Dalla – Acoustic music band specialising in traditional Cornish Celtic music. Active from 1999 to 2017.
Some context and ‘pre-history’.
Dalla was formed by Neil Davey and Hilary Coleman towards the end of 1999. Prior to this though, both Hilary and Neil and their families had already been deeply involved in, and in some ways integral to, Cornish Celtic music and its revival. By way of context for Dalla, here is a very brief (and certainly incomplete) overview of the roles of the Davey and Coleman families prior to, and overlapping with, the formation of Dalla.
The Daveys: Between them the Daveys had already been responsible for many milestones in the revival and ongoing development of Cornish Celtic music and dance. In the 1970s, Neil’s eldest
brother Merv started researching the local traditional dance music much of which was not being widely played at the time. The body of work that he drew together formed the bedrock upon which the revival of Cornish traditional dance music was built thereafter. Merv and his partner Alison Davey also started researching the local traditional dances around this time, collecting some complete dances, and also reconstructing or composing dances based on the fragments and information they collected. Together with their other two brothers Andy and Kyt, Merv and Neil formed the Cornish music group Bucca. Amongst other achievements, Bucca was the first band to release a professional recording of Cornwall’s traditional Celtic music when, in 1980, they signed to Plant Life Records. The album ‘An Tol an Pedn an Telynyor’ (‘The Hole in the Harper’s Head’) was distributed in thirteen countries worldwide.
Some other ‘Davey led’ milestones in the revival of Cornish traditional music and dance: Merv and Alison Davey co-founded the first display dance team Cam Kernewek, which later spawned the dance groups Asterveryn and Tan ha Dowr. They started Lowender Peran – an annual Celtic music and dance festival – and have produced many Cornish music and dance resources including the website www.an-daras.com. Merv researched, and had reconstructed, the two-chantered Cornish bagpipes. Andy Davey, as well as being perhaps the main driving force in promoting Bucca, co-founded the Ros Keltek dancers, along with Jenefer Lowe. Kyt and Soazig Le Nen-Davey formed the Cornish/Breton music band Anao Atao, well known throughout the Cornish diaspora, and Kyt also set up the website www.kesson.com providing a vital outlet for sales and distribution of CDs and downloads of Cornish Celtic music, amongst other services and resources.
After Bucca disbanded, Neil Davey spent some years away from Cornwall during which he gained much experience working as a professional musician mainly playing Celtic music. This included bringing Cornish music to the worldwide audience of the Celtic band Anam, with whom he was fortunate enough to tour extensively around the world, including New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Scandinavia, Canada, many trips to The USA and mainland Europe, and ‘back home’ in the UK at festivals such as Glastonbury and Sidmouth. He recorded two albums whilst with Anam: ‘Riptide’ and ‘Tine Gheal’. ‘Riptide’ was the first album featuring Cornish Celtic music to enter the top ten in the UK traditional music charts.
The Colemans:Hilary and Will Coleman grew up amidst the Cornish pub singing tradition, which they had discovered via their involvement in flash and gig boat racing. In response to this, they, and other members of the Coleman family, started the Calstock Singers with Ian Marshall as musical director. This in turn inspired other singing groups and choirs such as The Perraners, and also the adoption of many of Ian’s vocal harmony arrangements by other groups and choirs throughout Cornwall, including Dalla.
Hilary and Will had a background in theatre too, as members of Kneehigh and founder members of Bedlam theatre company. They played a key role in setting up community events across Cornwall based on local legends and traditions, such as St. Agnes’ Bolster Day, and Calstock May Revel.
Inspired by Bucca, they also became involved in traditional Cornish Celtic music, and formed Gwaryoryon, itself in turn quoted as a source of great inspiration for many musicians in Cornwall. Their own parents, Patrick and Marion Coleman, were amongst those inspired to get involved, and formed the much-loved Tamar Troylers. Marion Coleman instigated the annual ‘Tune Swap’ day, which was an extra chance for Cornish musicians to meet and play together. This was later continued by Hilary Coleman and Frances Bennett (see ‘Cumpas’ below) under the name ‘Racca Day’. Around this time, Hilary Coleman, along with Merv Davey and others, produced the ‘Racca’ Cornish tune book. Will Coleman introduced the Galician Gaita bagpipes to Cornish music, which became probably the most popular type of bagpipes used in Cornish music (some Cornish pipers also play the two chantered Cornish pipes mentioned earlier, and the Scottish highland pipes).
After Gwaryoryon, Hilary Coleman was a founder member of the Jack and Jenny Band, and of Sowena who also played mostly Cornish traditional music. Along with Frances Bennett, she co-founded Cumpas Ltd. (Cornish Music Projects). Cumpas gained an impressive track record for organising events such as Racca Day, the ‘Forbidden Fruit’ festivals at the Eden Project and Teer ha Moar concerts at the Minack Theatre, as well as doing many children’s workshops in Cornish music at schools throughout Cornwall. Other Cumpas initiatives included the ‘Crowders and Horners’ project, bringing together musicians from Cornwall’s traditional dance music and brass and silver band scenes, and (along with Will Coleman) the ‘Treiz ha Ganow’ singing for dancing project.
Davey meets Coleman: Neil Davey and Hilary Coleman’s first musical collaborations would have been when Neil guested with Hilary’s band Sowena in the mid to late 1990s, and in Cornish music pub sessions which they started around this time.
In the year or two leading up to the formation of Dalla, Hilary and Neil, along with dancer Karen Brown, and Sowena members Simon Lockley and Frances Bennett, had the idea of trying a new approach to Cornish social dances and to the format and feel of dance nights. They were inspired by the Breton ‘fest noz’ way of doing things and applied this to the traditional Cornish dance and music materials already in existence. This new sort of Cornish dance night was given the name ‘nos lowen’ (literally ‘happy night’) in order to distinguish it from the cèilidh style of Cornish dance nights (also sometimes known as ‘troyls’) already in existence, so people would know which sort of event to expect. Originally the late Cornish spelling ‘noze looan’ was used.
Running alongside the continued growth of the nos lowen movement, Hilary and Neil’s next collaborative project (apart from getting married!) was the formation of the band Dalla. Although Dalla was not primarily a dance band, they did take up the nos lowen mantle, and the nos lowen approach had a profound effect on Dalla’s way of playing Cornish music, even when not playing for dancing.
What Dalla set out to do: Dalla was not envisaged first and foremost as a dance band, but rather as a concert and festival band playing entirely Cornish traditional material, including dance tunes (and dance songs), alongside other songs in both Cornish and in English. They wanted not only to celebrate and share their love of playing Cornish music but felt that it was also important to value it enough to present it in as professional a way as they could. For them, this meant making this their ‘day job’, and being a full-time band specialising purely in Cornish traditional music. This, they hoped, would give the band a chance to ‘take things up a notch’ not only by giving them the time (and incentive) to rehearse things up thoroughly and to hone their act through extensive gigging, but also giving ample time to the promotion and management needed to realise their ambitions. There was also an element of proving to themselves (and perhaps to others, if anyone doubted it?) that it was possible and financially viable to do this playing purely Cornish Celtic music. The most important thing for them though, was always to play this music first and foremost because they loved it, and never out of any sense of duty to play it. Dalla hoped that by doing this they could reach new audiences for Cornish music, attract new musicians, and do their bit for raising the profile of their indigenous culture.
What Dalla did: Over the next eighteen years they achieved this, playing countless gigs both at home and abroad, from international tours and festivals across mainland Europe and in the USA, to some of the top festivals and venues in the UK. At home in their native Cornwall, they built a solid reputation playing at every imaginable venue, from the most prestigious, to the much more ‘down to earth’ but equally vital small gigs such as local harbour days, feast days and village halls across the region. This included prominent local venues and festivals which had not previously featured traditional Cornish music. They were also involved in a fair number of collaborations, including some great cross-cultural musical projects, and work with performers from other art forms altogether. During this time, they recorded five critically acclaimed studio albums, and their music has featured on several other compilations, and been used in numerous television, film and theatre productions.
The line-up of the band changed over the years, but founders Neil Davey and Hilary Coleman remained members throughout Dalla’s existence (apart from a short maternity leave for Hilary). The next longest serving member was Bec Applebee who was involved from very early on until the end. Other members included Simon Lockley, Pete Kubrik-Townsend, Steve Hunt, Kyt Le Nen-Davey and Jen Dyer. There were also many guest performers, either on recordings, or live, which included Will Coleman, Eric Beaumin, David Twomlow, Merv Davey, Rob Lucas, Neil Kennedy, Tamsin Carter, Jonathon Carter, Sian Pilley, Matt Thompson, Andrew Marston, Pol Hodge, Genevieve Applebee, Tom Tremewan, Jim Carey, Piers Lewin, Marc Hadley, Richard Evans, The Perraners (MD Ian Marshall), Colin Seddon, Ralf Schuh and Frances Webb.
Although Dalla decided to retire from live performances in 2017, all the members of the band continue, at the time of writing, to perform together as part of the bigger nos lowen dance band line up ‘Skillywidden’, and also continue to get together for occasional ‘re-union’ concert performances as Dalla.
Some of Dalla’s performance highlights:
Abroad:Celtic Connections – Scotland, The Royal Albert Hall – England, Hallein Festival – Austria, Festival Interceltique de Lorient – Brittany, Sidmouth Folk Week – England, Potomac Celtic Festival – USA, Cwlwm Celtaid – Wales, Yn Chruinacht – Isle of Man, Kernow in the City – England, Sark Folk Festival – Channel Islands, Kulturinsel Einsiedel Festival – Germany, and other concert tours in Germany, Brittany and England.
At Home:Port Eliot Festival, The Eden Project, Minack Theatre, Hall for Cornwall, Carnglaze Caverns, St. Ives International Festival, Golowan, Daphne Du Maurier Festival, Lowender Perran, Cornwall Folk Festival, Gool Fylm Kernow (Cornwall Film Festival), Looe Music Festival, Scilly Folk Festival, Lafrowda Day, Princess Pavilion (Falmouth), Sterts Arts Centre (Liskeard), The Keay (St Austell), Launceston Castle, Pendennis Castle, St. Mawes Castle, Heligan Gardens, St. Just Plain-and-Gwarry, King Harry Ferry, Maritime Museum (Falmouth), The Acorn (Penzance).
As well as performances in their own right at all of the above, Dalla also provided support spots for Battlefield Band (Lowender Perran – Perranporth), Fisherman’s Friends (The Platt – Port Isaac), Cara Dillon (The Acorn – Penzance), and Dougie Maclean (Cornwall Folk Festival).
Some Dalla collaborations and crossover projects:
Chartwell Dutiro (Zimbabwean and Cornish music), The Cambiatta Choir (Dalla pieces arranged for choir by Angela Renshaw, and accompanied by Dalla), Silvia Nicolatto (Brazilian and Cornish music), East Cornwall Bach Choir and Orchestra (compositions by Paul Drayton incorporating Cornish music), Into the Red (jazz band), Donal Lunny (Ireland. ‘The Celtic Songlines’ TV series for RTE), Canoryon Lowen (compositions by Nick Hart adapted and accompanied by Dalla), Brave Tales (story telling), The Works (contemporary dance), Kneehigh/Wild Works (theatre), Second Wave Dance, Jambo Kernow (with musicians from Kenya), English Touring Opera (‘One Day Two Dawns’ show combining opera and Cornish music), Gwelloc’h (Brittany), Jim Causley (two projects celebrating the work of Cornish poets Charles Causley and Jack Clemo respectively), Hanter Hir (Cornish language rock band), Rick Williams (dub remixes of Dalla’s music), Bec Applebee (music for theatre shows including ‘Oh Mary’ and ‘Darke Women’), Mike O’Connor (recording for Warner Music Japan – Cornish Music CD), BishBashBosh Theatre Company (music used for ‘Oogly As Sin’ and ‘The Tin Violin’), C Scape Dance (music used for ‘Below’).
Dalla recordings (Kresen Kernow Shelf No. 785.9507):
- – Dalla (Neil Davey & Hilary Coleman), Demo EP, (1999) Dalla Records. Catalogue no. DACD01
- – A Richer Vein (2001) DACD02
- Sample Track – Gorthewhar mar Spladn
- – More Salt! (2004) DACD03
- Sample Track- Awel Vase:
- – Rooz (2007) DACD04
- Sample Track -Dean Younk A Gernow:
- – Cribbar (2010) DACD05
- Sample Track- Ann Tremellan:
- – K5 (2013) DACD06
- Sample Track – Porthlystry:
- – My Young Man’s a Cornishman, CD single (2015) DACD07
Some compilations and other albums featuring Dalla:
- – Mammyk Ker – All the Best from Cornwall. Kesson.com (2002)
- – BGM14 – Cornish Music Collection for Warner Music Japan (2008)
- – 39e Festival Interceltique de Lorient CD (2009)
- – Cornish World: Festive Cornwall (2009)
- – Beginner’s Guide to Celtic (2010)
- – Rough Guide to English(sic) Folk Music (2011)
- – Silvia Nicolatto and her Anglo Cornish Friends. ITRCD002 (2012)
- – Kernowyon a Gan (Men of Cornwall Sing) – Royal Albert Hall (2013)
- – Rough Guide to Celtic Music (2014)
Neil Davey May 2020