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Job Morris in Riverside Studios, Newlyn

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Richard Gendall and Brenda in Sentinel Studios at Paul, Newlyn

The Sentinel Story

Brenda appeared on 26 albums in her lifetime, and 6 more have appeared since she died in 1994... and that has involved a number of different recording companies. 

Sentinel Music wasn't the first studio to record Brenda's voice, but it was one of the most prolific. The first recording, at which I was present, took place in the Count House Folk Music Club at Botallack in West Cornwall on November 11th 1965, and featured the recently formed folk club's regular performers, Mel and Miles, Des Hannigan, John the Fish and Brenda Wootton. 

That first album was 'More Singing at the Count House' - Brenda had not yet appeared on stage when the EP 'Folk Music at the Count House' was recorded in 1964 - both albums being privately produced by the Folk Club organiser, J Ian Todd. Once the Count House closed, it was followed by Brenda running Pipers Folk Club at St Buryan, and when the club returned to the Count House, there was interest in producing another. Records cost money, and Brenda took up Ian Todd's suggestion of a 'shared profit scheme' to fund it... people could buy shares in the proposed album for £1 each, with a guaranteed return of 2/6 (pre-decimal!) together with their stake money,  after a certain interval.  'The Video Recording Company' took on the challenge.

"The scheme was enthusiastically taken up, and a very staid gentleman recording engineer from Stourbridge came down and recorded a live session at the folk club, with several retakes. A few songs were also recorded at a riotous evening in the Newlyn Meadery, with Piper's fans in attendance - the audience was very patient, and, as ''Pipers Folk', provided the name of the album they had participated in. In a very short time, sufficient albums had been sold to repay all the investors."

from 'Brenda: For the Love of Cornwall


The jumbled Sentinel saga...

By now, Job Morris of Sentinel Music, at Riverside Studios in Newlyn, was interested in producing an album with Brenda and John the Fish, who had become her regular guitarist, and so began a run of 6 Sentinel/Brenda collaborations over a span of 19 years. '

The first, 'Pasties &  Cream', with John the Fish, appeared in 1971, and by 1973 she produced the first Cornish language album, with bard Richard Gendall - 'Crowdy Crawn'In 1974, she had a new partner, Robert Bartlett - confusingly, they appeared as a duo called 'Crowdy Crawn' - and 'No Song to Sing' was released. Another album from the duo was released in 1975 - 'Starry Gazey Pie', but by 1976, Robert had moved on, and Brenda recorded 'Children Singing' with Alistair Fenn (from the group Decameron).  Finally, 'Way Down To Lamorna', an album combining tracks from all five earlier Sentinel albums, was released in 1984.

Sentinel Records grew out of a company begun in 1969, an independent label formed by hi-fi dealer Job and his wife Irene Morris in collaboration with London recording studio owner, John Hassell. Job began in the Riverbank Studios in Newlyn, and a statement on one of his first recordings, 'Christmas in Cornwall', by Climax Choir, gives an appropriate glimpse at their ethos - 

"We at Sentinel are endeavouring to present something of the true Cornwall on all our records. We firmly believe that Cornishmen and lovers of Cornwall alike, want to hear the fine sound of our choirs, bands and artists as they really are, and in a natural setting."   

Taken from the Sentinel Records blog


This is an excellent blog covering all aspects of the Sentinel Recording Company, and I recommend anyone wanting to know more, to check it out. One of Job's first recordings, 'Sounds Like West Cornwall' became the huge hit that sparked the launch of Sentinel Records itself. 

'Job's parents had a greengrocers near Newlyn Bridge and in the 1950s converted the back room into a coffee bar / icecream parlour called “The Pixie Cabin”, which became a popular teenage hangout. When Job inherited the place he decided to convert it into the 'Riverbank Studio' for his new record label and sell audio equipment and records from the front shop. Most early recordings were made 'on location' as the studio at the back of his hi-fi shop (now a pharmacy in 2020) was quite small - the sound-proofed room was just down a few steps with a hatch in the studio floor to see the river flowing below! A bigger sound studio was found when the Old School House, Paul was purchased.'

From Friends of St Ives Library News & Views XIV, 8th October 2020s 


So at some point, Job moved his studio up to the old school at Paul above Newlyn, where he continued his aim of recording the sounds of Cornwall. The last Sentinel album I can find evidence for is dated 1998, and sadly neither Job nor Irene are still with us to ask. The dates and the details become very fuzzy from this point on - but after Job's death, the company was taken on by Irene, and at some time the rights to the recordings were sold on to Bob Brimley, of Brio Music, then based in Cot Valley, near St Just in Cornwall. Suffering from ill health, Bob later moved to Brittany, and in 1996 a double CD of Brenda's Sentinel recordings 'La Grande Cornouaillaise' appeared on the Breton label Keltia Music - oddly, the CD  had two titles; turning the CD over revealed an English title, 'The Voice of Cornwall', and the inner booklet also had bilingual lyrics at opposite ends. A second volume, 'The Voice of Cornwall 2', has 2 CDs containing 57 tracks taken from Brenda's Sentinel albums, and may be download only. I've never seen an actual CD of this. Either way, as Brenda's heir, I was never consulted about the production of any of these CDs, and as far as I know, they are effectively pirated. To add to the confusion, and you would think should have been evident to Keltia Music, Brenda had already released an LP for the French market in 1980 titled La Grande Cornouaillaise, which has a completely different set of tracks.

The Sentinel 'package' has since been passed on to another player - with equally obscure results. I believe he's a photographer based in Totnes in Devon, but have been unable to track him down. He has released some direct copies of the early Sentinel albums under the label 'New Sentinel' - originally as cassettes, but then as CDs, and they do pop up occasionally on Ebay.


The Sentinel Sell-off

In 2017, I discovered that the local auction house, David Lay, was selling off the remaining stock, tapes and equipment from Sentinel Music. A glance through the list of items showed a massive number of reel to reel tapes, albums, cassettes etc - and it seemed to me very important that all this musical history from Cornwall should not be lost. I appealed on Facebook for interested parties to contact me, with a view to raising sufficient funding to place a realistic bid for the tapes. Luckily, we recruited 19 supporters willing to donate specific amounts, with a total of £710 available to bid, and even more luckily, we won our hoped-for lot, at a total cost of £608, leaving us with £102 to put towards other potential costs in protecting and archiving the over 200 tapes. A second lot of spoken word tapes was won by Cornwall's archive centre at Kresen Kernow.

What we'd bought was a massive stack of boxes, containing mostly 10" reel-to-reel big studio tapes, but others too - and we were grateful to one of our supporters for offering a temporary store room. We were also grateful to receive a grant from the Cornwall Heritage Trust to buy a 2nd-hand machine big enough to play the 10" reels. Eventually, Mic McCreadie and Richard Prest were able to digitise every one of the tapes that was still usable - over 150 of them. The list of rescued titles is below.

A collection such as this is potentially a massive headache in terms of rights and copyrights - so anyone wanting to use any of the tapes could find themselves in a bit of minefield; however, here they are.

The Sentinel Tapes

Below is a full list of the Sentinel tapes that we managed to digitise, with additional comments as to quality etc. Both the digitised files and the original tapes are now held at Kresen Kernow in Redruth.

If you want to listen to any of these tracks, please contact Kresen Kernow direct. (Some tapes have already been claimed by those with valid connections to the artists.)

Other Recording Studios

Amazingly, in those first busy years of the Sentinel recordings, the 1970s, Brenda also managed to release a further six albums with other recording companies, mostly due to her increasing popularity on the Continent. The first 3, all produced in 1974, were the result of Brenda's collaboration with a slightly dubious French agent, who was running a short-lived but highly ambitious Folk Festival at Kertalg in Moelan sur Mer in Brittany. For Brenda it was an exciting first venture into Cornwall's sister country, and she appeared at the second Kertalg Festival with Dik Cadbury from Decameron; she did not realise that her agent was recording all the music and would later release an album 'Festival Pop Celtic - Kertalg '73',  which by then was a fait accompli, for which Brenda received no recompense - neither did she for the third and final 'Festival Pop Celtic - Kertalg '74', on which she appeared with Robert Bartlett, both being released by Barclay Records. She was, however, consulted for Barclays 'Pamplemousse' album ('Grapefruit').

For her next record with Robert Bartlet, 'Tin in the Stream', there was a new German company taking them on - Stockfisch Records, reflecting the duo's increasing popularity throughout Europe. Once Crowdy Crawn had broken up and Brenda was performing with new guitarist Dave Penhale, the record 'Carillon' was released by Transatlantic, produced by Nigel Pegrum for Plant Life Productions. Nigel Pegrum was also involved with Burlington Records, based at Hitchin in Hertfordshire, and in 1980, the label produced no less than 3 new Brenda albums: 'Boy Jan - Cornishman' (in 1979), 'La Grande Cornouaillaise' and 'Gwavas Lake' (both 1980). 


A range of variations on a theme of Celtic lullabies appeared next: 'Berceuses Celtes des Iles Britanniques' collated by Le Chante du Monde in France, with several versions appearing over a number of years. 'RCA France' produced 'Lyonesse', and 'RCA Germany' released 'My Land' - both very popular and successful. The single of 'Two Christmas Carols' was also released by RCA France, but the 'Cornish Australian' single was a private production with John Knight at Helston producing. Still in France, the next album, '"B" Comme Brenda' was made by Disk AZ, as was the maxi single 'Walk Across the World'. The audio cassette 'So Long'  was recorded live by Chris Blount of Chough Tapes and Radio Cornwall fame. Brenda's final album, 'Seagull', was released by Vogue in France.

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