Charlie Bate (1919-1977)
by John Buckingham
Charlie was born in Padstow in 1919. His father also Charlie was a merchant seaman who served on several vessels including the Padstow registered ‘VIOLA’ a ‘Q’ ship in WW1. Charlie was still at school when his mother died and he was sent to live with relatives in St Merryn. He was separated from his sister Cissie who returned to live in Padstow later on. During WW2 he served for just over 3 years in the Royal Engineers returning home to a job at St Merryn Camp. He married May who he met when she was a Land Army Girl in the district. They had one son Alan. Like his father before him Charlie played music and was a member of the Old Oss band on May Day. Young Charlie proved to be quick to pick up any tune by ear and it was not long before he was getting a reputation as a singer of songs. In those days there were concerts to go to and frequent impromptu pub music sessions to feed the imagination of his natural talent.
He was a natural to front a 1953 film made on May Day that remains a unique record. After this (or more likely before as he seems to have been the “link” man with Peter Kennedy and Alan Lomax) he was taken under the wing of the EFDS representing the South West in concerts and on Radio often with his good friend Bob Cann from Dartmoor.
From 1953 – 56 he supplied the music for Square and Community Dancing residential courses run by the Cornwall Youth service under Mr Alan Foxworthy and Mrs Hannah. He was also part of a Square Dance Band called the Padstow Melody Makers.
Charlie worked for a time at the Waterbeach Hotel, all the time making new friends and playing his music in the evenings in the local pubs. I first came to hear him in one of his haunts. It would have been either the Cornish Arms at St Merryn or the Ring O Bells St Issey. Charlie’s ‘Old Oss’ mate Mervyn Vincent was often behind the organisation of these happenings for this was the mid 60’s and what was called ‘The Folk Revival’ was in full swing. People from all over the place were coming down not only to see ‘May Day’ but to hear Charlie Bate in person. Some of us got to learn some of these ‘folk songs’ along with the old favourites and were encouraged to join in.
The Wadebridge Folk Festival grew out of this enthusiasm for folk music. Here and elsewhere. Charlie would appear on several occasions, but he was not so keen on these more formal appearances. After Charlie’s death in 1977 at St Issey aged 58 the festival instituted a ‘Charlie Bate Award’ for services to local Folk Music.
Charlie can be heard on a number of folk song compilations:
- Folk Sound of Britain HMV CLP 1910 – Track 8 How Pleasant and Delightful and Track 9 The Padstow May Song
- Folk Sound of Britain HMV 7EG 8911 – Side 2 The Sweet Nightingale
- Proper Job- Bob Cann Veteran VT138CD – Charlie playing with Bob Cann
- Sing Christmas – BBC 1957 – Alan Lomax Collection – Rounder K3719: Boscastle Breakdown and Padstow Wassail Song.
- Folktrax -215 – May Day – from the soundtrack of the 1951 Film made by Peter Kennedy, Alan Lomax and George Pickow.
- Sabina Magliocco, John Bishop. Oss Tales, (Berkeley, Media-Generation, 2007), DVD / CD rom format. This includes the 1953 film of Padstow May Day by George Pickow, Peter Kennedy and Alan Lomax which includes a commentary by Charlie Bate.
There are also two recordings of Charlie Bate held by Padstow museum:
These two sets of recordings make up a unique record of a very special man and his music. Charlie Bate was of his time and bridged a gap between the old and what became known as the ‘Folk Revival’.
Charlie had a wide circle of friends and those of us around at the time shared in the interest aroused in the music of the people. We became aware that, in the abundance of popular music available, there was still a place for some of the old tunes that had been around long before ‘pop’ culture took hold. Back in the early 60’s impromptu pub sing-songs still took place where hymns were sung alongside more profane ditties without any embarrassment. ‘Brightly Beams our Father’s Mercy’ would be followed by ‘Damn and Bugger your Merchant Ships your Ships of Slavery’. Fragments of Shanties from the days of Sailing Ships still lingered in the hearts of many. I do think us ‘Young Bloods’ realised we were listening to bits of history. To have been there can never be taken away. Such memories are priceless.
John Buckingham Padstow Museum 2020