Joseph Emidy’s grave

Joseph Emidy's graveToday I finally remembered to look for the gravestone of violinist and composer Joseph Emidy, famous in his time. He is buried in Kenwyn Churchyard.

“He was a native of Portugal which country he quitted about forty years since and, pursuing the Musical profession, resided in Cornwall until the close of his earthly career.”

In actual fact he was sold as a slave from his native West Africa and worked on the plantations in Brazil before his owner brought him to Portugal where he was taught to play the violin. His story is told in Alan M. Kent’s play ‘The Tin Violin’.




This poem by Sr. Raphael Consedine was part of the inspiration for my song, The Crossing Place, due to be released on our first Wayfarers EP later this year.


The pilgrims paused on the ancient stones
In the mountain gap.

Behind them stretched the roadway they had travelled.
Ahead, mist hid the track.

Unspoken the question hovered:
Why go on? Is life not short enough?

Why seek to pierce its mystery?
Why venture further on strange paths, risking all

Surely that is a gamble for fools – or lovers.
Why not return quietly to the known road?

Why be a pilgrim still?
A voice they knew called to them, saying:

This is Trasna, the crossing place.
Choose! Go back if you must,

You will find your way easily by yesterday’s fires,
there may be life in the embers yet.

If that is not your deep desire,
Stand still. Lay down your load.

Take your life firmly in your two hands,
(Gently… you are trusted with something precious)

While you search your heart’s yearnings:
What am I seeking? What is my quest?

When your star rises deep within,
Trust yourself to its leading.

You will have the light for first steps.
This is Trasna, the crossing place.
This is Trasna, the crossing place

New video: Times are Hard / Dozmary Five

Emma and I performed this set in Penzance a couple of weeks ago when we supported Martin Carthy at St Mary’s Church, at a gig arranged by Inn the Bath Productions.

Times are Hard is an adaptation of a song collected in Canow Kernow – Songs and Dances from Cornwall, edited by Inglis Gundry. The book is a wonderful and well-used source for traditional Cornish songs and tunes, and it can be a challenge to find something new in such a well-known collection.

This song caught my eye because it begins in 5/4, a popular dance time for the kabm pymp in Nos Lowen dancing, although in the original transcription it quickly diverts back to 4/4, swapping to 5/4 again for a bar here and there throughout. However changeable the time signature, the sentiment remains current – times are hard, particularly in Cornwall, in the current economic climate. Here is the original from Canow Kernow:

Times are hard original

I adapted the tune to make it minor, more fitting for the lyrics, and made the rhythm a consistent 5/4 throughout.

The tune which follows is Dozmary Five, written by Emma Packer. Dozmary Pool is on Bodmin Moor, the tune was inspired by hearing her granny talk about how she became engaged to Emma’s grandfather.

Sailors boot stick instrument

No instagram filters will turn this into a good photo but the instrument itself was quite unusual – a 4ft wooden pole tucked into an old sailor’s boot, decorated with jingling metal bottle tops. Played not only by stamping it on the floor but also hit with a notched stick to make guiro type sounds. Seen in action at Looe folk club this evening. Quite fascinating!

Fiddles made from clogs

Repost from the Horniman Museum blog, in-the-horniman:

How about this for repurposing your old shoes – a fiddle made from a wooden clog! This clog fiddle was made in the Netherlands and played by sailors on the Meuse river.

The Pilot’s Ghost Story

From Robert Hunt’s ‘Popular Romances of the West of England’

“On a sudden shrilly sounding,
Hideous yells and shrieks were heard;
Then each heart with fear confounding,
A sad troop of ghosts appear’d,
All in dreary hammocks shrouded,
Which for winding-sheets they wore.”
Admiral Hosier’s Ghost.

I PREFER giving this story in the words in which it was communicated. For its singular character, it is a ghost story well worth preserving :– “Just seventeen years since, I went down on the wharf from my house one night about twelve and one in the morning, to see whether there was any ‘hobble,’ and found a sloop, the Sally of St Ives (the Sally was wrecked at St Ives one Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1862), in the bay, bound for Hayle. When I got by the White Hart public-house, I saw a man leaning against a post on the wharf;–I spoke to him, wished him good morning, and asked him what o’clock it was, but to no purpose. I was not to be easily frightened, for I didn’t believe in ghosts; and finding I got no answer to my repeated inquiries, I approached close to him and said, ‘Thee ‘rt a queer sort of fellow, not to speak; I ‘d speak to the devil, if he were to speak to me. Who art a at all? thee’st needn’t think to frighten me; that thee wasn’t do, if thou wert twice so ugly; who art a at all?.’ He turned his great ugly face on me, glared abroad his great eyes, opened his – mouth, and it was a mouth sure nuff. Then I saw pieces of sea-weed and bits of sticks in his whiskers; the flesh of his face and hands were parboiled, just like a woman’s hands after a good day’s washing. Well, I did not like his looks a bit, and sheered off; but he followed close by my side, and I could hear the water squashing in his shoes every step he took. Well, I stopped a bit, and thought to be a little bit civil to him, and spoke to him again, but no answer. I then thought I would go to seek for another of our crew, and knock him up to get the vessel, and had got about fifty or sixty yards, when I turned to see if he was following me, but saw him where I left him. Fearing he would come after me, I ran for my life the few steps that I had to go. But when I got to the door, to my horror there stood the man in the door grinning horribly. I shook like an aspen-leaf; my hat lifted from my head; the sweat boiled out of me. What to do I didn’t know, and in the house there was such a row, as if everybody was breaking up everything. After a bit I went in, for the door was ‘on the latch,’–that is, not locked,–and called the captain of the boat, and got light, but everything was all right, nor had he heard any noise. We went out aboard of the Sally, and I put her into Hayle, but I felt ill enough to be in bed. I left the vessel to come home as soon as I could, but it took me four hours to walk two miles, and I had to lie down in the road, and was taken home to St Ives in a cart; as far as the Terrace from there I was carried home by my brothers, and put to bed. Three days afterwards all my hair fell off as if I had had my head shaved. The roots, and for about half an inch from the roots, being quite white. I was ill six months, and the doctor’s bill was £4, 17s. 6d. for attendance and medicine. So you see I have reason to believe in the existence of spirits as much as Mr Wesley had. My hair grew again, and twelve months after I had as good a head of dark-brown hair as ever.” [a]

[a] “The man has still a good thick head of hair.–C. F. S.”

Estren dyworth an Mor – Stranger from the Sea

WIth the help of Pol Hodge from the Cornish Language Partnership I turned this story into a song which is on our Salt and Sky EP. You can hear it over on Bandcamp.

Kernewek: Estren dyworth an morMy eth dhe’n kay rag gweles mar pe hobbel*,
Y hwelis vy den ryb An Karow Gwynn.
Yn-medhav vy, “Gorthugher da, piw os ta?”
Yth esa marnas taw, y worthyp tynn.
English: Stranger from the SeaI went down to the quay to see if there was hobble*
I saw a man by the White Hart.
I said to him, “Good evening, who are you?”
There was only silence – his tense reply.
Wel an skruth!
Goos-kowla, kig-kosa, blew sevel
Ev a dreylyas fas hagar dhymm vy
Gans barv gommonys
Kig hanter bryjys
‘vel diwdhorn benenes golghi…
Estren dyworth an mor
Well the shock!
Blood-curdling, flesh-crawling, hair-raising,
He turned his ugly face to me
His beard was covered in seaweed
His flesh parboiled
Like washerwomen’s fists…
Stranger from the sea
Y hassis vy rag gweres gans an lester
Y kerdhis vy hag ev ow holya vy
Y ferkis ev fest euthyk drog y semblant
Gans own my a fias, ow krena di.
I left to get help with the boat
I walked – and he followed me!
I noticed his awful appearance
I fled, shaking with fear
Wel an skruth!
Goos-kowla, kig-kosa, blew sevel
Pan wrug vy drehedhes an chi
‘th esa ev ena
An estren mor ma
Minhwarthin tamm tebel ‘ tevri…
Estren dyworth an mor
Estren dyworth an mor
Estren dyworth an mor
Estren dyworth an mor
Well the shock!
Blood-curdling, flesh-crawling, hair-raising,
When I reached the house
He was already there,
This sea stranger!
With a smile that was a little bit evil…
Stranger from the sea
Stranger from the sea
Stranger from the sea
Stranger from the sea
Yth esa tros y’n chi, yth entris evy
Tra vyth o klewys, oll o da ha brav
An ober meur rag gorra Sally salow
Mes kertys ‘ves ha my yn gweli-klav!
There was a noise in the house – I went in
There was nothing to hear – everything was fine
We went back to work putting the Sally safe
But I was carted away and put in a sick-bed!
Wel an skruth!
Goos-kowla, kig-kosa, blew sevel
Tri dydh hag ow gols o gyllys!
An blew dastevys
Fest gwynn avel gwrys**
‘Ha hwegh mis klav ev yw kablys…
Estren dyworth an mor
Well the shock!
Blood-curdling, flesh-crawling, hair-raising,
In three days my hair was gone!
The hair regrew
As white as crystal**
I was sick for six months, and he is to blame…
Stranger from the sea

* Hobble is the term for an unlicensed pilot boat for towing larger ships.
** We were quite pleased that this fitted the song because it harks back to some of the earliest written literature in Cornish – the phrase is found in Bewnans Meryasek , written in 1504 but probably copied from an earlier document