FISHERMAN'S Friends, Cornwall's tightest band of brothers, are bound for Pocklington Arts Centre with their hearty song, salty banter and tall tales from the high seas on February 17.

Billed as "the original solemen", the Port Isaac musicians will be showcasing a fresh haul of old favourites and songs from their 2018 album, Sole Mates, their seventh since they were "discovered" singing on the Platt, on the harbour of their northern Cornish fishing village.

Since achieving gold sales with their Port Isaac's Fisherman's Friends album in 2010 after signing to Island Records, the sea shanty singers have been the subject of an ITV documentary, released further hit albums, such as 2013's One And All and 2015's Proper Job, and played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.

"We'll always be amazed at how it happened for us," says bass singer and master of ceremonies Jon Cleave. "Suddenly entering the realm of rock'n'roll is quite an experience, especially for gentlemen of a certain age like us. We always joke that, contrary to popular belief, ours is a ‘riches to rags’ story."

Legend has it that Fisherman's Friends were spotted singing sea shanties in the village pub ten years ago by a music industry executive while on holiday. "Yes, that’s absolutely true," says Jon. "The music producer, Rupert Christie, saw us singing down by the harbour at Port Isaac, just as we had done for many years previously, and he liked what he heard. A week or so afterwards, Rupert rang us and said, 'Would you boys fancy making a record? I’m sure I can get you a deal'. The rest, as they say, is history."

Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends duly became the first traditional folk album to make the British Top Ten, selling 150,000 copies en route to gold status. "Sounds mad, doesn’t it?" concedes Jon. "Considering that before we released the album nobody outside of Cornwall had ever heard of us, it was difficult to comprehend. It didn’t seem real.

"A good example is when we were booked to appear on breakfast TV and they surprised us by presenting us with these gold discs. We just assumed our manager had made them on his kitchen table at home and done it for a laugh. However, it was all genuine, and each of us now has one on our wall at home to prove it."

Jon attributes this "overnight" success to the Fisherman's Friends being "a real group of old friends having fun, which people can relate to".

"There’s an element of the songs and their style being part of our collective psyche, what with many of the songs we perform being 200 years old," he says. "We’re from the wild and rugged coast of north Cornwall and the people there love the songs of the sea. We sing in a very Cornish way, in a circle or semi-circle, harmonising with one another with sparse instrumentation. Everybody who comes to see us perform seems to grasp hold of what the songs mean and loves to join in and sing along with us, which is wonderful."

The Fisherman’s Friends' success "must have" increased the number of tourists visiting Port Isaac each year, reckons Jon. "We’ve had to curtail playing down by the harbour to just once a fortnight, because if you’ve got a spring tide that’s right up, there’s no longer enough room for everyone. These days, we do it on a neap tide every couple of weeks so there’s plenty of room for everybody on the beach," he says.

For all their popularity over the past decade, the Fisherman's Friends members are in no hurry to give up their day jobs. "We wouldn't want to, either," says Jon. "We make a little bit on the side with the singing, but we’ve got nice lives and we all love our day jobs.

"We’ve got several fishermen in the group; I run a shop and I write books; Bill Hawkins is a potter; Johnny Mac is a builder; Johnny Lethbridge works as a marine engineer; John Brown works as a tour guide around the village and Toby Lobb is a film-maker. Being self employed really helps, as it enables us to schedule our working lives to fit around the group’s touring."

Coming next on March 15 will be Chris Foggin's feature film about the group’s rise to fame, unsurprisingly entitled Fisherman’s Friends, starring Daniel Mays, James Purefoy, David Hayman, Noel Clarke, Dave Johns and Tuppence Middleton. "It’s been made by the same production company that made Finding Your Feet, and this is their follow-up to that," says Jon.

"It’s great fun; one of these uplifting, heart-warming, feel-good British films. The narrative is roughly based around our story, and there’s a huge amount of anecdotal stuff and shenanigans that we’ve got involved with over the years since we got our recording contract included in the film.

"The film crew came down to Port Isaac in May with a terrific cast, who we worked with to try and help make the film as authentic as possible."

The real Fisherman's Friends group members are not portrayed individually on screen, however. "That is something we’re all quite happy about," says Jon. "I mean, I’m fairly tall with a very bald head and a handlebar moustache. None of the actors look like that, although one does have a moustache, albeit not quite as luxuriant as my facial topiary! Seriously, though, the actors don’t look like us individually, but collectively they look like us as a group. They are what I like to describe as a very good approximation."

Meanwhile, tickets for Fisherman's Friends on stage in Pocklington, rather than on screen, have sold out already.

Fisherman's Friends, Pocklington Arts Centre, February 17, 7.30pm.

Charles Hutchinson

In the Fisherman’s Friends line-up are: fishermen brothers John and Jeremy Brown; writer and shopkeeper Jon Cleave; potter Billy Hawkins; smallholder and engineer John ‘Lefty’ Lethbridge; Padstow fisherman Jason Nicholas; film-maker Toby Lobb and builder John McDonnell, a Yorkshireman who visited Port Isaac more than 30 years ago and never left.