At long last - a songbook of all the available recordings of 'Cornwall's First Lady of Song', Brenda Wootton, singing the Cornish language songs of Richard Gendall - 33 songs on 2 CDs, each with musical scores and 3 sets of lyrics, as well as an insightful study of the serendipitous partnership of Brenda and song-writer Richard.
Nearly 50 years ago, Cornish singer Brenda Wootton was introduced to the Cornish language by Cornish Bard, Richard Gendall. This was exciting news to her, and she encouraged Richard to write more of his wonderful songs for her to sing – not that he needed much encouragement. She and Richard were both as eager to spread the word – Richard, knowing that he was not a natural performer, was delighted at last to have found someone who could do justice to his compositions, and spread them far and wide; Brenda was thrilled to have discovered a wellspring of material she could promote as being truly Cornish, to her fast-growing audience around the world. They needed each other, and for some 18 years, continued to enjoy the unique opportunities their musical partnership afforded them.
Despite her interest and enthusiasm, Brenda never did manage to become fluent in Kernewek, but pledged to sing at least one song in Cornish at every performance – which she did. They made one Cornish language album together, 'Crowdy Crawn' in 1973, but the natural outcome of their informal partnership should have been songbooks and CDs, and it never happened. From Richard and Brenda's correspondence, it seems that was one of Richard's dearest wishes - but the amount of work involved to achieve that proved too much.
Given the number of songs that Richard created for Brenda - over 460, about a third of which were in Cornish - it is not surprising that she was only ever actually able to learn and perform about a third of them. We are delighted to be able to offer two of the ‘unsung’ numbers on these CDs, performed by guest artists, Cornwall virtuoso Hilary Coleman with Neil Davey, and the multi-lingual Celtic performer, Gwenno.
The aim of the project is to make these songs more widely available to the Cornish, and indeed anyone else who is interested - music lovers, Celts of all nations, cultural and linguistic historians... There was a danger that those songs not already recorded on Brenda's albums might have sunk without trace, so it became my mission to save whatever recordings I could find of Brenda singing Richard's Cornish songs - and to present them with a songbook. The musical scores are printed with Richard's original Cornish words, alongside the newly-translated Standard Written Form of Cornish, and also in English, so enabling both accomplished Cornish speakers and learners to make use of the tunes.
There are 31 recordings of songs in Cornish performed by Brenda - some are taken from her LPs, but there are several that are unpublished: concert recordings, practice tapes etc. In addition, we have the 2 unused songs of Richard's recorded by our Guest Artists, Hilary Coleman and Neil Davey, and Gwenno, bringing the total to 33. There is an extensive introduction with biographical information about Brenda and Richard, with the focus on the reclusive Richard Gendall, about whom much less is known, and insights into his motivations. I have added a table in the Appendix with the complete list of Richard's Cornish songs of which I have some evidence - lyrics, music and/or recordings, if there should be further interest.
We estimate that the BYK project will cost in the region of £3000. It has already attracted grant offers from Mark Trevethan, Cornwall Language Lead at Cornwall Council, and from the Cornwall Heritage Trust, so a third of this cost has now been covered - and this Crowdfunding campaign hopes to raise the remaining £2000 - and more if possible!
We plan to launch the songbook and CDs at a celebration at the Count House, Botallack, near St Just, hopefully sometime in July - date to be confirmed. The event will mark the unveiling of the Blue Plaque awarded to Brenda four years ago by BBC Radio Cornwall listeners, in honour of National Music Day - every local radio station was asked to submit their listeners' most popular choice, and Brenda was Cornwall's favourite. As it was not possible to mount the plaque on the walls of Radio Cornwall, it had not found a permanent home until now - and the location of Brenda's Piper's Folk Club at the Count House, from where her musical career was launched, is the perfect spot. The National Trust, owners of Botallack now, have given permission to also hold a concert of old friends and performers from the Club, probably outside. (Subscribers and Crowdfunder supporters will receive their copies and rewards as soon as possible after the launch - we'll keep you informed!)
The book and accompanying CDs will normally retail at £20, and is not being produced for personal gain. Any profits over and above costs will be used to explore ways of increasing the impact of this project, via schools, singing groups and Cornish Associations worldwide.
The project has been supported throughout by a number of Bards of the Gorsedh Kernow, and others: Pol Hodge has worked hard on the translations to SWF, with assistance from Will Coleman (of Golden Tree Productions) - Will says: "I just think that this is SO wonderful – what an important piece of work Sue is doing... just wanted to let you know how great I think the whole thing is (and I can’t wait to hear the bloomin' tracks!)
Hilary Coleman has commented: "Had a check through the edits and it all looks good, and reminds me yet again what a fabulous and much-needed book this is!"
Mark Trevethan feels strongly that the songs would be very valuable for schools, and says: "I’d like to make the songs available to a new generation and in a way that reinforces their learning, but personally, I’d also love to see how Brenda and Dick were using Cornish at the time." He added: "I love the version of Kerra Kernow in the recordings you sent. It is so uplifting and celebratory."
Richard's only surviving son, Phil, has been consulted, and is very supportive, as is former Grand Bard Merv Davey. He felt that the setting of the different versions of the lyrics beside each other adds much to the story, commenting: "I had a quick look and it is absolutely magic...".
Mike O'Connor, musicologist, musician and author, has given me much valuable advice about printing music books. Deborah Came has worked wonders with the music manuscripts, having been presented with an assortment of hand-written and scribbled originals, and Mic McCreadie and Richard Prest have achieved amazing things with recordings some 50-years old. Other relatives of Richard, great-nephew Tim Pearson and nephew Geoff March (of Cheltenham band Decameron), have supplied some magical photos and also biographical information.
And not forgetting Hilary Coleman, Neil Davey and Gwenno Saunders and their associates, who have been working so hard to learn and record the new songs for us. We are very grateful indeed for their efforts. (Gwenno appears courtesy of Heavenly Recordings).
I do hope you would like to be a part of this important and valuable historic and cultural project for Cornwall. Do please select whatever option you feel comfortable with, and help us out with our funding... and do copy the links and spread the word to everyone you know.
a) How will I receive my Reward?
Physical rewards will be sent by post around the time of the book launch (hopefully before the end of July, but no confirmation until later), unless you would prefer to attend the Launch event and collect in person; the larger prizes (framed pictures) we would prefer to hand over at the Launch, but if this is not possible, we will post.
b) Which countries can you ship rewards to?
Postage of rewards in the UK is included in the initial cost, but we can ship to anywhere in the world for an additional payment of the difference between UK postage and that for your country, If you live abroad, please contact us beforehand for a quote, and you will be able to add that cost as an additional ‘Pledge’ at Checkout.
c) How will you use my data?
You will be asked at Checkout regarding email permissions in line with the GDPR Regulations. Please do consider allowing us permission to use your email address if you'd like to be kept in touch with developments - we may send you information about selected news items, or future projects, which could include further CDs of Brenda's music or Song Books. We promise not to spam you, or to pass your details on to a third party... Thanks!
d) Can I pledge more than once?
If there are 2 or more options you'd like to go for, or if you'd like more copies of the book, feel free!
e) What will happen in the case of a shortfall, or to any extra funds raised?
If we are lucky enough to receive more than our stated aim, the difference may be used to produce packs for schools and singing groups, to further promote the book, or to produce more copies if the demand is there. Profits from the book’s sales will be used to further extend the scope of the project. If there is a shortfall, we will have to make up the difference, or go for a smaller print run - but we'd prefer not to avoid that if possible!
f) More questions?
Get in touch via my email: [email protected], or via my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sue.ellery
For more information on Brenda, her lengthy and well-illustrated biography is available on my Brenda Wootton website, as well as three recently-produced CDs.
Brenda's website and shop