31st July 2012

On the last day of July we drove to Bude to meet up with The Bencoolen Wreckers who sing at the Bencoolen Pub named after the wreck of Bencoolen which sank off the coast there 150 years ago in 1862.

The wreck of Bencoolen painting

We were warmly welcomed and introduced to the landlady – Lorraine who’d been there 17 years. Our contact, Chris Bale told us that he’d been singing for years (sang in the CountyChoir with MD Nick Hart as well as the Bude Lifeboat Singers and Mevagissey MVC) but the Wreckers only started up in Feb 2011. They are an example of the resurgence of pub singing I think is happening at the moment.

The singers got together to ‘sing for pleasure, fun and friendship’. They wear a slogan on their shirts which used to be the Bude Lifeboat singer’s and seems to sum them up! The Wreckers aim is for each person in the group to take a solo and one of the men sang a lovely version of Cornish Lads whilst another led on South Australia with gusto!

Bencoolen Wrecker’s Slogan

There were quite a few tourists in the pub and when they started off singing it was more like a performance, yet the atmosphere warmed up and they interacted with those close by and more people began to sing. Interestingly Chris apologised to me saying ‘it’s a bit English up here’ and this was borne out when they sang the verse of Old Time Religion that goes ‘it was good for the Cornish’ They added ‘and friends’ which was a good idea as the people there felt welcomed and included yet they had still made a statement about Cornish identity. It was also interesting to note the local variations to other songs they sang for example mentioning Fisherman’s Friends in one verse of John Kanaka (as they’re just down the coast from them) and, which made me laugh, when they sang the line ‘gazed at the Scillies’  in This Is My Cornwall, they shaded their eyes as if straining to see and then gave up with a shrug of their shoulders! (Bude’s not quite as close as Chapel Carn Brea!) When I mentioned this they said ‘we live in hope to see God’s Country’! Included in their repertoire was a good version of  A Working Man (written Rita MacNeil, 1988) which they’d changed to make more relevant to Cornish mining with words such as tin and ore etc. They also sang Wild Rover to the tune to Ghost Riders which seems to be gaining popularity around Cornwall and also many of the rudest verses of She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain I’ve ever heard! This to me is the folk process in action and what I wanted show – that this is a living tradition and everyone makes songs their own by inventing new verses, swopping tunes or changing words and therefore not karaoke! (Which reminds me, at our local shout a couple of weeks ago I told a woman at the bar that we were going to do a bit of singing ‘oh great’ she replied excitedly ‘is it going to be karaoke?’ ‘Well…Cornish style’ I answered thinking she’d groan and disappear but instead 10 minutes later she was in the middle of the circle holding forth on Little Eyes!)

‘It was good for the Cornish (and friends!)’

Thanks boys for a great night and for the friendly welcome from you and the pub alike. It was quite a drive up there from ‘Druth and Chris asked us how we were coping with the altitude. Funnily enough when we got home Sally mentioned how much quicker the return journey seemed to be. ‘Well’ I said, as I got out of the car ‘it’s all downhill isn’t it’.