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Cape Cornwall Singers

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!

‘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.

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