Guise dancing sources – newspaper transcriptions

Over the last few years we have been researching guise dancing, a form of mumming that takes place during the twelve days of Christmas (and in recent times, a few days before). There is a wealth of information about the tradition in historic newspapers, and we have begun to transcribe the many wonderful articles on guise dancing so that they are searchable and freely available online.

One of the reasons for doing this is that in reading the well-known books that mention guise dancing, there seemed to be a fair bit of repetition, and not much life to something that, in our experience, is a pretty lively custom. We have used both the British Newspaper Archive and microfilms at Kresen Kernow in Redruth, Cornwall.

This is the kind of liveliness that we mean, found in an 1863 edition of the Cornish Telegraph:

Serving Him Out: An Incident of the Guise Dancing at St Ives

On Friday evening the 9th inst. a party of guise-dancers entered a beer shop at St Ives and obtained an interview with the landlord, whom they well plied with drink until his eyes blinked like two revolving lights and his dizzy head manifested unmistakable signs of a desire to change places with his lower extremities. In this unenviable state (which by the bye is better described than felt, we should think) four of the strongest of the party took the somnolent landlord by the arms and legs and ere could he say ‘What doest thou?’ spirited him into the open street, where a goodly number (as if by magic) started into the middle of the road and formed a procession singing the Old Hundredth with a more than mournful twang, and away they marched towards the beach (the house is situated near the sea side) landlord and all.

Some one at intervals gave short sentences from the Burial Service. As may be expected, the sudden and by no means welcome termination of a good day’s business roused into fury all the drink be-clouded and drink-debased energies of the poor fellow, but all his imprecations were met with the remark ‘Prepare, Evil! prepare; thy time is short indeed.’ His struggles and cries were all in vain and in a short time the edge of the water was reached. And now as the sobered man heard the rippling of the waves, he seem to fear the result, and made a superhuman effort to free himself, but alas! the hands that held him were too strong and whilst he was cursing his tormentors and invoking vengeance on their devoted heads he was borne out into the tide, whilst one, with a fine nasal accent, pronounced aloud, ‘We now commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ ; if no one else will have him, the d—l must,’ and down they threw their burthen (wretches that they were) and scampered off, leaving their victim to scramble ashore as best he might.

Fortunately the only effect produced in the landlord is a determination to hate guise dancers in general with a perfect hatred. Who the delinquents are is a mystery. 

Cornish Telegraph – Wednesday 28 January 1863, page 3, column 6

So, dig in, and explore the heady adventures of the folk of West Cornwall in their pursuit of fun and entertainment, bringing fun and life into the darkest time of the year. Visit our guise dancing sources: newspaper archives page.

Can Jack and Pencarrow

We decided, on a whim, to make a recording of the two beautiful tunes Can Jack and Pencarrow. It was raining steadily outside, and we had been lamenting the lack of Cornish traditional music on YouTube. A little bit of direct action, if you like.

Here’s our description:

These two beautiful tunes are from Cornwall’s rich Celtic music tradition. The first, Can Jack (meaning “Jack’s Song” in Kernewek, the Cornish language) was written around 1905 by Robert Morton Nance, a key figure in the Cornish Celtic revival of the early 20th century and Cornish language pioneer. It features in his ‘Cledry Plays’ published much later in 1956.

The second, Pencarrow, is traditional in that we do not know who it was written by. This tune is used for a ballad called ‘The Arscott of Tetcott’, and relates to the family that lived at Pencarrow House in North Cornwall. It was collected in Cornwall by Sabine Baring Gould in the late 19th century and published in Songs of the West.

Played by Tehmina Goskar (violin, cello) and Tom Goskar (mandolins) in September 2019. Photos are of the far west and mid Cornwall, taken by the musicians.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj4Ei6g_ZYI

Article on Historical Guise Dancing and its Music

As we move rapidly towards autumn and winter our minds are drawn towards one of west Cornwall’s wonderful traditions – guise dancing.

Guise dancing is an ancient tradition from west Cornwall performed during the twelve days of Christmas. It is a form of mumming, whereby participants disguise themselves (hence the term ‘guise’) and entertain people through music, dance, drama and games. Guise dancers go from house to house, pub to pub, or process through streets and lanes bringing merriment and mischief during the darkest time of the year.

Last year, in 2018, we gave a paper at the Lowender Peran (Cornwall’s largest festival of Celtic music and dance) Cornish Music Symposium entitled “Historical Guise Dancing and its Music“. The article contains research which took several years to complete, seeing us visit libraries, archives and museums, as well as talking to people who remembered traditional guise dancing in the towns and villages of west Cornwall.

Madron Guise Dancers, Western Morning News, 7 Jan 1935, p. 10.

We had been meaning to publish it in a journal, but have decided to post it here, as it will have the widest possible audience. Our new guise dancing section will grow as we begin to publish the sources and transcriptions of our work, and we hope that it will encourage others to produce new works and research into this wide and wondrous topic. It might even encourage some to take up guise dancing in their part of west Cornwall, and explore Cornish traditional music while they do it.

Guise Dancers of the Isles of Scilly. Western Morning News, 4 Jan 1936.

Troyls – Cornish celebrations

From time to time around Cornwall, you might see posters advertising something called a troyl. Today, more often than not, the Cornish dialect word troyl is used instead of the Gaelic word ceilidh or the English barn dance if the music and dancing on the night is to be Cornish.

Equally, from time to time, I hear people saying that the idea of a troyl was made up, and dismissed as ‘nationalistic nonsense’. So what is the evidence for the use of the word troyl and what kind of event were they? Let’s dig in.

Dances in fish cellars and sail lofts

The first stopping point is the book Scoot Dances, Troyls, Furrys and Tea Treats – The Cornish Dance Tradition, by Merv, Alison and Jowdy Davey (Francis Boutle: 1998). The book begins with a quote from the diary of Edward Veale, Merv Davey’s grandfather who lived in Newquay during the late 19th and into the 20th centuries. In his notebook he described a memory of attending an event he described as a ‘troyl’ in the Unity Fish Cellars in Newquay as a young boy in 1885. His mother, Philippa, and uncle Ed Murrish played the concertina that night, and “a man from Truro played the fiddle”. He remembered the event involving dancing, music, and feasting on roasted herring, with the fun going on “until the early hours of the morning”. He described one of the dances, the ‘Lattapouch’, as it was a challenge dance that invariably ended up with people falling on their backs – the kind of memory that sticks in minds of children. Edward Veale summarised a troyl as “dancing held in fish cellars at the end of the season” (p.19).

The authors go on to describe other events called ‘troyls’ in the Newquay area, usually in sail lofts with a fiddler for the dancing. They present examples from other books that refer to troyls (or troils/troyles) as a “feast or tinner’s feast” (Jago’s The Ancient Language and the Dialect of Cornwall, 1882, and Margaret Courtenay’s Cornish Feasts and Feasten Customs, 1886). On following up the referent to Margaret Courtenay’s work, she says “Troil is Old-Cornish for a feast” (Cornish Feasts and Folk-Lore, Penzance, 1890, p.42).

Dictionaries and Cornish language

Cornish language expert Robert Morton Nance in his 1938 A New Cornish-English Dictionary defined the word troyl as meaning “a circuit, whirl, spiral, or a spin”. By the time we get to Ken George’s Gerlyver Kernewek Kemmyn – Cornish Dictionary (2000), the word ‘troyll’ is defined as “spin, ceilidh, fest-noz” (p.138). The authors suggest that the root of the word “ceili” is very different from “troyl” in that “the original meaning of ceili is an informal social gathering” (p.20) first used in relation to an Irish dance in London in 1897, and not used for set dance events until the 1930s. They suggest that troyl may be one of the oldest terms in the Celtic nations for community dancing (ibid).

19th century newspapers

So what other sources do we have to understand what a troyl was in the past? For that, we can turn to the newspapers of 19th century Cornwall.

Margaret Courtenay’s definition is generic. It is a term for a feast, which can encompass many types of event. Eating large quantities of food certainly seems to be one of them. The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 11 May 1838 contains a short story about two miners, having done rather well for themselves, “met in the best room of an Inn to have a “troil” on pork” (p.3). The event, if real, was newsworthy as the two were cheated out of their celebratory meal.

In the Royal Cornwall Gazette from 9th November 1849 (p.5) is a story covering the good fortunes of South Basset mine, south of Camborne. A feast was held for 280 workmen including “large joints of prime beef and mutton” alongside plenty of beer and rum. It was an especially good day for one of the workers:

One of the workmen being determined to give full swing to his enjoyment, was early in the morning wedded to the lass of his choice, thus ensuring himself a good “troil” for his wedding dinner. Whether his comrades out of compliment, further supplied him with their share of the grog, or not, he became so elated by 8p.m., – that strutting into town, fancying himself a Goliath he proclaimed himself ready to “thrash any ten-score man, that would meet him,” which consequently supplied him with some deserving thumps, and nearly separated him for the night from his lady love;

Royal Cornwall Gazette – Friday 09 November 1849 p.5

So in these contexts, “troil” is used to describe a feast or celebration, with no dancing or music reported in the article.

The Western Morning News of Thursday 3rd January 1867 (p.4) contains an article about the robbery of a ship at Newquay. A suspect’s alibi was that he could not be guilty, as he was at a “fish troyl” when the alleged crime took place.

The case, he said, hung entirely on the question of identity, and as the prisoner was at a fish troyl on the night of the robbery he contended that Trethewey must have mistaken Somerville for another man. – Mr. George Burt, a resident of Newquay, said he remembered the fish troyl – a jollification after a good catch of fish – on the night of the 20th Dec., and he saw Somerville there up to half past eleven o’clock.

Western Morning News – Thursday 03 January 1867 p.4

Here, a troyl seems very much the kind of event described by Edward Veale in 1885.

In the Cornishman of 21 December 1893 is a Cornish dialect piece called “Aunt Keziah chats about Christmas” (p.6) written by W. Herbert Thomas (writer of the song “Pasties and Cream” later recorded by Brenda Wooton). “I wud ruther go hungry an work like a trigger fur a fortnight aforehand than go without a bit ave troil an jollification pon Christmas time” (ibid).

Herbert Thomas uses the term again a few months later in the dialect piece “Aunt Keziah’s Shiners” (Cornishman – Thursday 15 March 1894, p.6). “He spawk all sa semple-like that I nearly bust out laffen in es face, but ee waddun a bad looken chap, so we took es gooseberries an had some troil, an addun fur a shiner that ebenin”.

Here, “troil” is used in the context of having a joke about, to have a laugh and some fun (in this tale, at someone else’s expense).

The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 15th November 1906 has a short piece entitled The “Troil” or Feast (p.8).

“Troil,” a “tinner’s feast,” says an old commentator on old Cornish words and their meanings. Profitable mining in the old days was always associated with holiday fare; thus at the account days at the mines a good dinner for the officials and adventurers was always provided and enjoyed, followed by the “St. Aubyn” day, when the mine officials welcomed their private acquaintances, while for the mine pay-day a good dinner was also expected and provided for all the officials.

Separate from this, on pay-days the working miners had their “troil,” when dividing their money at the various refreshment houses, which were known to make large provision in steaks tripe and “mutton pie broth,” etc. It is pleasing to find that the old custom has not quite gone out.

Royal Cornwall Gazette – Thursday 15 November 1906 p.8

Is there a pattern between the spelling of troil to mean feast versus the spelling of troyl to mean a dance? The newspaper examples shown so far seem to suggest a difference. However, the Cornishman of Thursday 3rd July 1879 (p.7) has a wonderful piece on the midsummer festivities at St Just. One of the activities that people looked forward to when the entire town decamped to Priest’s Cove and Cape Cornwall were boat trips.

No more are young maidens carried into the boats, by the penny-a-trollers, or carried from the boat to the shore, or ducked by those who undertook to carry them, when the troll, or troyl as it was called, was ended. And no more are those grassy slopes along the Cape animated by the movements and mirth, the music and laughter, of the living throng.

Cornishman – Thursday 03 July 1879 p.7

So here is the term and spelling of troyl in the context of fun and celebration. Boat trips, mischief, music and laughter as part of a festival at midsummer.

Troyls today

I had my first experience of a troyl earlier in September this year (2019). I was playing as a guest musician with the Penzance Guizers for the Gorsedh Esedhvos troyl held at the Town Hall in St Just. The music had to be played much more slowly than I am used to, as the troyl has a ‘caller’ who instructs people how to do the dances before the music, then continues to instruct whilst the music is played. It was a strange and unnatural experience for me, to have someone talking constantly through a microphone throughout. I gather that this is perfectly normal, but I could see a fair few people having less than fun, and a few comments like “you need a PhD to do this” were thrown at the caller. But there wasn’t any opportunity to be free and ‘let your hair down’ like the jollifications of old. I’m sure that plenty had a great time, but it wasn’t for me.

So typically today, a troyl is as the Daveys suggest in Scoot Dances, Troyls, Furrys and Tea Treats:

“Troyl is currently used interchangeably with barn dance, ceili, or ceilidh, to describe a social dance typically with a caller to explain or lead the dances. Nos Lowen is an expression coined more recently to describe less structured events where very simple arrangements of dances are used without a caller.”

Scoot Dances, Troyls, Furrys and Tea Treats. 2009. p.19

I have been to a few Nos Lowen events, where the dances tend to be ‘serpent’ or ‘circle’ dances with simple steps. They are very simple to copy, and after a pint or two, fun to join in with. Nos Lowens are a modern creation, apparently to be the opposite of troyls, and they’re great fun, and I will doubtless go to many more. But there is no room for those that do know some of the traditional Cornish dances to dance them to traditional tunes. I do wonder if there is room for a ‘middle way’? A new kind of troyl that allows spontaneous fun, yet serving the music and dance traditions at the same time.

I can’t help but think whether the Penzance Cornish session is a good representation of a troyl as indicated by the newspaper extracts above. It isn’t to celebrate anything specific, but people come along spontaneously, there is often Cornish dancing by people who know the steps, such as furries, there is drinking, laughter, chat, even people eating dinner, all to near-continuous Cornish music. Concertinas and fiddles included! It’s completely informal and everyone leaves happy.

I think Aunt Keziah would approve.

An invented tradition? Cornish traditional music in a modern context

Cornish music is a big part of my life. I bought my first mandolin in May 2015, and began to learn to play it by ear. Since then I have experienced an exciting voyage of discovery, getting to know the music, learning to play it, and becoming curious about the history of Cornish tunes. Through playing in a community band, a dance band, at Cornish events, and from meeting other musicians who play the Cornish repertoire, I have found myself part of a passionate community who love and care for the music of our Duchy.

In just four years I have seen interest in Cornish music grow. I know many people who, upon learning that there is a large repertoire of Cornish tunes, not just the small pool that are played at festival events, have embraced and learned them. Many of us travel around Cornwall to meet with others to play. It’s exciting and fun. We don’t pretend to be part of an unbroken chain whose musical roots stretch back, unbroken, into the depths of a manufactured Celtic past. We play as a living tradition, playing tunes from the 18th century up to new compositions influenced by older ones. We feel part of something special, a scene with incredible passion and energy, that even has its own divisions and differing opinions.

Each week we play at a pub session in Penzance that plays Cornish traditional music. We helped to start this session in October 2018 as part of a dual purpose; to get together with friends to play the music we enjoy, and to give other people – locals and tourists alike – a chance to hear the Cornish repertoire. Sometimes we have as many as 15 musicians, and an audience of 60+ people. Sometimes, in the winter, it’s just us.

The criteria for what we class as “Cornish” is also up to us. There is no rule book. Broadly speaking, we’re happy to play it if the tune is:

  • included in one of the tune books kept by the larger Cornish houses (based on the findings of Mike O’Connor)
  • noted by dancing masters such as John Old of Par
  • has been collected in Cornwall by one of the well-known tune collectors of the 19th / early 20th century
  • recorded by the Old Cornwall Societies
  • discovered in an archive
  • written by a well-known Cornish composer in the past
  • newly composed with the direct intention of being a Cornish tune (which may draw influence from older ones, although this isn’t always the case)
  • associated with Cornwall (e.g. Duke of Cornwall’s Reel)

Music has been an important part of people’s lives in the past, in the days before mass media. A trawl through the British Newspaper Archive will reveal articles that mention music being played on the streets, on the beaches, in pubs, fish cellars, at funerals, feast days, and indeed any occasion with an excuse to play it. And people still do.

The concept of a Cornish session, that plays only Cornish tunes, is of course a recent one. In the past people would have played whatever tunes were popular at the time, wherever they came from. Cornwall’s geographic position, jutting out into the Atlantic, along with its many ports, mean that, along with mineral exports, it was a convenient place for ships of all sizes to stop and restock supplies and water. Port towns and villages would have temporarily accommodated people from England, Ireland, Wales, France, Spain, and others. Where there are people, there is music. I can imagine that local tunes mixed with imported ones. Some tunes stayed, and perhaps some were exported. Taverns and inns were natural places to play and hear music the world over. But there were probably always local favourites too.

There was less of the music in pubs after the arrival of the jukebox, but it was still played at traditional events, village fêtes, and processions. In recent years there has been a movement to bring Cornish music back into places where it can be enjoyed by more people, and encourage more to take it up.

Some of the books of Cornish tunes. The earliest here is Ralph Dunstan’s Cornish Dialect and Folk Songs from 1932, reprinted in 1972. The most recent is the updated Golowan Band Tunes from 2019. Mike O’Connors books pick out tunes from 18th and 19th century manuscripts from Cornwall.

A few rare recordings of traditional music from the regions were made by the BBC in the 1940s, notably at Boscastle in Cornwall where William Hocken and the Tintagel and Boscastle Players, along with Mr Dangar’s Trio performed a number of tunes that were either Cornish, or had become adopted as such. Pinning down exactly where an old tune came from originally is often a rabbit hole that you’ll never emerge from.

I regard the tunes on this recording as both ‘traditional’ and ‘Cornish’. The musicians from Boscastle and Tintagel in the 1940s were playing the tunes they always had done. In the 1960s new tunes were being written for dancing, such as Heva (composed by Mr H Whipps of St Mawgan). In the early 1970s you could still hear Cornish tunes at traditional events such as St Ives Feast, Padstow May Day, Helston Flora Day and many others around the Duchy.

By the late 1970s, through the work of the Davey brothers Merv, Neil, Andy and Kyt, amongst others, a new-found energy emerged to track down and play lesser-known Cornish tunes. The establishment of the annual Lowender Peran festival in 1978 has helped to grow awareness of Cornish music, and foster a living tradition where new ones can be written and old ones rediscovered.

The Cornish traditional music scene has been the subject of academic study, and healthy academic critique (more on that soon). To me, there is no doubt that Cornish traditional music is very much a living tradition.

Is Cornish music Celtic music?

In 1904 the Celtic Congress declared Cornwall a Celtic Nation. If you go by that definition alone, then yes, it is. I am under no illusion that Cornish music can be traced back into a misty Celtic past with Iron Age roots. It can’t. But I’m not sure where else can. Much of the fast ‘trad’ sound you hear today in Scotland and Ireland evolved in the 20th century.

Visitors to our Cornish session in Penzance often ask if the music we’re playing is Irish or Scottish – to some of them it might sound similar, and our instruments are certainly similar (fiddles, whistles, mandolin, bouzouki, melodeon etc). We’ve never had someone say that it sounds English, for example. We don’t knowingly play our music in any other style than our own, and we don’t try to force any particular ‘sound’. We all play in a style that comes naturally and suits the music.

As a musician playing Cornish music I have four centuries of tunes available to me. I can hear recordings of tunes that I play today made before I was born. It’s not an invented tradition, but one that has evolved. Also, the music allows me to express my Cornish identity. Traditions should be defined by the people that take part in them, and thus to me, I play Cornish traditional music.

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. According to Inglis Gundry in Canow Kernow – Songs and Dances from Cornwall, Boaden learned it from a Mr Curry of Helston. 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.

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.