BY FRANCES BENNETT AND HILARY COLEMAN: CORNSH MUSIC PROJECTS
“The ‘Degol Stul’ (Twelfth Night) nos lowen, at Porthtowan Village Hall on 5th January was a perfect ‘dance event’ climax to the Christmas season – it was packed with happy smiling dancing people, and the atmosphere was fantastic! Nos Lowen means ‘Happy Night’ or ‘Festive Night’, and it definitely was…there have been 12 Nos Lowens over the last twelve months and this special one had ‘12 Bands for Twelfth Night’. Dancing to such a variety of good bands (all with their own variations on Traditional Cornish Music), with so many happy people……was an experience worth repeating as often as possible….and can only serve to scoop more people back into dancing!”
Jo Tagney 14.1.2002, Dance Agency Cornwall Newsletter
What does Degol Stul mean?
The sixth day of January, the end of Christmas, is known as Epiphany, Degol Stul in Cornish. Degol means feast day and the word Stul is close to the Welsh Yr Ystwyll. Both are derived from Stella meaning Star in Latin, referring to the Star seen by the Wise Men of the East which led them to come and pay homage to the new-born Christ.(Adapted from Nicholas Williams).
What’s a Nos Lowen?
Nos lowen is the name given to a Cornish dance night format, developed in the late 1990s by a group of dancers and musicians: Hilary Coleman, Karen Brown, Frances Bennett, Simon Lockley and Neil Davey who were inspired by the fest noz of Brittany. It began a new way of using the existing Cornish dances and creating new ones. The desire was to develop an accessible form of dancing using the simpler traditional dances and steps.
After a year or so of regular monthly nos lowen (Happy Night) events at Porthtowan Village Hall, the five of us decided to celebrate with Twelve Bands for Twelfth Night in January 2002. Organising an event in early January has its challenges but some traditions once they take root just stubbornly grow into peoples’ lives. Contacting bands in October for a gig in early January involving practising with dancers? Rehearsing between Christmas and New Year? Site visits in the dark when the venue was invisible in the wind and rain and there was no phone reception to find out if we could actually get inside? Over-seeing set lists when the turkey was not even carved let alone eaten? Taking left-over Christmas cake and mince-pies for the final feasting? All these things somehow happened and it turned out we all wanted a final party on the day the decorations were put away.
After running events in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2008 we had a gap of a few years and then re-launched at the instigation of Hilary Coleman who’d already booked Heartlands in her characteristic enthusiasm! A working party formed in 2012, and to date we have been really lucky to have a great team of dancers, musicians, treasurers and MCs to help us and also the invaluable Clare Taylor who became our administrator. In addition we have a team of volunteers drawn largely from Hilary’s singing group t
he Red River Singers. Big Nos Lowen became shortened to Big Nos, Big Night; but events took place from 2012 – 2019 and definitely got bigger! They included workshops, decorating the space, sessions, and feasting, and later incorporated the traditions of a Twelfth Night Cake, choosing a King and Queen for the night and drinking from the wassail bowl.
In 2021, unable to hold a live event due to Covid restrictions, Hilary and Frances gave an online presentation called The BigNosTalgia Degol Stul Show which looked back over the years of the Degol Stul celebrations. See link below