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Special tribute concert to queen of Cornish folk song

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 07, 2013

By Simon Parker, Living Cornwall Editor

A special anniversary concert to celebrate the life of Voice of Cornwall Brenda Wootton, right,  has been commissioned for this year's Lowender Peran Festival, left

A special anniversary concert to celebrate the life of Voice of Cornwall Brenda Wootton, right, has been commissioned for this year's Lowender Peran Festival, left

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She was known to all as Cornwall's First Lady of Song, yet since her death in 1994 Brenda Wootton's contribution to Cornish culture has been largely overlooked.

With a multi-octave voice capable of melting the hearts and swelling the pride of Cornish men or women across the globe, Brenda's distinctive vocal style is to be celebrated again later this month.

With concert appearances from Australia to Europe and no less than 19 albums to her name, she became a household name in Cornwall throughout the 1970s and 1980s. But in recent years, her status as one of Cornwall's greatest vocalists has faded. Now that may be about to change. A concert dedicated to her life and work is being staged at the Lowender Peran Festival in Perranporth, on October 20.

A group of young singer-songwriters and folk musicians have joined forces with Camborne Town Band – which worked with the Newlyn-born singer on several occasions – to mark what would have been Brenda's 85th birthday. There will also be a rare screening of archive footage from some of Brenda's live performances both at home and abroad.

Among those planning to revive her name and celebrate her remarkable career and contribution to Cornish music are Richard Trethewey, Kezia, Andrew Bate, Ryan Jones and Emily Howard. Together they hope to give their own contemporary take on songs that Brenda made famous.

Emily Howard said: "I played at Lowender Peran last year and was delighted to be invited back this year to take part in the Brenda Wootton concert. It was difficult to choose songs to cover from such a great repertoire, but as I have been learning them I feel I am getting to know more about her as well. It's going to be a fitting tribute to a great Cornish performer."

Brenda Wootton is credited as having helped keep the Cornish folk song tradition alive. Many of her songs were composed or arranged by Richard Gendall of Menheniot and her repertoire covered folk, rock, blues, jazz and hymns, but she is best known for popularising Cornish standards like Lamorna, The White Rose, Camborne Hill, Stratton Carol, Mordonnow, Tamar, Silver Net and Lyonesse.

A bard of Gorsedh Kernow, she was equally at home singing in English, Cornish or Breton and became as famous in France as she was in her native Cornwall. She added further to the Cornish scene by opening her own folk club and appeared at the first Lorient Interceltic Festival in Brittany.

Well-known Brixham folk singer Maggie Duffy has a personal reason to be grateful for the singer's influence on traditional music. Maggie spotted the Cornish queen of song in the audience as she was making her debut stage appearance.

"The first time I ever sang in a folk club Brenda was there with John The Fish," she said. "I sang A North Country Maid and Fairy Tale Lullaby. Brenda spoke to me at the end of the evening and said in her lovely Cornish accent, 'I loved your spot and I could tell you was nervous, my bird, but don't you give up now, you just keep singing'. And, thanks to her, I am happy to say I did just that. She was a great lady, so kind generous and talented."

Perranporth will come alive with colour, costume, music and dance during Lowender Peran, as more than 300 performers from Brittany, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and Cornwall descend on the village from October 16 to 20. As well as music, there will be demonstrations of shinty, an ancient Celtic game, and a range of talks, including an update on plans to uncover St Piran's Oratory.

The Brenda Wootton concert has been made possible with funding from Feast and support from Cornwall Music Forum. It will take place on Sunday, October 20 at 2pm in Perranporth's Ponsmere Hotel. The archive film screening begins there at 1.30pm.

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2 comments

  • rickoon  |  October 07 2013, 4:43PM

    She was known to all as Cornwall's First Lady of Song Does anyone know where Brenda Wootton was born and brought up?

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  • Lafrowda  |  October 07 2013, 9:52AM

    What a wonderful singer she was. "Cornwall the Land I love" is worthy of being our anthem, rather than a ditty (inaccurate) produced by an anglo-catholic from Devon.

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