Cornish Dance display group and Ceili Band 1979 – 1997
Many people were involved with Cam Kernewek during its 18 year history, past members and friends are invited to contribute to this project with their own memories, photos and videos. Images of ephemera such as festival programmes and posters also help to tell the story of Cam Kernewek. Contact us by email or leave a comment below
A short history:
In Dec 1979 Sheila Buse and her brother John Bolitho invited a group of friends who had been involved with the Pan Celtic Festival in Ireland to meet at her house in Bude and discuss arrangements for the Cornish representation at the festival the following May. The possibility of forming a group to display Cornish dances and costume was mooted and it was agreed to bring a group together to rehearse the following January. The name adopted was Cam Kernewek meaning a Cornish step (can also be spelt Kamm Kernewek or Kabm Kernewek).
Initial members were John Bolitho, Sheila Buse, Pat and Dave Crewes, Merv and Alison Davey, Mo and Erne Keast, Ray and Judy Delf. The group met at the Molesworth Arms in Wadebridge where Ray, Judy, Mo and Ern ran the Wadebridge Folk Club. Ray had been taught accordion by the renown Charlie Bates of Padstow and lead the music for the group. Cam Kernewek enjoyed great popularity at the festival in Killarney and were invited to represent Cornwall at the Festival Interceltique in Brittany in August of 1980.
Group membership increased considerably during 1980 and practice sessions were moved to the Perranporth Inn in Perranporth. It was here that John Bolitho introduced the dancers to Arthur Biddick, now retired to Goonhavern but erstwhile accordionist and bandsman from Boscastle who had been involved with Cornish step dancing. Arthur became a regular attendee of Cam Kernewek practices and acted as a coach and teacher for the step dancing. Jim Pengelly, another Padstow accordionist (and Rays Uncle) joined the group and together with Nigel Nethersole, Mike Hartland, Merv Davey and Peggy Morris formed the core band for Cam Kernewek.
Over the next two decades the group performed regularly at Celtic festivals in Wales, Ireland, Brittany and Scotland and found a natural home at the Isle of Man’s Yn Chruinnaght festival. Membership varied greatly over the years with the involvement of many dancers and musicians. By 1997 the group had become extremely popular for ceilis as well as dance displays and festivals but the pressure of so many gigs coming in inevitably took its toll on the wider creative interests within the group. Cam Kernewek drew to a close in October 1997 but three new groups arose out of it: Asteveryn who continued with the established formula of Cornish ceili band and dance display team; Tan Ha Dowr were a Cornish youth dance team that focussed on scoot (step) dances; and Pyba who pursued an interest in Cornish Guize dancing and historical dance in Cornwall.
- 1979 Cam Kernewek formed
- 1980 Pan Celtic Festival in Killarney and Rakes of Mallow International Festival andFestival Interceltique in Lorient
- 1981 Returned to both the Irish Pan Celtic and Lorient Festivals and attended Yn Chruinnaght for the first time and continued to represent Cornwall at these festivals for the next two decades.
- 1982 Cam Kernewek joined the Guest Nations at the International Folk Festival at Sidmouth
- 1983 Dancing England “A rich seamof Celtic Dancing – Showing much closer links with Wales, Ireland and Isle of Man then neighbouring England” (5th Dancing England Programme), International Folk Festival, Holland
- 1984 Concert in St Davids Hall Cardiff. “Cam Kernewek …… encapsulating and conveying the enigma of the Celtic spirit which inspires families to work so tirelessly to preserve the traditions and culture they hold so dear. It was one of the dancers from their midst [John Bolitho] who was really the star of the evening singing two Cornish folk songs in a rich and lilting baritone voice and creating a magic atmosphere.” (Western Mail April 7th 1984)
- 1885 First Dance group in Truro Cathedral as part of Three Spires Festival
- 1987 Performed in Brenda Wootton’s production of “Ann Jeffry” at Festival Interceltique in Lorient
- 1988 Awarded Distinction in instrumental ensemble class at Cornwall Music Festival: Folk Play “The Hard Rock Miner” toured.
- 1992 The “Corollyn Cornish Dance Video Project” in association with Plymouth University which was entered for the Celtic Film Festival in Brittany
- 1994 Took part in “Gwayr Myr” an excerpt from the Cornish Miracle Plays at Perran Round.
- 1996 Produced album of dance music “Cam Kernewek – Troyl Band”
- 1997 Cam Kernewek disbands, Asteveryn, Tan Ha Dowr and Pyba form.
|How I Joined Cam Kernewek – Mark Dungey. In 1980 I was asked by Trevor Lawrence, from Penzance if i would be the driver of a 2nd minibus to Southern Ireland. He explained that there had been a Cornish presence at a Pan Celtic Festival at Killarney in South West Ireland for many years. This year had seen an increase in the numbers of people wanting to attend the festival. One minibus was to be used to take dancers and a musician of a Cornish Dance group called Cam Kernewek to the festival, to perform there.
There were quite a lot of non participants wanting to go to the festival. There was enough to fill a 2nd minibus. The minibus would travel through Wales to take the ferry from Milford Haven to Cork. So I became the 2nd minibus driver.
We stayed at a guest house on the outskirts of the town. As none of the non participants hadn’t been to this part of Ireland before. I became the scenic tour driver, taking us all to the places of tourist interest. At the beginning of the week we did the longer journeys, such as the Ring of Kerry. After covering the entire distant tourist places to visit. We did shorter trips.
|It was after returning from one of these shorter trips, that we discovered that the dance team had been performing in the town during the day. We thought that all the festival activity was in the evening. Had we known this, we would have been back sooner to support the Cornish contingent.
However, there seemed to be a problem. Dancers were running around, getting ready to meet a film crew. So I asked, what was the panic? Someone said that Merv is sick and we are short of a male dancer.
You will do said a female dancer. I will do what, I asked. You can dance in Merv’s place, she said. I have no idea about dancing. I had always avoided it at school.
I was then taught a processional dance by Jenefer Lowe. It was Heva. This seemed extremely complicated to me at the time. As it involved going backwards. After being taught this dance I was asked. Do you have a black shirt? I said who wears a black shirt? Oh, you do. Before I knew it I was borrowing a spare black shirt and my brothers black boots (No black shoes were available). I was also asked I had a Cornish Tartan kilt? I said that I had no reason to own a kilt. Someone said you can borrow Merv’s, as he is sick.
Wearing a kilt was a first for me. I thought that the pleats were the fancy part. So they must be in the front. One of the female dancers took hold of the kilt and rotated it 180 degrees (While I was wearing it), so that it faced the correct way. Nobody had thought about the fact that I was a lot taller than Merv and his kilt looked a little small on me!!
The rest of the dance team had already left for the town. I had to run along with one of the female dancers and her teenage daughter, to catch up the rest of the team, to dance in the middle of the town while being filmed by a Welsh TV crew.
We caught up the rest of the dance team in the middle of the town. The Welsh TV Crew did not turn up. We danced Heva for the crowd that had gathered. Pat Crewes was standing beside me telling me what to do. I thought why I am I doing this, surely you should be here in my place?
Next we were taken behind the main street to a hall where there were some teenage female Irish dancers. We were apparently going to teach them how to dance Heva. I though this is going to be interesting! I was given a tall Irish teenager to partner for the dance. She asked me what she should do. I said follow those in front of us. Obviously she had no idea that I just stepped in to the dance team at the last minute and didn’t have any experience whatsoever. The Welsh TV Crew made contact later and the team was to dance at Muckross house, by which time Merv had recovered.
Back at the guest house. I was asked by Jenefer, what I did on Sunday afternoons. Not expecting what was coming next. I innocently said nothing. She said that you can come to my dance class at Connor Downs.
Pat Crewes asked me and my brother. Were we free during the first week in August? As the team was going to a Celtic Festival in Brittany. There was room in the team’s minibus for two more people. We would obviously have to pay our own ferry fare. There was plenty of free accommodation in a school. Anyone who joined the dance team would also get free meals. My brother already had time off work booked for the exact period. I was asked if I could get time off from work.
After arriving back home. I checked with work and I could get the time off for the Lorient festival period. In the meantime I had started attending Jenefer’s dance club at Connor Downs W.I hall. (I discovered later that Jenefer also had her own dance team and that they were called Ros Keltek and were formed the year after Cam Kenewek). I was taught the core Cornish Dances that others had already learnt.
After a few weeks I was contacted by Alison, who said that if I was to go to Brittany. As a member of the dance team, that there were other dances that I would need to learn. She said that there wasn’t enough time to teach Jenefer, in order for her to teach me.
So could I come to the Molesworth Arms in Wadebridge on a weekly basis? The practices were at the Folk Club which was in a building behind the Molesworth Arms. There I met the rest of the team who had already been practising the dances, that Alison had researched and Merv had researched the music.
There was a square set dance called Tremadheves which I leant by the fact that everybody else was in the correct position and so it was obvious where I was meant to be! I was to go to Lorient as a reserve dancer. This was to cover any situation such as when Merv went sick in Ireland. I remember Ern Keast saying (Because he had asthma I believe and hence breathing problems) that he could only do one dance at a time. I thought, so can the rest of us!
In the end Mo an Ern Keast decided not to go to Lorient. So I was no longer a reserve dancer. I was now in the team.
|Roger Harrison: a few words from the depths of my memory of Cam Kernewek and Pan Celtic 1981. I remember the fact that it was the first time that a Cornish dance team had attended the festival and by all accounts they were well received. RTE filmed us down at Muckross, and I believe that that maybe available somewhere, but can’t think where I’ve seen it.
I don’t think I actually taught you the 6 hand reel but we spent a number of hours every morning practising it in the car park of the Gardens Guest house where I would “coach” you all and make sure that all the lines were straight and timings of turns were correct etc. It was the dance that we entered in the dance competition, the first entrant by a Cornish team, and we came second to an Irish team, which was a great achievement in itself.
We also went to a school to show them our dances, which could be done in those days as the festival was held in May, unfortunately that can’t be done now that the festival is held during the week following Easter.
Also that year, four of our members formed a group to enter in the Celtivision contest, as it was known then. Myself, you, Ray Delf and John Bolitho but I can’t remember what we called ourselves. We didn’t do too bad, we came second to the Irish entry, who were represented by Clannad, so I think we did pretty well all things being considered.
When we met a few years ago in the Ring ‘O’ Bells you mentioned the memory of the big whistle that I had hanging from my belt, well I still have that, although I drifted away from the playing for a number of years and did try to get back into it again but the wind and speed of the fingers were not what they used to be.
I went home for 6 weeks and then returned to Ireland and have been here ever since, 40 years this year, but fondly remember the days of Cam Kernewek and the friends that I made there, sadly a few have left us, John Bolitho, Sheila Buse and, more recently, Ray Delf, all very much missed. Roger
|Pat and Dave Crewes remember: PEN GWYN
We had been wondering for some time to find something different to add to Cam Kernewek’s successful dance repertory so it was decided to try something based on Penzance’s Pen Glas ( Blue head ) an old Penzance tradition coming up with a horses scull to be used in a snake dance giving it the name of Pen Gwyn.(White Head). I was sent to obtain the scull of a large horse to start with.
At that time I was a Fireman based at Bodmin and we frequently went to animal rescues I was usually lowered down mineshafts and cliffs as I was good with animals but if a horse was involved I wasn’t aloud to be involved in case I came back with Just the horses head saying that was all I could save (Fire Brigade humour). After lots of confused looks from people wondering why I wanted a horses scull I eventually got a large horses head from a Abattoir at Tregony complete with ears, eyes and nostrils which fortunately they had trimmed the best they could. I brought it home and put it in a drum of bleach and after 2 weeks soaking it come out flesh and hair free. After washing and soaking in water it still gave off a strong rotten smell after accidently knocking out a tooth I found rotten flesh where the bleach had failed to reach , I then had to use my dental skills removing all the teeth cleaning them and the sockets and re gluing them. Then with the aid of a floor mop and handle to move the jaw up and down I then passed it on to Mark Dungey to get the flashing lights and illuminations wired up for mouth and eyes. Then a large Black cloak was made to conceal me and he was finished.
Pen Gwyn and proved a great success started with a couple of accordions and drums doing a snake dance in darkness to the tune of Bodmin Riding But soon every musician joined in making a special event. The best ones often were when Brenda Wootton would tell a tale in darkness to get the audience started. The dance would coil the snake around on many occasions there would be so many people we would have to suddenly stop which involved a stop of the music with Pen Gwyn, with lights out would suddenly disappear from the room, few ever saw him go. The momentum of the dance caused such an incredible atmosphere that the sudden end of music caused an intense moment which allowed his escape. My young Daughter led me as under the black cloak I had no
vision and she was safer in the crush attached to the cloak guiding me quickly out of the room, once I was out of the room the lights would come back on to allow a safe dismantling of the snake.
The events that spring to mind other than some of the spectacular performances in the Ponsmere at Lowender Peran.
Every year we attended the Pan Celtic Festival at Killarney and each time we would visit Teach Siansa a a tradition folk cottage in Finuge, between Listowel and Killarney and it was decided to take Pen Gwyn down the road to the pub. To set the scene no streetlights total darkness at that time Pat Crewes and Alison Davey were twirling burning flares one each side of me with Pen Gwyn which was at 7 or 8 feet high. As we approached a road junction, we saw a car stop reverse and turn around and tear off at great speed, we got to the pub after 30 minutes or so a man came in and announced he had seen the devil coming towards him with blazing flares. He said “I had to go home and change as I messed myself” . One occasion that will always stay with me was the year it was decided to process Pen Gwyn through the streets of Killarney finishing at the International Hotel where the Cornish night was to be held. Eoghan O’Carra a wonderful man who was in charge of the Cornish delegation was a teacher. He used as many children as he possibly could put together to make lanterns. Another group were taught to play the tune on accordion or drum. (in Ireland many children are taught to play an instrument at an early age ) Pat and Alison led the parade twirling their long burning flares followed by Penn Gwyn, musicians then dancers joined in and the children walking either side of the road with their lanterns. It was a very amazing Spectacle l. I had taken Pen Gwyn off when a man from Welsh T.V. (S4C ) came running up and said we missed filming that do more some again feeling hot and very tired I said no I need a pint of Guinness first, he bellowed get this man a pint of Guinness” , he said “can you do some more when you have had you Guinness to which I replied only if you pay what R.T..E paid us earlier” he said “I’m sure I can easily match them”. When I told him and showed him the cheque for £100 from R.T.E rather than look the mouthy Idiot he was agreed so we put on a short performance for him. I didn’t tell him the money Irish TV was for a full mornings dancing and interviews. A little lesson in manners
We were told many times that Pen Gwyn had an amazing Pagan Aura producing a spectacular at times eerie and tremendously popular part of our repertoire.
|“Cam Kernewek …… encapsulating and conveying the enigma of the Celtic spirit which inspires families to work so tirelessly to preserve the traditions and culture they hold so dear. It was one of the dancers from their midst [John Bolitho] who was really the star of the evening singing two Cornish folk songs in a rich and lilting baritone voice and creating a magic atmosphere.” (Western Mail April 7th 1984 re concert in St Davids Hall Cardiff)||“A rich seamof Celtic Dancing – Showing much closer links with Wales, Ireland and Isle of Man then neighbouring England” (Dancing England Programme 1983 ),|
|The “Corollyn Cornish Dance Video Project” was undertaken in association with Plymouth University. It was lead by Cam Kernewek and involved all the Cornish dance groups in Cornwall. It was a documentary about Cornish dance produced in English and Cornish. The Cornish version was entered for the Celtic Film Festival in Brittany|
|Cam Kernewek drew to a close in October 1997 but three new groups arose out of it: Asteveryn who continued with the established formula of Cornish ceili band and dance display team; Tan Ha Dowr were a Cornish youth dance team that focussed on scoot (step) dances; and Pyba who pursued an interest in Cornish Guize dancing and historical dance in Cornwall|