St Just Feast Sunday 4th (& 5th) November 2012
We’d heard about St Just Feast throughout the summer. ‘You going St Just Feast? That’s the place to be!’, ‘Got to get down St Just end of October, everyone goes there’. We wanted to catch the Cape Cornwall Singers anyway and so this seemed an ideal time. After checking it out with their contact Steve Gear we headed down with a few friends on a Sunday afternoon.
We arrived in the heaving back room of the Kings Arms in St Just square. There may have been an English flag flying from the Church but it was undiluted Cornish in here. There were singers from Bude, Newquay, St Merryn, Isles Of Scilly, Helston and of course all over Penwith too. Leading the way were the Cape Cornwall Singers, one man doing the line out (singing the first line to get the pitch).
‘The Cape Cornwall Singers were formed in 1997 in an attempt to resurrect the singing traditions of the area in the local pubs around St Just and West Cornwall.. Our distinctive sound was formerly familiar in impromptu sessions throughout the town, especially during the St Just Feast celebrations, but has declined in recent years due mainly to the demise of the local tin mines’
Harry Safari was there too of course as he has a close relationship with the singers who have popularised many of his songs. It was as if all the people we had visited throughout the summer had descended on this spot for a final sing of the year! Of course this was not true because we were about to enter the Carol Season – so many fine Cornish carols waiting to be sung and at St Just I heard the first ones: ‘Hark The Glad Sound’ & ‘Lo The Eastern Sages’. I was told that this is traditional. As is the feast. There are wonderful descriptions of the Feast by William Bottrell from the 1800s:
“Es time for me to be goan, for I’ve further to go than any of your other feasters.” [said Dick] “No, no,” said Mary, “stop over tomorrow and till servy day” (Feasten Wednesday) “if you will, and go with me and Grace to the fiddler, for I can shake my shoes in a three-handed reel yet and shall for years to come, I hope.” “I trust thee west,” said Jackey, “for my old grandmother danced of a Feasten Monday till she was eighty-two, and a better woman there never was.” The sports of the wrestling ring and plan-an-guare (the round) which was given up to the boys for their games at quoits, were kept up from daylight till dark night, when all went home for a hasty meal and to take the girls to the public house, where the fiddle and fife in every room put life into the legs of the dancers; but they seldom found fiddles enough, and many a merry jig and three-handed reel was kept a-going by the tune being sung to old catches…” (“Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall”, first published by Bottrell, Penzance, 1880, facsimile reprint 1996 by Llanerch Publishers, Felinfach).
The Feast used to only be on the Monday but nowadays the Sunday has become the traditional day for the singing, spearheaded by the Cape Cornwall Singers. So packed into the low beamed room we sang all the old favourites plus a few more popular in the West – one of my favourites has become ‘Safe In The Arms’ sung with such passion!
Then everyone heaved out of that pub and went across the square to the Commercial for the next bout. We had gone down with a friend who grew up in Nancledra and he began to meet familiar people, one of whos comment on the way was ‘This is what Cornwall’s all about; this is us!’
If possible there seemed even more people there and I was told that on Feast Sunday they do at least 200 covers in their restaurant! All ages got stuck in and it was amazing to look around at all the faces singing, grinning, laughing, shouting, giggling and concentrating on the job in hand – the sound was incrediable and I felt swept along by it.
We heard a rumour that Bone Idol (from the Scillies) were singing back at The Kings Arms so before we went we popped in there for a quick listen – the contrast was extreme and the peace of the pub and the quiet, close harmonies was a lovely calm end to a brilliant visit.
This was one of our last visits and I think the Cape Cornwall Singers sum up what we have experienced in our journies across Cornwall:
‘Cape Cornwall Singers are ordinary people, with ordinary lives, who sing with passion of the enduring traditions and extraordinary beauty of our homeland’