Tuesday, 13 October 2015


Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

There are no six packs in this group, with the Fisherman's Friends you get the full barrel. This was just one of the quips from the Port Isaac singers' front man Jon Cleave.

Jon Cleave
The wonderful acoustics of Brum's Town Hall were just perfect, for the lusty, gutsy and ribald songs of the Cornish singers who are  Julian, John and Jeremy Brown, John Lethbridge, newest member Toby Lobb, Billy Hawkins, Jason Nicholas, Peter Rowe, John McDonnell and of course Cleave.
Cleave is cheeky, deadpan and almost boyish during his introductions to the songs which talk of life on the sea, living on the coast and a whole host of carnal activities which are mostly cheekily suggested rather than explicit and come with the promise that everyone would get a good shantying.
The group walked on stage to a roaring reception to start their fourth performance in the Second City venue.
They kicked off with a saucy version of Blow The Man Down with Cleave's distinctive and bootstrap voice along with his cheeky manner tell the tale of sexual exploits with a woman of questionable character.
It the set the tone for the night, it was going to be fun, full of energy but not for the prudish or those easily offended by jokes such as I mistook my Tippex for Viagra and ended up with a massive correction.
Lobb, who was suffering from a bad back, plays guitar and supplied one of the songs Strike the Bell.
Their first show of the complex harmonies they can produce came with Santiana. The group built up the layers of sound until they filled every corner of the ornate hall.
This was followed by the lighter and more playful Safe and Sound, a song which gave the individuals more of a chance to break up proceedings with solos. This was followed by a song many of a certain age would have learned in school, Donkey Riding which they sang with real gusto and even incorporated Tell Me Ma.
Part of their repertoire on the night included the thoughtful and doleful Bold Riley. Jason Nicholas was given the spotlight for one of the singers' staples, Yarmouth Town which sides alongside Bully In The Alley, Sailor Ain't A Sailor and Union of Different Kinds. And as you would expect coming from the Cornish corner of England there were drinking songs such as All Night Long and they pulled out the superbly dark and eerie High Barbary with Cleave's voice seemingly coming from the depths of Hades itself with the rest of the group providing the creepy harmonies with more than a touch of the Cab Calloway's about it.
The full line-up
Local fisherman Jeremy Brown led the chorus with Silver Darlings which is about the herring shoals which are seeing a return to the Cornish shores.
Lobb led them in their version of Leaving Of Liverpool which kept the traditional tune but seemed to have more resonance when sung with their voices and interconnected harmonies. They stirred the audience into action with Billy O'Shae which was followed by the salty shanty Sally Brown.
The Port Isaac natives went a Capella for Fire Down Below which was a fantastic example of how close their voices work together to produce the glorious sound which has taken them singing in the small coastal town on Friday nights to being international stars.
Sugar In The Hold had more than a feel of Hit The Road Jack about it which funnily enough cropped up while they were singing it. They took the night out with the polka New York Girls, Union of Different Kinds and Cousin Jack.
Fisherman's Friends are great fun to listen to and they obviously have fun performing and radiate that sense of ribaldry, subversion and naughtiness associated with the pirate and shanty singing fraternity and if you ever get a chance to see them live, take it.

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