RICHARD TRETHEWEY – Two Halves (own label RT002CD/LP)

Two HalvesTwo Halves was originally conceived as a vinyl release, with one side inspired by the river estuaries of his native Cornwall and the other by the county’s industrial heritage as explored on his 2012 debut, Richard reunites with producer Phil Innes and enlists various fellow locals, among them Iain McKnight for brass arrangements, Freya Jonas on piano and vocals and her mother Jenny on oboe, in addition to other guests on cornets, horn and euphonium.

Bec Applebee on vocals and crowdy crawn (a Cornish hand percussion sheepskin-covered hoop), the journey begins in jaunty mood travelling ‘The Lonesome Track’ to visit Malpas, a village near Truro once renowned as a haunt for smugglers (“On a moonless night the boats creep in to land their cargo hidden within/Sunken roads along the shore, caves and tunnels and secret doors”) that, the chorus interpolating the opening lines of ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’, warns “If you’re travelling after dark, don’t go alone but if you are/Keep your wits, keep moving on, there’s eyes a watching you all along”.

The Aggie Boys and Nicola Edwards providing harmony vocals, accompanied by military snare and swaying fiddle, inspired by the Daphne Du Maurier novel, ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ with its lengthy instrumental intro is another smugglers’ number (“hidden away in Frenchman’s Creek passing our day/This cutter will run to France and Spain, but for now/We’ll stay amongst the trees hidden away”).

In 1846, Queen Victoria decided to take the new royal yacht out for a spin and visit Cornwall with Prince Albert and the new Duke of Cornwall, Prince Edward. John Gwatkin, a magistrate from Truro, decided he’d give her an unofficial welcome to remember and so gathered seven cannon from his own residence and mounted them on a platform on the Fal riverbank at Trelissick. Firing them, the sound apparently echoed up and down the estuary and, in the appropriately court minstrel-styled ‘Queen Of The Cornish Rhine’, Trethewey imagines how it might have all gone horribly pear-shaped: “John lit a match, ignited the fuse/But the wind it suddenly blew! /It altered his aim, his heart near stopped! /Right past the Queen’s head the shots flew!” Her Majesty decidedly not amused, in this telling she demands the head of the person responsible, prompting Gwatkin to do a runner.

Arranged for piano, cello, harp and oboe, ‘Ruan Lanihorne Castle’ is a stately five-minute instrumental, leading to the end of side one with the piano-based ‘Bringing The Harvest Home’ which, Neal Jolly on low whistle and Laura Garcia on accordion, is about exactly that, the people gathering in the celebrated “Kea Plums of Cowlands and Coombe”, lining the baskets with ferns.

Side two opens with a dig into his own ancestry with the cittern trilling ‘Trethewey Mine’, the true story of how William and Joe’s families emigrated from Cornwall’s Clay Country to Ontario in the mid-19th century, making their fortune in discovering the richest deposits of silver ever found in Canada. The family moved west to British Columbia before William returned to Ontario, the song having him writing to Joe asking him to join him at the mine, the chorus imagining their Cornish life as children in the Clay Country and partaking in a feast day dance, the track ending with ‘The Rescola Snail Creep’, a traditional Cornish tune played on such occasions.

The industrial theme continues into ‘Sounds Of The Mine’ which, featuring brass courtesy the St Dennis Band Quartet, is inspired by the Cornish tin mining industry, the percussion mimicking the sound of the tin stamp hammers and other machinery as “the beam engine pumps whilst the Bal Maidens work, tending the dressing floors/There’s spalling and stamping and hammers that ring, Cobbers and Buckers break ore”, the lyrics referencing Methodist preachers John Wesley and Billy Bray and the narrator encouraging the workers to “live for the day, life can be short you will find/Find joy where you can every woman and man whether over or down in the mine”.

Family memories are again called upon for the musical box piano melody, fiddle and cello colouring of the slow waltzing metaphorically-titled ‘Hope In A Jam Jar’. Written as part of a project put together by Kneehigh Theatre called Random Acts of Art, it draws from his grandmother Mona’s recollection of how, as a nine-year-old in 1933 during the depression, the clay pit at Nanpean froze over and the locals “Each carried a jam jar, a flickering light/They placed them around to keep off the night/Truscotts and Bests, Whitford and French/They all went together and took to the ice”, the curate, Reverend Ralph Perry-Gore, collecting candles in jam jars and skating with the boys from the village as “For one frozen night their worries took flight”.

The album’s second instrumental, featuring fiddle and piano ‘Mineral Point/Two Halves’ was written during a visit to the Wisconsin town of the same name, built on the success of Cornish emigrants, the second part, spotlighting Gareth Price on wooden flute, celebrating how different parts can form a whole.

Featuring his baritone father Raymond singing in Cornish, Two Halves ends with ‘Sleeping Under Wing’, a piano and fiddle lullaby written with and for the late Frazer Wilton, a boy he worked with in his day job as a music therapist, a lovely close to a very personal album in which the two sides come together in musical, thematic and lyrical harmony, scoring winning goals in both halves.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Frenchman’s Creek’ – official video:

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