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?