Jack Collings 1896-1978 The Singer On The Radio
Reproduced from “The Real Voices Of Port Isaac” (2020) by kind permission of Port Isaac Heritage
Jack Collings lived on Church Hill with his wife and seven children. He was primarily a fisherman but also worked as a signwriter, a Western National bus conductor and a fishermen’s barber. He also had a magnificent bass-baritone voice and was well known as ‘the singer on the radio’. In 1946 he was made a Bard of Cornwall and given the name Pyscador a Gan (Fisherman Singer/Fisherman of Song). He came from a long line of singers and fishermen and he loved to sing, ever since he was a youngster in the Chapel choir. When asked what kind of songs he liked to sing he always replied, “Sea songs. I’ve always been by the sea and can convey most easily and naturally just what they mean. I can see the picture that’s there in the song and, I hope, I help the people who hear me to see the same picture when I’m singing the song.”
He won every award going on the Devon & Cornwall music festival circuit and was hugely popular with concert audiences wherever he performed – he had a rich natural voice, an unforced style and fine sense of interpretation. His first BBC broadcast was from Plymouth in 1927. After he sang at the annual meeting of the National Mission to the Deep Sea Fishermen in London’s Westminster Hall he was inundated with invitations to sing at various places. In 1928 he returned to Westminster and entertained an audience of nearly 2000 west country people at the annual Devon & Cornish Festival in the Wesleyan Central Hall.
Said a reporter who heard him sing:
“The clean sea breezes have tanned his frank and sunny face, and there is the blue of the sea in his eyes. His smile isone of the happiest things in the world. It is impossible, however, to convey any adequate impression of the man in this way. Jack Collings is the sort of man most people like to see. But hear him, even in conversation, is sheer joy”.
“His bass-baritone is of a particular pleasing quality. While all the artists were received with vociferous applause, the greatest enthusiasm was reserved for Mr Jack Collings of Port Isaac.”
Jack Collins, A Singer on the wireless: Reproduced from an article by Eileen Spry, Federation of Old Cornwall Folksongs & Music Recorder in Old Cornwall 1999 courtesy of the Federation.
Jack Collings was initiated as a Cornish Bard at Perran Round in 1946 taking the Bardic name “Pyscador a Gan” (Fisherman of Song). He was born at Port Isaac and his brother Tom was also a good singer. Jack launched his career in St. Kew School Room. Dr. Wilson Gunn, conductor of Wadebridge Male Voice Choir, was struck with the richness of his voice and asked him to take a place in the choir. Twelve years later he gave up fishing. His father, 79 years old, still went searching for the elusive fish in a little lugger, Hilda.
Topical Times (1924) said Jack Collings “gave pleasure with his songs of Cornwall”. At music festivals in 1927 he won thirteen firsts and three silver medals. All listened to him in perfect silence as he faded his voice in ‘After the Storm’ and ‘Skipper of St. Ives’ (Western Morning News, 31st August 1927). His first broadcast, transmitted from the Foster Hall, Bodmin, was with St. Dennis Band before a full audience on a Sunday afternoon. After the concert he was besieged with people congratulating him. The second broadcast was from Plymouth. Admiral and Mrs. Cayley of Lanarth, St. Kew, held a Garden Fete for the Women’s Institute and Mr. Collings sang at the evening concert and was very much appreciated, as many had heard him on the wireless the night before, when he sang from Plymouth on the air with a microphone.
In 1928 he went to London to sing at the annual Devon and Cornwall Cornish Festival in the Wesleyan Central Hall, Westminster on Saturday 28th October. Two thousand West Country people attended. Mr. T. Simpson Pedlar presided and when the concert started the hall was packed. Frederick Taylor, the Exmouth baritone, opened with the Russian ‘Song of the Flea’. Mary Hamlin, the Exeter soprano sang, and Pauline Crosthers of Penryn played the violin. Gladys Harris sang and Marion Hore of Fraddon, billed as a Cornish tenor, sang the song ‘If I come to you’. Jack Collings then brought the house down with “Pasties and Cream’, ending with ‘Pasties of Polperro, Polruan, Lansallos and Looe”.
Mr. Hoey of Bodmin made arrangements for performances with clayworkers and fishermen’s choirs and six hundred people crowded into the Foster Hall. Collings’ previous five concerts were relayed on the BBC West regional transmitter; this concert was on the National wavelength. The reception on the wireless was excellent. He sang with a deep feeling of the sea he knew so well. (The clayworking choir members, incidentally, returned to work at 4am!).
Then broadcasts were made each month. Cornish people in Carlisle heard him and were waiting for the next month to hear him again. His broadcasting was heard by thousands up and down the country, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, up to Aberdeen. Mr Collings said, “I have had letters from so many people I do not even know”. With his wife Eva, Jack lived in Church Hill, Port Isaac with one son, Dennis (later a schoolmaster) and daughters Nona, Beryl, Maureen, Shirley, Velna and Peggy. Dr Wilson Gunn gave him private lessons on clipping consonants and sounding the vowels, as well as taking him on as a bass in the choir. The conductor’s wife, Mrs. Daisy Wilson Gunn, wrote music, and one piece is in the FOCS Collection at the Courtney Library in the Royal Cornwall Museum – ‘Daffodils Welcome to Spring’.
In 1936 Jack Collings drove his Austin Seven, complete with petrol and water cans, on the long journey to Bristol to broadcast from Whiteladies Road. He sang ‘The Sea Road’ by Haydon Wood, The Little Irish Girl’ (Lohr), ‘Camelford Fair’, ‘Jogging Along the Highway’ (Samuel), and ‘Here is My Song’ (Longstaff), and ‘Cornish Kitchen’. In 1946 he sang at the Foster Hall again with St. Dennis Silver Band, conductor A. G. Richards, which won the championships eleven times. It is reported that one dealer sold five hundred records of Jack Collings ‘Sea Songs’ (Decca Recording Co.). Six songs were recorded in one morning and were ready for sale in two weeks. He sings with a Cornish accent, which is not done. He has few equals.
Some of Jack Collings songs, probably from his Decca recording in the 1930s, courtesy of Daughter Shirley Gladwin and Dee Littlechild of Port Isaac Heritage:
The Four Havens
The Skippers of St Ives
How be’ee My Dear
We are grateful for the help of Dee Littlechild of Port Isaac Heritage and Shirley Gladwin, Jack Collings daughter, for providing information and photographs.
Dee Littlechild “The Real Voices Of Port Isaac”, (Port Isaac, Port Isaac Heritage, 2020) p.85.
Eileen Spry, “Jack Collins, A singer on the wireless” Old Cornwall, 1999 (Federation of Old Cornwall Societies), vol. 12, no. 5, pp. 23-24.