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July 2012

Singing position!

Visit to The Fountain Inn, Mevagissey, July 2012

 We got to the pub before the Male Voice Choir had finished rehearsing in the chapel down the road – we heard them singing as we walked past. We spoke to the landlady, Lynn who was very friendly and welcoming. She spoke warmly of the choir and how much the pub love having them there. She provides sandwiches and chips for them every Monday night and when she heard about our project gave us a free drink!

The men started to arrive and were very friendly too. Our contact was Bill who introduced us to to a few of them and one – Chris Bale comes down from Bude to sing every week! He told us about his singers The Bencoolen Wreckers and we made plans to visit them. I love the way one thing leads to another and this project seems to be all about these links.

A good friend of mine, Sheila Gill came along too – her husband, Andy, sings in the choir and so we sat with her and had a bit of a catch up. After eating the men pitched up with ‘Calm Is The Sea’. I realised what lovely acoustics there were in the back room which has a slate floor and the sound they made was wonderful. Their were certainly some fine singers there! Their repetoire overlapped somewhat with the Mousehole MVC but other songs intermingled. More people arrived and the room began to fill up with regulars and tourists. The elements of a shout were there – no written words, relaxed atmosphere, others joining in and the MD Graham Wilcox came and went very much taking a back seat.

Nick and the rest in fine voice!

I was delighted when Nick Nicholls pitched up ‘Lily of The Valley’ (one of my favourites –I first sang it with Tatty Muirhead from the Cadgwith Singers at a maritime festival in Dournanez in Brittany ;’Ere ye’are maid’ he said as he thrust a plastic beaker full of rum and shrub into my hands and then off they went singing the hymn whilst we gazed out at the lights twinkling from the boats in the harbour…) Anyway I was happy to discover that Nick had just recovered from a serious operation and was in fine voice! Then Robyn Hunkin led off a great version of Black Eyed Doll – serenading a woman in the pub!  Another song they sang, which I’m interested in, was a medley sung in many places but it’s never quite the same – ‘I found a horse shoe’ is often how it begins but it then meanders off in many different directions; I have no idea how I’ll be able to put it in the book!

The Singing Position

While we were talking to Sheila her husband came over and she noticed a wet mark on his t-shirt. ‘You’ve spilled your drink’ she remarked  ‘No’ said he ‘thats just condensation from the glass – singing position see’and he was right, most singers stand with their pint of beer resting on their sternum (or beer belly in some cases!) So now it’s the official ‘singing position’!

Sally and I ended the night having some good chats firstly with Graham Wilcox about the choir and how hard he works them and that singing in the pub afterwards is a way for them to unwind – he personally doesn’t  like it but understands their need to do it. And then the landlord Bill who had many a story which won’t be repeated here! He is the second longest serving landlord for St Austell brewery and the pub is ancient too! 15thcentury. Yet again we were last out and had furthest to go! Thanks to all for a lovely night.

Hilary and Graham in conversation

Shout Kernow @ Penzance Literary Festival

Sun 29th July 6.30-7.30pm The Acorn (downstairs) ‘Cornish Pub Songs’: Hilary Coleman talks about the research – involving lots of fieldwork! – that she has been doing into this subject. She is accompanied by the Treggy Singers

More info

First visit!

Mousehole Male Voice Choir at The Kings Arms, Paul 

Turned up at Paul and went to the church where Mousehole Male Voice Choir rehearse. We sat in the porch and listened to the wonderful harmonies only a combination of male voices can produce. We went to the pub across the road – Kings Arms, before the choir came over which they do the every Monday night but particularly the first Monday of every month, and found it almost empty. On the bar were rows of empty glasses waiting to be filled with beer for the singers.

We sat with some of the women from the ladies committee including my great friend Kath Matthews who was our link to the choir. She told me about many older men she knew who sang years ago at The Engine in Nancledra

The men started to arrive and I felt anxious that they would not be too happy having us there clicking cameras and recording the songs but we were welcomed by all.

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Bucca 4 and sweet harmonies!

The atmosphere grew as they sang, into something happy and warm. I was told that nearly everyone has their own nickname typical of a group that have really got to know one another

Although there were few others joining in there was still the informality of a shout – no written words, no conductor, pints of beer and laughter and jokes about the songs which were a mixture of the well-known as well as some beautiful hymns. A subset of the choir – Buccas 4sang a couple of gorgeous close harmony ‘party pieces’ too. One song, the Sailors Chorus, was commissioned for the choir by Morvah; the landlady. She’d heard a few of them singing it and asked the choir to do it. She paid for the manuscripts and now they sing it there every time!  Not surprisingly this is a real ale pub and also has no piped or recorded music, only live music including jazz and bluegrass.

Entry in the King’s Arm”s diary shows how special the song is to the pub

Several people spoke of how important the social singing is for the choir both for recruiting new singers and for the camaraderie of the choir themselves. Stephen Lawry, their MD felt that he wouldn’t want to choose between the concerts and the pub singing – they were entwined. And so, I felt, is their relationship with the pub.

This was a great first ‘official’ visit of our project and I’m looking forward to many more over the summer.

Click here for Kings Arms

Click here to see the Male Voice Choir on Mousehole Quay singing Sailors chorus and Calm is the sea

Radio Cornwall interview

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00rgjn6
Have a listen to me chatting to Donna Birrell, about the Shout Kernow project. The interview starts 2 hours and 20 minutes in and features a lovely rendition of The Old Grey Duck – thanks to Chris Easton and the singers up the Countryman!

How It Happened

I returned from Australia in June 2011 wanting to produce more books of Cornish music. I had already done two song books for schools: Lev Krev and Hoolybus. I met with Clive Boutle of Francis Boutle Publishing in September who was interested but questioned what would sell. Cornish pub songs and carols seemed the most obvious to him and so that’s where I decided to begin. I knew he was right but was also aware of how much more of a challenge it would be than my other books; this was a living tradition. How do you pin a song down and not offend someone who is very likely to have a different version?  That was when I had the idea of recording songs in situ; where they d’belong to be, across Cornwall. I wanted to show that all sorts of people were singing these songs, in many different ways, for many different reasons and in many lovely pubs! Pubs can be special places – I understood that; hadn’t I, as a young teenager gazed in through the windows of The Queens Head in Albaston, The Tamar at Calstock, wanting to be in those warm, sociable places? Hearing the singing, seeing the men close their eyes in bliss to the harmonies of Cadgwith or some other song?

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In the Calstock May Revel procession

So asking Sally Burley to be my comrade, like ‘Thelma & Louise’, we planned our project. But first we met with problems raising the money – turned down by some businesses, unable to contact breweries and our funding bids rejected! Yet the wheels of this engine did not want to stop turning and after a period of wanting to throw it all in, the enthusiasm returned: we travelled to Calstock for the May Reveland were caught up in the mayhem and glory of it all

The Giant Tavy and the Tamar Inn

– the charging giant, the musicians playing Calstock May Revel, the singing of the Farewell Shanty as the giant sailed away down the stream of the Tamar and the raucous singing in the Tamar Inn afterwards – it reminded me what it was all about.

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Joe and June Mills St Day Feast 1980

And then we visited St Day on Feast Day, Sally’s home town – real and proper. Where her family have danced in the Furry for many years.

There in the pub we sang and met other singers –

‘I’ve sung for forty years with Holman-

Climax, and before that, too. I remember when the Chapel people would stand outside the pub and listen to the music inside, then would join in and would sound far better!”

We are outside gazing in; we wish to belong; this world often alienates us, but a shout can give us that way in, a way of joining others – there are no dues, no membership fees, no auditions, we can belong.

So the engine wheels turned – we got our funding, pubs supported us and now the adventure begins!

News on our publisher – Francis Boutle

Francis Boutle are taking on the noble task of publishing this song book.Have a listen to this podcast to find out about their approach to working with minority language literature

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