Fisherman’s Friends: An interview with David Hayman

We spoke with Fisherman’s Friends actor David Hayman about sea-shanties, his charity work and the respect he has for the RNLI. 

Fisherman's Friends film poster

Photo: Fisherman's Friends

This month sees the release of a new film telling the incredible true story behind folk band The Fisherman’s Friends, who went from singing down by the harbour to signing a deal with a major record label. The fishermen, farmers and sailors who make up the band have performed at Glastonbury Festival and for the Queen at her Diamond Jubilee celebrations, as well as releasing three hit albums and selling out concerts across the UK and beyond.

You may have heard of the band, but what you might not know is that three of the original members were also volunteers at Port Isaac Lifeboat Station. In fact, it’s a lifeboat shout that kicks off the events in the film, leading to laughter, tears and a lot of singing.

Becoming a Fisherman’s Friend

Actor David Hayman has over 100 credits on his IMDB page, having appeared on stage, TV and in film since the 1980s. You might recognise him from his role in Lynda La Plante’s Trial and Retribution or in his more recent performance as Brace in BBC’s Taboo. Known for playing hard men, the Glaswegian actor takes on an altogether different character in Fisherman’s Friends

‘I play Jago, the grandfather of the family at the centre of the story,’ says David. ‘He’s a grizzled old fisherman, but warm and friendly. A well-loved part of the community.’

He also gets the biggest laugh in the film’s trailer, as his character embraces the rock and roll lifestyle the band find themselves in.

‘I play a composite of several of the band members,’ says David. ‘While we have all 10 in the film, it wasn’t really possible to have them all featured in the story. So the film focuses on four central characters who collect together the different personalities.’ 

David stars alongside James Purefoy, Dave Johns and Sam Swainsbury. Bafta-nominated actor Daniel Mays plays the record label executive trying to sign the band, and Tuppence Middleton rounds out the cast as local hotel owner, Alwyn.

To prepare for the role, David and the cast immersed themselves in the community at Port Isaac. ‘We spent 5 weeks with the band. Living with them, working with them, drinking with them. Singing with them! It was so we could learn their attitudes, mannerisms and so on. They were absolutely invaluable to our preparation, and a lovely bunch of men.’

David Hayman as Jago in the film Fisherman’s Friends

Photo: Fisherman's Friends

David Hayman as Jago (front) in the film Fisherman’s Friends

Part of the preparation and filming meant spending time out on a fishing vessel. ‘I’ve been out on boats before but never for a feature film. We spent 5 days at sea during the filming. It’s a job I could never dream of doing – it’s too wet, too cold, too dangerous. I have so much respect and admiration for those who make their living out on the water.’

Being out on a boat was one challenge, but what about the other vital aspect of the film – singing? ‘Sea shanties are the folk songs of the sea and they’re not the most complicated arias to perform. We would often get together with the band during filming to practise and sing. In fact, at a recent concert, Dave Johns and I joined the band on stage for the last three numbers. One of the highlights of my life.’

A vital lifeline

The RNLI plays a pivotal role in the film, with members of the band having to abandon a key performance when their pagers go off. Crew members from Port Isaac were on-hand during filming to help provide safety cover for the cast and crew. ‘They were with us for a couple of days,’ says David. ‘A good bunch of guys. Although a couple of times we had to stop filming because the helicopter and lifeboats were called away to an emergency.

‘I’ve always been a supporter of the RNLI and I’ve met a few volunteers during the documentaries I’ve made. We’re an island race, surrounded by water. Without the rescue services, where would we be?’

The importance of volunteers is something David is keenly aware of. He set up his own charity, Spirit Aid, a humanitarian relief organisation dedicated to helping children and young people around the globe whose lives have been affected by poverty, conflict or simply a lack of opportunity. Everyone who works for the charity is a volunteer.

‘I think it’s incumbent on all of us to give something back. I have had a good, comfortable life. The vast majority of people have not.’

Does he see any similarities between the volunteers of the RNLI and those at his charity? ‘They’ve all got good hearts,’ says David. ‘You wouldn’t bother helping people without a good heart. They are brave human beings. I’ve known a lot of fishing communities around Scotland, and you hear stories of how generations of families have been lost in the same boat.

‘Lifeboat crews have my admiration and respect. They come from all walks of life and are very special people. They are humble, they don’t want credit. They just quietly go about their business. They put on their drysuits and off they go into the wildest of oceans. You have to take your hat off to men and women like that.’

Would he have ever served on a lifeboat crew? ‘If I had grown up in a seaside town where it was second nature to be out on a boat or I had that family connection,’ answers David. ‘I certainly hope that I would help in some way. The RNLI, it’s a vital lifeline.’

The Fisherman’s Friends performing live in Port Isaac

Photo: RNLI

The Fisherman’s Friends performing live in Port Isaac 

Friends of the RNLI

The Fisherman’s Friends have supported the RNLI in a number of ways over the years. They released their Home from the Sea album in 2004 to raise money for the RNLI. And in the summer, if you find yourself in Port Isaac on a Friday evening, you can see the band singing live as they hold a collection for our lifesavers. 

So, if you’re inspired by their story, why not take a trip to Cornwall this summer, listen to the band and make a donation?

Get the popcorn ready, Fisherman's Friends is out in cinemas now!