I first came to discover the beauty of the Cornish shanty singers Fisherman’s Friends when I was on holiday in the West Country last year. I was late to the game and had bought a copy of their CD at Port Isaac on a whim. I assumed it was a novelty record that I would play once or twice on the car stereo on the way home. But as soon I heard the first phrase of the first tune, ‘Shanty Man’, I was hooked, reeled in, netted by the passion of this singing. The whole family was. And we know that CD by heart.
Of all the songs, some humorous, some celebratory, some plain miserable, one stood out. ‘The Last Leviathan’, a lament to the death of a great whale, is quite simply one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. The lead is taken by Trevor Grills, a builder who just happens to have the gift of a naturally expressive tenor that communicates all the terrible tragedy of the song. Here are the first lines:
‘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.’
And now Trevor Grills has been torn from us, in a freak accident during the latest Fisherman’s Friends tour, which also killed the group’s tour manager (the two men were crushed when a steel door fell on them during rehearsals at a theatre in Guildford).
I had the privilege to see one of the last concerts given by Trevor Grills with the Fisherman’s Friends at the Royal Festival Hall earlier this month. It was a great rollicking West Country evening. But the high point was Trevor Grills’s rendition of The Last Leviathan, whose voice rent our hearts that night through to the final verse:
‘Oh now that we are all gone there’s no more hunting
The big fellow is no more it’s no use lamenting
What race will be next in line? All for the slaughter
The elephant or the seal or your sons and daughters.’
Rest in Peace, Trevor.