Trevor Grills: Tenor singer who helped lead the sea-shanty revival with Fisherman's Friends

 

Given the illustrious maritime history of the British Isles, the sea shanty revival spearheaded by Fisherman's Friends, the 10-strong vocal group from the picturesque north Cornish fishing village of Port Isaac, was long overdue. Jon Cleave, the bald, moustachioed MC and bass singer, might have been the most visible member of the ensemble, the one best able to reflect on their continuation of a long-standing tradition and their repertoire of occasionally lewd material, but Trevor Grills, who has died after suffering severe head injuries at a venue in Guildford, Surrey, last weekend, was the tenor singer whose voice sent shivers down the spine of many a listener.

The accident, at the G Live concert hall on 9 February, involved a heavy steel door which collapsed on top of Grills and also caused the death of their tour manager, Paul McMullen, who was killed at the scene.

I first came across Fisherman's Friends at a concert headlined by the Devon-based acoustic duo Show Of Hands at London's Royal Albert Hall in 2001, and watched their slow but steady ascent from warm-up act, via a guest appearance as the majestic "Haul Away" choir on "Roots" by Show Of Hands in 2006 and three self-released albums, to a £1million deal with Universal Music three years ago.

Recorded in a 15th century church in St Kew, the Port Talbot's Fisherman's Friends album was scheduled to be issued on their Marine label when the Radio 2 disc jockey Johnnie Walker tipped off Universal Music's David Clarke, who signed the group. Their Universal debut made the UK Top Ten and was certified gold – sales of over 100,000 – soon after its release in April 2010. The following year they were presented with the Good Tradition Award at the Radio 2 Folk Awards "for keeping folk music alive and bringing it to new audience."

They also were the subject of a one-hour documentary broadcast on ITV1, appeared in a TV commercial for a frozen fish product, performed on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury for the second time, and published a collective autobiography entitled Sailing At Eight Bells, the true story of the ten Cornish seadogs who took the world by storm (Simon & Schuster).

Their heart-warming story continued with the announcement that a biopic based on their remarkable rise would be produced by the revived Ealing Studios, and helmed by Nigel Cole, the Devonian director of the similarly-themed, feelgood, ensemble comedies Calendar Girls and Made In Dagenham.

Born in 1959 in Port Isaac, Trevor Grills attended the local school and Methodist chapel, and took over his father's building and carpentry business. Most days, he could be found, tools in hand, fixing a roof or renovating one of the old cottages that have become in-demand holiday homes for well-to-do outsiders.

Nicknamed "Toastie" because of his rugged good looks, he was a quiet and shy man who took a while to come out of his shell and sing lead with Fisherman's Friends. The group started informally in the late 1990s, and, as well as Cleave and Grills, comprised three brothers, John, Julian and Jeremy Brown, Billy Hawkins, John Lethbridge, Peter Rowe, Nigel Sheratt, who "all grew up within half a mile of Port Isaac", and John McDonnell, originally from Yorkshire.

Three were fishermen while several served as coastguards or lifeboatmen, and naturally embraced the traditional harmony singing of nautical worksongs that reached its apex in the 19th century but has remained a constant in Cornwall, Britanny and other seafaring communities.

Shanties have enjoyed occasional revivals in folk and rock circles through the Beach Boys, who, like Fisherman's Friends, adapted "Sloop John B", Steeleye Span, the Pogues – and the Sex Pistols, who included the bawdy traditional drinking song "Good Ship Venus", aka "Friggin' In The Riggin'", on The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle soundtrack, but Fisherman's Friends were the genuine article, even if they described themselves as "blokes of a certain age who can sing and one or two who can't."

Grills enjoyed singing a cappella with the close-knit group but had to be coerced into taking the lead on the "bloody miserable songs" ideally suited to his clear tenor. Most notable of these was the lament "The Last Leviathan", which Fisherman's Friends recorded on their Suck 'Em And Sea album.

It remained a cornerstone of their live set, as when he last appeared with the group, again with their friends Show Of Hands, at London's Royal Festival Hall on 3 February. The lyric of the protest song about the hunting of whales reads like a fitting epitaph to this self-unassuming man.

"My soul has been torn from me and I am bleeding ,
My heart it has been rent and I am crying,
All the beauty around me fades and I am screaming,
I am the last of the great whales,
And I am dying."

In a tribute to Grills on their website, Fisherman's Friends said: "Trevor was a much-loved and valued friend to all of us and was an integral part of the Port Isaac community."

Pierre Perrone

Trevor Grills, singer, carpenter and builder: born Port Isaac, Cornwall 2 January 1959; married (three sons); died London 11 February 2013.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Shropsh...

DT Teacher - Food Technology & CACHE

£24000 - £36000 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits