Feature interview with Hilary Coleman and Frances Bennett

Gwaryoryon (Playing People). L-R Hilary Coleman (Clarinet), Liz Davies (Accordion), Jo Tagney (Fiddle)
(courtesy of Hilary Coleman).

I interviewed Hilary Coleman and Frances Bennett over Zoom a few weeks ago about their journeys in Cornish traditional music. I asked them about their views of being performers, composers, teachers and leaders of a stellar list of groups and movements on the Cornish Trad scene.

This interview is already an important historical document. It is about so much more than their personal experiences that is relevant to anyone interested in Cornish traditional music and its history. It covers their early life in music, learning instruments, being part of seminal Cornish Trad bands such as Gwaryoryon, the Jack and Jenny Band and Sowena. How Dalla emerged from these groups, why the Nos Lowen (Happy Night) movement started, how Bagas Crowd, Cornwall’s mighty fiddle group started and continues to grow, how they go about composing new music for the tradition including the creation of kabm pemp (5-steps), and finally some fantastic insights into gender and challenging the archetype of the “young Cornish working class man.”

These two women are two of my great inspirations when exploring and playing Cornish music and it was a real privilege to have had this opportunity to capture their stories. Meur ras bras!

Cornish traditional music on YouTube

I’ve created a YouTube playlist called Cornish Trad. I’ve selected 45 videos over the last year or so, and the list will keep growing. They represent, to us at least, the best of Cornish trad music, mainly instrumental, on YouTube at the moment. If you have a video that we’re missing out on, drop us a line!

The playlist is pretty varied, from the brilliant Cornish Knight jigs by MacQuarrie and Toms — Bishop’s Jig (trad), Hernen Wyn (trad), An Marrak (Merv Davey)– to the full play of the first ever album of Celtic Cornish trad by Bucca, The Hole in the Harper’s Head or An Tol Yn Pen Yn Telynor released in 1982.

Cornish Trad playlist on YouTube.

Enjoy the performance of historical Cornish tunes such as John Old’s Nameless by Mike O’Connor and Barbara Griggs, and the Egloshayle Ringers by Salt and Sky (Emma Packer and Lizzie Pridmore), learn about Cornish instruments such as the Cornish double bagpipes or find out more about the dances that some of the tunes are used for such as the Cornish five-step or kabm pemp.

Mike O’Connor (fiddle) and Barbara Griggs (harp) play John Old’s Nameless.
Salt and Sky play and sing the Egloshayle Ringers.

You can save YouTube playlists but you can’t subscribe to them directly, unfortunately. There is still much out there on YouTube waiting for discovery. More and more historical archive footage is being uploaded too.

Nine Brave Boys by early music and La Moresca
Cornish dance Tin Stamps to the tune of the same name by Merv Davey.
British Movietone footage of Helston Furry/Flora Dance.

Because many of these videos are not titled or tagged specifically as Cornish music the best way to find your favourite tune is to search for its name or the many other names it might have in other traditions, for example, the Duke of Cornwall’s Reel is also known as the Opera Reel.

Jen Dyer (viola) and Neil Davey (fiddle)–also of Dalla–demonstrate the Cornish five-step or kabm pemp.
Opera Reel of the American Old Time tradition is also the Duke of Cornwall’s Reel here in Kernow!