Fisherman’s Friends play Horsham and Worthing ahead of cinema release of their story

These are remarkable times for Fisherman’s Friends, the original “sole men”, Cornwall’s tightest band of brothers and best-known musical export.

Fishermans Friends
Fishermans Friends

They are out on the road with dates including Wednesday, March 20 at The Capitol, Horsham and Friday, March 29 at Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre – just as a feature film comes out telling the story of their rise to fame.

Called Fisherman’s Friends, the feature biopic starring Tuppence Middleton, Danny Mays, James Purefoy and Noel Clarke is released in cinemas across the country on March 15.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

As for the band, who recorded the film’s sound track and appear in the film as extras, they line up as fisher brothers John and Jeremy Brown; writer/shopkeeper Jon Cleave; potter Billy Hawkins; 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; and film-maker Toby Lobb.

Jon said: “The songs that we sing are sea shanties and songs of the sea, which is very fitting because of where we come from.

“We are right on the north coast of Cornwall, based in Port Isaac which is a tiny fishing village with a population of just over a thousand. Most of us in the original line-up of the group were at school together. There are ten of us.

“We have been singing together since about 1991-1992, and a lot of us were in choirs or would go out to folk clubs.

“I used to do a bit of G&S stuff, amateur dramatics stuff, and so we all had a very mixed background.

“There is a Cornish song book and there were also old railroad songs from the US and also sea shanties, and we found that it was the sea shanties that we really enjoyed.

“We decided to evolve our repertoire around that, and that’s what started us. At the time, five of us were fishermen and the rest were concerned with sea life or the coastguard and one was a marine engineer. We thought the name Fisherman’s Friends, apart from being a sweet, was just right for us.

“I guess for the next 15 or so years we just plugged away and I guess we just improved over the years and didn’t realise it.

“We were quite fortunate that in a small community we had a nice array of voices within the group. I sing bass, and we have always had good strong baritones for the tune, and when we started we had four tenors.

“We could all naturally harmonise. Fisherman’s Friends is quite a free-wheeling sound, but because we had sung in choirs we all had the discipline we needed.”

The turning point came in 2009 when they were “spotted”.

“Every Friday we would sing down by the harbour at Port Isaac, and it is a lovely backdrop. We used to sing and collect a bit of money for charity, and we were just doing that, minding our own business.

“By then we had invested in a bit of equipment which was a great help to us. We were doing that and an independent record producer was down on holiday and spotted us and a couple of weeks later, he got hold of me somehow.

“I got a telephone call on a Sunday morning asking me if we would be interested in making a record. I thought it was a wind-up, but it wasn’t. We are all quite strong-minded people so I said to him he had better come down and meet us all.”

It’s a story told in the newly-released film, one the group definitely approves of: “We were doing a tour last autumn, and we had a preview of the film.

“We were a bit reticent. It is not every day that someone makes a film of you. But we loved the film.

“It is very funny and it is also quite touching, and I think it really captured the spirit of the group and the spirit of Cornwall.”