Throughout Brenda's singing career, there is one name that was almost synonymous with her own - Richard Gendall. Richard has been described as 'a man of many parts: a Cornish language champion, author, poet, teacher, folklorist, dialectician, songwriter and composer'. He is of course also a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd, and for many years has been a Professor at Exeter University.
It was her meeting with Richard at the Pan-Celtic Festival in Killarney which was the main stimulus for her interest in promoting the Cornish language, and led ultimately to her turning professional as a singer.
Over a period of almost 15 years, Richard wrote over 460 songs for Brenda, about one third of them in Cornish - an amazing oeuvre that is only now being recognised. Inspired by Richard's enthusiasm and amazing talent as a song-writer, Brenda vowed that she would sing at least one song in the Cornish language at every performance - a pledge she stuck to happily. Whenever Brenda was working on a particular project, or visiting a different area, she would often phone Richard and ask for an appropriate song - it would usually arrive - the hand-written lyrics, the 'dots', the chords and the music, a tape with Richard singing the tune and playing the guitar - within 2-3 days... with a covering letter often including more details of the story or the history of the topic.
Richard was interviewed for Cornwall Live in 2010, and this is what he had to say about their relationship...
'Music, along with languages and history, were his chosen subjects at Leeds University, where Richard taught himself composition and harmony after immersing himself in Scottish and Irish traditional songs.
But it wasn't until he met Brenda Wootton in the Irish town of Killarney that his songwriting career really took off. Cornwall's "first woman of song" was performing there and she and Richard immediately saw the potential for a productive working partnership. In all, Richard wrote some 90 [sic] songs for Brenda, which she sang live and recorded for a string of albums.
"Brenda was a very good performer and very good at putting it across and I was able to provide the language "handle" to her Cornish repertoire," he says.
In 1973 they released Crowdy Crawn, the first recording of songs in the Cornish language. But while Brenda enjoyed the limelight, Richard eschewed self-promotion, and this may explain why his contribution to Cornish music is sometimes overlooked.
"I was extremely aware that we in Cornwall were missing a body of songs in Cornish about Cornwall and I wanted to help redress that," he says. "So I would tell Brenda not to bother saying they were my songs but to just get on and sing them.
"In many ways Brenda changed the course of my life.
"I had always been writing songs but she was the catalyst for that period. If it hadn't been for Brenda I wouldn't have written nearly so much.
"With Brenda it was a supply and demand situation — she would come to me all the time, asking if I had a song about a particular subject. And if I didn't have one, I'd write one."
Richard Gendall is a man of many parts: a Cornish language champion, author, poet, teacher, folklorist, dialectician, songwriter and composer. His contribution to Cornwall's cultural integrity is immense and perhaps without the efforts of him and others during those early days, Cornwall's distinct culture and language may have been subsumed still further into a homogenous uniformity.'
So sad to hear of Richard's death, on 9th September 2017, aged 92.
My sincere condolences to the Gendall family.
Richard with Brenda and the Abbot of Landevennec in Brittany at an event to celebrate Winwaloe (patron Saint of both sites) at Towednack in the 1980s
This track is from a recently discovered practice tape Richard had prepared for Brenda to learn the song Pyu a Wor - lyrics and music are by Richard, who sings it here unaccompanied.