by Martin Brisland.
In these hard times audiences want a little escapism with story that reinforces the best of the human spirit. Fisherman’s Friends delivers just that. This amazing true story has been told in two films, an ITV documentary and a book and now in this feel-good musical.
It is based on the story of a group of Cornish working fishermen who for years sang sea shanties on The Platt waterfront at Port Isaac to raise money for charity. In 2010 they signed a major record deal and became the first traditional folk act to have a UK top ten album. They performed for HM the Queen at her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, for the G7 Conference of world leaders held in 2021 and even found themselves on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury! You could say they are the ultimate ‘bouy band’!
So what is a sea shanty? These songs developed two hundred plus years ago in the age of sail power before steam powered ships took over. They were meant to keep sailors working to a strict rhythm and to foster a sense of common purpose. The word is said to come from ‘chanter’ the French verb for ‘to sing’. They have a distinctive call and response pattern where a lead shantyman shouts out a verse and the rest reply with a collective chorus. They are thought to have originated from the African American work songs that sailors heard in the ports of the Deep South of America and the West Indies.
The songs tell stories of maritime myths, harsh working conditions, girls left behind and happy homecomings.
The tradition is also kept alive by the Falmouth International Shanty Festival held each June. Young fans have been gained thanks to the video game franchise Assassin’s Creed and Nathan Evans who became a Tik Tok sensation with his performance of the sea ballad ‘Wellerman’.
The musical, directed by James Grieve, lasts around two and a half hours but passes in a flash. The music is infectious, the sets amazing and the acting and singing faultless, as you would expect after 150 performances on this tour so far.
James Gaddas will be known from his role as Vinny in Coronation Street and he was commanding as Jim. His daughter Alwyn is played by Parisa Shahmir who has an amazing singing voice and some standout scenes. Jason Langley as Danny was totally convincing as the slick London music agent who sees the value in the traditional Cornish way of life and finds a new path in life.
Janet Mooney, who replaced the indisposed Susan Penhaligon was also superb.
Earlier I had the chance to meet Robert Duncan and Pete Gallagher from the cast on board the Shieldhall Steamship in Southampton. They felt the show’s success was down to the real values it embodies such as tradition, friendship and community. People relate to the story because it is real and honest and most of all fun. Robert, a proud Cornishman, highlighted the problem of people with second homes in Cornwall that stay empty for much of the year while locals struggle to find housing. He felt that the musical helps a part of Britain with its own distinctive character to become better understood.
Fisherman’s Friends gained a deserved standing ovation and is a musical you must catch. It is at the Mayflower until 18th February. Tickets via mayflower.org.uk or 02380 711811
Top photo: Fisherman’s Friends the Musical, by Pamela Raith.
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The cast of Fishermen’s Friend visited Shieldhall Southampton yesterday. Photographer Peter Nicholson captured their trip.