From entertaining crowds in the magical surroundings of Polperro harbour quay to singing in the Royal Albert Hall, Polperro Fishermen’s Choir (PFC) has been enchanting audiences throughout the last ten decades, whilst at the same time raising considerable funds for charity.

Formed at a time when those that earned their living from the sea sang hymns to acknowledge their Christian faith, the choir will be celebrating its centenary at a special free concert in Looe’s RNLI boathouse on Tuesday, September 12 at 7.30pm.

PFC members are drawn from a range of different backgrounds and include 86-year-old former carpenter Murray Collings, the choir’s longest serving member. Born in Polperro, Murray first joined in 1952 at the age of just fourteen. Eva Cloke, one of the choir’s two founders, still wielded the baton at the time as musical director whilst her husband sang, like Murray, in the bass section.

Murray said: “I’ve always had a lot of pleasure from the choir. It has been part of my life for 71 years and has seen me through good times and bad.”

At the other end of the age scale are quantity surveyor Harrison Elliott, 21 and Alfie Commander aged 20. Harrison’s grandfather Jim Elliott is also in the choir.

Father and son Jon and Peter Foster are both tenors. After holidaying in Looe and attending one of the choir’s concerts in Looe Lifeboat Station, Peter fulfilled his ambition of opening a bakery.

“We discovered Polperro quite by chance and found premises there that were available,” Peter said.

“We opened Pedyr’s Bake House in March 2020 - on the very day that Britain went into the first COVID lockdown. It wasn’t quite the opening we were anticipating, but every cloud has a silver lining. With the village closed to outsiders, all our customers were local, so we got to know them, and they got to know us.”

Tony Gummow has been a PFC member for thirty years.

Tony added: “As a young boy I sang regularly in a church choir for five years until my voice broke.

“I didn’t sing for the next twenty-five years until I moved back to Cornwall and met my local GP in Looe, Dr Peter Brewer. Pete was the choir’s best recruiter - he asked all his male patients if they could sing and encouraged them to join.

“I’ve sung in Chatsworth House, Quiberon in Brittany, the Isle of Wight, the Isles of Scilly, Guernsey and the Albert Hall but singing fortnightly on Polperro quay throughout the summer is particularly special. It takes us back to the roots of the choir 100 years ago, when the fishermen sang as they mended their nets. We always sing at high tide, and I love hearing the sound we make as it fills the steep sided valley.”

Retired Royal Navy Commodore David Lashbrooke is another of the choir’s 44 members.

“When my wife died in 2011, a very good friend suggested I join a choir and end what had been a 45-year break from singing,” he said. “Polperro Fishermen’s Choir gave me a very warm welcome in 2014 when I moved to Cornwall and joined them as a tenor.

“These days we are often confused with the Fishermen’s Friends from Port Isaac, not far away. We have a similar name, both come from a small Cornish fishing village where we give free concerts, and we sometimes sing at the same event.

“But, whilst we allow Fishermen’s Friends have the fame, our choir has the pedigree!”

Adrian Wilton sings in the baritone section and acts as compère during concerts. His repertoire of funny stories and jokes enlivens all performances and made him a well-known and well-liked character.

Apart from a few relatively short periods with interim conductors, there have only been three main musical directors in the choir’s 100-year history: Eva Cloke (more than 45 years), Jack Libby (over 28 years) and now former Royal Marine bandsman Phil Carrigan who took over in 1999.

The important role of accompanist has been taken by professional musician and composer Lorraine Forsdick since 2012.

PFC chairman and Polruan publican Robin Sainsbury explained: “Lorraine is incredibly talented and writes and arranges music for us that is unique and very popular.

“Our choir is fabulous, and I feel very honoured to be part of it as we enter our second century.”

TV presenter and Polperro resident Richard Madeley is the choir’s president.

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