As it happens, I’d heard quite a lot of Will Keating’s CD Cornwall My Home (Kernow Ow Thre) before a copy came my way, having heard Will on the West Cornwall radio station Coast FM, where Ian Semple has played the seriously catchy title song ‘Cornwall My Home’ several times. All the material here is written by Harry Glasson, apart from a Cornish translation of one of Harry’s songs. Harry Glasson was a popular performer in Cornwall and far beyond for over 30 years, until cancer surgery in 2009 made singing almost impossible. Will describes the album as a celebration of his “friend, and Mentor, and true Cornish Legend, Harry (Safari) Glasson.” Which seems a fair summation.
Will’s very pleasant vocals are augmented here by some notable local names: Anna Dowling (fiddle and nicely understated backing vocals), John Dowling (banjo), Owain Hanford (drums and percussion) and long-time jazzer Claudia Colmer (double bass) among them.
- ‘Prelude’ is actually eight seconds of a very small person (Will’s youngest daughter, aged three at the time) singing the last line of ‘Cornwall My Home’. If that sounds too cute for comfort, bear with me: there’s a lot to like about this CD.
- ‘Bury Me’ isn’t as sombre as its title suggests, being an expression of the writer’s desire to enjoy interment within sight of the picturesque Cornish landscape. And why not?
- I have heard a recording by Harry of ‘Home For Flora’ augmented by a kazoo (I guess) playing the ‘Helston Flora Dance’ as a counterpoint to the chorus. Will’s version doesn’t go that far, and the fiddle, banjo, bass and percussion here are sympathetic to the underlying sadness of the lyric, and then shade into a sprightly version of the ‘Flora Dance’ played by the Helston Town Band. I can’t imagine that anyone who’s ever enjoyed the spectacle on May 8th wouldn’t like to have this recording as a lasting memento.
- ‘Kernow Ow Thre’ is a version of ‘Cornwall My Home’ translated into Cornish by Matthi ab Dewi: this is a sparse arrangement with just Will’s vocals (double-tracked in places) and guitar and Claudia Colmer’s double bass. Even so, a notable earworm.
- ‘Saint Just Feast’ was recorded live during Will’s Cornish Folk concert at St Senara’s Church in Zennor. (I’d guess that the Zennor church’s connection with the legend of the mermaid of Zennor has a lot to do with the mermaids that adorn the sleeve, the booklet, and the CD itself. Will tells me that they were drawn by Anna Dowling and modelled on his four daughters.) It’s an engaging contemplation on the Cornish traditions of choral singing and parish feasts, though it’s simply and effectively arranged here with just Will’s voice and guitar.
- ‘Song For Cornwall’ (sometimes known as ‘Harry’s Song For Cornwall’) picks up the pace and features Matthew Woolley’s chin cello (a violin or viola strung with low-range strings to emulate the range of a “real” cello), Izaak Spencer’s mandolin, and William Barnes on bass, as well as John Dowling’s banjo.
- ‘Cornwall My Home’ is probably Harry’s best-known song, not least through the singing of the Oggymen, the Cape Cornwall Singers, Bone Idol and many others. This arrangement includes a wider range of instruments (including Louise Amanda Payne on cello and viola) and the Truro High School for Girls Prep Choir. While the overall effect is more ‘Grandad’ than ‘Another Brick In The Wall Part 2’, it’s absurdly catchy and I even found my cynical old eyes trying (and failing, fortunately) to water a little. And I’m not even Cornish, though I live in the area…
- ‘Newlyn’ is a darker song, the only one here in a minor key: fittingly, since it addresses the decline of the Cornish fishing industry with understated effectiveness. As elsewhere, Anna Dowling’s fiddle deserves a mention, as do John Dowling’s banjo and Claudia Colmer’s atmospheric bowed double bass.
- ‘Men Of Cornwall’ is another of Harry’s song that is often sung by others: John Dowling’s banjo here gives it a pleasant Americana-ish feel.
- ‘South Crofty’ was also recorded at the St Senara’s concert and benefits from Will’s spoken introduction to the story of how it came to be written. The South Crofty tin and copper mine in Pool was closed in 1998, but the song encapsulates Harry’s reaction to the news that it was hoped to reopen it under new management. That hasn’t happened yet (as far as I know), but it’s nice to think that it still might.
- ‘Beautiful Islands Of Scilly’ features harmonies from The Oggymen and Rob Norman’s piano and organ. And if that doesn’t get you onto the Scillonian for a trip to St Mary’s, I don’t know what will.
- ‘Saint Just Ladies’ is a kind of old-timey Cornish equivalent to ‘California Girls’, with a tune that reminds me slightly of an old ballad about Jesse James. I’m not sure it’s altogether politically correct, but I bet it gets everyone singing along in folk clubs.
- ‘Dicky Pips Dunkey’ is a dialect poem performed by Andy Rowe: if you find the various ‘Arkansas Traveller’ vaudeville sketches amusing, or fond memories of Bill Caddick slipping ‘P-tarmigan and Groaty Dick’ onto his Sunny Memories album you’ll like this too. Well, I did, but I have a strange sense of humour and a love for quirky fragments of regional folklore.
I’m sure there’s a ready audience for this well-packaged CD among Cornwall’s many summer visitors, but there’s more to this collection than tourist board fodder. While I don’t quite hear a stunner like Steve Knightley’s ‘Cousin Jack’ or Jim Causley’s setting of ‘My Young Man’s A Cornishman’, these are good, solid songs whose choruses are often heard in various West Country venues, and there’s more than a hint here and there of the magic and mystery that lingers in the Cornish landscape.
So I’m off to see what other songs of Harry Glasson’s I can find on SoundCloud…
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‘Cornwall My Home’: