BRENDA WOOTTON exclusive- unheard Paris concert recordings
John, my husband, had a recording studio back in the '80's and was Brenda
Wootton's sound engineer and co-producer during the peak of her international
recording career. He came across two tapes from that time and written
on the labels was, 'Brenda ???'. These have transpired to be unique
for two reasons; firstly, these live tracks have never been heard, and secondly,
that the tapes are still in a playable condition!
Brenda Wootton's name still evokes emotions in
Cornish hearts and souls and no collection of Cornish music is complete without
her. Together, Brenda and John, produced much of her recorded work at
this time. The albums that John produced were put down in our recording studio,
however, Brenda wanted this concert in Paris recorded in front of a live audience
to capture the atmosphere and humour of the occasion. Her warmth and character
connected with the French psyche; they adored 'Mama Brenda', In June1984,
Brenda, along with Camborne Town Band and the cream of local musicians, played
at 'Bobino', an iconic Parisienne theatre/music hall, for a week.
The concert starts with several pieces played
by the band, who are then joined by Brenda. Some of the tunes are well known
from previous albums and some are new to me, so may never have been available
until now. What defines the unique quality with this performance is the vibrancy
of being live, with Brenda chatting in French and the empathy, response and
interaction with the audience. There are beautiful songs like 'What's in a
Name' and 'Silver Nets' and an extraordinary version of 'Jan Knuckey' with
sophisticated Parisiennes responding with the 'woo, woos' and boom, booms'
in all the right places.
We hadn't realised how celebrated Brenda was
in France until, in 1986, she was invited to perform at the Inter-celtique
Festival in Lorient, Britanny, where she undertook the ambitious, full length
production of a mythical story of mystical folk set to music. To make this
happen, Brenda took singers, musicians and dancers from the county, including
John who accompanied her on guitar. We were on-lookers to her reputation, she
was a fantastic communicator, and everywhere she went crowds followed for autographs,
with press and TV reporters lining up for interviews.
She was a standard bearer of Cornish culture and when
Brenda died in 1994, she had an international reputation that stretched as
far as Australia, regularly performing in Paris, alongside internationally
known artistes such as Mercedes Sosa and Maria Carta.
It's remarkable that these tapes have tangibly
survived. Without going into the technical detail, mostly because I wouldn't
know what I was talking about, some professional tape from this era has proved
to be unstable as the oxide has shedded, making the master tracks unusable.
This was an 'across the board' problem in the industry. By chance, the concert
was recorded on a different brand of tape, hence, the original master tape
survives in intact. There was also the problem of listening to the tape as
recording studios today are digital and don't have analogue tape recorders,
however, the final piece of the puzzle slotted into place when talking
to an old friend, Lionel Curnow of Porthleven who owns two high quality tape
recorders that can play these professionally recorded reels, it's thanks to
him that we can hear them now.
These tracks represent Brenda at her zenith. She
ranges from tender and wistful to powerful and earthy; flipping, vocally,
from carrying the banner in a church parade to seducing a night club audience
. A true 'daughter of the sea', surging with confidence and ever conscious
of her role as an emissary for Cornwall. To the French she may have been
La Grande Cornouaillaise but she will be remembered as Gwylan Gwavas - Seagull
of Newlyn- a local girl who began her career at Piper's Folk Club and leaving
no doubt, that Cornwall's the Land she loved.
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