Singer of Stories by Richard Trethewey

Richard in his Bardic robes photo by Ivor Corkill

I was born into a very musical family. For many generations before me, music, singing and instruments had been an important fixture of family life. Jaben Trethewey (b.1848) played Clarinet in St Dennis church. My Grandparents generation sung in the chapel choir and played both brass and piano.  My father’s generation all played in brass bands and in the 1960’s my Auntie Linda, as a young girl was one of the first girls to ever play with a brass band in the Albert Hall! Mary Ann and Raymond Trethewey (my parents) gave concerts with my aunties Linda and Heather playing brass, Gilbert Trethewey (my Grandad) singing and my Granny Mona Trethewey often accompanying on piano. Raymond is a fine Tenor and for many years has sung across Cornwall as a soloist, with Opera South West as well as Duchy Opera.

The first concert I ever took part in is a well known story within our family. It was a Trethewey family concert at Enniscavern Chapel just outside St Dennis when I was 8 years old and had started to learn the violin that year. I performed London’s Burning. After playing it through once my Granny who was compering the evening asked me to play verse two to which I responded there wasn’t one!

In 2007 I took the bold step of leaving Cornwall and travelling to Newcastle Upon Tyne to study Folk and Traditional music. I had been playing Cornish traditional music on the violin (fiddle) for many years by this point and wanted to receive the best tuition possible. It was during my time at Newcastle that I started to write songs based in the culture I had grown up in. I read about Cornish history and discovered amazing stories that I felt needed telling and also protecting. One such story was that of The Clayworker’s Strike of 1913. A dramatic and even brutal strike where every single person working in the industry came out in hope of better conditions. Sadly to no avail. I was so inspired by stories such as this that I put together a collection of songs to represent many of the Cornish industries. These included Seafarers, Farming, Mining, Blacksmithing (historically a family occupation), Fishing, Tailoring and the China Clay industry. These songs were then juxtaposed with “10,000 Miles”, a song telling the story of lovers separated by emigration which of course has played such a huge role in Cornish history.

Photo by Tom Philp

In 2012 when I was back living in Cornwall again, I recorded these songs on my solo album ‘Dig Where You Stand’. I was joined by some fantastic musicians and dancers and even members of Camborne Youth Band. Over the next few years I performed in many different bands locally and at festivals in the UK and Europe and was fortunate to have several opportunities to perform accompanied by the whole of Camborne Town Band at Lowender Peran, (held at Perranporth and now Redruth).

In 2014 I decided it was time to go back to University again. I had been working with adults with physical and learning disabilities but felt I wanted to combine these skills with my musical skills so I enrolled at the University of South Wales on their Music Therapy Masters Degree. It was around this time that I also achieved one of my proudest moments yet. For two years running I was a judge at the Eden Project’s World Cornish Pasty Competition!

Photo by Tom Philp

I qualified as a Music Therapist in 2017 and have worked for MHA (Methodist Homes Association) at their Dementia care home in Falmouth, Cornwall Music Service Trust in mainstream primary schools, privately and for Children’s Hospice South West at Little Harbour Children’s Hospice in St Austell. It was at Little Harbour that in 2019, with the help of the incredible staff there I wrote our song ‘Harbour Walls’. This song was written to use the staff’s own words and feelings about working where we work and then transform them into a song to act as something of a gift to the families that use the hospice. We recorded our song professionally and released a video accompanying it as well as a launch at the Eden Project. As well as at Little Harbour, I currently also work in both Troon and St Day & Carharrack primary schools doing Music Therapy with the children there.

It was also in 2017 that I started to play with Cornish band ‘The Grenaways’ which saw us performing at festivals all across Europe and which then also led to an offshoot band ‘The Rowan Tree’ forming. In 2018 The Rowan Tree travelled to Leeuwarden in the Netherlands to compete at the Liet minority languages song competition. This is a competition for any band writing and performing in a minority language from any area within Europe. We became the first Cornish band to ever win this prestigious competition! It was this success I think that drove us to work on our most ambitious project yet, ‘Kolar’s Gold’. This was a mixed media project designed to tell the forgotten stories of Cornish miners, their families and their Indian counterparts who lived and worked at KGF from 1890-1940 and beyond. This project drew together over 60 musicians living in Cornwall, Norfolk and Bangalore! We appeared on Spotlight TV to talk about the project and play live in the studio before then launching the album at the Burrell Theatre in Truro this February. 2017 must have been a busy year as it was also the year I joined the cast of Cousin Jack’s Theatre Group to perform ‘The Mousehole Cat’ in Mousehole itself at Christmas time. In 2019 we followed in the footsteps of Cousin Jacks (and Jennies) before us to tour the show in America in Mineral Point, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota. It was an incredible experience playing to sell out audiences who delighted in seeing this tale from a tiny fishing village at the end of Cornwall being performed on the big stage in the USA. We also took time to visit some of the wonderfully preserved miners cottages which are now a tourist attraction in Mineral Point.

In 2020 I was welcomed into the College of Bards at Lys Kernow (County Hall) in Truro. The Cornish Gorsedh is an organisation which works to protect and celebrate Cornish history, culture and the achievements of those whose work has been recognised as promoting Cornwall as a Celtic nation. My bardic name ‘Kaner Drollys’ translates to ‘Singer of Stories’ and it is the incredible stories from Cornwall’s past that inspires me to write and perform music.

Photo by Tom Philp

For the past year I have been very busy working on only my second solo album ‘Two Halves’. Two Halves was first imagined for vinyl. It presents one side of songs and music inspired by stories from Cornwall’s wonderfully evocative river estuaries. The second half is more akin to my debut album ‘Dig Where You Stand’ and tells stories associated with Cornwall’s industrial heritage. I am joined by a wonderful selection of guests, representing some of the inspiring musicians and friends I have been working with since my first album came out in 2012.

The cover art for the album was made by Cornish artist, maker and blacksmith Lisa Wisdom. I commissioned Lisa to create the cover art which was inspired by a 16th century map of Falmouth Haven, the river Fal and the Helford, which is part of the Cotton manuscripts collection now held in the British Museum. The piece is made from found fragments of corrugated iron and old copper boilers, worked into with charcoal to depict many of the places which inspired the songs of this album.

The first side of the album contains songs inspired by tales of smuggling and piracy to wonderfully eccentric royal visits, forgotten castles that overlooked the estuary and the harvest of the kea plum trees growing  along the banks of the River Fal. 

The second half starts with the true story of Tretheweys who left the Clay Country to seek their fortune in Canada before moving onto a song inspired by and featuring the various sounds involved in the mining industry. As well as the sound of hammers being struck underground,  I once again revisits my Brass Band connections and am accompanied by St Dennis Band Quartet on this track. From the story of an ice skating vicar taking to a frozen clay pit in the 1930’s to exploring Cornwall’s diaspora connections and ending with a lullaby (featuring my father singing in Cornish)  inspired by my work as a Music Therapist for Children’s Hospice South West. 

There is an opportunity to hear my latest album performed live and to watch films I have made that accompany the songs ‘Frenchman’s Creek’, ‘Queen of the Cornish Rhine’, ‘Hope in a Jam Jar’ and ‘Bringing the Harvest Home’ on the big screen at Truro Plaza cinema on Thursday the 25th of April at 7pm. Tickets via my website.

To find more information about anything mentioned above, other dates or to pre order ‘Two Halves’ you can visit

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