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Perraners at The Seiners, Perranporth                 Tuesday 11th December 2012

The Seiners is a great pub and the Perraners a great gang of singers!

The pub sits right by Perranporth beach with wonderful views of the wide stretch of sand and at high tide it feels as if it’s a ship at sea. Inside it has wooden floors and beams – great for acoustics.

Dan and Lisa took over the pub as owners last year with great trepidation. They had previously been landlords but when the owner went bankrupt they had to make a big decision – whether the pub would close or to jump in and turn it around. Happily for us they chose the latter and for a few months in the winter they teetered on the edge but as Summer came their fortunes began to change. Why? Not only because of the tourist season but because they are such friendly and welcoming people. They have great ideas too and an amazing amount of energy to see them through. At a time when pubs are closing so fast it’s a delight to know of a success story!

One of the ideas they have been so supportive of has been a regular Cornish music session (which I co-run with Neil Davey and Jen Dyer) on Tuesday nights and a shout afterwards with the Perraners.

Seiners session
Seiners session

The Perraners have regularly practiced in the backroom of The Seiners for several years and about 3 years ago they began to join us in the bar after their rehearsals. They started as a group after hearing the Calstock Singers sing at Lowender Peran (Interceltic Festival in Perranporth) in 2000. Some of the members knew the Cornish songs but wanted to develop harmonies and repertoire so they asked the Calstock MD – Ian Marshall to work with them. Ian not only still conducts the Singers when they perform as a choir but has also written some lovely arrangements of the pub songs. On their website they describe their name:

As Perranporth is named after St Piran who reputedly liked his ale, and picking up from the local saying “as drunk as a Perraner”, the name The Perraners seemed very appropriate for a group that insists on meeting in a pub!’ 

Some of the original members such as Chris and Karin Easton, Stuart, Nigel and Leslie are still involved and sing great renditions of many of the Cornish favourites. A few of them have also formed the great shanty group Stamp and Go. Others such as Steve – a great bass singer have started to sing favourite songs of their own such as ‘Martin Said To His Man’ and ‘Maggie May’– developing harmonies by regularly singing them.

Malcolm and more singers
Malcolm and more singers
Karin and other singers
Karin and other singers

As I play at the Seiners every week and join in with the singing too, it’s hard to choose a specific visit but these photos are from Christmas time when we sang local carols with them. One of their ‘own’ is the Bolingey version of While Shepherds Watched – which is a lovely arrangement – Chris Easton taught this to me as he grew up in Bolingey in a Methodist family.

Chris and others singing carols
Chris and others singing carols

The singers are incredibly welcoming and ready for anyone to join in so between them and the Landlord and Lady it’s a place to feel ‘at home’ in and just how pubs should be!

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This Is Us

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.

The Kings Arms
The Kings Arms
Kings Arms again
Kings Arms again

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!’

At The Commercial
At The Commercial

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.

Some Of the singers
Some Of the singers

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’

Everyone was having a good time!
Everyone was having a good time!

Singers and Songs

Singers Night at The Golden Lion, Stithians                           20th October 2012

I’d chatted to Roger Bryant on the phone about coming up to his sessions at the Golden Lion on the 3rd Sat of every month a while back – he wasn’t sure if it was exactly what I had in mind for the project but partly because we’d talked about Sankey hymns and partly because his songs are being sung around Cornwall at Shouts (e.g. Cornish Lads and Miners Anthem) I thought it would be good to visit.

Roger in full voice!
Roger in full voice!

Roger sings with the infamous Rum & Shrub shantymen. His father was Welsh and his mother came from a Cornish family who had a reputation for pub singing, so Roger comes from good singing stock! Indeed his wife’s father was alarmed when they were courting – he referred to Roger as ‘one of the drunken Bryants’!  Having said that he was brought up Methodist at St Mawes which is why he likes the Sankey hymns. He also feels they are easy to learn with good chorus’ and tunes; they have an affinity to Southern Baptist hymns (from America) and certainly some of them are also sung around the pubs like Let The Light Of Your Lighthouse as well as popular plantation hymns, likely to come from the baptist tradition; Lily Of the Valley, Swing Low & Old Time Religion. He remembers as a child sneaking in the back door of the pub to hear the singing and that certain songs were associated with certain people who would come out every Friday night, sit in the same place and sing ‘their’ song. Woe betide anyone else who sang that song! This reminded me of the great story by Charles Lee ‘Pascoe’s song’.

Some of the singers
Some of the singers

When we arrived some people were already there and I recognised singers from as far afield as Penzance and Calstock! Many of them are involved with the folk clubs in Cornwall. There was also a couple who’d come from Bideford folk club too! We were warmly welcomed by Roger and his wife and soon the singing began – sure enough it started with a lovely old Sankey hymn ‘Blessed Quietness’ which everyone seemed to know. After that Roger, with a lovely sense of humour, invited people to do a turn. Certainly there was little overlap with the songs we’d heard elsewhere and we knew only a few of them but it was entertaining and there were choruses we could join in with. There was a happy, informal atmosphere with everyone evidently knowing eachother well. It was also lovely to hear Thorn and Roses peform a few numbers including their version of This Is My Cornwall. They are a 3 part harmony singing group with Jinks providing a wonderful bass and Sylvia and Rowena beautiful close harmony.

Thorn & Roses
Thorn & Roses

Roger sang his own composition – Cornish Lads and it was great to hear  it from the ‘horses mouth’! Later on everyone sang another Sankey hymn with a great chorus: ‘Only Remembered’. Towards the end a woman shyly asked to sing – obviously one of the first times she’d done so and gave the sweetest rendition of the ‘Old Grey Duck’ I’d ever heard. She said she remembered her father singing it to her as a lullabye.

I realise the more we travel around the greater spectrum of pub singing we hear and as usual it’s good not to be too prescriptive about these things! The bottom line for me is; is everyone having a good time? And usually, with singing involved, they are!

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. 

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!

‘Friends We Haven’t Met Yet’

Newquay and Scillies Rowing weekend Isles Of Scilly

29th Sept – 1st Oct 2012

Saturday:  Turks Head

Outside Turks Head , St Agnes
Outside Turks Head , St Agnes

On a beautiful sunny afternoon outside the Turks Head Pub close to the water on St Agnes, a lovely mix of people gathered from all over Cornwall – St Just, Charlestown, Falmouth, Devoran, Cadgwith, Bude, Newquay, Padstow, St Merryn, Treverva and of course the Isles Of Scilly! It was a real coming together with lots of banter; a slogan on a t-shirt read: ‘There are no strangers here, only friends we haven’t met yet’. Some have been coming for years (next year is the 50th!) and others were new this year.

Nig in fine voice!
Nig in fine voice!

Nig from St Merryn welcomed us and we continued to meet familiar faces over the weekend. We also got chatting to a few new ones. Marion from St Just was very excited to hear about our project and told us that her husband often remarks ‘nobody can be angry when they sing’ which I understand from my own experience! Funnily enough the rowing seemed to be almost separate from the singing – Sally and I saw our first gig of the weekend on the Scillonian coming home! There were a mix of men and women but the women seemed more around the edges although some were right in the middle cueing! Some of the songs were not so familiar to my ear but others were the usual with a few Harry Safari ones in there and ‘The Beautiful Islands Of Scilly’ seemed very appropriate – standing right there by the waters edge.

Sunday: Bishop and Wolf

We intended to catch everyone returning from St Agnes to St Mary’s but missed the boat! But as luck would have it so did a few others and we ended up in the Turks Head being very silly with singers from Falmouth and Charlestown

Charlestown bros
Row Boatman Row on the water!

And when we finally made our rough crossing back the wonderful brothers from Charlestown treated us to a rendition of ‘Row Boatman Row’ in t-shirts with the bass riff ‘blue, blue, blue’ on them – it felt like some mad karaoke moment with them pointing to their chests as the boat tipped and rocked!

When we got onto dry land we found our lodgings (courtesy of our good friend Piers) and got something to eat before venturing out again. As we neared the Bishop and Wolf we were surrounded by a gang of young men serenading us with a beautiful close harmony song! It dawned on me that this must be Bone Idol – the Scillies singing group and so it was. We all entered the pub chatting away and soon they were in the middle of the singing where they led a beautiful rendition of Harry’s ‘This Is My Cornwall’. Sally and I were pretty tired by then and so bade a goodnight to all and headed for bed!

Monday: Scillonian

Leaving IOS
The crowd on the dock with Johnny holding forth!

Our homeward trip was at 4 o’clock and prior to that everyone had been for a good sing at The Atlantic on the balcony, though there was such a tight cram that recording was very difficult. But what I really wanted to capture was the singing and departure on the quayside. This was a wonderful moment with crowds on the harbour serenading those on the boat who thronged to the rails and sang furiously back. Everyone was kept in time by Johnny Ball with his trusty whistle and lavish conducting!

Just as the gang plank was removed a huge commotion started up on the dockside and there was one of the Wreckers boys struggling to get through. With very uncertain coordination he squeezed through the fence and made for the boat accompanied by shouts from his fellow Wreckers of ‘leave him behind, don’t let him on’! The boatmen re-attached the gang plank and with a great deal of swaying (not just from the swell) he was aboard! As we sang Soldiers Farewell the boat started to pull away and Sally and I could no longer refrain from joining in, climbing onto the railings for a better view. The ships hooter blew mid-tune, accompanied by an announcement on the tanoy that those perching on the railing needed to climb down for their safety, and we were away.

Newquay Fish Festival Sunday 16th September 2012

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Newquay Rowing Club Singers in full voice at the Fish Festival 2012

We went along to this event when it was nearly over – people were packing up! But in one marquee there was a lovely atmosphere: the Newquay Rowing Club Singers were getting going. They gathered informally after their performance for a sing too. We were also invited along to the club house afterwards by Gareth an old friend of my husband, Neil and we also met my cousin by marriage, Rob Spowart who suggested we go to the London Cornish Rugby reunion next month which I was really pleased about. (see later blog)

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