Fisherman's Friends

3rd Sep 2021 2:30pm

Britain’s oldest boy band hits the road as The Fisherman’s Friends – combined age 365 (and three-quarters).

Thanks to the small film with a big heart that shares their name, the story of the original Cornish ‘buoy band’ is known around the world – bound by shared experience, for 40 years they have met on the Platt on the harbour in their native Port Isaac to sing the songs of the sea.

“And now we can’t wait to show the rest of the country what they’ve been missing – singing live is in our blood, almost as much as the sea,” says extravagantly moustachioed MC and bass man Jon Cleave.

Starring Daniel Mays, James Purefoy, Tuppence Middleton and Noel Clarke with cameo appearances from the group whose voices also appear on the soundtrack, Fisherman’s Friends took $10 million at the box office and saw the boys perform at the 2019 Cannes film festival as well as sell out another UK tour.

Since last year, despite the best efforts of the global pandemic, the boys have kept fans entertained in lockdown posting weekly songs and poems on their YouTube series ‘Mares Tales & Mackerel Scales’. They also played sell out summer shows at Cornwall’s iconic Minack Theatre and performed at screenings of the film at the Wavelength Drive-In Cinema in Watergate Bay.

This year filming begins on Fisherman’s Friends 2 as the boys return to the studio to record a new album, the follow up to the hit soundtrack album Keep Hauling that is well on its way to Gold sales.

Cornwall’s best-known musical export, a decade ago The Fisherman’s Friends were persuaded to sign the million-pound record deal that saw their album Port Isaac's Fisherman's Friends go Gold as they became the first ever traditional folk act to land a UK top ten album.  Since then they've sung at HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, played Glastonbury festival and been honoured with the Good Tradition Award at the prestigious BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. They’ve also been the subject of an ITV documentary, released the hit albums One and All (2013), Proper Job (2015) and Sole Mates (2018) and continued play to tens of thousands of fans at home and abroad.

The Fisherman’s Friends are: lobster fisherman Jeremy Brown; writer/ shopkeeper Jon Cleave; smallholder and engineer John ‘Lefty’ Lethbridge; builder John McDonnell (a Yorkshireman who visited Port Isaac more than 30 years ago and never left); Padstow fisherman Jason Nicholas; film maker Toby Lobb and the new boy, former ambulance driver Pete Hicks.

Review - Jenni Balow

A roaring salute to the sea opened the long awaited first live performance for adults this year at the Minack, when the singing buoys that are seven sorts of Fisherman's Friends, let it rip in front of a sellout audience.

Lockdown was shoved into the scuppers as the UK's oldest boy band, and Port Isaac's most famous sons, exploded into a stomping sea shanty sound wave, enough to put the wind up a recently seen pod of passing orcas, at Monday's opener.

The group is underpinned by the bass fog horn of a voice in the shape of Jon Cleave  - a children's book writer and illustrator when he's at home, which will not be often, now that these singing mates can tour again.

The exuberant audience was in the mood to celebrate a wave of new-found freedom with the boys who won fame singing sea shanties down by the harbour in Port Isaac just over a decade ago, when they were signed up to record an album for, at the time, an eye-watering £1m.

That first evening of live music for months, was emotional too as the group re-ignited its on-stage brand of jolly rogering humour and got stuck into its acappella harmonies, very much enhanced by lobster fisherman Jason Nicholas who squeezes magical sounds out of his accordion, in partnership with film maker and guitarist Toby Lobb and his stomp box.

Top tenor 'Lefty' Lethbridge, with his right arm in a sling, brothers Jeremy and John and the only 'blow-in', Yorkshireman Johnny Mac, the builder with a really good voice, who arrived in the village in 1977 and never left, completing today's line-up.

They're resolutely Cornish, not English, and they struck gold via a string of best-selling albums, a film, with a sequel being made this year, and this autumn, a brand new Fishies musical that will open the restored Hall for Cornwall in Truro.

For all that, the boys displayed an almost hesitant charm as they  found themselves back in the spotlight after a long pause during pandemic pandemonium, before hitting their stride with A Walk Up The Plank, and reaching deep into their lungs for the primeval signature grunts that pepper the tale of John Kanaka.

Sweet Ladies of Plymouth and Billy O'Shea set them up for their party pieces, with Jeremy singing about the Shores of England and Cleavie leading his own Sweet Maid of Madeira, after a familiar swipe at the tourists - "stay off our bloody lanes, you'll only hurt yourselves, stick to four lanes".

They were warming to it by now, so time for a robust No Hopers Jokers and Rogues, Jolly Roving Tar and Keep Hauling, with the 'sexed-up' Sugar In The Hold, and the audience ready for the rousing choruses of Little Liz I Love You.

Lefty couldn't swing a cutlass with his injured righty, but he was still Being A Pirate, a cheeky one at that, and we were right with him and the rest of the crew singing their sweet fishy folk songs.

Close to the finale, Jon felt it was safe to say "it could not be any better  -  no bloody dolphins showing off  -  it's lovely to get out and do something together again" before they found themselves bound for Liverpool and South Australia, of course.

Don't go boys, we want you to stay.