Thursday16th April, 7pm, Bewnans Kernow course – Landithy Hall, Church Road, Madron, Penzance. TR20 8SN.
This five week course will explore the treasures to be found in the Shout Kernow pages; you will hear the wonderful tales of Hilary and Sally’s adventures into the world of Cornish pub singing; what the songs are, where they come from and who is singing and composing them.
We will also be learning very informally, some of the songs and harmonies too. Song words will be available and no music reading skills are necessary.
Thursday 4th June TBC – Book launch at Waterstones, Truro, 11 Boscawen Street, Truro, Cornwall TR1 2QU 01872 225765
3-5th July Cornish Music Festival at The Seiners Inn, inc Shout Kernow celebration with Perraners, The Seiners Inn, Perranporth, Beach Road, Perranporth, Cornwall TR6 0JL 01872 573118. https://www.facebook.com/SeinersArms?fref=ts
Friday 11th September – Kresen Kernow. Time TBC. Shout Kernow talk, Cornish Studies Library, Alma Place, Redruth TR15 2AT, 01209 216760
Also every first Sunday of the month, shout at The Countryman Inn, Piece, Redruth, Cornwall TR16 6SG 01209 215960
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’
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/
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 OldArmchair’. 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!
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!
Newquay and Scillies Rowing weekend Isles Of Scilly
29th Sept – 1st Oct 2012
Saturday: Turks Head
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 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
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!
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.