Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends have conjured up a feast of festive bonhomie with their first-ever seasonal single: a rousing shanty version of the traditional carol I Saw Three Ships.
The feel-good track set sail on December 1, backed up by a heart-warming video, filmed on their home turf around Port Isaac and Padstow in North Cornwall. The B-side, New Year Turning, is equally timely.
Singer, accordion player and real-life fisherman Jason Nicholas explained: “We wanted to try doing a Christmas record, and I Saw Three Ships seemed a good choice because it’s the only well-known carol that’s associated with the water.
“It’s very simple, it’s very easy to sing along with and it’s very Christmassy, and that makes it a real joy for both adults and children.”
The sea-salty version was embellished with the addition of bespoke lyrics and an extra few bars to accommodate the stirring new seafaring line: “Heave away on Christmas Day”.
The stand-alone single was recorded in September in the church of St James the Great at St Kew.
The next step was to create an accompanying video that could steal the show. It was filmed out at Port Isaac harbour, in St Kew Church and in a hidden-away location in Padstow, with the children and grandchildren of band members taking centre stage in the bi-plot production of The Christmas Mutiny. The results can be seen on our website and on the FishermansFriendsTV YouTube channel.
“We recreated Christmas in September in The Little Theatre, a beautiful little building tucked away in the backstreets of the town,” said Jason.
“No one would know it was there, but Kernow Players put on some great shows there. There were 15 under-10s with a rough script and a lot of handmade props. What could possibly go wrong?
“It was joyful to watch the kids really embrace and enjoy what they were doing, singing along with the track. It’s nice for them to play a proper part, rather than just watching dad or granddad.
“When we recorded our part of the video in St Kew Church, surrounded by Christmas decorations and bells in September, it was so much fun and I think that comes across. It made us all feel really Christmassy. We’re really happy and proud of the song and video. The fact that we love it and the children love it too makes it our Christmas number one, no matter what.”
The single emerged as a happy bonus while the group were recording their forthcoming tenth long player. All Aboard is a splendid 12-track collection of stirring sea songs, including beefed-up traditional numbers, shanties from bygone days, poignant laments and foot-stomping work songs, all telling stories close to the singers’ hearts.
The album is due for release on January 19 to coincide with the start of the group’s extensive 2024 theatre tour. Jason explained how the group spent just two-and-a-half days laying down the tracks with musicians Simon Johnson and Marcus Bonfanti, and producer Rupert Christie.
“We’re quite time-honoured and practised now, so it came together quickly, and for the first time we recorded with live instrumentation all the way through,” he said. “We think it’s pretty special and the tracks really portray what we do best.
“And it’s great that the album is going to be out to coincide with the tour, so people can have some of the new songs we’ve been playing live over the past year on CD or to download.”
Some songs have been penned by FF members – for example, Deep Blue Swell by Jeremy Brown; while others have been rewritten, such as Lukey’s Boat, a traditional song tweaked by moustachioed bass Jon Cleave and Jason to reflect all the things that could go wrong when fishing out at sea.
It puts the icing on the cake of another fantastic year for the group, who still juggle their time between FF duties and their day jobs and businesses by the Cornish coast.
They sold 50,000 tickets for their 2023 performances, while Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical put a further 250,000 bums on seats, and the two feature films based on their story continue to delight audiences.
With their Facebook following hitting 104,000 and a fifth album deal signed with Island Records, their popularity is booming.
After a break for a family Christmas, The Fisherman’s Friends kick off their 2024 theatre tour in January. Tour dates include Plymouth Pavilions on April 6, Hall for Cornwall in Truro on October 4 and 5, and a debut headline show at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall in October.
“That’s where we belong, singing live,” said founder member Jon Cleave.
“It’s all about sharing the songs we love with the people we love to see, our wonderful audiences up and down the land.
“The Albert Hall will be a bit special. Thirty years ago, some of us were there with the Cornish Male Voice Choir, then we went back with the band a couple of times as guests of Show of Hands and played there at the BBC Folk Awards in 2014.
“But this will be our first show as headliners. Not bad for a band of part-timers from Port Isaac, is it?”