One of the joys and frustrations of traditional music wherever you are in the world is often not knowing where a tune came from. Or if it’s just your tradition that plays it. The joy is in the music, in playing a tune that you love, and playing it with other people. The frustrations for curious people (like us, hence this blog!) are many. Where did this tune come from? Is it Cornish? Did we play it first? Did it arrive here from somewhere else? If it did, is it known by a different name there?
Every summer (pandemics aside) the Golowan festival is held in Penzance. It is a modern revival of some of Cornwall’s midsummer traditions that took place between the feasts of St John the Baptist (24th June) and St Peter (29th June) which survived in Penzance up until the 1880s, including bonfires, fireworks, dancing, fairs, and boat trips. If you’re interested in this history, I’ve written about the origins of Golowan on their website.
One of the key elements of the modern day Golowan are the performances of the Golowan Band. Their core repertoire consist of Cornish tunes, and there’s a CD and tune book available to buy at the festival. We’ve always thought that the tunes were mainly traditional Cornish but occasionally there’s a surprise to be found.
One of the band’s traditional sets is the tune “St Johns” followed by “Abbey Slip” – both usually played on the torchlit procession that flows down Penzance’s Chapel Street on St John’s Eve. Here’s a (socially distanced) rendition of the two tunes. At 1:15 in the video Abbey Slip starts (the video should start there).
In one of the very many bored moments during Lockdown we came across some nice traditional Catalan music. One of them jumped out at us. After listening to the above, now listen to this.
It seems that Abbey Slip is in fact a traditional Catalan tune called Salta un xic (‘Jump a little’). There’s a lovely minor key variation of the tune’s part B, and also a lovely extra part that hasn’t made it into the Golowan version. It’s a popular tune nowadays used in many children’s entertainments.
There’s surely a story here about how this tune travelled from Catalonia to Cornwall. I have an inkling of how it may happened, but that’s a story for another time.
Music will always travel, be borrowed, and arrive sideways to fill gaps nobody new were there. Cornish traditional music is no exception!
(and if you like the Golowan tune Quay Fair, have a listen to the Scottish/USA Old Time Campbell’s Farewell to Red Gap..!)