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FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS - Buxton Opera House - 17 February 2018

It may have been February but the Fisherman’s Friends brought a little summer sunshine and a taste of the Cornish coast to the Opera House in Buxton.

While making music is essentially a hobby for these residents of Port Isaac on the north coast of Cornwall, the Fisherman’s Friends deliver their shanties and songs of the sea with a power and polish that comes from many years of performing together. The harmonies are tight, the solos crisp, with everyone taking their turn in the spotlight.

Through illness they were two men down but the six on stage put on a great show that left the audience, many who have followed the band for years, on their feet calling for more.

Jon Cleave, he of the great moustache, led the way with a strong vocal on Blow The Man Down, a wonderfully humorous tale of a sailor looking for company while in port, setting the tone for a great night of ‘naughty-cal’ entertainment. Santiana, (lobster fisherman Jeremy Brown) and Yarmouth Town (fisherman Jason Nicholas) followed - although accordion player Jason was dosed up with antibiotics to get through the show, it did not affect his performance.

The Fisherman’s Friends have a new album in the pipeline and TV broadcast engineer Toby Lobb (vocals/guitar) has helped to produce it. They included The Leaving Of Liverpool, from the album, in their set with Toby, the most recent addition to the line-up, taking the lead. The first half of the programme ended with the whimsical It’s All Part Of Being A Pirate, a great audience participation number with mechanical engineer John Lethbridge taking the vocal lead.

The ‘buoys’ struck gold in 2010, after years of entertaining the tourists by performing in local pubs and on the quayside. They signed to a major record label and Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends became the first traditional folk album to make the top ten in the UK album charts. The second half of the set began with a track from that album: No Hopers, Jokers And Rogues, with lead vocals by Jeremy and shop owner/author Jon.

The closeness of the community shone through with the on-stage banter between tracks. Builder John McDonnell went on holiday to Port Isaac 40 years ago – and never left! The Yorkshireman has become part of the close Port Isaac community and sang lead on Fire Down Below, another track from the forthcoming album. The group’s repertoire also included Shanty Man, The Mingulay Boat Song, Jamaica Farewell and Strike The Bell.

Jon Cleave said how much the band had enjoyed their first visit to Buxton. They had a good look around - at least the inside of the pub across the road! He sang the lead for the final number of the main set, the obligatory whaling song, Bonny Ship The Diamond, which will also appear on the new album. Of course, there had to be an encore and they paid their respect to the Cornish tin mining industry with Cousin Jack, more audience participation to A Sailor Ain’t A Sailor, before finishing with the rousing South Australia. Simply brilliant!

Geoff Ford