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

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.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
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

Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week