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March 2013

A Light Still Burning

Cadgwith Inn – Oct 12th 2012

I was so looking forward to making this trip – funny how The Queens Head in Albaston was the place where it all began for me, yet inspiration came from the other end of Cornwall on the Lizard. The Cadgwith Singers  are famed in the world of pub singing and yet so little known outside of it!

We got to the Inn at about 9pm and were told by a few people we were too early! Still, it meant that we got a good corner to position ourselves in. The pub was lovely; small with nooks and crannies and great pictures on the wall – later on we were told, with typical Cornish humour, that one area was known the ‘dead corner’ because none of the people in those photos or paintings were alive anymore.

Tatty and the photos in 'dead corner' behind him
Tatty and the photos in ‘dead corner’ behind him

Amazingly while waiting, we ended up chatting to a couple who came from East Cornwall, in Chilsworthy who turned out to know, one after the other, people I knew, including my dad and then  I discovered they’d even lived next door to my brother for a while!

The singers began to arrive and with them an air of expectancy. Tatty (Dave Muirhead) appeared and was so welcoming whilst others pointed out people that would be good to talk to. These included Anne – the daughter of Hartley, a portrait of whom hung in the ‘dead corner’. He was one of the key people carrying on the singing from the 1920s when a minister at the local chapel started a fishermans choir in the 1920s. Anne remembered coming into the pub around the age of 17 in the 50s and said back then there were only 5 or 6 of them singing. She showed us wonderful hospitality too and bought us a drink.

Anne
Anne

Then the singing began and I was immediately drawn into something familiar and recognisable; partly because of my previous encounters with the Cadgwith Singers and partly because recordings of them had accompanied my life from my 20s; Tatty pitching up, medleys of songs merging together, easy laid back atmosphere and harmonies that have guided my own. Of course The Cadwith Anthem was sung as well as Lily Of The Valley (see earlier blog ‘Singing Position’on the story of this!) Then, for me, the icing on the cake; the arrival of Nutty  (Martin Ellis) and his deep, deep bass! Still wonderful and good natured; he kindly moved my digital recorder to a safer place before launching into South Australia – whacking the beams where he has for so many years that the paint had worn away!

Nutty whacking the beams in South Australia
Nutty whacking the beams in South Australia

We were also introduced to Richard, a fisherman still working out of Cadgwith, who pointed out that they had such a huge repertoire they could easily sing for 4 hours and not repeat themselves! The inclusivity of the singers meant there were women joining in too and we were treated to a wonderful version of ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’  when four of the women used wooden spoons from the bar as microphones!

DaDooRonRon
DaDooRonRon

Around 11.30pm P.C. (Paul Collins) came in, not singing as he had a sore throat. He is related to the other key singer who kept the singing going in Cadgwith – Buller. I realised I’d seen him somewhere else and he pointed out he was the chair of Duchy Opera and had worked on a project ‘One Day Two Dawns’ with us and the English Touring Opera. We propped up the bar and chatted, he laconically, for a good hour or more. Sally and I finally left the pub at 1.30pm into a world of darkness – no street lights to guide our way back to the car, but a light shone brightly inside of us all the same. 

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Proper Job Shout

The Rashleigh Arms, Polkerris    Oct 6th 2013

This was just one of the evenings that we’d been to at the Rashleigh Arms in Polkerris, where my brother Will Coleman and a gaggle of singers meet sporadically. We have got to know these singers over the years when the Treggys have met up with them for Picrous eve – an old Tinners feast on ‘the first Thursday, before the last Thursday before Christmas’ a great Cornish carol night in Luxulyan. Will gathered them together initially from the Fowey area and then Lanlivery in order to sing the Cornish songs and keep them alive and kicking.

The pub calls itself ‘The Inn on the Beach’ and it’s easy to see why! It’s at the end of a long winding lane dropping down to the tiny village of Polkerris and is perched on the harbour side looking across St Austell Bay towards Black Head.

Will and other singers
Will and other singers

On a cold winters night a whole gang of us squeezed into the tiny pub – roasting by the fire! The hospitality flowed as jugs of beer and later sandwiches were brought out. As soon as enough singers had gathered Will pitched up and off they went full tilt! He is a loud and generous host inviting people to jump in and join in with great good humour. We rolled from one song to the next and pints were clinked and clunked down with calls for more. It’s always an uproarious occasion – not necessarily subtle but filled with enthusiasm and a great atmosphere is created. There are some lovely singers who turn up to these evenings regularly. One is the inimitable Gideon from East Cornwall who offers some great songs and throughout the evening he and Will become an almost comedy duo! Other singers also have party pieces such as Richard singing ‘Lets Hear It for Trelawney’ and Nick on the ‘Lily of the Valley’ which is treated with irreverence – a shoe ‘flown’ through the air on the line ‘what kind of shoes are those you wear?’ with the answering cry of ‘crocs’!

Gids
Gids
Richard
Richard

Other people in the pub seemed to be enjoying it too and one commented:

‘It’s good to see this great Cornish tradition alive. The number of younger people here tonight gives me hope for the future.

Some came from Nottingham and were wowed by the evening saying they’d never seen anything like it.

I was heartened by the amount of women there singing too. Pub singing may have once been a bastion of maleness (just being in a pub was anyway!) but now in the same way that some of the best pubs in Cornwall are surviving by becoming more a part of their community so the singing has become more inclusive.

Zenna, Sarah & Jo
Zenna, Sarah, John & Jo

 

 

 

 

A Wave of Sound

London Cornish Rugby Football Club 50th Anniversary, Bristol Hotel, Newquay.                            5th October 2012

 Yet again Sally and I ventured out in the dark and rain to Newquay this time for the London Cornish Anniversary. The preface to their songbook says:

‘The Club was formed as the London Exiles in 1962 and was shortly after renamed… Singing was at the heart and soul of the social life of the Club…singing was the differentiator between London Cornish and other rugby clubs… Usually within an hour of showering the cry of ‘toot’ would go up and the opposition and their supporters would be open mouthed listening to Cornish songs instead of the embarrassment of their usual fare…the singing on those magical Saturday nights..would only be interrupted from time to time by the cry of ‘general oil’ which was when pint glasses needed refreshing.’

As we walked up to the hotel we saw through the windows a whole roomful of men in dinner suits all sitting down at tables with their heads bowed in prayer; my dear life, this was far more formal than we imagined and there were no women either! Luckily, once we got inside the hotel, we discovered the London Cornish were meeting in another room and we walked into a relaxed and warm atmosphere with plenty of other women too!

Oll An Gwella with photos of London Cornish behind
Oll An Gwella with photos of London Cornish behind

Immediatly we got into banter with the group Oll An Gwella who were about to start the singing off. They are an off-shoot of the Newquay Male Voice Choir and Rob Spowart, my cousin by marriage and member of the organising committee is part of the group. They began with a few sea shantys and then were met with a great response as soon as they started on the Cornish favourites such as Camborne Hill, Old Time Religion and Trelawney. Johnny Ball was there, famously with whistle in hand and colourful conducting! Hailing from Bude, he has led many a shout over the years. We also saw other friendly faces such as Chris Bale also from Bude and other Newquay Rowing Club singers that we’d met on the Isles Of Scilly the weekend previously. Apart from that there were many men from London there and some just dagging for a good sing! This continued over by the bar and there were great renditions of Sloop John B, Little Eyes and The White Rose which was partly sung in Cornish. This was what I recognised as a Shout, from past experiences at Rugby matches with my brother Will: A wave of sound hitting me, full bore strong male voices – maybe no room for subtlety but still harmonising and full of passion! It made me tingle even though I knew there’d be little chance of me joining in and making myself heard, it was just good to stand by and listen to the power of those united voices from across the land.

Singing Trelawney
Singing Trelawney & Johnny Ball

Old Singers and the New

Singers at The Cornish Arms, St Merryn         2nd October 2012

We arrived in darkness on a cold October evening and the Cornish Arms was full of light and warmth. The pub is now owned by Rick Stein and walking through a very modern restaurant, we headed straight to the main bar which to our relief still had an old feel to it with wood and slate, and photos on the wall of the ‘old singers’ – Charlie Bate, Tommy Morrisey and Charlie Pitman. Names I’d heard of years ago from singing around pubs. There’s a lovely description of the pub and backround on  Mick Hursey’s blog www.mick-hursey.co.uk/north-cornwall/cornish-arms/

Singers and the 'old singers' photos
Singers and the ‘old singers’ photos

We were there before any of the singers but slowly they arrived including Nidge who Sally knew from years ago working on a farm in Mawgan Porth. We had met him more recently through singing in Tywardeath and Polkerris (more of that later!). He also sings with The Rum & Shrub Shantymen.

There were about eight singers including Rex Trenoweth and nephew – both of whom were bell ringers at St Merryn Church right across from the pub, they come and sing after their bell ringing practice and after they had a few beers too – the pub providing a jug or two! Apart from Nidge we’d also previously met Shona – she had struck up a song in the middle of a lot of male singers in the Bishop & Wolf pub on St Marys when we’d been there for the Newquay and Scillies rowing weekend (see previous blog). I couldn’t help thinking how brave she was and we discovered we’d both hung out at the White Horse pub in Launceston in our youth! Rex Trenoweth has a reputation for a huge repertoire of songs and indeed we heard many not sung elsewhere such as ‘Mother’ and ‘The Old Armchair’.  Over the years he has sung in partnership with another well known man from the Padstow area – Johnny Murt (who we heard singing at the Newquay Fish Festival). He also had a fine sense of humour and told a few good anecdotes!

Rex Trenoweth, Nidge, Shona and others
Rex Trenoweth, Nidge, Shona and others

Most of the singers had their party pieces and without doubt Nidge’s rendition of ‘Let the Light of your Lighthouse’ is one of his best! He told me it was a Southern Baptist song and Sally remembers hearing it in the 70’s sung around St Day. They also sang ‘The Village Pump’  which I remember my Father recording our neighbour singing at Calstock again in the 70’s.

Seeing the pictures on the walls and hearing Rex and the others singing I got the feeling of the tradition continuing and through our travels we’ve become aware of the many ‘new singers’ of today; a wonderful thing to experience!

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