What does Cornish music sound like?

At the Thursday evening Penzance Cornish Session at the Admiral Benbow we often hear from people listening, “it sounds Irish. I didn’t realise Cornwall had its own music” or “it sounds really similar to Scottish music, I can hear a lot of similarities.”

It’s easy to see why many people may walk into a Cornish session and think it Irish. Many of the instruments we regularly play are the same: fiddles, concertinas, melodeons, accordions, whistles and recorders, sometimes clarinets, occasional flutes, (open back) banjos, mandolins and bouzoukis. Although drums make an occasional appearance percussion such as bodhráns are not common at Cornish sessions. Harps are rare compared with, say Wales. Guitars tend to be in the minority and usually provide rhythm and accompaniment. Although brass bands are a significant part of Cornish musical culture brass instruments are not often heard playing Cornish traditional tunes, you might hear the odd saxophone or tuba as part of a dance or processing band.

The general sound of that combination of acoustic instruments playing jigs, reels (more likely to be furries in Cornwall), hornpipes (few strathspeys although these were popular for a time for Cornish dancing in the 18th and 19th centuries), polkas, marches, waltzes, slow airs will strike a similar chord (if you’ll pardon the pun) to the uninitiated. Together with the common keys of the music, the most popular being G and D major, A, E, D and G minor, plus a few in modal keys that ‘trad sound’ will be familiar.

Some musicians reply that the similarities are because Cornish music is all part of the wider modern Celtic musical tradition (which it is) and thus the similarities. Some of the tunes we play have variations in Ireland, Scotland, America, Canada and even England but we think there are more subtle aspects to our repertoire that distinguish it from those traditions.

The Cornish Trad repertoire is a happy combination of contemporary and historical, varied in style and playability. Cornish music has not fossilised. Modern tunes are composed with the tradition in mind, many connected to the memory and feeling of a feature, person or place of import, and those that have become accepted and widely played fit in pretty indistinguishably from some older tunes. A popular pair of tunes at the Penzance Cornish Session is Newlyn Fair and Bernard’s Polka, composed by Marc Cragg. They are also performed for processing and dancing too.

Playing style

The Cornish Trad sound is less reliant on a fixed set of ornaments and tricks than, say Irish or Scottish trad. Rolls and fast triplets that characterise Celtic jigs and reels are used but are much less common and employed perhaps more sparingly. The characteristic ‘scotch snap’ that makes strathspeys so attractive to play and listen to is something particular to the traditions which have a much greater repertoire that needs them. What you will hear from Cornish fiddlers, box and string players is double-stopping, drones and occasionally harmonies and counter melodies, sometimes learned, sometimes improvised. Most session players will play a tune ‘straight’ with occasional ornamnentation. Fiddlers, for example, will employ grace notes, trills or mordents to emphasise and decorate. We also tend to play with more dynamic range, with softs and louds and contrast to suit the mood of a tune or set.

Contrasting speeds

Speed really depends on the context in which a tune is played by an instrumentalist. We may play jigs slower when dancers are dancing to them, but go full pelt during a session or band performance. We may speed up tunes that others play as a march (for example processing bands) and turn them into fast reels. We’ll usually play polkas fast with good emphasis on the off-beats. In contrast our waltzes may be played quite slowly, almost like slow airs, or some 3/4 sets may be played more quickly to create the kind of whirl that people enjoy hearing waltzes. Much depends on mood and who’s playing. What you will certainly find in any Cornish session is a lot of contrast in speeds which show off the wide range of tune types we play.

Some tunes we play will accelerate each time through, for example Newlyn Reel and King of Sweden, both tunes that are usually danced to with each time getting a bit faster. I wish these had a name – getting faster tunes sounds a bit clumsy – if you know what they are called or even the dances let us know.

Contrasting rhythms

Cornish tunes don’t all easily fit set categories and below I have used a pragmatic approach to categorising tune types for the sake of this exercise. Really it is just to demonstrate the wide range of rhythms we play. The tunes I class as reels are 4/4 tunes that we play fast with few or no pauses or long notes or big changes of rhythm. The tunes I class as furries are 4/4 tunes particular to Cornish dances (sometimes also called jowster tunes at nos lowen events), will be no more than 16 bars, usually (not always) with one A part and one B part of equal measure. Then we also have 4/4 marches, played more gently with more changes in pace even within tunes, sometimes played with swing, and 4/4 hornpipes with dotted or swung rhythm throughout, fast enough to dance to but not so fast as to make people fall over.

Song melodies

Many of our instrumental tunes derive from songs, such as Ryb an Avon, Warleggan Ox Driver and Nine Brave Boys. We’ve even taken the tune from the recently discovered song Can Palores for just this purpose. This came about because of the major influence Dr. Ralph Dunstan’s two song books has had since he published them in 1929 (Cornish Song Book Lyver Canow Kernewek) and 1932 (Cornish Dialect and Folk Songs). Before Dunstan, Sabine Baring-Gould’s Songs of the West, 1890, also providing a rich hunting ground for tunes which also had words associated with them. Following these publications and their circulation at Cornish gatherings Dr. Merv Davey’s song and tune research in the 1970s to 1990s produced further tunes that had songs associated with them, many of the published in Hengan.

Dance music

The other major influence on the sound of Cornish Trad are tunes intended for dancing. This has also dictated (or been derived from) the length of tunes e.g. 16 bar furries. Five-steps or kabm pemp are relatively new creations that have nonetheless had a serious impact on Cornish traditional music. These are tunes to be played briskly in 5/4 time to accompany nos lowen dancing, similar to Breton dancing. The tune describes the rhythm with emphasis usually (not always) on beats 1 and 4 to match the footwork. You won’t find five-steps like these in other British musical traditions.

Let’s take a look at the Penzance Cornish Session set list to analyse what we are playing and therefore what it might sound like.

Repertoire and sets

Currently we have 86 tunes in Penzance Cornish Session’s repertoire and most of them are played in sets of 2, 3, 4 and even 6 (the fab furries). Tune sets might include a change of key, a change of rhythm and/or a change of speed. Sets of tunes help create excitement and anticipation in the listener and this is a method we can really go to town on to put our own stamp on our musical tradition. Change of pace examples are a slow An Dyfunyans (The Awakening) followed by pacy polka Ewon an Mor (meaning sea foam) and slow jig An Diberdhyans (The Parting) followed by Dons Bewnans (meaning Dance of Life) played as a reel. Our jig sets use key changes to create interest, e.g. Falmouth Gig set goes from D to G to D, and Hernen Wyn set goes from Em to D to Em.

Our repertoire is divided into 11 tune types according to my rudimentary classification (i.e. the descriptions that work best for us as musicians). We also have a small handful of tunes that don’t fall into easy categorisation so we don’t bother. By number, most of our tunes are 6/8 jigs, followed by furries and waltzes. Hornpipes, reels and polkas are more or less equal. We like our slow airs, sometimes sung along with being played, e.g. Warleggan Ox Driver and O What is That Upon Thy Head. The one strathspey is Cock in Britches which some play as a hornpipe but I prefer to keep its snap, that’s how it’s danced to as a broom dance. The mazurka is Turkey Rhubarb which has many variants under different names all over the world but ours has become peculiar to west Cornwall.

Keys

Analysing the keys of our current repertoire was a fascinating exercise. Two-thirds of our repertoire is played in a major key, with G and D dominating and a couple in F and C. I think this has a lot to do with the influence box players have had on Cornish Trad music. When you look at the historical instrumental repertoire the story is very different with Bb, F and C accounting for far more tunes, probably reflect the dominance of the fiddle and fifes, and of course, those keys being common for sung tunes. Just under one-third of our tunes are in a minor key, here we have more variation with Em being the most popular. We also play a few modal tunes, and arguably some of the minor key tunes are/were modal judging by accidentals and have used concert pitch keys to standardise them for communal playing.

Era

If the above isn’t enough to convince you that the sound of Cornish Trad is both varied and full of musical interest, let’s take a look at the eras that our traditional tunes come from. Some people really think that Cornish music is a modern invention but the evidence from the tune collection of Penzance Cornish Session, and indeed the wider wealth of Cornish Trad tunes, would suggest otherwise. Let me explain the terms I use to divide tunes into different periods. These categories are not set in stone, they just help us (me) better understand what we’re playing.

  • Historical. Recorded or known by the 18th century
  • Old. Recorded or known by the 19th century
  • Classic. Recorded or known by the 20th century
  • Modern. Composed for the tradition after 1990
  • Unknown. Unclear origins.

About one-third of our repertoire comprises modern tunes. These are tunes composed by identifiable people after 1990 specifically for the tradition (I call this the Racca period, the major project to bring together music specifically for the purpose of Cornish bands, sessions and events). Nearly 50% of our tunes are Classic (20th c.) or Old (19th c.). Some of those may even have been in circulation much earlier, it’s just the era in which they were notable enough to be recorded in collections of songs or tunes or otherwise recorded from living memory.

12% of our repertoire, probably uniquely among Cornish sessions, are from the historical period, that of the 18th century and before. We are great fans of Mike O’Connor’s work on Cornish musical manuscripts and want to bring these tunes that were enjoyed at Cornish country houses and special events, into the repertoire. A small percentage of tunes we just don’t know how they got into our books, but I guess that’s folk music for you!

Cornwall is not an island

To conclude this post on what Cornish music sounds like, I’d like to remind readers that Cornwall is not, and certainly has never been, an island. Until the 1940s Cornwall was at the centre of global maritime commerce and transport. Traditional music will not obey modern political and administrative boundaries and so the search for pure Cornish tunes is probably futile (although in some cases we really cannot find any variations, relatives or similar tunes elsewhere) and equally futile is denying that a distinctly Cornish tradition of music exists, being either just a modern invention, or just part of an English tradition. No one has ever told us our session sounds like English music!

I would expect our repertoire to be magpie-ish. We are not far from Ireland and the other regions of the Atlantic highway. People come and go in maritime communities, some of them stay and become part of more static agricultural communities of the interior. Newlyn Reel, a tune and dance popularised by Newlyn fisher folk, sounds awfully like a polonaise from Eastern Europe, and why not? For me that kind of thing is typically Cornish, being open to outside influences and making them our own.

The Duke of Cornwall’s Reel, Penzance Cornish Session’s end of evening tune.

Can Palores – Song of the Chough

We are very happy to share news of a rare manuscript of Cornish music found in Penzance’s Morrab Library. It is of a song called Can Palores or Song of the Chough.

In March 2019, Cornish Trad editors Tom and Tehmina Goskar, were rootling in the pamphlets section of the Jenner Room when they found two documents slipped into the cover of a copy of Ralph Dunstan’s Cornish Dialect and Folk Songs, 1932.

The song was composed by Dr. Ralph Dunstan, a Cornishman and musicologist to whom we owe much of our knowledge of traditional Cornish music and song. The musical manuscript is fleeting, providing barely 12 bars of a lilting tune, somewhat of a slow air, in D major, set for harmony singing. It is beautifully penned in Dunstan’s own hand with one of its verses in Kernewek, the Cornish language. Until the discovery of this manuscript no one in modern times knew the song’s tune.

Can Palores manuscript (Morrab Library)

1932 is a key year in the story of this find. Tehmina takes up the story.

The Western Morning News of 17 September 1932 contains an article by a correspondent called Cornishwoman. It describes a Celtic song, dance and theatrical concert performed at the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro under Dunstan’s direction.

Excerpt from Western Morning News, 17 September 1932 describing the Celtic concert at the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro

The newspaper article refers to the performance of An Balores, a “Cornish interlude” in which Phoebe Nance took part. Phoebe Nance, later Procter, from Carbis Bay was made a bard of the Gorsedh the week before and took the name Morwennol—Sea Swallow. Could it have been Phoebe that performed Can Palores during her interlude? We know Phoebe was musical and also a fluent Cornish speaker.

It became clear that the four verses at the end of the play belonged to Can Palores that we found in the Morrab Library.

Having found the newspaper description of the Truro performance, it remained a mystery what the “interlude” called An Balores was referring to. Correspondence with Cornish bard, scholar and poet Pol Hodge mentioned that also in 1932 Robert Morton Nance had published a short play called An Balores. Luckily we were able to locate a copy from the public library quite quickly and it became clear that the four verses at the end of the play belonged to Can Palores that we found in the Morrab Library.

An Balores by Mordon (Robert Morton Nance), published in St Ives, 1932

King Arthur is not dead!

The short and little-known play–published locally in St Ives and not widely circulated–involves four men and two women who debate the death of a chough on a bier in front of them. One of them is the justice. He questions the others about the reason for the bird’s demise. The play and song’s purpose is to link the symbolism of the (Cornish) icon of King Arthur, Cornish identity and the Cornish language, which, through its revival, will ensure that the chough and King Arthur – and Cornwall – will live on. The refrain of the song, which appears at the end of the play, is “Nyns-yu marrow Myghtern Arthur!” or “King Arthur is not dead!”

Morton Nance, who became Grand Bard of the Cornish Gorsedh a couple of years after writing An Balores, was also the founder of the Old Cornwall Society movement and a chief proponent of the Cornish language and culture revival.

“I have many other Cornish Songs of various kinds – several from Jim Thomas — I see no hope of ever publishing them in complete form with accompaniments.” 

Letter from Ralph Dunstan to Henry Jenner, 18 July 1932 (Morrab Library)

The letter that was found with Can Palores was written on 18 July 1932, just months before Ralph Dunstan’s death on 2 April 1933. Dunstan writes to Henry Jenner, another leader of the Cornish language and culture revival and founder of the Gorsedh in 1928. In the letter Dunstan spoke of many unpublished manuscripts of songs he had collected from Cornish communities that he had hoped to publish so they may be enjoyed again. Tragically this did not come to pass and his musical archive is believed to have been destroyed either by going damp in a garden shed or possibly burned by his daughter.

“As Cornish speakers, our little choir makes a point of singing only in the Cornish language.”

Steve Penhaligon, Keur Heb Hanow choir

Modern day debut and talk

The song will enjoy its first public performance in 87 years at a concert at Morrab Library on Tuesday 2 July at 5.30pm. Cornish-language choir Keur Heb Hanow will perform Can Palores together with a selection of other Cornish folk songs. Tehmina Goskar will present a short talk on the historical context of the discovery.

Steve Penhaligon, leader of the choir said, “Keur Heb Hanow are really excited and grateful to be involved in the rediscovery and relaunch of this song.

As Cornish speakers, our little choir makes a point of singing only in the Cornish language. However, ninety-five percent of what we sing was written originally in English and then translated especially for us. So, it’s a rare and thrilling experience to be given something to perform that was written in the Cornish language.

The piece has added meaning for us as it was written by one the key language revivalists and second Grand Bard, Robert Morton Nance.”

An balores, du hy lyu,
Ruth ha’y gelvyn cam ha’y garrow,
War als Kernow whath a-vew,
Kyn leverer hy bos marrow.

Ebon hued, with leg and bill
Coral crimson, brightly planished,
On the cliffs of Cornwall still
Lives the chough they said had vanished.

Yn palores, ny a-wor,
Spyrys Arthur, mo ha myttyn,
Whath a-dryk, ha ryp an mor
A-wra gwytha Enys Breten.

In a chough, as all men know,
Arthur’s spirit, too, unsleeping
Round our isle while tides shall flow,
Over us his watch is keeping.

Myghtern Arthur, dre dha voth,
Pan us gansa dha balores,
Re-bo gans tus Kernow Goth
Bys vynytha bew dha spyrys.

O, King Arthur, grant that all
Who shall take thy chough as token,
May upon thy spirit call
To keep Cornwall’s faith unbroken.

Yeth Kernow, re-be hyrneth
A’y growth yn enewores,
Ena a-dhassergh ynweth
Maga few avel palores.

So again our Cornish tongue,
That has lain so long a-dying,
Shall rise up as strong and young
As is e’er a chough that’s flying.

Nyns-yu marrow Myghtern Arthur!

King Arthur is not dead!

Spread the tune and the words

Roz Peskett of Keur Heb Hanow, said that the revival of this Cornish song should be an opportunity for discovery, celebration and performance.

Free to download and distribute. Play Can Palores at your session or in your band or music group.

As proponents of Cornish music as a living tradition we agree. Update: We have pulled out the melody so that instrumentalists can play it at sessions or arrange it for band set lists.

We would love to see people use Can Palores as a source of inspiration for introducing the song into their choirs and bands or even adapting the tune for a session or contemporary piece. Kernow bys vyken!

Booking for the performance and talk is essential and a suggested donation of £4 will be requested on the night. For more information and to secure a reservation, please ring Morrab Library on 01736 364474.

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.

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.