‘HART BACKBORD’ – on stage since 1978
with international seasongs and stories about salty dogs and the seven seas


The command ‘HART BACKBORD’ means ‘to the left’ and politically this is exactly what Hartmut Emig and the other founders of the choir did back in the 1970s. For their music, they had similar plans: to create a contrast to the traditional German shanty choirs which consisted mainly of old men in black hats and ironed pants. A political message is implied in our cool and genuine songs. We stand side by side with seamen around the world when it comes to social conditions on board and fair payment. ‘HART BACKBORD’ attends demonstrations of unions and it even happens, in agreement with the International Transport Workers Federation ITF, that the singers occupy a ship with their songs.

Hart Backbord kurz vor dem allerersten Auftritt am 1. Mai 1978




Hart Backbord fives minutes
before the first gig.
1. Mai 1978 - Bremen



Shanties tell of the hard life on board which was in no way as romantic as sometimes described. The songs ought to accompany and support the hard tasks that seamen had to perform. Usually one or more lead singer provided the rhythm and the other sailors answered with the refrain. Forecastle shanties were sung at night when all work was done. These songs were about the beautiful places seamen had visited or about their loved ones back home.



Hartmut Emig und Quetschi

Hartmut Emig and Quetschi

Guntram in AktionGuntram in action



Despite the hard work on board shanties are very melodic and eclectic. Usually the crew consisted of French, Italian, British and German men who all influenced the songs. Black sailors even enriched the music with gospel and Caribbean sounds. Shanties are mostly sung in English which was the common language on board. At ‘HART BACKBORD’ we accompany our songs with many instruments from classic guitar to bagpipe. This fascinating mix can without doubt be seen as the first ever international folklore!

Hart Backbord beim Festival in Vegesack 1995Festival Maritim 2002




When we perform on stage we always give information what the songs are about and how life on board of the big merchant ships used to be. And of course some incredible tales are not to be missed.



With our special interpretation of shanties and extraordinary performance ‘HART BACKBORD’ gained some success. In 1981 we launched the first album. This and following albums were distributed by some well known labels. As one of few western German bands we toured in the former GDR in the 1980s. Many times we sang on international festivals for example in Liverpool, Bristol und Rotterdam, Ilawa and Wilhelmshaven. Also we are co-founders of the ‘Festival Musik Maritim’ in our hometown Bremen which was first held in September 1999.



Hart Backbord in neuer Besetzung
Hart Backbord 2014 weekly rehearsal at
Kulturzentrum Schlachthof - Bremen

  Hart Backbord beim Mersey-River Festival 2002 in Liverpool

  Hart Backbord - Liverpool 2002




Typically guitar, banjo, mouth organ and bodhran form the rhythmical background of shanty choirs. Musicians usually sing in four voices. Over the time we also tried various other instruments like the bagpipe or the „crumhorn“.




Since 2006 we are partner band of the harbor museum in Bremen. A friendly and successful cooperation joins us with the ‘Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger’ (German society for the rescue of castaways).






Hartmut Emig, founder and musical director of ‘HART BACKBORD’ until his retirement in 2012, edited a book about shantys. His unusal and modern interpretation of shanties influenced many choirs in Germany – just as he and his fellows intended when they created ‘HART BACKBORD’.




After our leader Harmut retired in 2012 the survival of “HART BACKBORD” was at stake. But we decided to sail on: with Franz Powalla as new leader we managed to divert our course while holding on to our well-tried repertoire. Even some proven seamen came back on board. Together with the old crew and some freshmen “HART BACKBORD” is now all set for its musical future.




Hart Backbord 2015


In 2017 we booked the well-known Studio NORD in Bremen again, where we already produced our first record in 1981. This studio breathes the atmosphere and aura of well-known artists of the last 50 years. In autumn 2017 we released our current cd "Salty Dogs". 

In April 2018 Hart Backbord celebrated its 40th stage anniversary at the fully booked Bürgerhaus Weserterassen in Bremen with former co-singers, friends and fans.

In 2020 and 2021 Covid-19 brought our performances on stage to a standstill for almost the entire time. The Festival Maritim, our house festival, had to be cancelled twice due to the corona pandemic. We very much hope that a new festival with maritime music will take place in Bremen Vegesack in 2022.

In the summer of 2021 we were finally able to rehearse again outside of  Schlachthof event centre, our rehearsal domicile for 35 years.

Autumn 2021 brought even more great changes when Franz Powalla, musical director of Hart Backbord for many years, left and Guntram Probst, a long-time member (singer and instrumentalist) took over.

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