Norwich, Norfolk, UK -- A special version of the British-made Shackleton banjo named after Edwardian explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is to become the first banjo to be played at the South Pole. The specially designed ultra-light instrument, called the Shackleton E100, will be designed and built by The Great British Banjo Company. The banjo will be trekked 1800 miles across Antarctica starting in November next year by a team following the route planned for Sir Ernest Shackleton's Endurance expedition of 1914. Cybergrass covered the announcement of the Shackleton banjo in August.
Members of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Centenary Expedition 2014 (ITACE 2014) intend to become the first Polar explorers to walk the route which Shackleton was unable to complete after his ship became trapped in ice. Like Shackleton’s expedition the modern adventurers will carry with them a banjo. Shackleton became legendary for his leadership skills, bringing all of his 28 men back alive from his doomed expedition of 1914-16. A key part of Shackleton’s leadership style was his insistence on keeping morale high through the power of fun and music. When the Endurance had to be abandoned and all hands had to dispose of practically all their possessions, Shackleton allowed the expedition's meteorologist Leonard Hussey to keep his banjo, declaring: "We must have that banjo: it is vital mental medicine". Shackleton knew that the banjo would provide a crucial morale-boosting effect during the many months of hardship that lay ahead.
Saving the instrument proved a wise decision, because when Shackleton and a small team finally had to leave 22 men trapped on Elephant Island for over four months months while they set off on an 800 mile voyage in a small open boat to seek for help, the banjo played a vital role in maintaining morale for those left behind. The marooned men held regular concert parties and wrote songs on the banjo. Hussey's banjo never made it to the South Pole (although it did make it safely home and is now in the National Maritime Museum, its skin signed by Shackleton and many members of his crew). By saving the lives of all 28 of his men after may months of extreme conditions, Shackleton’s leadership and survival skills have become the stuff of legend, but his intended course across the Antarctic continent remains uncompleted. Until now.
The ITACE 2014 team say they are going to settle some unfinished business with the Antarctic. The company, founded by brand expert and author Simon Middleton, plans to design and develop a Polar version of the Shackleton banjo, which will be ultra-light and ‘indestructible’, and able to play at temperatures of -55 degrees.
Shackleton insisted that the expedition's banjo be rescued, famously calling out to his men: "We must have that banjo! It is vital mental medicine."
The Great British Banjo Company is the first production banjo manufacturer to operate in the UK in more than 60 years. The company made headlines earlier this year when it raised over £48,000 ($76,000) to develop its Shackleton banjo on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. The campaign was in the top two per cent most successful Kickstarter campaigns in any country since the platform was created.
Simon Middleton explained: “Our Shackleton banjo has already become a real success with over 150 advance orders, and it isn’t even built yet. Now that we’ve become official partners with the amazing adventure of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Centenary Expedition 2014 we are looking forward to designing and building a banjo unlike any that’s been made before.
“The new banjo will be manufactured in Britain, with design and final assembly in Norwich, Norfolk, just like our standard model, but we are going to make a limited edition of just 100 of the Shackleton E100, and the fact that one of them will have gone to the South Pole to honour Shackleton and his men will make the remaining 99 real collectors’ instruments.” Middleton added.
The Great British Banjo Company is a private limited company, owned and managed by a small group of family and friends in Norwich, Norfolk, UK. The company works with local craftsmen as well as instrument manufacturers in other parts of Britain. The business was founded by brand adviser, business author and musician Simon Middleton and has grown rapidly to become the UK's best known banjo specialist retailer and manufacturer.