We chat to Fisherman’s Friends’ actor Dave Johns

The Fisherman's Friends. Photo credit: Rob Youngson

The Fisherman's Friends. Photo credit: Rob Youngson - Credit: Archant

We chat to stand-up comedian and actor Dave Johns about his role in the Fisherman’s Friends movie

Dave Johns, photo by Steve Ullathorne

Dave Johns, photo by Steve Ullathorne - Credit: Archant

They're the unlikely boy band that stole the nation's heart with their debut album back in 2010 and have since sung for the Queen, toured the country and performed on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival.

Now the Cornish group Fisherman's Friends are the focus of a movie based on their rise to stardom, from singing sea shanties on the Platt in Port Isaac to a reported £1million record deal.

The men, who've been performing since 1995, don't play themselves on screen, but they were on hand to give the actors a point or two during the shoot.

"They were very helpful, and in the evening we'd have a couple of pints of Tribute and practice the songs with them," says the stand-up comedian and actor Dave Johns.

He plays Leadville, one of the film's four main fishermen alongside actors James Purefoy, David Hayman and Sam Swainsbury.

The characters are inspired by people rather than detailed depictions of anyone, and while the story is true, a little creative licence has been used including a romance between Danny (Daniel Mays), the music manager that discovers the group, and local girl Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton).

The Fisherman's Friends. Photo credit: Rob Youngson

The Fisherman's Friends. Photo credit: Rob Youngson - Credit: Archant

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"I think what we tried to capture in the film was that sense of community, and how this amazing thing happened to a bunch of guys who were friends. It has joy in it," says Dave, 63.

Although he had an "inkling about the guys", he didn't know their full story before he read the script and by coincidence the Fisherman's Friends did a gig nearby soon after.

"I went to see them, and I was blown-away. They really smashed it," he recalls.

Dave, who hails from North Tyneside, hadn't visited Port Isaac before the shoot last May but was completely enraptured by the village.

"When they said we were going to be filming in Cornwall for six weeks, it was a no-brainer. I loved it. They got a little cottage for us to stay in. In the evenings, after filming, I could go back there and watch the sunset, and my wife and her mother and father came down for a week and had a bit of a holiday. I even got them into Nathan Outlaw's restaurant. I couldn't go because I was working but joined them for a glass of wine at the end of the evening and got presented with the Michelin-starred bill."

Although there wasn't a lot of time for sightseeing, he and Tuppence did manage to squeeze in a long walk across the cliffs.

The Fisherman's Friends. Photo credit: Angus Young

The Fisherman's Friends. Photo credit: Angus Young - Credit: Archant

"That was a bit of a tough hike and we got attacked by cows on the way back. I wanted to be the person who'd be the knight in shining in armour but to my shame, I ran away and left Tuppence shooing them off."

Everything was filmed on location, including cottage interiors and the local pub The Golden Lion with its small terrace overlooking the harbour.

"After we wrapped for the day, we'd have a few beers in there. It felt like we were living in Port Isaac. We all got on really well with each other and the locals, and think it comes across in the film. One of the fishermen who's seen it says the village looks real. That's a nice comment, you know."

As part of their preparation, the actors were taken out on a boat to learn how to haul the lobster pots. "We needed to at least look like we knew what we were doing," notes Dave whose sea legs were steady, unlike the boom operator who was ill over the side during one of the scenes.

"She managed to keep working so got a rousing cheer for that. But I mean, who wouldn't enjoy being out on the Cornish coast in a fishing boat on a beautiful day singing sea shanties? Jobs like that don't come along very often."

He hadn't listened to, let alone sung, sea shanties before the shoot but Dave's a convert.

"They have a lot of power and they're great tunes you can sing along to, they're actually addictive," he says.

"If you're sitting in a pub and someone starts singing a sea shanty, it's not long before people are tapping their feet along to it. I think it stirs the blood."

The prospect of singing on screen might not have daunted Dave but he was worried about honing the accent.

"I think people have an idea about the Cornish accent in their head, but it ends up sounding like The Worzels and it's nothing like that, it's much more subtle," says the actor who worked closely with a dialect coach.

"I hope I didn't disgrace myself too much. People who've seen it haven't said, 'You've destroyed the Cornish accent' so I must've done alright."

On the last night of the shoot, the real Fisherman's Friends performed a few songs on the Platt and asked the cast to join them.

"It was just fantastic to actually sing with them," says Dave.

"I'm not just saying this, but this was one of the best shoots I've ever been on. Cornwall's beautiful and the camaraderie you see on screen was real. Sometimes I'd just pinch myself and think I'm getting paid for this."