“We can’t wait to get back to performing live – it’s the reason we started the Fisherman’s Friends in the first place,” said MC and bass man Jon Cleave, ahead of the Fisherman’s Friends visit to Buxton Opera House on Saturday 17th February. “I haven’t been up there for a long, long time. I went on a football tour when I was a young boy at school, some beautiful countryside up there, so I’m looking forward to having a look around.”
The Fisherman’s Friends are bringing their distinctive brand of folk, a real taste of life on the Cornish coast, to Buxton as part of their 2018 tour. “The music is very, very uncomplicated,” Jon explains. “That makes the songs and the music very accessible to people, they don’t have to work too hard to understand it.
“They’re a mix of work songs and shantys, some are songs of the sea, more lyrical with a narrative and more melodic. Our set is a nice mix of the two – a big bang-it-out shanty for the rhythm and then something quieter, more melodic and thoughtful. That makes for quite a nice mix. We try and get everybody in the group to sing a solo in different songs. As a collective, everybody gets their chance to shine and everybody gets the chance to do a bit of something. That works quite nicely.”
Very nicely indeed. This group of friends from Port Isaac, well known as the setting for TV’s Doc Martin, have been entertaining visitors, and locals, with their performances by the harbour, the platt, for more than 25 years.
“It’s generally on a Friday night,” says Jon. “We get good crowds for it and it makes for a nice evening with us standing at the top of the beach. Then there’s the harbour behind us with the breakwaters, the boats and the cliff’s, it’s a very dramatic backdrop. With songs of that nature it makes for a nice atmosphere.”
The group are drawn from a wide range of trades within the village. Jon is a local shopkeeper while the group includes a couple of fishermen, a potter, an engineer and a builder, Yorkshireman John McDonnell, who visited the village as a tourist 30 years ago and never left!
Fisherman’s Friends with MC Jon Cleave, far left. (Photos by kind permission of Planet Earth Publicity)
United in friendship, the warmth of their relationship is is evident as they sing. “Yes, it’s all good fun. I’d like to say it’s the supreme musicality that’s the appeal, but they see us and they can tell we’re a bunch of old friends because of the way we are, the way we react on stage and that relaxes people. We all go way back and it’s a nice thing, really, it’s that engagement with the audience and they see a bit of themselves in us,” say Jon.
After years of singing together the Fisherman’s Friends were offered a recording contract and their album Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends went gold as they became the first traditional folk act to land a UK top ten album in the process. They have since been the subject of an ITV documentary, released the hit albums One and All (2013) and Proper Job (2015) and played to tens of thousands of fans at home and abroad, as well as the famous Pyramid stage at Glastonbury.
Fisherman’s Friends’ Buxton show is sure to include some tracks from their forthcoming album Sole Mates which Jon says the group are delighted with. “Yes, and we’ve produced it ourselves, this time, through (group member) Toby Lobb. He’s a clever musician and clever at electronics, so we’ve done it through him. It’s almost a step back to how we were when we first started. We did our first album Fisherman’s Friends – Suck ‘Em And See in the late 1990s and this has more of that feel to it. It’s quite nice to return to that sometimes.”
Fans of folk music will also be sure to love the album. The production is warm and polished without losing the authentic feel of the music which includes Fisherman’s Friends interpretations of some folk classics Oh, You New York Girls, The Leaving Of Liverpool and The Bonny Ship The Diamond.
That authenticity comes from a long tradition of singing in Port Isaac, which is on Cornwall’s wild North Atlantic coast, to the east of Padstow. “There are two big breakwaters at Port Isaac, because you get the full force of the Atlantic coming in. They finished them in 1928, but as they were building them they ran out of money. So the local fisherman’s choir used to go out and sing to try and raise extra money to make the breakwaters slightly longer so that they were actually of some use.
“One of their members, an old chap called Jack Hollins, used to sing on the BBC. He was quite a famed tenor and a fisherman there.”
Fisherman’s Friends visit Buxton Opera House on Saturday 17th February. For ticket information please visit https://buxtonoperahouse.org.uk/event/fishermans-friends or call the box office on 01298 72190. Copies of Fisherman’s Friends’ forthcoming album Sole Mates will also be on sale at the venue.
The full list of dates for the Fisherman’s Friends 2018 winter tour is:
8 – The Apex, Bury St Edmunds
9 – Pavilion Theatre, Rhyl
10 – Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne Minster
15 – Picturedrome, Holmfirth
16 – Royal & Derngate, Northampton
17 – Opera House, Buxton
20 – Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury
21 – Albert Hall, Nottingham
22 – Wychwood Folk Club, Ascott-under-Wychwood
15 – The Forum, Barrow-in-Furness
16 – The Embassy Theatre, Skegness
17 – Sage, Gateshead