Lowender Peran’s roots lie in the Celto Cornish movement of the early 20th century. Cornwall was accepted as member of the Pan Celtic League (later to become Celtic Congress) in 1904. The first Old Cornwall Societies formed in the 1920s and lead directly to collaboration with the Welsh and Breton Gorsedds to revive Gorsedh Kernow and an inaugural ceremony in 1928.
From the outset there was a desire to hold an inter-Celtic festival in Cornwall to celebrate Cornwall’s language and culture along-side that of the other Celtic Nations. Gorsedh Kernow and the Old Cornwall Societies worked with the Celtic Congress towards this end, but a festival planned for 1933 had to be cancelled due to the national rail strike and the second planned for 1939 was cancelled due to the outbreak of war.
In 1949 the first Cornish inter-Celtic festival was finally held in St Ives and boasted Irish and Cornish dance workshops as well as events and concerts involving the Celtic languages. Further festivals were organised on an ad hoc basis. In 1950 Helena Charles, a Celto-Cornish activist and founder member of Mebyon Kernow organised a festival in Truro and staged an excerpt of the Cornish Mystery play, Bewnans Meryasek, at St Piran Round. She took the opportunity to incorporate folk dancing and rounded off the performance with a mixture of Cornish and Breton dances for all, a portend of the modern Lowender Peran.
20 years later the advent of the popular music festivals like Woodstock and Glastonbury inspired parallel festivals across the Celtic world including the Festival Interceltique in Brittany and the Irish Pan Celtic Competitions. Cornwall was invited to participate in these festivals from the outset and they were instrumental in continuing the momentum created by the earlier Celtic revivalists. In the mid-1970s representatives from these festivals, Polig Montjerrat from Brittany and Con O’Connel from Ireland visited Cornwall to promote their own festivals and also to encourage Cornwall to hold its own event. Following the success of the Cornish contingent at the Irish Pan Celtic festival in 1978, John Wootton (husband of Brenda Wootton – a regular performer on the Celtic festival scene) chaired a working group to organise a “Kernow Pan Celtic festival” in October of that year.
The festival was held in Perranporth with the Ponsmere Hotel acting as a hub. The programme was an eclectic mix of events that included Cornish Wrestling and a “Celtic tug-of-war” but at its core was traditional music and dance from Cornwall and the other Celtic nations. The following year the festival was renamed “Lowender Peran” (Peran’s Festival), Sen Peran /Saint Piran, being the patron saint of Cornwall and a symbol of Cornish identity. The broad aim of the festival then as it is now is to celebrate Cornwall’s distinct cultural heritage and its Celtic connections.
Lowender Peran continued to be held each October based at the Ponsmere Hotel in Perranporth until the Hotel closed at the end or 2014. In 2015 the festival moved to Newquay, initially basing itself at the Headland Hotel and then moving to its current home at the Hotel Bristol in 2017.
Although traditional dance and music remains at the core of Lowender Peran the festival celebrates all aspects of Cornwall’s distinctive cultural identity and sense of being a Celtic Nation. It champions the use of the Cornish language both for the fluent speaker and for those who enjoy trying out a few phrases or joining the chorus of a Cornish sea shanty. Lowender Peran has a long-standing relationship with the Cornish Wrestling Association which connects to a Cornish sporting tradition going back thousands of years. Brass bands are an integral part of Cornish musical heritage and are given pride of place at the festival as and when the opportunity arises. In 2013 Camborne Town Band took part in a concert celebrating the work of Brenda Wootton which served to merge Brass Band and Traditional Music.
Story-telling and dialect reading are two traditional Cornish arts that have found a natural home at Lowender Peran from
the outset. Close association with the Old Cornwall Societies has ensured that festival goers have an opportunity to explore and understand local history through “Talk and Walk” sessions. Cornish singing tradition is a thread that weaves throughout the festival with both formal concerts and the Lowender Peran “Shout” which is now hosted at the Newquay Rowing Club. There is of course much more to Cornish music than folk tradition, brass bands and choirs and the festival enjoys an eclectic mix. “Crowns” the punk rock band from Lanson were popular guests at the festival for several years.
The Lowender Peran Archive
The Lowender Peran Archive consists of videos, audio recordings, photographs, programmes, and ephemera which depict the story of the festival from its inception in 1978 to the present. The core part of the archive consists of video footage captured by Ted Chapman, * later joined by his sister Susan Little, which covers a 25-year period between 1987 to 2012. In 2005 Ted Chapman ensured that the original video cassette tapes were transferred into digital format to better preserve them for posterity. Video quality varies according to circumstances and the technology available at the time of recording.
*William Edward (Ted) Chapman, 1936 – 2010, was born in Falmouth and trained as a radio officer in the Merchant Navy before taking a master’s degree in electronics and pursuing a career as a college lecturer. He had wide ranging interests in Cornish culture and identity and was made a bard of Gorsedh Kernow in 1992 taking the name Glywys Venta. On his retirement he worked tirelessly in promoting Cornwall’s distinctive culture and capturing it on camera. The Lowender Peran archive is just one of many legacies.