Fisherman’s Friends forced to stop free Port Isaac gigs after thousands turned up

Cornish shanty group Fisherman’s Friends has become a victim of its own success and been forced to scrap its regular fundraising shows on the beach at Port Isaac after far too many people – several thousand of them – started flocking to the village for the free gigs.

The singers were discovered playing such a show on their home turf but as their success grew, particularly following the release of the box office hit film loosely based on their story, it became a logistical nightmare to carry on performing the outdoor gigs.

However, they really want to carry on raising money for local charities and have decided to play some regular benefit shows. The first one, a sell out at Truro’s Hall for Cornwall this Saturday (November 5), is in aid of Children’s Hospice South West’s Little Harbour.

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Raising money for good causes is in the blood of Cornwall’s favourite shanty band whose performances in their home village in North Cornwall have always been as much about collecting for charities as raising their voices in song together against a glorious harbour backdrop on spring and summer Friday evenings.

Thousands of pounds have been raised for a wide variety of local organisations over the years at these informal free gigs, but the continuing success of the Fisherman’s Friends coupled with the impact of coronavirus forced the chaps to call a halt to their regular shows on The Platt, putting paid to a long history of boosting the coffers of charities since the 1990s.

Crowds gathering to watch the group of old pals give hearty renditions of their favourite traditional work songs, interspersed with plenty of friendly banter, began to swell after they broke into the national music scene with their top ten debut album in 2010 and Glastonbury appearance the year after. More than 2,000 people began to turn up each week in the season, nicely filling up the collection tins. But when the first Fisherman’s Friends film became a box office hit on release in Spring 2019, the numbers started to become unmanageable, causing an increasing challenge in terms of logistics and health and safety.

To perform in this charming, but awkward, outdoor spot the chaps found themselves having to get permission from the harbourmaster, be mindful of high tides, sort out extra car parking in fields above the village and provide stewards and first aiders. But the biggest hurdle was the “colossal” cost of insurance premiums, which drastically reduced the amount that could go to charity.

The group’s Jon Cleave said: “We started off collecting for causes like the village hall and the school. Then we got a bit more organised and each week we would allocate to a different charity. We provided the singing and they could come and do a collection. That worked really well for a few years and thousands of pounds was raised for many different Cornish charities. Since we got too busy on the Platt, it leaves a bit of a hole in what we used to do.”

Fisherman's Friends is raising money for Little Harbour Hospice
Fisherman’s Friends is raising money for Little Harbour Hospice

Putting on this special Hall for Cornwall concert – on the afternoon of an evening show that sold out in 24 hours – offered the perfect opportunity and it’s something the down-to-earth group would like to develop into a substantial annual fundraiser for good causes in the land that they all love.

“It’s nice to touch our roots again doing this show for the hospice. If we can do something like this once a year supporting different Cornish charities that would be good,” said Jon. “We are just ordinary working blokes singing songs that have been sung by ordinary people for generations and we like to try and support our local community.”

The success of their own concerts and recordings has been bolstered in recent times by the success of the movie and its 2022 follow-up Fisherman’s Friends: One and All, as well as the stage production Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical, currently touring UK theatres, but the group’s members still carry on with their day jobs in Port Isaac and Padstow.

The Fisherman’s Friends matinee performance at Hall for Cornwall on Saturday, November 5 is sold out. Check the box office for last minute returns on 01872 262466.

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