Ryb An Avon – the Cornish roots of Maid in Bedlam and Gustav Holst’s I Love My Love

The beautiful tune Ryb an Avon is often played in Cornish traditional music circles. It sounds very similar to the song Maid in Bedlam which was recorded by many folk artists in the 1970s. It is also rather similar to Gustav Holst’s choral work I Love My Love. Is Ryb An Avon just a version of that tune, or is there more to it?

Merv Davey has already been on the case, and in his paper Folk Song, Dance and Identity in Cornwall, he says:

“In 1905 the Rev Quintrell sent George Gardiner, an academic folk song collector, the music score for a nameless tune he had collected from a Mrs Boaden of Cury near Helston. Gardiner in turn sent this to a fellow collector, Lucy Broadwood for her comments. She decided that the melody was a very good match to the lyrics of a song called “I love my love” and drew the conclusion that this must be its original and correct title. Anyone listening to the lyrics of “Clementine” sung to the tune of the hymn “Bread of Heaven” will appreciate that such a deduction is not well supported! But Gardiner and Broadwood did succeed in making a very beautiful tune widely accessible by associating it with the words of “I Love My Love” and it reached a wide audience through Holst’s military band arrangement. It was subsequently reclaimed for Cornwall by Tony Snell who wrote lyrics in Cornish for it and renamed it “Ryb An Avon” (By The River). It can be seen that neither name has precedence of authenticity over the other. The title “Ryb An Avon” is nevertheless viewed as inauthentic and contrived by the English Folk Revivalist whilst not questioning the title “I Love My Love”.

Folk Song, Dance and Identity in Cornwall, Merv Davey 2017

I followed up some of the references that Merv Davey gave in his paper, to pages 93 and 94 of the Journal of the Folk Song Society Vol 2 1905-1906, No. 7. The pages are presented here:

Folk song collector George Gardiner’s colleague E Quintrell noted down a nameless, wordless tune from a Mr Boaden at Cury near Helston in Cornwall. The tune was unknown elsewhere. It was sent to Lucy Broadwood, editor of the Journal of the Folk-Song Journal. She decided that it fitted the words to The Maid in Bedlam, and published them as such. The tune and words are now inseparable, having been recorded and performed by many of the folk greats of the 1970s.

Gustav Holst, the composer famous for composing the Planets Suite, heard the song and created the now-famous choral work I Love My Love (which he does attribute to a Cornish folk tune).

The Cornish origins of the “tune to the Maid in Bedlam” are often forgotten. Musician Tony Snell, on learning this, decided to ‘take back’ the tune. He composed a song in the Cornish language using the tune remembered by Boaden, and gave it the new Cornish name, Ryb an Avon. In Kernewek, the Cornish language, this means “by the water”.

The simple tune remembered by J Boaden Esq from the hamlet of Cross Lanes in Cury, near Helston in Cornwall, grew into a folk song classic and a great choral work, now reclaimed as the Cornish tune that it is, with a Cornish name.

Was it originally a Cornish tune? Like most traditional tunes whose composer is unknown, we will never know for sure. But it lived on down here in Cornwall, and it was captured from the mind of Mr Boaden before he died, saving the tune from the tenuous thread of oblivion. And now, what a life it has.

Now that’s the “folk process” in action, and a great example of the living tradition of Cornish music alive and kicking today.

Origins of Karol Korev

Followers and players of Cornish trad music will be familiar with a festive tune called Karol Korev. It has been made popular by Davey and Dyer, the phenomenally talented high-octane duo who released their version of the tune on Dynamite Quay in 2018.

Karol Korev means something like ‘beer song’ or ‘ale carol’. You’ll have to ask Neil Davey where or why! We have just introduced the tune to the Penzance Cornish Session where we play it in a set of 16-bar furries. This led me to wonder what its origins might be as anyone who hears it will agree that it definitely has the air of a very old tune.

Now Carol We

Thanks to the knowledge of Frances Bennett who heads up Cornwall’s ever expanding fiddle-driven band Bagas Crowd, she directed me to a lesser-known collection of Cornish tunes, mainly carols or songs related to liturgical times of the year such as Passiontide, Christmas and Candlemas, by Inglis Gundry called Now Carol We, published in 1966. It is an arrangement of tunes taken from a c.1825 musical manuscript that belonged to a certain John Hutchens. Originally the manuscript was sent to Davies Gilbert for publication with his Some Ancient Christmas Carols but arrived too late for his 1823 second edition. Gundry had been given access to the manuscript by Davies Gilbert’s descendent Minnie Davies Gilbert.

Gundry tells us in his introduction that John Hutchens, who came come from the St Erth area, provided the melodies of 27 tunes in this manuscript, “written in a clear hand.” The tunes were already considered ancient when Hutchens penned them so we may even be hearing a tune familiar to 17th and 18th century Cornish audiences.

Unfortunately I was persuaded, rather against my will to add 4 part harmony, which slows down the melodies and prevents them from speaking for themselves.


Inglis Gundry, The Last Boy of the Family, chapter 20.

It is with caution we note that Gundry applied his own musical sensibilities to arrange the original melody (something he came to regret according to his autobiography). Gundry is better known for his publication of Canow Kernow, a generational successor to Ralph Dunstan’s Lyver Canow Kernow Cornish Song Book (1929).

When God at first created man

You will find the tune of Karol Korev in Carol no. 2 ‘When God at first created man’. It is annotated as being of relevance at various times of the year, not specific to Christmas. Gundry arranges it for soprano, alto, tenor and bass. It is scored in G major (session version tends to be in D major) and is complete with 13 verses and a chorus. Rhythmically the version we play today is pretty true to Gundry’s arrangement of the melody. Gundry notes that the words to the song are similar to those given in the carol collections of Davies Gilbert and William Sandys but this tune is quite different.

The lyrics are pretty heavy and Biblical, each verse taking you on a journey from Adam and Eve falling from grace to the immaculate conception of Mary to the birth and death of Jesus Christ.

As an instrumental tune it is very addictive and resonates beautifully when different melody instruments take it on in unison. I always hear bells. The major sixth interval in the first phrase sets off the whole tune, without which it would sound quite ordinary and unremarkable. As it is, it is great to have this tune back in circulation in contexts new.

Courtesy of Inglis Gundry, Now Carol We, Oxford University Press, 1966. Reproduction copy from Banks Music Publications (nd).
Excerpt of When God at first created man, the original name of Karol Korev.

Penzance Cornish Session new sets

Now that the Cornish session at the Admiral Benbow pub every Thursday, 8-10pm, has reached 6 months old some sets of tunes have really bedded in. We are creating fantastically energetic or contrasting lyrical sounds by experimenting with tune combinations using tempo or key changes.

Check out the current set list.

Most, although not all, tunes are played as they feature on the Cornish Music Resource website Kesson. There are some notable exceptions, for example, we play Pencarrow as a waltz not a jig as it appears on the tunery. You can find our version in Neil Davey’s Fooch! (no. 53). We play it after Can Jack.

Some things have become a tradition already. You can expect that we will always start with our furry set which is readily growing and has now reached 5 tunes in alternating keys and rhythms:

Super furry set

Duke of Cornwall finale

We always end with the Duke of Cornwall’s Reel (G) played pretty briskly. We don’t have many fast reels in the repertoire so this is a great way to end and always a crowd pleaser.

Highlights

The dance tune sets remain crowd and musician favourites, for example the D dance set: Cornish Quickstep, Bolingey Furry (AAB), Giddy’s King Harry and Begone from My Window.

The classic pair of slow waltzes Breannick and Now the Summer is Over (Andy Davey) are also firm favourites, well known across Cornwall and played by several bands and dance groups.

We are also partial to a wide range of modal and minor key sets. A recent addition which is set to stay is a slow jig called An Diberdhyans (The Parting) paired with Mike O’ Connor’s Dons Bewnans both in E minor (this tune became so rapidly popular thanks to the Penzance session that it has also been adopted by dance group Tros an Treys and the Golowan Band). An A minor set with similar tempo change is An Dufunyans (The Awakening) followed by the snappy and speedier polka by Neil Davey, Ewon An Mor – both in A minor.

Other crowd pleasers include: St Just Cock Dance (G), an Old Cornish polka that we play slightly differently nowadays, and Raffidy Dumitz with Gelasma (Dm), both modern tunes written by Len Davies and Robin Holmes respectively.

Jigs

Jigs are trickier to introduce to a completely new session as they are more demanding both in terms of learning tunes by heart and playing them fast. Cornish jigs tend to be played straight and even rather than with a lot of emphasis on the first and fourth beats of a 6/8 bar, or dotted triplets (although these do play a role in some Cornish jigs). It can be difficult to get a good bouncy and even sound. However when we do manage it, it is electric!

Two of our common jig sets are: Falmouth Gig (D), Bishop’s Jig (G) and Porthlystry (D), and the Petticoats set. These are two very old tunes found in the archives of Morval House near Looe. Thanks to their publication by Mike O’Connor we first introduced them to our dance group Tros an Treys last year, and then to the session. Petticoats Tight (D) is followed by Petticoats Loose (G minor). Neither are on Kesson yet.

Listen out for some new jig sets, with particular favourites such as Ker Syllan by Merv Davey and The Mallard (An Culyek Hos) as well as Forbidden Fruit (which was adapted from an early 19th century carol). All can be found on our current set list.

Hornpipes

We play a couple of hornpipe sets that can vary. Currently you can always expect to play We Be (G), Tinner’s Fancy (D) and Causewayhead (G/D). Occasionally we will rest We Be and return to Cock in Britches (G).

Boscastle Breakdown always appears as the start of a three-tune set with Quay Fair (D) and Duncan Hunkin (G).

Coming up

We’d like to introduce some 5-steps (Kabm Pemp) into our regular sessions. So far we have tried Tansys Golowan (D) paired with Coer Elath (G) as well as Oll an Gerriow (Am) with Neidges Awarra (Em). You might also expect the return of some tunes that are being rested as well as the reworking of some sets. It can be difficult to balance the introduction of new tunes to a session while retaining a critical mass of tunes most people can have a go at. Two sets that I predict will become new favourites is a pair of hornpipes called Travelling with Strangers/Waiting for a Bus (D/G) and Polperro Furry which goes very nicely after the haunting Descent (D minor) by Steph Doble.

If you have any suggestions for new tunes and sets please do leave a comment.

Join us every Thursday, 8-10pm at the Admiral Benbow Pub, Chapel Street, Penzance.

For music is good everywhere and always

I wanted to share this most inspiring speech given by Phoebe Nance, later Procter, when she was a young woman and a significant protagonist in the Cornish-Celtic revival movement of the 1920s and 30s. Her father Robert Morton Nance became much more famous but Phoebe’s work as a poet and violinist intrigues me so I want to share what I find out as I go along.

Morwennol–Sea Swallow

I first came across Nance when she was mentioned in the newspapers as a performer in a Celtic Concert that took place at the Royal Institution of Cornwall in September 1932. Not long before this, she was barded and took the name Morwennol or Sea Swallow. There are a series of articles in Cornish newspapers of this period penned by a certain “Cornishwoman.” I can’t help but wonder if that was Phoebe Nance’s nom de plume?

The speech was reproduced in its native Cornish language (Nance was a fluent and articulate Cornish speaker who was brought up speaking Kernewek) and in English. It was published on 8 September 1934 in the Western Morning News and Daily Gazette (p.6). I have transcribed the text of the speech which speaks for itself. It has also inspired us to taken on a motto for this blog which we hope you like.

We must not sit sluggishly without doing anything at all.

Grand Bard, members of the Gorsedd. It is a great honour to me to have permission to speak here. This is a wonderfully good year for everyone who loves the Cornish Language. In years past we said one to another, “The Cornish Language is a good enough language, but I can’t speak it for want of a dictionary.” But now we have this lack made up completely. And we must not sit sluggishly without doing anything at all. There is here in Cornwall the best place in all the world for bards, with the wind of the sea and the heather on the downs. Therefore, we must write fine songs. And we must sing these songs, too, for music is good everywhere and always. And for winter time with long evenings, it would be good if some clever person could write a short play. Then it will be made plain to everyone that Cornish is a wonderfully beautiful language. And instead of people saying that we are crazy folk, full of folly, we shall see everyone overcome with wonder.

Speech by Morwennol (Phoebe Nance) delivered in Cornish, 1934.

Peter Kennedy’s Cornish Recordings

Peter Kennedy travelled around the UK from the late 1940s until the late 1970s with a tape recorder. Encouraged by folk collector Alan Lomax, he captured recordings of traditional songs, tunes, and stories about them. In the late 1950s, Kennedy presented the BBC radio folk music programme As I Roved Out. He went on to establish the Folktrax record label as well as editing the ten-volume recording Folk Songs of Britain with Lomax and Shirley Collins for Topic Records.

Peter visited Cornwall several times, recording, amongst others yet to be listed, in Cadgwith, Constantine, and on St Marys, Isles of Scilly. His archive was presented by Folktrax to the British Library, and thanks to support from Topic Records, some 10% of the 1500 hours of recordings have been digitised and made available online.

The Cornish recordings are wonderful. Listen to Joseph Thomas at Constantine sing the most incredible version of “The house that Jack built” that you are ever likely to hear. He talks fondly of his memories of wassailing around the Helford River, singing a fine rendition of the Cornish wassail song, and his memories of his grandmother, who was born in 1792.

The songs and tunes from the 86 year-old St Marys resident Bill Cameron, recorded in 1956, show just how diverse the world of traditional tunes was back then, with tunes being learned from sailors visiting from as near as Penzance, and much further afield. You can hear him sing “Away Down Albert Square”, which is more properly known as “Pomona” which was adapted into the popular song “Lamorna” sung in many Cornish pubs today. It’s interesting that, although we know that “Lamorna” existed as a song as early as 1910, Bill chose to sing “Pomona”.

Dig in and explore the Peter Kennedy Collection at the British Library. I explored the collection by using the “Location” tab to locate the recordings made in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly.

Why not dig in to the wider British Library Sounds archive and see what other Cornish recordings are there?

Penzance Cornish Session is six months old!

On Thursday 4th April the Penzance Cornish Session, a weekly pub session dedicated to Cornish traditional music, turns 6 months old. We held our first session on Thursday 4th October 2018, and it’s been held every week since, with just a break for Christmas. It’s been great fun so far, and we’re looking forward to the summer with all its visitors to Penzance, and sharing the wonderful tunes from Cornwall with tourists and locals alike in the Admiral Benbow.

There’s a great core of regular musicians, but we welcome more to join us. The session is led by melodeon player John Gallagher, along with the Cornish Trad authors, with members of Tros an Treys, Golowan Band, Penzance Guizers, Craggs Law (and several of us are in several of these!). We’ve had melodeons, concertinas, fiddles, mandolins, mandolas, bouzoukis, plus the occasional guitar and autoharp. Some musicians have joined us while on holiday and have picked up a few tunes with us along the way.

Have a listen to one of the sets recorded in the pub in November 2018. The Cornish Session is every Thursday 8-10pm. Come along sometime!

Find out more about the Penzance Cornish Session.

Marc Cragg and Andrew Law of Cragg’s Law playing at the Penzance Cornish Session
1830s flutina at the Penzance Cornish Session
Our second session in October 2018 saw the Admiral Benbow packed out with the German crew from the nearby filming of a Rosamund Pilcher episode.

London lecture on Cornish Folk Dance

Merv and Alison Davey of An Daras, and two of Cornwall’s longest practitioners of Cornish traditional music and dance, are giving a lecture called Cornish Folk Dance at Cecil Sharp House in London on 13 February 2019.

The story of folk dance in Cornwall, from medieval roots, through narratives of the nineteenth Century folklorists, the activity of the Celtic revivalists and on to the present day, is a fascinating one that reflects the distinct cultural profile of Cornwall.

Folklore Society Lectures

Find out more and book online at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website.