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
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
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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