“We're just a bunch of middle aged men having fun!”
There can be few people who haven't heard of the Fisherman's Friends' sudden leap to fame after Johnnie Walker's producer heard this group of friends singing while he was on holiday in Port Isaac. He later rang and offered them a £1m recording deal with Universal Records.
John Brown starts the story. “When we first got the chance to get this contract Peter (Rowe) said 'I think we should hang on a couple of years'. And I said, 'Peter you haven't got a couple of years!'”
The Fisherman's Friends consist of ten men, all connected to the sea by fishing, lifeboats or coastguard work. They range in age from 50-76; nine out of the ten met at Port Isaac primary school and have grown up together. “We're suspicious of what the others are doing so we have to stay together to find out!” says Peter Rowe, the oldest of the group at 76. There's a burst of laughter, before John Brown grins. “I'm so naïve – I thought we were friends!
The group started singing with Wadebridge Male Voice Choir years ago because “that way of singing keeps the timing and keeps us in tune. You need discipline. And yet our success comes from the complete opposite way of singing,” points out Billy Hawkins.
The tradition of singing had almost died out in Port Isaac “so we started singing to keep some of the old songs alive, then we broadened it to shanties,” says John Brown. “We sing for the love of singing,” adds John Lethbridge, “and because we're all too old to play football so we had to make an excuse to go to the pub somehow!”
These men have remained firm friends over the years, which is evident from the easy banter and roars of laughter that punctuate our conversation. “We're like a big family unit that all has little squabbles but they don't last,” says Billy cheerfully. “We're all very in touch with our feminine side now!” adds John Brown.
Their catchy sea shanties have found an incredibly diverse audience, with worldwide fans ranging from aged 2 to 90. “The thing is that we all enjoy ourselves,” explains Peter. “We're not a manufactured band, and our singing comes from our soul because we love singing. There's no point in singing songs we're not happy with – they don't mean anything to us,” adds John Brown. And they are determined that success won't change them. “That's one thing we would hate,” says Trevor Grills staunchly.
Their CD came out in April 2010, and became an instant success, being the first ever folk song to be in the Top Ten. “The songs are very catchy and now we've put music to them I think it's broadened the appeal to different age groups,” explains John Brown.
Part of the appeal of the Fisherman's Friends must lie in the fact that they are a tight knit group whose lives are not ruled by material possessions. “We're pretty much lucky people,” says Billy. “We enjoy what we do and we manage to make a living out of it.”
“A bit of money would be handy I suppose, but we've got everything we want, and we live in a beautiful place,” says John Brown. “Cornwall is right behind us and it's much appreciated.”
Cornwall could have no better ambassadors than these quick witted men with their wholehearted appreciation of the community in which they live. To say nothing of their stirring voices.
Cornwall Today July 2010