Imagine you were the head of Universal, the world’s biggest record label. You want to free up your roster to save costs as record labels like yours strive to survive in an industry where they are constantly being out-thought by other groups and individuals. Every signing you make has to succeed. There is no time to let them gain traction around the time of a band’s third album – it is all or nothing.
So why would you sign up Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends? This ensemble, the Polyphonic Spree of shanty singers, have signed a million pound deal with the major. This self-titled debut was originally set to be released on their own label before Universal came calling with a large suitcase filled with cash. The band of marine workers are known to delight tourists every evening in northern Cornwall with a mix of traditional folk and shanty songs.
It would be so easy to ridicule this as existing due to a society where shows like Britain’s Got Talent can give any quirky and offbeat group a chance of success for 15 minutes. Yet opener South Australia kicks in and starts to put the scepticallistener at ease. Delving deeper, it’s possible to gain a sense of admiration for the ensemble’s vocal talents. Album closer The Cadgwith Anthem is a fine and calming piece of acapella, and their upbeat nature is well represented by No Hopers, Jokers And Rogues. It’s almost enough to tempt one into booking a holiday in Port Isaac.
But there is one ocean-sized problem with Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends. This pleasant, chilled album is filled with songs that are hard to dislike, but every one of them seems to have the same tone and be born of similar songwriting structures. Variety maywell be the spice of life; a little sprinkling of it might have turned this album into something special. As it is, even though it clocks in at a brisk 38 minutes, it veers far dangerously towards dullness. There is no denying that the group has some degree of talent but it’s a listen that grows tired and repetitive very quickly. Maybe with a few glasses of rum would help it along.
Universal seem to be keen, even in a time where record labels are supposedly taking fewer risks, to try less predictable. They’ve made headlines by signing a military band; Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friendss look like this year’s surprise punt. But will the album find an audience? Maybe, but it will chiefly appeal to those with an acquired taste for shanties – and maybe some fishermen from the days of the press gang. Had there been a little more gung-ho and a steady breeze in their sails then this might have been a far more successful pay-off. As it is, Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends are more throwaway novelty than sound investment.