Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How I discovered Cornish music and dance at free joining in sessions in the bar of the Kings Arms, Luxulyan, Bodmin, Cornwall 2nd Wednesday of the month

Cornish dancing led by Ian Bruce & Jaz Hicks
Although generally I've been aware that something rather special has been happening recently in Cornwall on the Cornish music and dance scene, exactly what all the fuss was about had rather passed me by. So, when I discovered that some top Cornish musicians and dancers were meeting up regularly (2nd Wednesday each month from about 8pm) to play their music and share their dancing expertise completely free of charge at the Kings Arms, Luxulyan, Bodmin, Cornwall, it seemed a great opportunity to learn more so I jumped into my aged ford transit campervan and shot off down there to join in the fun!

I've been twice now and it's been brilliant both times. The Cornish musicians and dancers in the session  have been very friendly (link is to previous article and visit) and Sharon and Steve, proprietors of the Kings Arms, Luxulyan, Bodmin, Cornwall  have been wonderfully welcoming too. Sharon and Steve always seem to be able to keep serving up drinks at the bar and meals to the diners with a smile however busy it gets... and it seems to be getting increasingly popular as the news of this free to all music and dance session gets around.

Although there is no formal tuition during these Luxulyan music and dance evenings, expert Cornish dancers and dance teachers Ian Bruce and Jaz Hicks generally lead the dancing and keep the dances quite straightforward and social so that anybody can join in. I have to confess that, although I usually stick to being a musician and playing my saxophone, last time I was there, the exuberant Cornish tunes quite got to me.

Kings Arms Luxulyan Cornwall - Cornish Music & Dance session
Before I knew what was happening I was up and joining in with the dancing. It was really easy. I just followed the person next to me who was holding my hand! (A rather lovely young lady, I recollect!) It's good exercise, though, and I was quite glad to get back to my seat afterwards to recover my composure, rejoin the music playing and admire the amazing demonstration of advanced Cornish dancing that Ian Bruce and Jaz Hicks put on while the rest of us recovered our breath.

On the musical front, anybody in the bar is welcome to listen but also any acoustic or acoustic volume musician is also welcome to join in. Of course, because it is a Cornish music and dance evening, the music is different to that usually found at most pub sessions in the UK. It is also generally quite spirited and syncopated to match the amazing Cornish dance steps. All of which provides a great musical atmosphere in the pub for the listeners and dancers but however does present some challenges to musicians new to the repertoire. I am quite an experienced dance band and sax musician (and member of BarnBuskers Ceilidh and Folk Dance Band) but I've had to spend quite a few hours over the last couple of months working hard to get to grips with this new but exciting repertoire.

Cornish dance music session at Kings Arms Luxulyn Cornwall
Fortunately, many of the musicians at this session are from top Cornish bands and this enables newcomers to Cornish music like myself to quietly play along and learn the repertoire as we go.

Kyt Le Nen Davey who is a member of top Cornish band Dalla leads much of the music at this session with his immensely talented brothers and family and has also kindly put tunes relating to this and other sessions in Cornwall on a website called Kesson (it means harmony) where Cornish audio and musical scores can be freely downloaded to help musicians wanting to learn the Cornish session and dance tunes.

However, what I am discovering is that Cornish music and dance is amazingly flexible. It can take place almost anywhere that there is enough room for a few people to wiggle about and stamp their feet so it is extremely social. The dances can be easy and straight forward for those new to them or athletic and technically challenging for those like Ian Bruce and Jaz Hicks and their students who, in their demonstration dances, elevate it to a fabulous art form.

As Ian Bruce says of Nos Lowen (the most social type of Cornish dancing) in their dancebook:

'I attended my first Nos Lowen in Grampound village hall in 2010 not knowing what to expect. Having spent most of my life in big cities and the anonymity that goes with it, it was a bit of a culture shock for an emmet. Everyone was welcoming and helpful. I looked around and saw all ages, all sorts of people and everyone was smiling and enjoying themselves. After a nervous start, I was soon joining in the dancing and was made to feel part of the whole experience.... The Nos Lowen dances are fairly straightforward but that doesn’t mean everyone finds them easy. However, if you simply come to a Nos Lowen and leave smiling that is good enough.'

Ian Bruce & Jaz Hicks in Cornish dance demonstration
Jaz Hicks adds:

'I met Ian at Dydhana in 2011 and we both had a zeal for dance and often compared ideas and variations. Ian was making notes to help him remember the dances, I had notes on the music and soon the idea of putting all the notes together to make a ‘Nos Lowen Dancebook’ was born. It was just an idea to help other beginners at Dydhana but encouragement from other people in the Nos Lowen scene soon turned it into what you have in your hands now.'

As well as the Nos Lowen Dancebook, there is lots more information on Cornish dances and Cornish dancing, including detailed descriptions of dances and Cornish dance class timetables and venues on Howl ha Loer which is the name of Ian and Jaz's informative website. Alternatively, I'm sure they would be happy to let prospective Cornish dancers pick their brains in the Kings Arms at Luxulyan.

Finally, above all, what I have discovered about Cornish musicians and dancers in the short time I have been involved with them is that they are all about passion. Although many of the musicians and dancers at the session in Luxulyan have achieved very high standards in their music and dance leading to professional careers in leading Cornish bands and dance troupes, it has been their passion to share their wonderful social art form with the world that has driven them on to set up this session. Hopefully, it will continue but it is always worth telephonong the pub before travelling or incurring expense to make sure it continues to take place as circumstances often do change. Certainly, for as long as it continues, I'm hooked! Perhaps I'll see you at the Cornish music and dance free joining in session at the Kings Arms, Luxulyan, Bodmin, Cornwall session one day :-)


The Travelling Tuffeteer said...

What a great review, thank you for loving our Cornish music.It really is a great session, open to all. Thanks for such a lengthy mention!

The Travelling Tuffeteer said...

Thank you for such a wonderful review. It really is a lovely session open to all - so glad that you enjoy our Cornish music and dance as much as we do!!