking all local groups, any who can come to Harwich without the need for overnight accommodation, if they are interested in taking part in a “Back to Roots” Festival over the weekend of 10/11th October. There would be no concerts and no payment, it would just be for fun and there is of course no guarantee that it can actually go ahead. We do not know whether we will be able to sing in pubs, or only outside in the open air. We do not know which venues will be available to us. Of the confirmed groups for 2020 who think this may apply to them, please also let us know, so that we can keep you updated with plans as they develop – or fail!! There may also be some groups that we were unable to accommodate in our main programme, who might be interested in this rather impromptu mini festival.

If the Covid-19 situation improves over the next few months it will still be too late for us to implement a full Festival, but we will keep everyone advised of alterations via the usual channels of website, Facebook, Twitter and newsletter. It may be that overnight accommodation becomes available in which case we might be able to welcome groups from slightly further afield. It may be that self- contained camper vans are permitted, it may be that pubs can definitely open. All these things remain to be seen.

For the moment I can only apologise that we have found it necessary to make this decision, but we remain hopeful that a much reduced Festival may be possible this year, followed by an absolutely cracking Festival in 2021.

Keep safe everyone and we hope we may see you all before too long

HISF committee


Friends of Harwich International Shanty Festival


Our festival is very proud of its close ties with the local community and the loyal support of both local people and businesses and those who travel from further afield.

We endeavour to provide entertainment to suit all pockets, from the many free events throughout the town to the ticketed events, including concerts, barge trips and workshops.

Needless to say the expense of running the festival rises each year. To help offset these costs and to ensure the continuance of the festival, we are always actively engaged in securing necessary funds and the festival organisers obtain no financial benefit from running the festival. In fact quite often the opposite!

One of the ways in which supporters can help ensure the future of the festival is to consider becoming a “Friend”. We began the Friends scheme 5 years ago, with a limited, but welcome take up, and we have now increased and formalised the scheme with an annual membership, running from 31st October each year. Benefits include a free compilation CD, a festival programme and “Meet the Artist” ticket, plus our “Friends only” reception at the start of each Festival. The Reception comprises a welcome buffet, talk and social gathering, plus entertainment allowing us to showcase some of our achievements over the years and also giving Friends and other interested parties a chance to get together, with a sneak preview of some of the current years Festival guests. 

Becoming a Friend is a positive way to show your support for the festival and all that it does for Harwich. Individual membership is now priced at £30 and joint membership £50 per year and includes the aforementioned benefits.

You can also now join as an Affiliate Friend for just £10 which includes the Friends Reception but not the complimentary CD, ticket or Programme.

Friend (Single) £30 Friends (Joint) £50 Friend (Affiliate) £10

You can also join us at anytime during the Festival.


Otherwise, to join as a Friend please send your cheque, payable to Harwich Shanty Festival, to 6, Golden Lion Lane, Harwich, Essex CO12 3NG, or send via Paypal to [email protected], making sure you mark the payment as “Friend” and include your contact details, including name, address & email address

Festival Dates

We’re gearing up for the 2020 festival in October so please put 8-11 October into your diary/calendar/organiser

2020 is promising to be the biggest festival ever! 2020 is important as it’s the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing to New England. Harwich was the home of the Mayflower before that voyage as well as the home and birthplace of the captain, Christopher Jones. Read more here

Looking further ahead, the 2021 Festival will be 8-10th October