Lectures & Concerts

Keeping Tradition Alive


Simon has lectured all over the world about seafaring history, and since the publication of his book on food at sea has created new programs on that topic.

“Food at Sea from Ancient to Modern Times”

This is a sweeping survey based on Simon’s book.

“Food at Sea – Shipboard Cuisine from Ancient to Modern Times”

Simon offers tantalizing stories of maritime culinary history, from the ingredients and practices of ancient Argonauts and Vikings through Renaissance explorers, sailing navies and merchant ships, steamships, ocean liners, cruise ships, and submarines. Like the book, this program is illustrated with excerpts from poems and songs spanning centuries of human history. Examples of food from the book’s recipe section may be prepared and sampled following the program.

“The Food of Masters and Commanders”

This program is sure to be a hit with readers of Horatio Hornblower, Patrick O’Brian, and Jane Austen. Simon shows how the British Navy kept crowded ships supplied with adequate food in distant waters in an era before canning and refrigeration. This program covers food preservation, preparation, and distribution; and the French, Dutch and early American Navies. Learn how Captain Cook and others combated scurvy; and how and why grog replaced beer in the British Navy. This program includes songs and music, and can include sampling of recipes from Simon’s book.

“Food in the Golden Age of Sail”

This program covers the culinary practices of merchant ships during the 19th  Century: how food was preserved, prepared, and consumed aboard sailing ships. Learn why the ship’s cook was called “Doctor”, and how salt beef and salt pork from the “harness cask” were made into “lobscouse”. This program covers immigrant ships, slave ships, and whalers. On-board pigs and poultry add spice to the tale. This program is seasoned with sea chanteys and other music. Lobscouse, Dandyfunk, and other maritime delicacies may be prepared from the recipe section of Simon’s book.

“Civil War Naval Food”

This program covers the food and drink aboard the naval vessels of the American Civil War. Drawing on his research into food issues aboard USS Hartford in March-August 1864, Simon compares and contrasts the culinary practices of the US Navy and contemporary American merchant ships. This program covers the Temperance Movement within the US Navy, and the much-lamented abolishment of grog issues in 1862. Illustrated with song, this program can also include sampling of recipes from Simon’s book, such as “Pork & Beans a la USS Hartford.”

“Steamship and Ocean Liner Fare”

This program explores the food served aboard steamships and liners. Learn how cooks aboard P&O steamships introduced Britons to Indian cuisine; and how early steamships supplied fresh cream in the mid-Atlantic. Discover how food quality allowed steamships to capture the immigrant trade from sail, and how ocean liner cooks served passengers in three classes. Learn how the Germans introduced transatlantic passengers to Ritz-Carlton dining, and how Prohibition in the United States shaped the passenger trade. This program can be supplemented by sampling examples of steamship and ocean liner food from the book’s recipe section.

“Food on Ancient and Early Modern Seas”

Starting with the archaeological evidence of ancient shipwrecks, Simon traces the development of shipboard cuisine through ancient and medieval traders, Columbus and early explorers, to the galleon fleets of Spain, Portugal, and England. This culinary sea voyage is full of surprising details, from the challenges faced by Vikings to the differences in culinary practice between Mediterranean and Northern sailors. Learn how bad barrels crippled the Spanish Armada. This program includes poetry and song, and can include sampling of Viking barley porridge, 13th century galley ‘salsa”, and English or Spanish galleon fare.

“Life at Sea in the Age of Sail” (for young audiences)

Simon Spalding brings the Golden Age of Sail to life with sea chanteys, sailor’s ballads, and lively tunes on the fiddle, Chinese erhu, banjo, and other instruments.  The audience sings and pumps and hauls along with chanteys for hauling, pumping, and other shipboard tasks.  This program is always a hit with young audiences, and has delighted children at schools, museums, and events from Hawai’i to Poland.  Between songs, Simon performs dance tunes from coastlines near and far.

“A Musical Picture of Maritime California” (for adults or children)

This program paints a musical picture of California’s rich maritime heritage.  Historian-musician Simon Spalding will trace the history of seafaring, exploration, and maritime commerce in California, with special emphasis on Southern California.  Simon sets the California coast in the larger context of the Pacific Basin, including sailor songs from the coasts of China, Samoa, Hawai’i, and Indonesia as well as local fishing and other songs.  This program includes sing-along shanties, fiddle tunes, and seagoing ballads.

“A Musical History of the United States Navy” (for adults)

This program covers the history of the navy from its early origins, through the American Revolution and the War of 1812; with songs from both the Union and Confederate Navies during the Civil War; songs of the Spanish-American War; and both World Wars.  The 20th-century songs cover destroyers, submarines, carriers, and other modern warships.  This program can also be adapted to include the United States Army and other branches of service, if desired. This program packed the hall when it was offered by the Torrance Library in 2014.

“Sail to Steam” (for adults primarily)

This lecture explores the transition between sailing vessels to steamships, in its implications to both naval and merchant shipping.  Simon shows how the inefficiency of early engines made sails imperative for long voyages, and the technological developments that made steam more efficient, including the transition from paddle wheel to screw/propeller, and the development of the triple-expansion steam engine.  Simon illustrates the program with songs from the crews of sailing and steam vessels.

Contact Simon Spalding at fullersteaching@yahoo.com for details.

Stan Hugill (left) and Simon (right)

Concert Offerings

Simon Spalding is one of the best known interpreters of traditional maritime music, having performed at festivals all over the globe. He learned maritime music from the man who literally wrote the book on the subject – he was a colleague and friend of Stan Hugill, who was himself the last living shantyman to serve in the British Merchant Navy.

Simon has won the Audience Favorite award three times at the Shanty Festival in Krakow, Poland, and has played at the Rotterdam New Pop Festival, Festival Interceltique L’OrientRättviksdansen, and other international events. Though he is best known for his repertoire of maritime music, Simon is an extraordinarily versatile musician, at ease with styles including traditional English, Scottish, Scandinavian, Russian, and American folk music, and rock. He has directed church choirs as well as secular music groups and performed with professional instrumental and choral groups for over thirty years.

Simon has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Concord Pavilion, the Great American Music Hall; in pops concerts with the Honolulu, San Francisco, Baltimore, and London, Ontario Symphonies; and on the Dinah Shore Show, among other venues.He has released several albums both solo and with his wife Sara Spalding in the band Tuppence. He has also played with major artists such as Michelle Shocked, Dougie MacLean, Cztery Refy, Kate Price, Alastair Frazer, Robin Williamson, Bruce Daigrepont, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.Besides his beloved violin, Simon plays over fifty instruments including banjo, mandolin, Indian sitar, medieval rebec and citterne, oud (Middle East), saz (Turkey), kemanche (Iran), erhu (china), nyckelharpa (Sweden), hardangfele (Norway), prima domra and contrabass balalaika (Russia), crwth (Wales), and various instruments of the traditional Central Javanese Gamelan.

Simon shows off his multi-instrumental skills in his lecture concert, “Around the World in 80 Tunes,” a showcase of exotic songs and instruments (article). Another popular program highlights the history of American military music – not just the official songs and march pieces, but pieces actually sung by American soldiers in all branches of the service, from the Colonial era to the Afghan war (review).

Of course, Simon can always perform maritime tunes, with or without an accompanying lecture, and he has done so at various grade levels and at various lengths. He can also create a themed concert to fit the interests of your group – his knowledge of period music and lore allows him to create an event like no other.