"My songs are like my friends..."
When she opened her set at big concerts in France and elsewhere, Brenda had a phrase she often used, translated into the appropriate language, as a way of introducing the audience to her programme...
"My songs are like my friends - each one with its own personality, its own mood. And while I sing the songs, my mind paints their portraits.
May I introduce you to my friends?"
And indeed, most of her songs were from her friends.
As well as the phenomenal outpouring of material from songwriter Richard Gendall, Brenda was always on the lookout for possible new songs from other writers... she did, after all, have an enormously varied repertoire, and there was much contemporary writing that appealed to her, as well as the full range of blues, jazz, rock and pop, right through to traditional folk and old popular ballads. The list below includes some of the writers whom she particularly favoured, and is followed by a list of her guitarists - roughly in order!
And many of these friends can be seen performing at Brenda's Memorial Concert, held at St John's Hall in Penzance in June 1994, three months after she died... the DVD of 'Brenda's Friends' is available in the Shop.
I remember Molly well... she lived at Red Lodge, by Drift Dam in Sancreed Parish near Penzance, and was a wonderful character. Brenda met her through her activities with Madron WI, Every week she used to bake cakes for the WI Market in Penzance, and Brenda and I were particularly fond of her Australian Fruit Cake.
She was a very talented and prolific writer of Cornish dialect, and recognised as such by the Cornish Gorsedd, with a Bardic name of 'Scryfer Ranyeth'. She wrote several poems for Brenda, for which Richard Gendall wrote the music, including Fair Maid of Penzance, and Sea Rover - and 'Mount Misery' was recorded on the Crowdy Crawn LP
A wonderful songwriter, whose songs Brenda adored. They met at a folk club Ewen was co-running in the mid 1970s, The Red Bear at Sherburn-in-Elmet, when Brenda was touring with Mike Silver, and became firm friends. She sang and recorded four of his songs: Paris, (on Carillon, My Land and All of Me albums) What's In A Name (My Land and All of Me), In Love Again (Carillon and Lyonesse), and Love's Old Sweet Refrain (Carillon LP).
Charles Causley/Alex Atterson
'Charles Stanley Causley, CBE, FRSL was a Cornish poet, schoolmaster and writer. His work is noted for its simplicity and directness and for its associations with folklore, especially when linked to his native Cornwall' - says Wikipedia.
Brenda had immense admiration for Charles, and it seems he also appreciated her. He was kind enough to write this review of Pantomime Stew (available in the shop):
‘Pantomime Stew’ is the perfect title for this splendid collection of lyrics, comic-verses, ballads and stories by the late great Brenda Wootton. As a performing artist of world renown she was truly a star in the firmament of 20th century troubadors and story-tellers.
Now her daughter Sue Luscombe has had the happy idea of assembling this remarkable anthology of work by her mother. Among much else, here are also strings of Cornish sayings: (‘Dawn knaw nobody don’ wanna buy no donkey, do ‘ee‘?’), both the famous Newlyn and Cornish Alphabets, (A is for ansum, which we d’think we are’), and a gallery of photographs (family and other) that in turn illuminate the story.
The whole book is irresistible: a marvellous self-portrait, warts and all, by a marvellous Cornishwoman who travelled the world but never forgot her origins. And at its heart is a remembrance of that never-to-be-forgotten singing voice of pure silver. We have Brenda Wootton’s recordings. ‘Pantomime Stew’ provides a matchless accompaniment. I recommend it gratefully and unreservedly.
Alex Atterson, who had been instrumental in arranging the first tour for Brenda and John the Fish, was a great musician, and had the happy notion of writing music for some of Charles' poems, producing powerful songs of which Brenda took full advantage. 'Three Masts' and 'John Polrudden' appear on Children Singing, and 'Bristol Christ' is on Gwavas Lake. 'Obby 'Oss' is another to which Alex added music. 'Johnny Groat' (No Song To Sing LP) is also a Causley poem, set to music by Steve Heap.,
Mike probably first met Brenda in the early 1960s, when she was involved with the Playgoers Theatre Club (then above the library in Morrab Road). As a 'Young Playgoer', he was soon involved in her pantomimes, and they remained firm friends throughout her life, with Mike occasionally playing guitar for her in the later years.
He is a gifted writer, and produced some wonderful songs for Brenda in the 1970s - 'Abel George', a comic story of an incident down the mines, appeared on 'Boy Jan, Cornishman'; The Lifeboat (Gwavas Lake album), Migrants, and The Mackerel, were others of his she sang.
Mike also wrote a sweet little number, 'Stars' which was on the Pipers Fok LP - and music to a Rudyard Kipling poem, 'Harp Song of the Dane Women', which appeared on Brenda's first album, 'More Singing at the Count House, and the cassette So Long.
Dave first started playing some of his songs to Brenda on happy afternoons at her home on the moors at Tredinnick, near Newmill, Penzance, in the late 1970s.
Dave wrote a few songs for Brenda - 'Vanity', a great favourite of mine and hers, was apparently recorded at Sentinel Records in Newlyn around 1973-74, but never released, but there is a lovely version of it on video (it will be on the Video page here soon). 'Missing You' - a poignant love song - appears on the Pamplemousse LP. Dave also remembers writing 'Unbelievable', and 'Day Away' for Brenda, which sadly I can find no evidence of.
Dave is now a lawyer working with a firm of solicitors in London!
It was guitarist Gerry Lockran who first introduced Mike to Brenda... Gerry and Mike met while he was doing a summer season in Germany in 1967. Gerry offered to take Mike with him on a tour of the West Country, and they arrived at Pipers Folk Club in September that year, when it was still in St Buryan Village Hall. In 1975 he became Brenda's guitarist for 6 months or so, following the departure of Robert Bartlett, and toured Germany with her.
Mike is a very talented songwriter and musician with an amazing voice, and Brenda soon started including some of his songs in her repertoire. Loving Eyes (recorded on the Boy Jan album) she said she always sang for me, Saturday Night in the Country (Seagull) and 'Country Style' (Carillon, My Land, and All of Me) both became very popular songs with audiences, and she usually got them to sing along; 'The Telephone Song', aka 'Soon I'll Be Home' ('B' Comme Brenda) was another popular song of Mike's.
There were many songwriters that impressed Brenda, and often maybe just one song would make a big impact, and become a regular part of her repertoire, some even making it onto an album...
John Bidwell – Apple Wine - recorded on Carillon LP
Michael Chapman - No Song To Sing - recorded on No Song To Sing album
Steve Hall – To The Sea - recorded on Pasties & Cream LP, and included on The Voice of Cornwall CD
Morton Nance – Morvah Fair - recorded on Crowdy Crawn LP
Colin Scott – Friend Love - recorded on My Land LP & All of Me CD
Allan Taylor – Old Joe - recorded on No Song To Sing
Martyn Wyndham-Read – The Cock of the North - recorded on Tin in the Stream LP
Michael Chapman & Pete Berryman
Fooling around with Martin Carthy
Brenda grabs Geoff March
Allan Taylor + v. laid back Brenda
Cuddly Pete Berryman @ Norwich
Alex Atterson being a little shy ;)
With Dik Cadbury + Al Fenn
Dik Cadbury being limp-wristed
With Al Fenn posing in Brittany
Al Fenn + Jake Walton, Brenda's 40th
Al Schmidt & Pete Berryman
Al Fenn, suffering nobly...
John the Fish
John Langford became known as John the Fish from his days as a fisherman in the 1960s - a biography on his website (click the button link) gives more detail). Brenda and John met at the Count House, on Brenda's first visit to the club in 1964 - and when Brenda was persuaded on to the stage, it was John who became her guitarist.
They performed together from then on, and with Alex Atterson's encouragement, began touring folk clubs around Britain. They made three albums together - 'More Singing at the Count House', 'Pipers Folk' and 'Pasties & Cream', and one audio cassette - 'So Long' (in aid of the Foundation for the Study of Sudden Infant Deaths Charity, for which Carrie worked - now The Lullaby Trust). Their musical partnership ended in 1974 when Brenda turned professional as a singer, but remained life-long friends.
Brenda and Robert met at the house of a mutual friend, singer-songwriter Michael Chapman, who persuaded them to form a duo, and they first performed .with literally 'No Song To Sing' - a track of Michael's.
They named themselves 'Crowdy Crawn' - Cornish for a skin sieve, similar to an Irish bodhran, that hung by the fire in old Cornish homes and was used for holding small treasures. Brenda gave up managing the family business (Tremaen Craft Market in Penzance) and turned professional as a singer, and within a short while, Crowdy Crawn were touring in Brittany.
They made four albums together (No Song To Sing, Pamplemousse, Starry Gazey Pie and Tin in the Stream), with Cornish, French and German recording companies. Robert was a versatile and talented musician, and played accordion and mandolin as well as guitar, and they harmonized together beautifully - but by late 1975 they opted to go their different ways. He now lives in Derbyshire and still plays in a duo called Rule of Thumb.
Mike had known Brenda for some years, when he agreed to play guitar for her in mid 1975, following Crowdy Crawn's breakup. They toured in Germany and France for about 6 months, until Mike's other commitments claimed him.
He is still performing regularly, touring and releasing new albums - he lives with his family in North Cornwall, Further details about Mike are in the Songwriter list above.
Top guitarist, with an impeccable folk music pedigree, Pete has played with the best - at different times he was a member of the Famous Jug Band, Temple Creatures, and Totem, amongst others. He joined Brenda as a guitarist sometime in the 1970s, and performed with her at Lorient Interceltic Festival in Brittany and elsewhere.
Al (Alastair) Fenn
Alastair Fenn first came down to Pipers Folk Club in the late 1970s with the Cheltenham band Decameron - Dave Bell, Geoff March, Johnny Coppin and Al Fenn - they proved to be an enormous hit with the audiences, and became firm friends of ours for ever more.
Al stepped in when Brenda needed a guitarist a few times, from the late 1970s on, and played guitar on the Children Singing album. He also toured with her in Europe, and, as can be seen from the photos, sometimes endured some humiliating headgear...
Dave began working with Brenda in the late 1970s, and .stayed with her through 5 albums over the period 1979 till 1982 - Carillon (with Transatlantic Records), Boy Jan, La Grande Cornouaillaise, Gwavas Lake (with Burlington Records) and Lyonesse (RCA France); he also appears on Tamar, which includes tracks from all of Brenda's Burlington albums. During that time, they toured extensively throughout the UK and Europe.
Dave still lives in Cornwall, and still plays music with his group, the Gumbo Flyers, and enjoys painting.
Dik first came down with Decameron, the much-loved lads from Cheltenham in the early 1970s. He has been in a few different groups over the years, and is still performing solo and with various line-ups, around the country, and has recently produced a new CD. He also works as a male model!
He is a great musician and singer, and played guitar for Brenda on many occasions, travelling to Brittany and elsewhere with her
Chris became Brenda's longest-serving guitarist, working with her from 1983 until the end of her career around 1990. He was involved in three albums - My Land (RCA Germany), B Comme Brenda (Disk AZ), and more recently, on All Of Me, from the lost tapes of the Bobino concert in Paris in 1984. He toured with Brenda all over Europe, accompanied her on her tours to Australia and Canada, and appeared with her on many TV shows. He continues to be a successful musician, in partnership with Irish harpist Máire Ní Chathasaigh, and lives in North Yorkshire.
From a page on his website (link below, and on the photo for this extract), Chris Newman writes:
In the early eighties I did a lot of work with Cornish singer Brenda Wootton. We didn't do many gigs in the UK, but spent a long time overseas in Australia, Canada and most of all, France. She was a huge star there, and attracted great audiences in all parts of the country.
Other musicians who worked with Brenda
There were other guitarists, as well as other musicians, who worked with Brenda occasionally. It was often a struggle for her to find someone who would 'gel' with her voice and her music, and sometimes she would spend hours and weeks 'training someone up', only to find it really wasn't working, and she'd have to start the search again. And she was difficult to please...
John Alderslade came down from deepest Wiltshire and did some practice sessions and a few gigs with her, but was not able to offer the full commitment she needed.
Alex Atterson often played piano or guitar for Brenda if she need an accompanist - as when John the Fish had the flu at Norwich Festival one year.
David King played classical guitar, but did work as Brenda's accompanist for a short while, recording a TV spot with her singing Lyonesse for BBC Plymouth, and did some other recording work with her at John Knight's studio.
John Knight worked with Brenda on many occasions, mostly recording for her albums in his studio on the Lizard, but also sometimes played guitar for her.
John Molyneux spent a 'trial' few weeks accompanying Brenda, but it didn't last.
Ashley Staton was a great jazz pianist whom she often called on if a keyboard was needed. He went on to work as an entertainer on cruise ships.
No review of Brenda's accompanists/collaborators would be complete without a mention of Michael Chapman - although he was never really an accompanist for her in folk clubs, in the early years they did some superb 'cabaret' gigs together playing jazz, blues, bossanovas and standards, such as Misty, Autumn Leaves, September Song, The Shadow of Your Smile and many others - principally at the Quiet Woman restaurant in St Ives, and at the Pednevounder Country Club on the Lizard.
Camborne Town Band
In 1982, Camborne Town Band recorded some tracks for Brenda on the Lyonesse album, and a year later they performed on Brenda's Cornish Christmas Carols single.
In 1984 the Band were invited to support Brenda for a 9-day engagement in Paris. They appeared at 6 evening concerts at the Bobino Theatre (Josephine Baker's original theatre), including the final ever night, as the Theatre was due to close the following day. The band also undertook a live French national TV broadcast (see Video page here), and a performance on a Seine Riverboat, as well as other performances.
Years later, a friend of Brenda's who had attended the final Bobino concert, recording engineer John Knight, discovered a lost reel-to-reel recording of that concert, and after much work perfecting the quality, produced the CD 'All of Me' (available on his own site - click on the photo.
Four Lanes Male Voice Choir
Four Lanes Male Choir sang with Brenda several times, and appeared with her on the Gwavas Lake album, backing Brenda on Gwavas Lake, The Bristol Christ, Home to Scilly, Lullaby for an Island Child, The Anson, The Lifeboat - in fact, almost all of the tracks. Several of those tracks later turned up on the compilation album Tamar.
As a family, we usually tried to attend the carol singing event with the choir every Christmas Day morning, outside the Victoria Inn at Four Lanes.
Phil King/Ray Roberts Jazz Combo
Brenda often sang with a backing combo of jazz musicians - the line-up varied, but regular players were Phil King, Ray Roberts and Dave Freeman, John Cox, Ashley Staton, and Goudie Charles.
She took a trio with her for the 1984 trip to Paris for the Bobino concerts (recorded on the All of Me album), and used jazz musicians on a few of her albums. The photo is the only one I can find of the Phil King Trio.
Praze Male Voice Choir
Brenda recorded with Praze Male Voice Choir on her final album - 'Seagull'. Sadly, as she had a stroke before the final mixing was complete, the album was rushed out, with no publicity and no credits for those who had contributed...
Praze and Hayle Male Voice Choirs combined in 2006, and are finding success in a greater membership.
Treviscoe Male Voice Choir
A group from the St Austell China Clay country, Treviscoe Male Voice Choir performed with Brenda on many occasions, and recorded tracks on the My Land LP. They appear on a half hour TV programme Brenda did with BBC SW, called Pasties and Cream, backing her on 'Clayports'. Sadly the choir is no longer in existence.