Whitby fishes for the X-factor at new Fish & Ships festival

Folk singer Richard Grainger.
Folk singer Richard Grainger.

A stellar crew of the UK’s top sea musicians will be performing, and competing with budding songwriters for the coveted Song for the Sea during Whitby’s new Fish & Ships Festival, in what will become one of Britain’s largest gatherings of maritime musicians this year.

Free for anyone to enter, Whitby’s song competition will be the thrilling finale to the weekend, on over May 18 and 19, which includes over 40 hours of free, live music non-stop from morning to night, all inspired by Whitby’s ancient sea-faring way of life and fishing industry – its fish and ships.

Tom McConville

Tom McConville

At the festival, visitors will be able to hear some of the world’s leading shanty-singers, balladeers, folk instrumentalists and songwriters, all specialists in sea music, performing alongside talented locals and schoolchildren.

Janet Deacon, Tourism & Corporate Marketing Manager for Scarborough Borough Council and Area Director for Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “This festival is not just about celebrating the past, but also the future of Whitby as a fishing town.

“That’s why the Song for the Sea competition is so special, casting a light not just on Whitby’s fishing – from its boat-building to some of Britain’s best fish restaurants - but how seafaring also inspires the town’s culture, art and music, today.

Competition organiser Richard Grainger, one of Britain’s leading songwriters and performers, says: “We’re encouraging everyone to have a go at composing a new Song for the Sea, celebrating Whitby as a fishing town, a maritime centre, and a place to visit, work or simply call home.

“The winner will get to perform their song on the main stage as part of the festival’s finale later that day, with the honour of appearing alongside some of the greats of the UK’s sea music scene.”

The Song for the Sea competition is free to enter, but as spaces are in demand it’s a good idea to register in advance at richardgrainger@gmx.co.uk, stating the competitor’s name and song title.

The competition will take place on Sunday May 19, from noon to 2pm at Whitby Library, with the winner chosen by a panel of four musical experts. All songs must be acoustic and pay tribute to Whitby, its maritime heritage and fishing industry.

Richard added: “The music is rooted in tradition, and so on the one hand the judges will be looking for songs which honour this legacy; but they also recognise that it’s a music that constantly evolves – just like our relationship with the sea, so we’re also seeking creative songwriters who can bring something different, musically and lyrically.

“It can even be about fish and chips!

“What’s most important is that the song captures the essence of the sea and connects us, through the music, to Whitby’s fishing and maritime heritage.”

Alongside sensational seafood cooking and demos, madcap street entertainment, art-works, heritage displays, and a firework finale, the weekend’s headline music acts include Richard Grainger will perform his solo collection of Whitby songs during the weekend – tales of Whitby’s whalers, fisher-folk, mariners and ships, as well as taking the stage with the Endeavour Shantymen.

He will also be joined by one of the folk world’s great accordion players, Chris Parkinson and fiddler Tom McConville to perform as the Whitby Wailers.

Also starring at the festival are John Conolly, one of the country’s top sea song writers and performers and Malcolm Ward, a UK festival favourite with a vast repertoire of sea songs.

Whitby’s Fish & Ships free music timetable includes:

17 May, 7pm ‘All Aboard’ festival opening concert at Whitby Brewery

18 May, 10am – 10pm at Dockend

18 May, 1.30pm – 3.30pm at Whitby Abbey

18 May, 11.00am – 6pm at Whitby Brewery, including Open Session of sea songs and shanties from 11am, plus an extra evening gig from 7.30 – 10.00pm

18 May, 2pm – 3pm at Whitby Library

19 May, 10.30am – 5pm at Dockend

19 May, 11.00am – 6.30pm at Whitby Brewery, including an Open Session of sea songs and shanties from 11am.

19 May, noon – 2pm Song for the Sea competition

There are also special Backyard Concerts on May 17 and 18 May in Sander’s Yard Bistro, starring festival headliners.