Archive for the ‘historical’ Category

Redruth writer Abi Wyatt has news of a second Murder of Krows Anthology, co-edited by Abi and Duncan Yeates, which is due to be launched in the autumn at The Melting Pot in Redruth. Along with special artwork, poems include offerings by Dr Alan Kent and Les Merton, and other poets in Cornwall. It will be a limited print run ! Copies are sure to be snapped up so get in touch with Abi, perhaps via Poetry24 or by Red River Poets facebook page.poetry24

Co-edited by Abi, in addition, is the international, news-inspired poetry web site Poetry24, and Abi is keen to encourage submissions from poets based in Cornwall. If you are a poet in Cornwall and would like to contribute, scoot over to Poetry24 and have a look . . . If you don’t yet feel up to contributing (yet), why not scoot over to Poetry24 and have a look anyway at today’s muse on the news.

Of Abi’s own work, her poem ‘The Long Falling Down‘ is included in a recent anthology of poems ‘Journey to Crone‘. This is one of the five star reviews:

Excellent and moving poetry. The Poems are original, insightful, well crafted, and distinctly female. The voices resonate long after the reading is complete.

Ashley and Eileen Ludgate organised a mini-folk music festival at the Bath Inn, Penzance, where Abi performed more of her poems, including the haunting and soon-to-be-anthologised ‘Dozy Mary‘. It’s good that music and poetry are mixing at events in Cornwall.

Staying in Penzance, a new writer’s group called Writer’s Cafe is set to meet every other Tuesday, at 2pm, in the Lost and Found cafe, Chapel Street, Penzance. The 9th July 2013 is the next meeting, that’s this Tuesday coming !! And from the 17th to the 21st July is this year’s Penzance Literary Festival, with dozens of excellent events – have a look at the website and browse through the schedule – too much good stuff to list here (and much of that is Cornish in composition and/or content – the usual suspects and some interesting others (including music) . . .).
Passio Cristi page from Scawen
One of the talks at Pz lit fest is presented by the Penzance Conservation Community Interest Company – in May they took delivery of William Scawen‘s original manuscript of his Antiquities Cornu-Brittanic 1688, and also his Observations on a Cornish Manuscript entitled Passio Christi i.e. the poem Pascon Agan Arluth. Cornwall Record Office also contracted Pz Conservation CIC to restore William Borlase’s 1750 Memorandums of the Cornish Tongue original manuscript. (These historically significant Cornish manuscripts might be held in the proposed Redruth archive centre, which was recently awarded a £386 thousand heritage lottery grant towards the price tag of around £15 million. It would be nice if these manuscripts above were fully digitised for public viewing before too long. Mar plek.)
Williams Llawnt
In 1865 Rev Robert Williams of Llawnt Ugha (Lawns Ughella / Upper Lawn) in Wales published Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum, which was perhaps the first modern Cornish dictionary. Now, Cornish cultural writer Derek R Williams has authored Williams: The Llawnt – a biography of the Welsh minister and linguist, published by the excellent Y Lolfa.
Looking to Cornwall’s east, another publication brought to our attention is Theatreworks, a collection of plays by Charles Causley, edited by Alan Kent and published by Francis Boutle. Included among 11 librettos and other dramatic works are The Doctor and the Devils (inspired by the work of Dylan Thomas), The Ballad of Aucassin and Nicolette, first performed at the Exeter festival in 1978, and The Tinderbox,which Charles Causley wrote for Kneehigh Theatre in 1990. Alan himself drekly will have published his new books Towards a Cornish Philosophy and a book for children, Surf Dogs.

Sadly for its workers as well as for the future of book production within Cornwall, MPG Books of Bodmin has gone into administration in the last month with the loss of more than 50 jobs.

Written, and with photographs collected, by motor engineering aficiando Ernie Warmington of Redruth, Cornish Road Transport Through Time, published by Amberley Publishing (Amberley in Sussex being the resting place of ASD Smith/Caradar, by the way) traces its subject from Murdock’s engine, and horse drawn vehicles of various kinds to internal combustion motor vehicles used, and produced in Cornwall.
Road transport Cornwall


images2Voog’s Ocean: a historical drama embedded with magic realist and spiritual overtones and a poetic and compelling new novel from Alan M Kent.

Readers of Kent’s previous novelistic output such as the social realist trilogy of Charlie Curnow books may be initially surprised that Kent has now shifted his attention to the opposite end of the historical spectrum. However, this dovetails exactly with what appears to be one of Kent’s key themes in his writing: a thorough and thoughtful examination of the Cornish identity and the Duchy’s impact on the wider world.

The geographical sweep and attention to detail in this novel is superb. Beginning in West Cornwall Kent introduces us to a fogou builder named Voog – who, after an unforgiveable indiscretion at the expense of a local village chief, is banished from his home. Displaced, he undertakes an epic seagoing journey assisted by a broad cast of unusual characters, many of who represent the evolving dynamic between pagan spirituality and the emergence of Christianity. Without wishing to ruin the plot of the novel Voog’s final stop on his journey works as an intelligent foreshadowing of Cornish migratory patterns in years to come.

The most striking thing about Kent’s writing in Voog’s Ocean is its sheer lyricism; something fitting with both the period in which the novel is set and the tone of many of our remaining stories from this era. It is also worth remarking on the verisimilitude of Voog’s voice. Having read countless novels where the narrator’s voice is clearly that of the author; it is refreshing to see in Kent’s sensitive and sparing use of dialect the cadences of Cornish speech. In addition to this I would commend to the reader’s attention the insight and understanding contextually relevant to Voog’s status: he knows what he knows and is an engaging and convincing narrator because of this. However, fans of the earthy humour and honesty Kent evinces in much of his written output will also not be disappointed. This is mainly due to the fact that although gifted with a poetic, storytelling voice Voog does not flinch from Kent’s trademark dark humour or covering the more unsavoury elements of the period.

As well as being a meticulously well-researched historical novel, Kent’s narrative also makes some interesting use of magic realism. This dovetails well with our lack of concrete knowledge of the era, and the myths and legend prevalent at this time – many of which were created by travellers such as Voog.

Rooted in Cornwall but with an acute awareness of the Duchy’s context in world history, Voog’s Ocean represents another positive phase of Kent ‘s journey to establish and delineate the specifics of Cornish identity.

Cornish stage writer and theatrical director inter alia, Tony Jasper, has had a distinguished career based in London but touring the UK and further afield with his Jasperian Theatre Company. Now based back in Ludgvan, he is, when not still touring, frequently found in Cornish chapels and, recently, Gwennap pit, leading services or community hymn singing. For yes, you’ve guessed it from the title, this book is all about hymns – with a somewhat Cornish bias.

Many people find the marriage of poetry and harmony, in addition to its nature as form of worship, to be an art form of sophistication which bears in-depth analysis. No faith is required to appreciate the interlocking skill with which verses (usually rhyming) are either inspired or jockeyed into form, nor to admire the skill with which some tunes have been assembled into harmonies fitting the metre and sense of the words. Indeed the final bolting-together of poetry and harmony into a product (as we’ll see, they can easily be unbolted and swapped for some other combination . . .) is a choice whose pros and cons are explored in Next We Shall Sing.

Any musically literate person with a couple of hymn books to hand can follow the author’s arguments. There is no musical notation, although readers’ unfamiliarity with tunes alluded to can easily be remedied by a delve into said hymnals. An analysis by music consultant David Rumsey can be found here of the 1933 Methodist Hymn Book (half a century older than its, arguably inferior, replacement – Hymns & Psalms), which features large in the autobiographical part of Tony’s book – this analysis covers many of the hymns mentioned in Next We Shall Sing, and includes examination of their musical harmonies and metre. The compendious 1988 Companion to Hymns and Psalms is, as Tony writes, also full of pertinent facts and history which wouldn’t fit into his book.

Chapter 2, in particular, details Tony Jasper’s youth and its musical element in Cornish chapels and churches (and schools) around Penzance in the ’40s-’60s – I’ll concentrate mostly on that chapter in this review. Subsequent chapters take a view of religious music in the UK, including hymns for children, Afro-Caribbean contributions and late 20th C praise music, with a digression into the US scene. (I’m musically not illiterate but don’t feel myself qualified to comment in detail on these chapters, beyond remarking on a sense of them.) This important fact should not be overlooked: the chapels of Cornwall have been so successfully self-effacing, self-erasing and now relatively invisible, and yet were a hugely influential oral and word-based cultural influence on a vast number of Cornish people’s minds – the 24 pages of this chapter 2, well-informed and balanced as it is, are an insightful and rare scan.

Tony’s eclectic ecclesiastical upbringing, (which reminds of A L Rowse as in his Cornish Childhood) by his own will, afforded him a breadth of experience of in various denominations (Anglican -> Congregationalist -> Methodist, with visits and sojourns in an illuminating variety of the other vibrant chapels and churches existing at that time). Readers used only to contemporary choral mores may find his observations of time and place surprising in comparison; for example, opposition to choruses and repeated lines, were significant factors in hymnody at that time, simultaneous with, perhaps, a much more committed and accomplished musical culture. Which tune to use: Kingsfold or Vox Dilecti ? And Cwm Rhondda – so that was not the setting originally used by the Welsh for William Williams’ Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah ?? Fascinating stuff, casually and briefly passed on. There is, ahem, reference made to ‘ranting tunes’ – presumably partisans of these tunes would not so call them, but such disparagement, couched as it is in affectionately dry humour, is eminently forgivable :-). The influence of the BBC religious broadcasts of the 50s, in a sign of things to come, on a hitherto source of influence – the chapel hymn board – is recorded. I would, of course, have been glad of such a chapter twice or thrice as great in local content; but clearly in the remaining chapters Tony had more ground to cover. At a later point in time, a recapitulation and expansion of this chapter in some form, for readers interested in hymn-singing specifically in Cornwall, would be good.

The text will stimulate and provoke disagreement !” warns the preface. Having read this caveat, I expected a polemic testament for or against kinds of music, and in that I was pleasantly disappointed. In fact, the book’s view is both measured and catholic in taste – the ongoing dialectic throughout (put crudely, “old vs. new”), being umpired and commentated on fairly and in very well-informed and up-to-date manner (with only a sidelong, anonymous reference to the Nine O’Clock Service). Readers of the book won’t find themselves bogged down by intrusively laboured opinions – the final words are an eloquent appeal for understanding and mutual cooperation on music in the Church. Where I was provoked into disagreement was in this very chapter 2, viz “Diadem is a tune that slowly works itself up into a frenzy, to hit an almost orgasmic flourish at the end as the ‘Crown Him’s came into play, and the bass reverberates from sweating men“. Now this tune Diadem is, as he points out, not Cornish in origin, but it became such an icon of tribal and spiritual values that I scramble to defend it from any implication of profanity. Used for “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name“, it has the same sort of robust and confident runs (particularly in the bass) with staccato counterpoint in the chorus as in the much-loved carol tune Seraphic Minstrels. Tis not to everyone’s liking (particularly for treble parts – even as a tenor I somewhat envy the basses’ fortunate duty in this tune, but it’s too magnificent a work to grudge over :-)) – nevertheless tis valid and of value. I’ll briefly quote from The Long Winter Ends, a novel written by Cornish emigré Newton G. Thomas in Chicago, published in 1941 and telling the immigration of Cornish mining families to the Keweenaw’s mines in Upper Peninsula, Michigan – in the first few pages, we have this, sung by miners from the 18th level of the bal – ascending de profundis for the last time – passing their comrades on the levels above – upon the night of the closure of their mine near Kit Hill:

Suddenly, breaking the silence of the waiting plats came the familiar sound from below, not one but many bound into a harmonious whole. It smote the silence with magic and filled the place it had occupied – a pianissimo as faint as an echo on a distant hill. Slowly it grew into a moderato, increasing in power until in a bursting crescendo made perfect by the approaching cage, it matured to its fullest strength as the singers dashed by each listening, waiting drift. As perfectly it faded away – from crescendo to moderato, to pianissimo, until, as echoes die, it died – died as it was born.

“Diadem,” said a listener when silence had returned. “A brave tune.”

And with that I respectfully rest my case on Diadem‘s behalf. With that also I hope that my earlier point, about the crucial nature of chapel song in the lives of ordinary Cornish people, is taken – details such as these ventured by Tony are invaluable should anyone try to recreate the milieu of, say, the Jack Clemo novels, because details like these conditioned much of the texture of people’s behaviour and values. As I say though, for an emotive subject (since quarrels over sacred music are disturbingly common) the book treads a wide and middle way, helped by a good-natured and light touch in criticism. My only gripe, and not a grave one, with the bulk of the book: there are too many quotes for my liking from musicologists such as Erik Routley; I’d rather have had space lent to more practical observations and conclusions from Tony himself. Overall: both reverent and relevant, a sincere and informed study into offering both straightforward church/chapel music and the numinous by human voice – ‘tis mystery all – is this book.

All this means that you grow up with choirs and quartets who sing of life’s hardness, of death’s nearness, and that means you hear Lead Kindly Light or visualise local boats and crews, as the words of Eternal Father Strong To Save drive their way home to your consciousness . . . How was he to know that when we sang Eternal Father Strong To Save he would be part of a crew swallowed like by Jonah’s whale, but in this case never to find dry land, for the Eternal Father never answered that day in the way that was desired.

Next We Shall Sing is published by Highland Books Ltd, Godalming, 2008.

On Youtube, a week or two back, was put this well-produced video (by 3 S films), as part of a Cornwall Record Office project, featuring William Scawen: pioneer Cornish/Kernewek language revivalist of the 1600/1700s.

One of his manuscripts on the subject is discussed at his home, Molenick near Saltash, by Chloe Phillips of the Cornwall Record Office and Prof. Mark Stoyle (University of Southampton), an early-modern historian of the south west of Britain and one who for long has been a significant factor in processing Cornish history of that period (for example he published an article, regarding early-modern Cornwall’s turmoils, in the BBC History Magazine in 1997, with many papers and books on similar themes since). Prof. Matthew Spriggs of Australian National University, Canberra, further developed that essay on Wm Scawen with a perceptive paper of his own.

It might surprise people (it did me) that in Matthew Spriggs’ paper (reiterated here by Mark Stoyle) it’s stated that Wm Scawen never became conversant in Cornish (although the Tonkins & Keigwins and others around Mounts Bay with whom he corresponded 300 years ago do seem to have been bilingual). Then again, striking too is Matthew Spriggs’ suggestion that Wm Scawen might have inspired Edward Lhuyd‘s founding study of Celtic linguistics.

Another thing puzzles me: pronunciation of the surname Scawen (and the surname Scown in, say, Stephens Scown) to rhyme with English ‘sawn’ (or ‘sewn’), instead of rhyming with how we d’say Boscawen (which rhymes with ‘crown’ in English). Perhaps our ‘elders’ can enlighten us. Explanations gratefully received ! 🙂

And finally, whether Wm Scawen’s “Antiquities Cornu-Brittanic” of around 1688 has ever yet actually been published (ideally, in electronic form) is unclear to me – hopefully by now copyright will not be a problem ! – perhaps someone in the know could … let us know. Mur ras !