Band (R)Aid

Photo credit: Penzance Archives

Thirty years ago Penzance was host to the very first Mazey Day, on Saturday 29th June 1991 to be precise. It’s very difficult to find any photos from that time as mobile phones and the Internet hadn’t really taken off at that point.  However, here is a film clip of a documentary made in 2000 about the history of Golowan and Mazey Day by local film maker, Barbara Santi.

Golowan…Feast of John – Barbara Santi

I am one of a dwindling number of people locally who have had some sort of input into the Golowan Festival from it’s conception.  For close on 20 years I split my time at the festival between two street performance roles. 

I was one of the dancers who performed out front of the Golowan Band each year.  My personal reason for this was energy raising to stop any further raining on the children’s parades following the first year’s deluge – this was quite apart from thoroughly enjoying the catchy tunes of the Band.  Weather magic does require huge amounts of energy to maintain it’s efficacy and this was the technique that worked best for me.

Mazey dancing (2)
Photo credit: Alan Simkins

My other role was as Teazer to the Penzance Obby Oss, Penglaz.  This was always very challenging as you had to be able to maintain a clear performing space for the Oss in spite of masses of people weaving in and out in what is known as the Serpent dance.  At the same time you were this liminal character that created a bridge between the Oss and the crowd – so the role was two-fold – functional and magical.  Subsequent Teazers have re-interpreted the role as they saw fit, but that is how I experienced it. 

Down Quay St
Photo credit: Unknown

Given the sheer intensive labour involved each year, I knew that as I got older I would have to forego these roles for something a little more laid back.  It was therefore my ambition when the time came, to become part of the Golowan Band which I duly became when I applied as a drummer – incidentally, another interesting way to raise energy.

Fast forward a few decades and we have just celebrated the 30th anniversary of Mazey Day in Penzance.  However, this  was a very different occasion because we were struggling to maintain a valid community festival, all due to the ever-shifting Covid regulations that have bedevilled our land for the last couple of years.  At the time of writing I had taken on the role of Administrator for the Golowan Band and we had hoped to at least have a small St John’s Eve celebration, but this too fell foul of the increased vigilance of the Health & Safety dept. and the police, which meant that the event wasn’t granted the necessary insurance and licence and the Golowan Band was unable to perform.

However, one of the musicians of the Band mentioned that they were going to walk down Chapel Street playing a few tunes that evening purely as a member of the public in celebration of St John’s Eve.  A few others also joined him and an impromptu music session started, then unexpectedly they were joined from another nearby street by the present Penglaz who was accompanied by a trio of local musicians.  It appeared that they had similar ideas to celebrate the evening and joined forces so to speak, albeit unofficially.

Lee Palmer
Photo credit: Lee Palmer

So what were we, the Golowan Band going to do in order to keep alive the spirit of Mazey Day despite restrictions?  I had been studying the Covid regulations at that time and found that we could perform as a Band as long as we maintained social distancing and didn’t travel in a group of more than 30 people.  This gave me an idea of what might be achievable…

Many years ago, one of our long standing members of the Golowan Band came up with a very good idea that was taken on board by the Band and has remained as an annual custom since – Dawn Raids.  That member is called Mike Sagar-Fenton and he has written a very good description of what it was like in the Golowan Band in the early days so let him tell you about it all in his own words:

Golowan Band Memories

Along with lots of local people I watched with curiosity as Anna (with a banner) led the first procession of schoolchildren down Market Jew St, then ached in sympathy as the unkind clouds emptied themselves on them. What was wonderful was seeing the street full of people, with traffic banned for the day. It felt like a different town.

One day the following spring I bumped into my friend and ex singing partner Steve Hall and we talked about all things Golowan. Then he said “You used to be a drummer didn’t you? Why don’t you join the Golowan Band. We’re practising some tunes now.”

The band clearly took its influences from the only traditional sources still going, especially Padstow’s May Day. The plain white clothes surely came from there. We didn’t copy their musical instrumentation of all-reed instruments, squeeze-boxes of every kind, but after year two we did follow their drum sound, abandoning the snare drum and all others like it to create the deep throb of unsnared side drums, naval drums, which carry for miles.

Year two was a bit of a shambles. We quickly gained the reputation of the band with one tune, often mentioned by Mock Mayor David White, but I can remember at least three from the outset: St John’s (of course), Quay Fair and Zeke Waltz. The main reason for our reputation was the fact that it took, well, decades for us to devise a way of changing tune en route, so when we started that’s what we played until we got to where we could stop. I once timed – I swear – and hour and a quarter playing nothing but “Quay Fair”. The players’ fingers were numb. Membership in year two was pretty loose too and my son Tom made his one and only appearance as a shy don’t-look-at-me 12-year old on tambourine, and my daughter Beth – now regular member on fiddle – joined the band on the Sunday playing recorder.

After that the band was taken in hand. Steve was very firm in its management, introducing more tunes, settling on a specific sound, rehearsing us. The instruments were of a wider variety than today. I can remember Grevis on banjo, the occasional saxophone, and most memorably Roger White. Long before he became our leader and mascot he longed to join the band, the snag being that he only played the cello. Undaunted he created a wide belt and strapped the thing to his stomach, sawing away happily through the streets. The percussion was under the even firmer hand of Dave Trahair, easy-going in every other way but a strict disciplinarian where drums were concerned.

At first we were the only music to be heard on Mazey Day. We led the processions on every parade, clocking up a respectable mileage by the end of the weekend. However as the processions grew longer people complained that with only one band at the head, most of the children were processing in silence. More and more street bands joined us. One summer the Golowan band were having a drink in Alverton’s when another parade went past, and to our surprise and joy we heard the strains of “St John’s” going past, played by one of the school’s own bands. We’d become a tradition of our own. It felt really good.

Gradually the routes we took became more regular. Just as well – one Mazey Eve when the Mock Mayor elections were held in St John’s Hall the band processed to the Barbican, but for some reason chose to go down Alexandra Road and along the prom in the dark. That is a very long march at the end of a day and seemed to take hours. The reward when we reached the prom was the sight of the fair in the (far) distance, a fabulous full moon over the calm sea, and the bobbing lights of the “Scillonian” which had taken to doing trips to watch the fireworks.

A word or two about Mazey Eve. Drawn by the fair and the fireworks half the population of the area comes down to the Barbican, most of them young, and by the end of the evening many of them are roaring drunk. The wisdom of adding to this mix a marching band and a wild pagan ‘oss was never questioned and playing in it is an experience of its own. When I was Director of Golowan I watched proceedings from the top of the Barbican and was quite horrified. From above it looks like a mixture of a riot and a free fight, and all my H & S training was appalled. But it’s different when you’re in it. It’s a blast of adrenalin, a whiff of danger, with the solidarity of the band to support you and a sturdy instrument or a sharp elbow to clear the ways when you need to defend yourself. It is in the true unruly tradition of the ancient festival.

I’m to blame for the only other addition to our schedule. Years ago I was on holiday in Spain and woke up early one morning in a strange town to the sound of music outside. I was just in time to see the backs of two musicians and a drummer skipping down the middle of the empty road making a joyful sound. When I asked at the hotel what was happening I was told it was their Fiesta day and the musicians went around town early to remind everyone. This stuck in my mind and one year I finally plucked up courage to suggest it to the band. It wasn’t a small ask as it meant rising early after the wildness of Mazey Eve, but the band took it on and the Dawn Raids were born. It’s still one of my favourite bits, the sight of bedroom windows opening down the street, families coming to the door in their PJs, often holding babies and toddlers, smiles everywhere. The Mazey Day breakfast which follows it is a pretty good tradition too…

The Golowan Band, and indeed the Golowan Festival lit a fuse in many other Cornish towns, who started to recreate celebrations of their own traditions. To begin with they had no marching bands of their own so they invited us instead. It’s been one of the great privileges of membership that I’ve marched down the main streets of almost every town in Cornwall, not just fun but a unique perspective of towns seen from the middle of the road.

My own perspective of course is from the rear of the band, often trying to hear the musicians over the sounds of the crowd or – grrr – the sounds of a blasted samba band which organisers may have placed directly behind us. But it has its advantages. One Murdoch Day we were following Roger who was as usual mostly walking backwards. This meant he was the only one who couldn’t see the bollard behind him (though we all could) until it hit him in the arse. He took it well…

When I was director and not playing I once stood and watched the band march past. To a drummer it was a revelation, a gorgeous blend of music and colour as I heard for the first time what we actually sound like. We were good!

Being in the Golowan Band is exhausting but such a totally happy experience. As eleven o’clock strikes, as we play a quiet chorus of “St John’s”, then thump the drums for the first time as we step off, there are few sensations in life to compare. I look forward to return of the rehearsals which so perplex passers-by, the inevitable rehearsal of the counter-marching we’ve only ever done once in 30 years, the anticipation and excitement, the aching legs, and the matchless experience of playing through a densely packed crowd with smiles on every face. Thank you Steve and all who’ve ever been involved in the band, and long may it continue.

Mike Sagar-Fenton

Greg Huckfield20
Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

I can particularly relate to playing of the St John’s tune at the start of Mazey Day that Mike mentioned.  As one lady of advanced years said within my hearing “Mazey, isn’t Mazey until you hear the Golowan Band strike up with St John’s!  That’s when I know it’s truly  begun..”.  I remembered this along with the idea of Dawn Raids.  I thought, usually the people come to Mazey, so why don’t we take Mazey to the people?   So that is exactly what we did.  🙂

We started with the usual Dawn Raids.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield
Photo credit: Greg Huckfield
Greg Huckfield15
Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Then at 11 am on Mazey Day the Golowan Band congregated on the steps of St John’s Hall, Penzance ready to play our St John’s Medley.  

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

So off we went on the Golowan Band Mazey Day Raid 2021!

Next we processed to Penlee Park where we performed a few static tunes before exiting on to Morrab Road.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield
Photo credit: Greg Huckfield
Photo credit: Greg Huckfield
Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

We decided to visit a care home on the way down the road which was greatly appreciated by residents and staff alike.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Off we processed and it was very uplifting to see folk waving, and in some cases, dancing to our Mazey tunes.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Greg Huckfield8

The Golowan Band, once it had reached the bottom of Morrab Road, decided to make an important detour.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Our detour was to visit Les Rowe, an important and much missed musician from the Band.  Les had been gravely ill for many months and we had wondered whether he would survive or not.  Thankfully he was now home recuperating with his beloved wife, Ginny – so we thought we’d brighten up his day with a tune or two.  😀

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

I made sure, because of the government regulations, that we performed in open spaces, which is why we visited Penlee Park, briefly commandeered Morrab Road and were about to storm the one and only promenade in Cornwall with our music.  We managed to get across the road in spite of busy traffic – in fact, although we momentarily held up a few cars in our wanderings, we had no signs of impatience or aggression from any drivers – many hooted their horns and waved, with big smiles on their faces.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Once we reached the Arcade end of the Prom we were meant to break for lunch.  However, this was overruled as it seemed that the majority preferred to continue to finish our parading back down the Prom and then call it a day.  It was beginning to turn into a bit of a marathon…

So off we set on the last leg down towards the Barbican.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

We were nearly at our destination when a small boy was introduced to the joys of holding the Bandmaster’s baton.  Got to start them young!  Which reminds me that we are looking for young recruits, and hopefully our weekly practices in St Antony’s Gardens every Tues at 7 pm might attract some budding youngsters to our motely Band.  🙂

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Our Golowan Band Mazey Day Raid ended in St Antony’s Gardens when Tom, our Bandmaster brought his baton down with a great flourish.  Unfortunately it caused the end of the baton to dislodge itself and it rolled away on the ground.  Needless to say I couldn’t resist calling out, “Oh dear Tom – your knob’s fallen off!” much to the amusement of everyone.  😀

So that was it.  We’d done it.  We’d brought Mazey to many folk and we didn’t have any real problems, thank goodness.  My thanks to Howard Blundy who took film footage of the Band and to Greg Huckfield as photographer.  Both worked tirelessly to produce a wonderful visual story of Mazey Day 2021 with the Golowan Band.  My personal thanks to all Band musicians who gave their all, the Golowan Band committee and Rosie Reast our Band Leader who worked very hard to make our flash mob version of Mazey Day such a success.

I leave you with the 30th Anniversary film made by Barbara Santi of the Golowan Festival:

Have a great summer and the Golowan Band look forward to be bringing some musical joy to you all next Mazey! 

Kernow Bys Vyken!  

Logo design: Chris White

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