When we got together to sing in John Brown’s front room in Port Isaac back in the late autumn of 1991, the majority of us were in our thirties; little did we envisage what the future might hold.
We had between us some old tapes and CDs to help, plus a sketchy collection of vintage Cornish and folky songs, and rather self-consciously set about warbling away in front of one another. Needless to say the sound was fabulous from the very outset…
In those early years, we all belonged to different local choirs, but without a doubt what we enjoyed most of all was a few beers and a sing-song afterwards. Then a few more beers, and so on and so on. It’s an interesting scientific fact that the more beers one imbibes, the finer and louder the singing becomes.
Like we still say to this day, ‘never louder, never better!’
We always loved to sing shanties and songs of the sea. It seemed very fitting, living here on the wild and rugged coast of north Cornwall and, of course, being wild and rugged ourselves helped immensely. Over the early years, our group gradually boiled down from what had at one time been quite an unwieldy number to a core of members more committed to the cause.
We needed a name, and looked among our ranks for inspiration. At the time there were four or five fishermen amongst us, and the rest were either connected to the lifeboat or coastguards, or worked on boats in some way or other, or enjoyed going out in boats, or at least once a year made the ferry crossing from Rock to Padstow for Obby Oss day. So it was decided, after one of our interminable meetings fuelled by lashings of Tribute bitter, that we should christen ourselves The Fisherman’s Friends.
If nothing else, it’s certainly served us well for a succession of beautifully puerile and adolescent innuendo about remedies for sore throats…
We became asked more and more to go around and sing at charity gigs, until eventually we started to perform at what is our spiritual home, a capella and al fresco, down by the harbour in Port Isaac. We still do so to this day, and over the years we have raised massive amounts for different charities and causes, local and national.
It was there where our lives all took a most unexpected turn. Back in 2009, we were spotted performing by an independent record producer, who for some reason not readily apparent to us at the time (or indeed now!) thought that he could make a record with us. We had already produced three collections of songs ourselves, and they’d always been very popular with our followers. Now we were going to have one made, publicised and distributed properly by Island Records/Universal Music.
There was a quite unbelievable day back in early 2010 when the media all went mad and descended on the Platt in Port Isaac to report on the sensational story – ‘Fishermen Net Million Pound Record Deal!’
It’s maybe at this point that I should tell you; no, nobody gave up the day job….
Telly, radio and press, satellite broadcast dishes, aerials, cameras and microphones of every description thrust into our faces, everyone wanted to know everything about who we were, what we did, and where we came from. Of course, being Cornish the natural inclination was to tell them to mind their own bleddy business, but you can’t do that, can you?
And so there we were, no hopers, jokers and rogues, propelled quite unprepared into the shallow and superficial world of showbiz. Our first album Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends got high up into the charts, and we’ve all got gold discs hanging on our walls at home. Soon after, we were in proud receipt of the special ‘Best Traditions’ award at the BBC Folk Awards.
Excitingly, we’ve performed a number of times at the Festival Hall and Royal Albert Hall, and it was very special to sing for Her Majesty during her Jubilee Flotilla down the Thames. She waved at us, you know!
Well, it looked like a wave…
We regularly perform on tour and at all sorts of festivals around the UK, and were very pleased one year to find ourselves on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury (yes, yes, all right, it was during the ‘Old Fart Novelty Slot’) Then, even more scarily, we sang in front of an audience of 55,000 at Proms in the Park, where we were most ably supported by Earth, Wind and Fire; they should do very well for themselves if they stick at it as we have.
We’ve made two further CDs, there’s been a documentary about our year of being discovered, a book telling our story (not exactly kiss and tell, more scratch and sniff), we’ve done lots of TV and radio and we’ve, ahem, made a fish finger advert…
So we go on. Early 2017 sees the Winter Warmer tour, mostly in the southern half of the country, in which we hope to bring to our audiences some new songs with a taste of the sea, but more importantly the same mixture of music and fun that has always been our trademark.
We always think that if we enjoy ourselves, you’ll all enjoy yourselves too. So come on, join in and sing up…but not too loud, eh? We wouldn’t want you to spoil it!
See you dreckly, buoys!