Beers, Buoys and Barbecues

A snippet of sun sneaks through a crevice in the clouds, painting the town gold for the first time in a few dismal weeks. Flags wearing the Kernow black and white, and old pirate sail replicas, dot the sky as the clock announces the beginning of Falmouth’s seventeenth International Sea Shanty Festival!

The street held more bodies than it could cope with, all pushing at maximum speed in different directions resulting in unwanted stagnation for all. This year's turnout blessed us with 66 performing groups visiting from all over England, Holland, France, Spain and Canada. Volunteers worked together to host the weekend, doing so purely through a love of Falmouth’s proud sailing history, the sea shanty community and the joy of singing together! I watch pirates, sailors, mermaids, tipsy travellers and Viking visitors pass by me, humming along to the sweet songs of the sea men. Two years ago, it was estimated around 50,000 people enjoyed the weekend, which was the biggest turnout ever recorded. This year has undoubtedly smashed those figures with all venues filled by 1pm on the Friday, and barely catching a breath again until the Sunday afternoon.

Finding my place in the two o’clock crowd, voices howl to welcome the Bryher’s Boys to the stage. An acapella group, somewhat famous around Cornish towns. They open their set with a couple of well-known shanties and the masses go wild for their sound. Songs that were traditionally accompanied by the hard-working rhythm of labour on board sailing vessels are now complimented by the stamps and sways of many cider-fuelled fans. They finished the set with some well-known favourites, allowing the professionals and the public to join in a perfect chorus. Lungs opened and closed like the bellows of one mighty organ as the final line was sung, followed by an overwhelming moment of silent appreciation. Hands ricocheted off one another and voices roared to applaud the men’s performance. I wondered momentarily if they’ve set the bar too high and whether the following acts will disappoint. Boy, was I wrong!

On Saturday evening, I joined the tail end of an excited cackle of people waiting around The Working Boat venue. Anticipation brewed. The Fishermen’s Friends were due to take the stage, a band from Port Isaac who started performing on their village Platt thirty years ago. Starting only with the intention to have fun and entertain, the group has grossed over £1 million on their latest album. Over the years, they have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for their local community as well as numerous larger charities and have had a non-stop life of demands and commitments ever since. Known by many and loved by all, their slot at the Sea Shanty was all you could have dreamed for.

Keeping up Falmouth’s environmental efforts, this year the festival provided a reusable £1 cup scheme, which once secured by paying a small deposit, you could use again throughout the entire weekend. Merchandise was also sold to raise money for the festival, with specific item sales (such as the knitted flowers!) also contributing to charity. In true supportive spirit, the audience was a mix of all age groups. Most members were sporting a cider-brimmed festival goblet in one hand, and a pirate hat or sailors cap lopsided on their heads. Students, families, locals, travellers and holiday makers danced and sang together in full summer spirit.

Darkness graced the evening, disguising drunk antics and provoking poorly sung outbursts from groups scattering the high street. Many moved from the Maritime Quay to Five Below and continued their singing long into the morning, whilst others got comfy in every open pub to consume locally sourced fish and listen to some of the softer performers.

A pirate took his place on the corner of the quay. A pair of meat skewers dangled from his ear, supported by a large, gold hooped earring. His hand-crafted hat lay by his feet, collecting donations from anyone willing to give them. He knelt on a scrap of wood as if he survived a shipwreck in 1754 and only just washed up to shore. In front of him is a £3 disposable barbecue from Tesco in which he heated up a diabolical amount of chipolata sausages. His voice is soft and slightly slurred, accompanying the sizzle of the sausages. He reminisced over his favourite songs of the evening. With no words, he handed the sausages to drunken strangers with no demand of money or thanks. He never stopped singing. He simply continued to spread the spirit to every home-goer through the two things that matter most to a pirate, sausages and song.

 by Bonnie Bolt.