Songs from the Sea at Cornbury Music Festival
We’re hoping Tom Jones is prepared to share his dressing room with us!
You and the Fishwives Choir have raised money for the Fishermen’s Mission, can you give us a bit of background about what they do?
Well when my husband died, he was lost at sea and we didn’t have his body for about nine months. Without a body you can’t prove that someone is dead, so I couldn’t prove to any of the authorities that he had actually died.
That meant I couldn’t claim life insurance or widowed parent’s allowance, or access his bank accounts or anything like that. He had credit cards that were still having demands to be paid, but of course he wasn’t there to pay them, and I couldn’t get the accounts frozen or anything like that without a death certificate.
The Fishermen’s Mission is a charity that’s set up because one in 20 fishermen will die or be seriously injured at work – which is massive odds – so they’re set up specifically to help families in my situation and they got involved and kept a roof over our heads, physically and metaphorically.
They offered us not just financial help but incredible emotional and practical support as well. I always wanted to do something to say thank you, and because my background is the music industry, I thought that because I knew about music, I’ll do a little karaoke-style CD, but the whole thing took off in a way that we never could have anticipated.
So before the Fishwives Choir took off, what exactly was it that you did musically?
I worked in freelance music PR, which was quite handy, but I was never one to swan around a swanky Soho office! Like a lot of people working in areas of the music industry other than music, I'd started off as a musician and fallen into PR by accident really but knowing a bit about how to handle a campaign was incredibly helpful once there was media interest in the Fishwives and things started taking off a little bit.
Radio 4 produced a documentary about your story and the choir. How did this come about? How did Radio 4 get in contact?
We did a program for the World Service about 2 years ago with a really brilliant presenter called Tessa Dunlop. That was picked up by an independent producer called Hana Walker-Brown. Hana then made a short program about us for Josie Long’s Short Cuts. I think Radio 4 liked it so much and found it so interesting that they commissioned her to make a half-hour documentary. We became very close with Hana and she hung around with us for about 8 months and came to our rehearsals and recordings. It’s actually incredible how much recording and effort goes into a thirty minute program. That went out a couple of weeks ago, and from there it’s been a real springboard. We were invited onto Midweek with Libby Purves and so on. It’s an unbelievable thing to have happened, and none of us could have imagined that anyone would be so interested in a couple of old frocks singing a few shanties!
When you released the single in 2013 it was quite successful and was played on Radio 1. How did that make you feel when you saw the success it was having?
Well, let’s face it, it was never going to break into the charts! We had only ever imagined that we would release something and sell it in the local pub. When more ladies got involved from different areas, we thought “well maybe they could sell it in their local pubs”, and we thought that they could sell maybe 50 copies in their hometowns in Scotland and Cornwall and so on.
When we made it available on iTunes it became available to a wider audience but the reason why it got played on Radio 1 was because we were a surprise contender for the Christmas Number 1! That was unbelievable, and we found it hilarious because we were never expecting anything like that. It had been released in August and of course there’s always a flurry of interest around release dates, and understandably that dies down after a couple of weeks, but there was a resurgence in interest around it and we found that sales picked up every time we had a bit of media interest.
I started a blog just to document how I felt when I was really struggling to cope, as I always found writing very therapeutic. I think a couple of people had written nice comments but it wasn’t one of these blogs that gets lots of followers, and it was really just for my own cathartic use, but journalists started to ring me at work wanting interviews and quotes. My boss was terrifically patient with me but after a while I thought I was taking advantage of her good nature. I didn’t want to lose my job so I started tweaking my blog to include the same questions that journalists almost always ask, which I could then point them to. One lady journalist from the Telegraph called and I pointed her to the blog, but she phoned a couple of days later and said “I think there’s a lot more to this than just a blog”. She introduced me to her agent who agreed to represent me, Orion publishers picked up the story and my book was published two weeks ago!
Fantastic! So what’s next for the Fishwives Choir?
Yeah, we’re playing at the Cornbury festival, and we’re hoping Tom Jones is prepared to share his dressing room with us! We’ve also got a few events over the summer that we’re playing at, we’re filming for the BBC over the weekend of 6 & 7 June for another program, and we’re recording another album towards the end of year, so that’ll be all sea shanty-ish as usual! We’re actually also trying to develop some shows that we can take to theatres. We all work, we have kids and a couple of us are widows so there’s a lot of plate-spinning and ball-juggling we have to do to try and make it all happen. We don’t have any real financial support or anything. We have just got a manager, so that’s exciting!
I bet that takes some of the pressure off.
Yes, very much so. To be honest, I know I speak for all the girls that none of us were expecting any of this so if it all stopped tomorrow, we’d say that we’ve had a brilliant time and go back to normal. We’re just waiting to see what happens next I suppose!
Find out more about the choir at fishwiveschoir.co.uk
Related Articles: Class Acts and Comedy at the Cornbury Music Festival