Sunderland Point’s answer to the Fisherman’s Friends

Sunderland Point sea shanty group. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard
Sunderland Point sea shanty group. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

In a remote corner of our district, a group of friends and neighbours have banded together to form an unlikely alliance.

The Sunderland Point Sea Shanty Crew and their special brand of music is now delighting audiences wherever they go, and thanks to a new film which follows a group of shanty singers on their path to fame, the group has also been able to enjoy a moment in the spotlight.

Sunderland Point sea shanty group. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

Sunderland Point sea shanty group. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

New film Fisherman’s Friends tells the true story of Cornwall’s Fisherman’s Friends shanty group, and when they came to Morecambe as part of their recent countrywide tour, The Sunderland Crew – as they are more commonly known – were lucky enough to be invited to perform at the show.

It was a far cry from their humble beginnings at a Christmas event for Sunderland Point residents five years ago.

The gang of 14 rehearse at the remote Mission Church at Sunderland Point.

The group was set up by chance five years ago, after a suggestion by leader David Andrew.

Sunderland Point. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

Sunderland Point. Photo: Kelvin Stuttard

“Every year they hold a Christmas review in the Reading Room at Sunderland Point, and usually about half a dozen people do a turn,” he said.

“I said ‘how about a group of us get together and sing something like the group down in Cornwall’, and all at the same time they said ‘but we can’t sing’, but I said ‘they are only fishermen so surely we can do it as well?!’”

“It started off as five of us and just grew and grew from there.”

The crew started doing gigs a couple of years ago, and since then has gone from strength to strength.

Sunderland Point Sea Shanty Crew performing at The Platform.

Sunderland Point Sea Shanty Crew performing at The Platform.

In July 2018 they released an album of 12 songs called A Rum Bunch, and their songs are also available on Spotify and itunes.

Last year they performed at events including the Edinburgh Fringe, Liverpool Tall Ships Festival, Ulverston Dickensian Festival and the Highest Point festival in Williamson Park, which they will also appear at this May.

More locally, they keep their feet on the ground by singing every month at The Ship in Overton.

“We have got no training, we are doing it all ourselves, although some of us have been in local bands,” David said.

Cornwall's Fisherman's Friends.

Cornwall's Fisherman's Friends.

One member, Peter Jetson, who works at Lancaster University, has previously played in bands with the late Jim Bowen at the Redwell Inn at Arkholme.

Instruments played by the group include the accordion, guitar, mandolin and banjo, and they have a repertoire of around 15 songs.

David said: “We want to increase the range of what we do, but we need to do regular rehearsals and it’s a bit of a commitment for people, as most of us have full-time jobs.”

The Sunderland Crew, as they are more commonly known, is made up mainly of people who live at or have a connection with Sunderland Point, and are aged between 21 and mid-70s.

Their day jobs vary from student to antiques dealer, artist, magician and fisherman, although some are now retired.

And while they are realistic about the financial perks – or lack of – of being in such a group, it’s something they all enjoy.

Artist Jo Powell said: “It’s just a lot of fun singing together. Every chance we get we just burst into song.”

And fisherman Trevor Owen added: “We do it for pleasure, nothing else.”

* Find out more about the Sunderland Crew online here or on Facebook @thesunderlandpointseashantycrew

New film

This month saw the release of a new film which is helping bring the Sunderland Crew’s particular type of music to the fore.

Fisherman’s Friends tells the story of 10 fishermen from Cornwall who are signed by Universal Records and achieve a top 10 hit with their debut album of sea shanties.

It’s based on the story of Cornwall’s best-known musical export, the Fisherman’s Friends, who for more than a quarter of a century have met in their native Port Isaac to sing songs of the sea.

The film stars the likes of Daniel Mays (The Limehouse Golem, Swimming With Men), James Purefoy (Rome, Netflix’s Altered Carbon) and Tuppence Middleton (War & Peace, The Imitation Game).

While only making cameo appearances in the film, the band’s unique songs and voices weave their way through the heartfelt, poignant and at times hilarious narrative, providing the bedrock for what has already been hailed as one of the film highlights of 2019.

It’s nearly 10 years since Island Records persuaded the Fisherman’s Friends to sign the record deal that saw their album, Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends, sell Gold as they became the first traditional folk act to land a UK top 10 album.

The Fisherman’s Friends have also been the subject of an ITV documentary and released the hit albums One and All (2013), Proper Job (2015) and Sole Mates (2018).

The Fisherman’s Friends are: 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.

Performing at The Platform

Earlier this month Cornwall group The Fisherman’s Friends performed to great acclaim at The Platform in Morecambe – and the Sunderland Crew was given the chance to show off their talents too.

The group managed to get a warm-up slot on stage before the main act came on.

“I saw it advertised and so I contacted their agent,” David Andrew said. “I said we were a local shanty band and we would love to perform with them. They said it was an exception and they don’t normally allow it.”