Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Devastated by loss of our Friends

The terrible, tragic events of the weekend, resulting in the deaths of two members of the Fisherman's Friends tour party at a venue in Guildford, have shocked and saddened the folk music community. By way of a tribute to singer Trevor Grills and tour manager Paul McMullen, and to the band itself, here are my memories of my first encounter with Fisherman's Friends and what they mean to me. 

By Phil Widdows.

My wife, Jo, and I first met Fisherman's Friends on Friday September 1st 2006, in their natural habitat of Port Isaac in Cornwall. 

Port Isaac, Cornwall
We didn't go there to see them, they were a complete surprise. Indeed, we'd never even heard of them - this was a few years before their record deal and they were virtually unknown outside their home area.

We had spent the afternoon in the beautiful fishing village and lingered to eat a meal in the Golden Lion pub, on its little balcony overlooking the harbour. A classic sunny seaside summer's day was mellowing into a gorgeously warm evening, and waves lapped the sand while boats rode at the end of long ropes fastened to the shore. It was picture postcard perfect. Amazingly, it was to get much better!

Our pub balcony view
As Jo and I enjoyed our food and glasses of beer, away down below us on the sandy strand beyond the slipway a handcart arrived carrying what appeared to be an amplifier and speakers. A line of microphones was set up on the beach. It seemed totally out of place amid such a traditional scene. Very odd! What was going on?

"Oh, it's the shanty men. They do shows on Fridays through the summer," a local informed us in the bar. This we had to see! We finished our pints, left the pub and walked down to the Platt to get a closer view.

After a short while a crowd of fewer than 50 people had gathered among the lobster pots, little boats and fishing nets, and then a group of men, some clutching pints, wandered nervously to the front, shuffled in front of the microphones and, as fishing boats bobbed on the tide behind them and the sun dipped towards the horizon, they started to sing. It was magical, truly magical!
Microphones on the Platt
But this was no choir. Their singing had a rough, untutored edge but it also had a power, a passion, an authenticity that perfectly complemented the scene. They roared through salty tales of life at sea and joked with the tourist families who seemed at first bemused by what they were seeing, but who were soon enthralled.

I made a video of one of their songs - What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor - and later put it on YouTube. It captured a feeling of the fun and the frisson of that perfect evening, as a gaggle of children spontaneously jumped up and down to each cry of "Hurray! And up she rises!". That video has now been viewed more than 175,000 times and, I'm delighted to say, has been linked to from FF's own website.

What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor by Fisherman's Friends, filmed by me in 2006.

Since then we've seen Fishermen's Friends "discovered" by the music biz (I wonder if the exec who signed them up to that famous £1m record contract had first watched a certain video on YouTube...?). They've had a Top 10, gold album. They've become famous beyond the folk world, beyond music in general, even; appearing at festivals like Glastonbury and on TV in documentaries and adverts and even, occasionally, singing! 

For all that they don't seem to have changed; their good humour and honest, rustic attitude is infectious and highly entertaining, and the music they make is stirring, passionate and true. Fisherman's Friends have brought us and thousands upon thousands of other new friends a lot of pleasure.

Then came the dire news of the past weekend. The accident in Guildford is shocking, sickening and baffling. How on earth could it happen? It's just so bloody stupid and wrong! 

The contrast between the joy we associate with FF and this horrible event makes it all the more gut-wrenchingly awful. As a friend remarked, when you consider the dangerous jobs many of the Fisherman's Friends do, and consider that many have been volunteer crew for the RNLI and the Coastguard, the black irony of death finding them backstage at a modern concert venue in Surrey is just utterly ridiculous, and all the more shocking for that.

Fisherman's Friends will, I'm sure, pull together like the strong shanty crew they are, and overcome this tragedy. They need to do so, and we - their fans and friends - need them to do it, too. 

Today our thoughts are with the Friends, their families and the community of Port Isaac, and with the wider community of friends the group has made through their music.

Such terrible events on a chill winter morning are a long way from that warm Cornish holiday memory from seven years ago, but we've got to believe - as hard as it may seem right now - that the sun will again shine warmly down on Port Isaac harbour and Fisherman's Friends will fill the village with song and laughter once more.

The spirits of Paul and Trevor will live on through their music, and a great many more than 50 people will be waiting the next time Fisherman's Friends sing on the Port Isaac Platt. 

My video of the Friends at Trowbridge Village Pump Festival 2010. 

With love and great sympathy,
Phil & Jo Widdows
and all at FolkCast
That blissful summer eve of memory: 2006


Anonymous said...

Sad news indeed and a touching and well-written personal tribute Widds.

Andrew P.

maymay said...

A truly wonderful tribute. Thank you.