Cornish Folk Music

The county of Cornwall is situated on the South West corner of England. It is a peninsula being surrounded on three sides by water and it has the feeling of being very much cut off from the rest of the country. The county is steeped in history, and in the past success has only come about for its inhabitants as a result of really hard work. Fishing, mining, agriculture and tourism are some of the industries that have achieved great success. They are a Celtic nation with 2000 people being able to speak their own language. Cornwall has its very own unique cultural identity and is of no surprise that folk music along with the other folk activities have flourished in this region. Cornish history is split between traditional folk music, brass bands and choirs.


Cornwall has a rich history in choirs. For the last sixteen years it has hosted the Cornwall Male Choral International Festival which is held bi-annually. Male voice choirs grew in Cornwall at the start of the 19th century as a result of strong connections with the mining communities and also the Methodist church. Methodism was stronger in Cornwall, particularly the west, than in other areas of Britain. With the chapel holding a central position in many communities it was seen as normal practice to join the choir. The popularity of the choir has waned in time but there are still at least 35 male voice choirs that can still be found in the county. The most famous of Cornish songs is “Trewalny” which is viewed as the unofficial Cornish Anthem and is sung passionately at all Cornish rugby matches. Although re-written in 1824 it actually recalls the events of Sir John Trewalny being imprisoned by parliament in 1628.

Brass Bands

The Constantine Silver Band at the “Brass on the Grass”

Cornwall has over 40 brass bands that have grown from the old mining districts in the region. Many of the mines may have disappeared but membership of the bands has continued. Once such band is the Constantine Silver Band which is situated just outside of Falmouth. It was formed in 1827 and is still playing today. As well as giving free Christmas concerts it also helps give pupils music lessons in local primary schools and each year holds the “Brass on the Grass” festival. The event has been running for 35 years and as well as featuring the local band there are invites to other towns bands with the music being played under a marquee and also involves singing and audience participation.

Folk Festivals

The “Obby Oss” leading the way in Padstow

The May Day “Obby Oss” festival in Padstow is infamous. It starts on April 30th at midnight, but the main parade is on the 1st May as two groups of dancers set off around Padstow in separate directions. Only those families who have lived in the village for two generations can take part in the precession. Each group is led by the “Obby Oss” and they final meet up at the end of the day to continue the celebrations. The day is accompanied by traditional music and two songs that have been sung over the centuries. This has been happening since 1803 although there are claims that it goes back even further into History.

There is no doubt that Cornwall is a unique county and its remoteness has enabled it to keep many of its traditions. This has been the perfect setting for traditional and folk music to thrive. Events that have been happening for years continue to happen and they seem to become more popular by the year. The Cornish are proud of their heritage and this is mirrored with the folk activities that still remain.




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