Brenda Wootton (née Ellery) (10 February 1928 – 11 March 1994) was a Cornish poet and folk singer and was seen as an ambassador for Cornish tradition and culture in all the Celtic nations and as far as Australia and Canada.
Early life and career
She was born in London, but grew up in the fishing village of Newlyn. She began her musical career as a young schoolgirl, singing in village halls throughout the remote communities of west Cornwall. Wootton became active on the folk scene in the early 60s, helping to keep the Cornish folk song tradition alive for many years. Her early albums were recorded on Cornwall's Sentinel label, often with her singing partners John the Fish (also known as John Langford ), Robert Bartlett and later with guitarists Pete Berryman, Mike Silver, Al Fenn, David Penhale and Chris Newman.
Many of her songs were composed by Richard Gendall. Her repertoire over the years covered folk, rock, blues, jazz and even hymns, but she is best remembered for her Cornish "standards" such as Lamorna, The White Rose, Camborne Hill, The Stratton Carol and the ballads Mordonnow, Tamar, Silver Net and Lyonesse.
She was equally at home when singing in Cornish, Breton or English and was as famous in Brittany, which she visited regularly, as she was in her native Cornwall. She opened her own folk club, the Pipers Folk Club, at St Buryan, Cornwall and appeared in the first ever Lorient Interceltic Festival in Brittany.
Wootton was a member of the Gorseth Kernow, where she was known by her Bardic name of Gwylan Gwavas (Seagull of Newlyn). In her later years, she became well known in Cornwall as a presenter for BBC Radio Cornwall where she hosted the popular weekly request show 'Sunday Best. She was also the Honorary President of Radio Beacon, the hospital radio service for St Lawrences Hospital in Bodmin. In 1994 Wootton's daughter Sue Luscombe published a book of her lyrics, comic-verses, ballads and stories entitled Pantomime Stew.
In 2010 it was announced that a previously unreleased audio tape had been discovered of a concert given by Wootton in June 1984 at the 'Bobino' theatre/music hall in Paris with Camborne Town Band and local musicians Ray Roberts, Dave Freeman and the renowned British acoustic guitarist Chris Newman. Analogue master tapes of the concert were discovered by John Knight, her recording engineer, in his studio in Cornwall, and were then digitally mastered and edited for the new album. Knight commented at the time "Brenda wanted to have a personal record of the concert. She never released a live album. I don't think it was intended for release. But now I think we have the potential there" adding "Ideally we would love to release it on cd with some of the stories from the tour."
Subsequently a new CD, All of Me, was released. The recording is unique as all nineteen tracks were previously unheard and represents a fitting tribute to Wootton, performing at what was considered to be the peak of her international career. A sixteen page souvenir booklet is included featuring unpublished photographs, many from Wootton's own private collection.
Singles and EPs
- Berceuses Celtiques Iles Britanniques (EP), (with pop-up cover), Le Chant Du Monde 100406, CM 650, 1981
- Tamar (French promo), Disc'Az 1061, 1986: Tamar/ Waiting for the Tide/ Towl Ros/ Kenavo Dewgenoughwhy
- Piper's Folk, with John the Fish & Piper's Folk, (Private pressing, produced & distributed by Piper's Folk), 1968
- Pasties & Cream, with John the Fish, Sentinel Records, SENS 1006, 1971
- Way Down to Lamorna, Sentinel, SENS 1056, 1972
- Crowdy Crawn, with Richard Gendall, Sentinel, SENS 1016, 1973
- Pamplemousse, with Robert Bartlett, Barclay (French label), 1973
- No Song To Sing, with Robert Bartlett and "guest" Alex Atterson on piano, Sentinel, SENS 1021, 1974
- Tin in the Stream, with Robert Bartlett, Stockfisch (German label), 1974 (voted West Germany's folk album of the year)
- Starry Gazey Pie, with Robert Bartlett, Sentinel, SENS 1031, 1975
- Children Singing, with Richard Gendall, Sentinel, SENS 1036, 1976
- Carillon, Transatlantic Records, TRA 360, 1979
- Boy Jan ... Cornishman, with David Penhale (voice, guitar and bouzouki) and Richard Gendall (composer), Burlington Records, BURL 005, 1980
- La Grande Cornouaillaise, Burlington Records, BURL 007, 1980
- Gwavas Lake, with The Four Lanes Male Choir, Burlington Records, BURL 008, 1980
- Lyonesse, with David King (acoustic guitar), RCA, PL 70299, 1982
- My Land, RCA, PL 70234, 1983
- B Comme Brenda, Disc'Az (French label), AZ 494, 1985
- Tamar, Disc'Az, AZ 505, 1986
- The Voice of Cornwall, Keltia Music KMCD67, 1996
- All of Me, with Brenda's Trio and Camborne Town Band Label- Knight Design, Cat. No. KDBWAOM00001 Dec. 2010.
- "Brendan Wootton: Obituary". The Times (London, England). 18 March 1994. p. 19.
- "Brenda Wootton Paris concert unearthed" at bbc.co.uk
- Luscombe, S. (ed) (1994), Pantomime Stew – An Anthology of Poetry, Doggerel and Nonsense by Brenda Wootton, Hayle: 1994.
- BRENDA WOOTTON exclusive- unheard Paris concert recordings discovered at livingincornwall.com
- "New Brenda Wootton CD – 'All Of Me' at brendawootton.com
- Track listing: 01 Boy Jan; 02 Humphry Davy; 03 Mermaid; 04 Abel George; 05 Tishomingo Blues; 06 Kerra Kernow; 07 Five Threes; 08 Allan Apple; 09 Loving Eyes; 10 James Ruse; 11 Charlie Bate; 12 I wish that I were crossing now; 13 Pensevyk Byghan