FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS – Sole Mates (The Orchard)

Sole MatesFisherman – Sole. See what they did there. After avoiding groan-inducing puns for five albums, I suppose the Cornish collective can be excused for finally indulging, especially given yet another fine and rousing assemblage of sea shanties. Currently an eight-piece line-up, the most recent addition being veritable youngster Toby Lobb, their former sound engineer who joined the vocal ranks in 2015, once again they’ve trawled the shanty songbook to reel in both familiar favourites and less well known numbers.

They kick off with an evergreen in the form of the boozy sexual innuendo swayalong ‘Blow The Man Down’ with new lyrics by Jon Cleave, following swiftly by breaking out the squeezebox for the cautionary tale of deceptive floozies, ‘Oh You New York Girls’. Elsewhere, other well gnawed chestnuts include: a wholly a capella ‘Whip Jamboree’, complete with whoop, though it could well be a hiccup; ‘The Bonny Ship The Diamond’, a whaling song inspired the titular whaling ship which, in 1830, along with sixteen other whaling ships, was caught in the ice of Melville Bay, causing the loss of both the vessels and many lives; and ‘Fire Down Below’. The best-known of course is ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’, a lament popularised by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and notably covered by The Dubliners and The Pogues. As you’d expect, the classic chorus is no less rousing here but, unlike most versions, taken at a slower tempo, the reading of the verses bring out the poignancy and sadness at the heart of lyrics about the narrator leaving behind the city and woman he loves.

Band members Cleave and Billy Hawkins contribute character sketch ‘Capt. Stormio’, (complete with seagulls) and Cobb provides the lyrics to an arrangement of ‘Strike The Bell’, itself a maritime adaptation of Henry Clay Work’s 1865 song ‘Ring The Bell Watchman’, a celebration of the Union victory in the American Civil War.

Not shanties as such, ‘Being A Pirate’, a playful ditty about losing your body parts, sounding like something from Gilbert and Sullivan, comes from Canadian singer-songwriter Don Freed (originally titled ‘You Can’t Be A Pirate’) and its subsequent rework by Tom Lewis, while, featuring squeezebox, strummed guitar and clicking percussion ‘Jamaica Farewell’ is actually a Caribbean folk song calypso (popularised by Harry Belafonte), here in medley with band member Jason Nicholas’s contribution to the genre, ‘Green Banana Johnny’.

It ends with two shanties proper, ‘The Mermaid’, sometimes known as ‘The Stormy Winds’, or ‘The Waves On The Sea’, a popular number in the American folk tradition, though the lads do sneak in a mention of Port Isaac, their home base, as well as Padstow which, in turn, gets the final honours with the unaccompanied mortality-themed shanty gospel ‘The Padstow Leaving Shanty’. An unpretentious and hugely enjoyable catch.

Mike Davies

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‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’ – live: