A Song for Cornwall

 With the Eurovision Song Contest taking place in May, we take a look at some of Cornwall’s best loved, home grown melodies that are always guaranteed to receive those coveted twelve points.

 1. If ever there was a tune to make a Cornish person rise up with pride then The Song of the Western Men, better known simply as ‘Trelawny’, fits the patriotic bill perfectly. One of Cornwall’s most famous sons, Bishop Trelawny, imprisoned in the Tower of London by King James II in 1688, is remembered through this rousing song written in the early 19th century by the Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker, the demonstrable eccentric incumbent of Morwenstow parish, (he used to dress in oilskins, sit on a rock and pretend he was a mermaid) Hawker published the lyrics anonymously in a Plymouth paper in 1824 and although inspired by the chorus raised by Cornishmen on Bishop Trelawny’s imprisonment, the song contains earlier references to the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 when 15,000 marched on London in protest of punitive tax levies. The song does however contain one or two inaccuracies; the march on London which took place in the year he was imprisoned and described in the third verse in fact only reached as far as Bristol when Trelawny was released, never quite fulfilling the line,And when we come to London’s Wall, A pleasant sight to view”. Nevertheless a few historical oversights have never stopped this most inspiring of anthems being sung whenever Cornish men and women get together for a stirring affirmation of their ‘Cornishness’.

2. Celebrities making fools of themselves to earn a fast buck is not a new phenomenon as back in 1978, Sir Terry Wogan demonstrated when he hit the British pop charts with his version of The Floral Dance, one of the county’s most famous tunes making it a nationwide favourite. His version of the Floral Dance was composed in 1911 by London born composer Katie Moss and is allegedly based on the true incident when, whilst visiting Helston Floral Day, Moss was grabbed by a stranger who enticed her to join in the dancing. “…With outstretched hands he came along and carried me into that merry throng”. The tune incorporates the original ‘Furry’ Dance melody, played during the celebrations every year by Helston Town Band, a tune which is said to date back to a pre-Christian times.

 3. One of Cornwall’s folk songs that commemorates the county’s industrial past is ‘Camborne Hill’ dedicated to Richard Trevethick, probably the world’s most unsung hero. The Cornish-born mechanical genius invented the first ever full-scale working railway steam locomotive in 1801 named the’ Puffing Devil’, which must have scared the natives of Camborne witless. However Trevethick soon won over the locals by taking a few of them on an exhilarating locomotive ride through the town’s main street and up the hill towards the village of Beacon. To commemorate this momentous event, ‘Camborne Hill’ was composed complete with its somewhat Luddite references to the horses standing still as “...the wheels went around”, announcing the technological innovations that would push Cornwall’s mining industry centre stage. Still a firm favourite just before closing time in many a Cornish pub, you may hear the often omitted verse referring to a lady of ill repute who was infamous in the town at the time!

 4. Ladies of ill repute seem to be a source of inspiration for another of Cornwall’s classic folk songs, this time the well-known song ‘Lamorna’. Thought to have originated in the Victorian era, Lamorna tells the didactic tale of a liaison between an already married couple. “Twas down in Albert Square…”, that the woman fools her womanizing husband into thinking she is a lady of the night and it’s not until she lifts her veil in the dim light of a carriage that he realises she is indeed his wife and he’s been duped into revealing his philandering. Origins of the song are unclear, but the style is classic Edwardian music hall and some tenuously believe it actually refers to Pomora Docks near Albert Square in Manchester which means its origins are further a field, However there is one theory that seems to fit well, in which the action is described taking place in the back of 'Jorey’s Jingle', a horse drawn vehicle that back in the 19th century used to run from Albert Square, which is thought to have existed off present day Albert Street in Penzance, to Lamorna Cove

  5. If you’ve never heard this most melodic of Cornish folk songs, ‘The White Rose’, sung by a male voice choir then you really haven’t experienced the musical bond that exists in the county. Using the image of the white rose, a popular device in folk culture worldwide representing purity and innocence, the lyrics of the song are a sad reminiscence of a love that has blossomed and gone. “…And now that you've left me my darling, From your grave one single flower grows, I will always remember you darling, When I gaze on that lily white rose”. Origins of the song are more than obscure with some believing it refers to Cornish support for the Yorkist White Rose in the 15th century, but despite its vague heritage, the haunting melody never fails to produce a lump in the throat.

6. One of Cornwall’s most ‘modern’ folk songs has its origins across the water in the USA. ‘Little Eyes’ or ‘Lize’ is said to have been originally brought back to Cornwall by returning tin miners in then early 20th century who had learnt the folk song while working in America. The song became more well-known in Cornwall via a B-side on a single released by the Delta River Boys, a close harmony group from Oklahoma popular in the 1950s. In their version the song was titled Honey, Honey and was later incorporated into the repertoire of local Camborne band, the ‘Joy Boys’. With a few lyric changes: in the original the song make reference to a cheating girlfriend, whilst in the Cornish version, the singer dreams fondly of his love, the song has become immersed in the Cornish psyche belying its relatively recent addition to the music culture.