I’m not one for “celebrity” and certainly not one to “get” the displays of grief fans show when a celeb dies. Just because we’ve seen someone perform on stage or on the telly doesn’t mean we know them. And yet today I find myself feeling genuinely saddened by the death of someone I don’t know.
While the Fisherman’s Friends aren’t exactly going to make the Forbes list they have achieved a modicum of fame in recent years, playing festivals including Glastonbury and getting radio and TV airtime. Today the death of one of their number, Trevor Grills, was announced, following an accident on tour which also claimed the life of their tour manager.
Just a week ago I was listening to Trevor and the rest of the FFs performing and this could be part of the reason I feel the impact of his death in a way that is not part of my normal personality. But as I think about it I believe there is more to it than that.
The first time I heard the Fisherman’s Friends was at the Bristol Folk Festival. I didn’t know a lot about them, but they sang Sea Shanties. Hmm… wasn’t sure what to make of that. But when they took to the stage they had such an energy, an honesty and a feeling of a bunch of mates having fun together that it was hard not to be swept along (if you’ll pardon a nautical pun).
A holiday in Cornwall last year afforded a chance to see them again, this time at the Minack theatre. Again, I was impressed and the venue just enhanced things. Staring out to sea listening to The Last Leviathan was a moving moment in between the raucous singing.
The following week we stayed in a cottage in the heart of Port Isaac. As we wandered round the village we couldn’t help but pass by FFs about their everyday work. No sign of the Record Contract changing lives dramatically. We had a chat with Cleavy as we bought some stuff in his shop and through the week got just the briefest taste of what Port Isaac is all about and how it might inspire the FFs.
After the holiday I read their book. This really gave some insight into what makes these guys – and the village that binds them together – ticks, and it underlines what they are about, and why they sing. Singing is good for you, it brings people together, anyone can do it and you don’t have to be perfect. When the FFs sing they each lead a song. Not just the best singers, all of them – even if that means the end result isn’t as polished or perfect.
For me they epitomise Folk Music. They sing together because they enjoy it. They want to keep traditional songs alive and maybe contribute some of their own. They would sing even if no-one was listening. They have inspired us to sing Shanties with the Learning Zone, and they have brought “new” songs to us that have inspired, moved us and made us laugh and have a good time too. And their motivation appears to be principally a desire to add some colour to life. Doing it for the sake of doing it.
In a world where music has been turned into an “industry” this is just so refreshing. In a life where everything gets its “value” assessed but we so often miss the things that have real value what we have is ten friends having a laugh and singing for all they’re worth. Except now there are only nine. One of their friends has been snatched from them in an instant. And that strikes me as a loss for all of society, not just Trevor’s friends, family and village, though their loss and pain is simply unimaginable to me. The world is richer for the input of Trevor and all those like him who decide to give their time to doing something that just kinda seems like something good to do.
Heaven may just be finding itself rocked by shanties tonight, but heaven’s gain is the world’s loss.
“For all the small people, and the tall people
For the dispossessed and the observers
For all the broken-hearted, and the recently departed
And the unwashed and the unheard.
Mother Nature don’t draw straight lines
Broken moulds in a grand design
We look a mess but we’re doing fine
We’re card carrying lifelong members
Of the union of different kinds.
For all the lonely faces in those empty spaces
For the unloved and the denied
For the little wheel, turning bigger deal
For all dreams that bloom and those that die.“
(Lyrics by Rupert Christie and Tom Gilbert)