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Newquay Rowing Club Singers

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.

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