Video: Filey Fishermen’s Choir - Battle to keep the traditions of the seaside alive

IT is one of the enduring sights - and sounds - of the seaside.

Fishermen, clad in their famous dark navy gansey jumpers, singing the hymns and songs of the sea.

Roger Carr, a member of the Filey Fishermen's Choir, who are looking for more singers.

Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Roger Carr, a member of the Filey Fishermen's Choir, who are looking for more singers. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

But after almost 200 years of singing in churches, village halls and concert venues across Yorkshire, Filey Fishermen’s Choir could be forced to disband due to a shortage of members.

Just nine members remain in the choir, and with some hitting their nineties and struggling with illness, it is regularly faced with fewer and fewer members able to make practices and travel across the region for performances.

The dwindling numbers sadly shadows the decline of the coast’s fishing industry. Once thriving, Filey now has just three cobles fishing for salmon, and the days when the choir was purely made up of fishermen are now well gone.

Now just three of the nine singers, as well as the organist and conductor, were in the fishing industry.

Roger Carr, a member of the Filey Fishermen's Choir, who are looking for more singers.

Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Roger Carr, a member of the Filey Fishermen's Choir, who are looking for more singers. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

But determined not to see the tradition die, the choir is on the hunt for new members - and knowledge of how to hook a line or gut a mackerel is no longer needed.

And you don’t have to be a Filey residents, members come from across the coast at Scarborough, Bridlington, and Whitby and even as far as West Yorkshire.

Choir member Roger Carr said: “We can’t call ourselves a choir when there’s only seven of us turning up - we can’t even call ourselves a boyband as I am one of the youngest at 76.

“If we don’t recruit some new members soon, we are seriously considering wrapping up after our AGM in January.”

Visitors to Filey watch as one of the last working Filey Coble is brought ashore after a fishing trip.
Picture by Gerard Binks.

Visitors to Filey watch as one of the last working Filey Coble is brought ashore after a fishing trip. Picture by Gerard Binks.

The choir traces its roots to 1823, when Pocklington preacher John Oxtoby began his attempt at converting the people of Filey to Methodism.

The fisherman of the town became staunch Primitive Methodists and started travelling around Yorkshire and the north of England spreading the Gospel in song.

This was the start of the Fishermen’s Choir, who have continued ever since, apart from an enforced break following the outbreak of the Second World War.

The resurgence began in 1960 when Frank Hanson approached all the boats fishing out of Filey to recruit the men.

The choir performing

The choir performing

The choir performs around 26 times a year at churches, festivals and events, with practices held every Saturday night at Filey’s Methodist Church, and in 2008 appeared in Gareth Malone’s BBC series, Last Choir Standing.

Mr Carr, who joined the choir after moving to Filey after he retired from the merchant navy, said: “The tradition of meeting on a Saturday night goes back to the 1800s when it was the only night a week the fishermen didn’t go out to sea. But it’s not set in stone, so don’t let that put you off, we’re flexible about rehearsing around members’ availability.”

Despite its Methodist background, the choir is nondenominational, and takes members of “any faith and no faith”, said Mr Carr.

Filey Fisherman’s Choir isn’t just about tradition, it’s about camaraderie.

Mr Carr, who first joined in 1985, attended the choir through his late wife’s battle with illness at her request.

“When I’d come home from practice, she’d say ‘I can see the life in you’,” he said. “It is very therapeutic, and is incredible really.

“When we go somewhere to perform, the wives and partners come with us and there’s always a good do.”

There’s no need for any signing experience to join or any worry about “being good”, Mr Carr said.

“We don’t need singers to give auditions - if they turn up we can train them,” he added.

Filey Fishermen’s Choir will perform at Bridlington Sea Festival on Saturday. To find out more about becoming a member, contact Mr Carr on 07882 731911.