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Folkwales Online Magazine March 2013

Gwerincymru — o Gymru o’r byd



Cornish shantyman Trevor Grills has died, aged 54, after he was hit by a falling metal door at the G Live concert hall in Guildford, Surrey, where he had been due to perform with the shanty group Port Isaac's Fisherman's Friends. He was a self-employed builder and carpenter with a fine tenor voice, who found unexpected fame when the singers he worked with were signed to Island Records in a £1m deal.


It was a fairytale story, based around the north Cornish fishing village of Port Isaac, where Trevor was born, and where he spent the rest of his life. He went to the local school, and attended Sunday school at the local chapel. His father was a carpenter and builder, and Trevor took over the family business, spending much of his time renovating the old cottages in the picturesque village that were bought by outsiders as second homes. He was also a footballer, playing on the wing for the village team, and because of his burly good looks he was known to the other Fisherman's Friends as "the housewives' choice", along with his group nickname of "Toastie".


Trevor was an accomplished singer. Fisherman’s Friends got together 15 years ago, simply because they loved singing. The group of friends would gather at the village pub on a Friday night; they had known each other since school days, and who had gone on to become fishermen, lifeboatmen, coastguards, builders or artisans. They began to specialise in sea shanties, taking songs from Cadgwith in south-west Cornwall, where there is a strong shanty tradition, and adding in any other seafaring ballads from elsewhere in Britain and around the world, including Sloop John B and the rousing South Australia. Trevor enthusiastically took part in the sessions and joined in the harmony singing - but for years he was reluctant to sing lead, although he would be acknowledged as having one of the finest voices in the group.


Steve Knightley, of Show of Hands, first met Fisherman's Friends in the mid-90s, when they were rehearsing in the former Methodist chapel that is now a pottery run by their baritone singer, Billy Hawkins. "They were friends for whom singing was as natural as having a beer," he says, "though they couldn't read music – they'd just find a harmony and cling on to it. Trevor was an absolute gentleman, and the most accomplished of their singers, with a pure tenor voice. He was their star and blue-eyed boy, and they were all proud of him".


The men aimed to enjoy themselves, and never thought of becoming celebrities - but their fame gradually spread, thanks partly to Show of Hands, who invited the group to appear with them at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2001, and join them for the recording of their song Roots. Then came the deal with Universal, the recording of a top 10 gold album, appearances at major festivals including Glastonbury, and plans for a feature film about their remarkable story, to be directed by Nigel Cole, who was responsible for Calendar Girls and Made in Dagenham.

Steve said: "They were never corrupted by the music business. They were too rooted to be altered like that. They just loved singing and were like a bunch of kids on the road."


Trevor sang at his final London concert, at the Royal Festival Hall, when Fisherman's Friends appeared alongside Show of Hands. One of the most powerful songs of the Fisherman's Friends set that night was the lament The Last Leviathan ("I am the last of the great whales, and I am dying") with Trevor powerfully taking the lead, and his nine friends lined up on either side of him adding the chorus. Just a few days later, he suffered head injuries in the accident at the Guildford concert hall, that also caused the death of the band's tour manager, Paul McMullen. Trevor is survived by his wife, Lesley, and three sons, Mark, Paul and Josh.

Chris Caswell of Berkeley, California, masterful maker of Caswell Harps and a member of Robin Williamson’s Merry Band and the duo Caswell Carnahan – died this year in January. A rapturous performer and Celtic harp player, charming storyteller, expert musicologist and extraordinary individual, Chris played a huge role in the Celtic Renaissance in America and had built more than 1,000 harps for musicians around the world. In addition to the harp, Chris played bagpipes, flute, percussion, trombone, accordion, concertina, harp, recorder, spoons and mouth-organ.


The Freight And Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley was holding a benefit night to celebrate the life of Chris, with musical partner Danny Carnahan hosting; Danny currently plays in Wake The Dead, the world’s first Celtic all-star Grateful Dead jam band. Golden Bough (with Margie Butler), joined a host of musicians playing the tradition of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Brittany, Galicia, various eastern countries and Japan. Oak Ash And Thorn, the legendary a capella trio featuring Doug Olsen, Tom Wagner, and Dave Swan, first shared a bill with Caswell Carnahan 32 years ago, and Panacea, with Shira Kammen, Nada Lewis, Robin Petrie, Nicole LeCorgne, and Bon Singer, used traditional instruments from the Balkans and the Middle East to create a wildly playful musical fusion.

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Clwb Gwerin Aberystwyth Folk Club organiser for many years, Ian Gulley, has suddenly died. Sources said that Ian, who worked for The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, as a cartographer, suffered from cancer.

Galway musician Tony Small passed away in January. He was a fine singer, on his own and as a member of bands like Aengus and The Wild Geese, and the man who joined the tune and words of the song Galway Bay, as recorded by Dolores Keane.


Dave Shannon, outstanding musician, stalwart of the Belfast music scene and a member with Fiona Simpson and Sam Bracken of Therapy, passed away in the early hours of February 28 after a fight with cancer. Other musicians paid tributes, including Welsh guitarist John James, who recalled Dave first arriving on the London folk scene, playing guitar duets with Sam. “They had a varied rep,” he told the Mudcat folk website. “Dave would turn up at some of my gigs with Sam and play 12th Street Rag – then after the days with Fiona, I knew him as a BBC Radio sound engineer and producer in Manchester. He worked with John Leonard. Dave was a very talented musician, a great bloke.”

Irish dance teacher Siobhan O'Donovan, of Iona Park, Mayfield, Cork, died peacefully in a nursing home on January 12, 2013, aged 94. Siobhan was the widow of Joe O'Donovan, former president of Cork Comhaltas, well-known teacher of Irish dance.

Cleotha Staples, the eldest sibling in the influential gospel group The Staple Singers, died in Febuary at her Chicago home after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for the past decade. She was 78.


The family's music career had its roots with Roebuck "Pops" Staples, a manual labourer who strummed a 10-dollar guitar while teaching his children gospel songs to keep them entertained in the evenings. They sang in church one Sunday morning in 1948, and three encores and a heavy church offering basket convinced Pops that music was in the family's future. The Staple Singers were born, and two decades later, the group became unlikely hit makers for the Stax label, the home of southern music stars like Otis Redding and Booker T. and the MGs.


Cleotha, known as Cleedi, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her family in 1999 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 2005. She was born on April 11, 1934, in Drew, Mississippi, the first child of Pops and his wife, Oceola. Two years later, the family moved to Chicago, where Pops worked a variety of jobs performing manual labour and Oceola worked at a hotel. Chicago was also where the family's four other children - Pervis, Yvonne, Mavis and Cynthia - were born.


The Staple Singers became one of the biggest gospel groups of the era with songs like On My Way To Heaven, Will The Circle Be Unbroken and their signature hit, Uncloudy Day. Pops and Mavis primarily took the lead on the group's vocals, but a 1969 recording of duets featured Cleotha's voice on It's Too Late, a bluesy ballad about a lost love. She was described as a velvety soprano with a powerful and dynamic voice.


The family also became active in the civil rights movement after hearing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver a sermon while they were on tour in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1962. They went on to perform at events at Dr King's request. It was during that period that the family began recording protest songs, such as Freedom Highway, as well as gospel. The group even covered Bob Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind. They had a string of Top 40 hits with the Stax label in the late 1960s, earning them the nickname "God's greatest hitmakers."

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Contact: Mick Tems, Editor - Folkwales Magazine, 88 Manor Chase, Y Beddau, Pontypridd, CYMRU / WALES CF38 2JE Phone: 01443 206689

E-mail: micktems@folkwales.org.uk Website: www.folkwales.org.uk