Since 2018, a group of men have been turning up to Woodlane Social Club in Falmouth to sing songs and play silly games.
Known as ‘Men Are Singing’, the choir have just released their first song entirely in ‘Kernewek’ (Cornish). We caught up with choir leader, performer and actor Seamas Carey to find out more about the group and how the song has been received.
Where did the idea for Men Are Singing come from?
Cornwall has a deep tradition of ladies voice and male voice choirs. They were omnipresent during my childhood; seemingly at every community event I attended, with their matching blazers, shiny shoes, dodgy keyboards, and (growingly abstract) reference to Cornwall’s staunch, Methodist past. To me, they were not cool. But as an adult, I’ve developed a soft spot for these human activities. Throughout my career as a theatre musician, I’ve come to realise that singing really can make you feel better. It’s an equal meeting place, where friends, family or a whole community can come together and do something that’s creative, constructive and in unison (an increasingly rare thing at the moment). It has an unexplainable and undeniable power to make people feel good.
However, my only problem with said choirs was; the material of which they sing. It’s usually about fishermen, miners, God or extracts from Andrew Lloyd Webber productions. No thank you, as a young Cornish man, I find it hard to relate to any of the above.
So that’s why I decided to start Men Are Singing.
Simply to engage men (generally younger, as admittedly most male voice choirs are silver haired) in a non-competitive (sports), non-alcohol related (most things) activity, which has creative, constructive and positive benefits. And, to sing some more unusual songs which you might not expect from a male voice choir.
What has the response been from the men taking part?
On our first session in September 2018, almost 45 blokes turned up. They were awkward, nervous and making terrible small talk. After easing them in gently with silly games, warm ups and vocal rounds we began to learn the unusual material of Ivor Cutler, David Byrne and eventually Bjork. People come and go, but the group has simmered down to a comfortable 25 – 30 blokes who attend weekly. They’ve improved drastically as a group and as they say; actions speak louder than words. The men don’t need to tell me they enjoy themselves, because they keep coming back every week, and the room is always filled with laughter and silliness.
You’ve recently released ‘An Maw Kernewek’ (The Cornish Lad). Why was it important for you to have a song in the Cornish language?
I grew up in Cornwall. I have lived elsewhere, but I very much still consider it my home. I have a love/hate relationship with it. Cornwall inspires me, yet frustrates and embarrasses me in equal measures. In all honesty, I find the Cornish language culture intriguing and often inaccessible. But then the Gwenno album came out…
Suddenly she took my native tongue and updated it, made it sexy and dragged it into a contemporary context. I puzzled, why hasn’t anyone done this before? At that time I was listening a lot of Courtney Barnett, an Australian musician who sings about every day things, in a very dry and down to earth way. Simultaneously I was listening to the music of Thomas Tallis, arguably England’s most notable composer of Early Choral music. Mix all of these elements together, and you get – An Maw Kernewek.
How did you go about translating the song?
So I wrote the poem in English first, then I sent it to the Cornwall Council’s very handy online Translation service, which is free! Six weeks later it returned, fully translated. I then asked Will Coleman of Golden Tree Productions to help me make it flow better as song lyrics. I also recorded Will speaking it aloud, to help us with pronunciation.
What has the response to the song been so far?
Brilliant! It’s our first self penned song, so there is strong sense of ownership over it. I always wanted it to be funny. I hoped that when sung in Cornish with no translation, the audience would be intrigued and surprised by the mention of Brexit and UKIP (they sound the same, and just as bad in Cornish). This line now gets a big laugh when sung live. It sounds like an old Celtic ballad, but it talks about contemporary matters.
We filmed the song at Gwennap Pit and released it as a music video. Gwennap felt like the perfect venue; spiritual, historic, for the people and very Cornish.
We hear you’ve received an email from Gwenno! What were her thoughts?
Yes, I sent her the video and she graciously replied saying –
“Just to say a huge congratulations on your excellent new song – thank you so much for sending it over, it’s BRILLIANT. The lyrics, the singing, the location!!”
Do you think it’s important to keep the Cornish language alive?
Indeed I do. I long for the day when it’s spoken as vibrantly in communities such as the Welsh and Irish. However I think Gwenno hit on an interesting strand – how to make it accessible on a mainstream level?
For it not to be just a niche, folky, traditional club, but a very much alive, youthful, sexy and relevant community.
Men Are Singing meet every Monday night (7.30 – 9pm) at Woodlane Social Club Falmouth. Commencing in September 2019. For more information, go to https://www.menaresinging.com or https://seamascareymusic.com.