LONG-time Mariners’ Choir members Jack Ronan and Peter Corrin both raised their eyebrows in amused surprise when they learned their Flybe Pride in Mann awards nomination was in the performer of the year category.
‘It’s never been designed to be a technical choir!’ chuckled Peter, before Jack added: ‘We just like to make a joyful sound.’
They both recognised the names of their nominators, Clifton and Linda Campbell, an American couple who have regularly visited the island for many years, often deliberately arranging trips to coincide with Mariners’ Choir services.
The choir itself was formed in 1974 by a group of serving and retired seamen and their friends, including Methodist Reverend Eddie Cubbon (‘a real fire and brimstone preacher,’ recalled Jack), and the choir’s close association with the Methodist church continues.
Performances rotate between the island’s Methodist churches, with occasional exceptions. The church is kitted out with sea-faring memorabilia and the pulpit becomes the ‘bridge’ for the night. The service begins with an hour of hymns from the choir, before a Manx supper is served and a more informal singalong begins. Money raised from collections stays with the host church, helping toward the survival of smaller churches and chapels in particular.
‘The songs remind people of their youth,’ said Jack, on the enduring popularity of the choir. ‘It has been a rich, spiritual experience, meeting decent, salt of the earth folk everywhere from Bride to The Howe.’
Notable moments in recent history include the choir’s appearance at the 2009 centenary memorial service for the sinking of the Ellan Vannin.
‘It was a very poignant and moving service, as it was a Steam Packet ship,’ remembered Peter.
Many of the founder members were retired Steam Packet captains. How strong is the modern choir’s connection with sea?
‘Quite a lot of us have maritime connections and associations, but from the start it has always been augmented by friends,’ said Peter. ‘And being an island, an awful lot of people here have connections to seafaring.’
For both men, aside from raising thousands of pounds for churches, being part of the choir means being part of something that connects them to previous generations.
‘The format hasn’t changed in almost 40 years,’ explained Peter. ‘Regardless of who the personnel have been.’
‘Our predecessors ploughed a straight furrow, we’re just following,’ added Jack. ‘Before I retired, I had an ambition to visit every pub on the island, instead I’ve visited every church on the island! It does us good; on Monday mornings I wake without a hangover.’