Music, Caves and Gin


Last week something wonderfully unusual happened and we found ourselves all in the same place at the same time! We were meeting for a writing weekend to begin work on the music for Kolar’s Gold and after confirming important details such as who would bring gin, and who would pick up beers, we were good to go.

For us the writing process is a very collaborative one. Someone will bring a tune or idea to the group, and together we turn it into a complete piece of music. It’s a melting pot of ideas, we try out all of them (however unusual!), sometimes our first idea is the one we go with, at other times we try numerous approaches before finding the right one.

For this project, we have the added consideration of how to combine our own ideas with those of the Indian musicians we are collaborating with. This would be a far simpler process if we could all be in a room together, but as Laura is the only band member that will be meeting the Indian musicians in person, much of the joint composition will be done over the internet. Luckily we are working with a very accomplished composer/arranger/performer in India and a talented group of musicians. We will announce these collaborations very soon.

By Thursday night we had ‘rough drafts’ of 4 of the pieces for Kolar’s Gold. We went home, listened to them (a lot), and came back the following morning to revisit and revise the work of the previous day.

On Friday, after hours of writing and rehearsing we decided to clear our heads and walked down to Neal’s local beach. We couldn’t resist taking the music with us and spent some time singing together in a large cave, a very magical experience, so much so that even reluctant singer Tom joined in!

It was incredibly beautiful, but the intention of re energising us was questionable after we hauled ourselves back up the steep cliff with the assistance of a rope and wobbly railing and collapsed at the top in need of an afternoon nap!

After 12 hours writing and rehearsing and sustained by a tasty vegan curry, we had achieved a lot, but were in need of a break, a fit of giggles signalling it was time to abandon music for the day.

On Saturday we played a sell out gig at The Old Library in Bodmin, a fantastic new venue run by intoBodmin, an organisation doing transformative work within the town. It was a very special night and only our second ever gig with drummer Richard Morgan who has brought a whole new energy to our music. Richard’s composition and arranging skills were put to good use over the course of the previous few days!

We are really pushing ourselves musically in this project and after two days we were mentally and physically exhausted, but feeling incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, and to be doing it as a group of musicians that have a lot of love and respect for one another. It would be an impossible task without that.   

Kolar's Gold

For several months now we have been planning a project behind the scenes that we are now finally able to make public!

Almost by accident we stumbled across the fact that there was a large community of Cornish miners living and working at the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF), Karnataka, India from 1890- 1940 and beyond. Very quickly it became clear that this fascinating story had been all but forgotten in conversations of the Cornish Diaspora and we felt very strongly that this was a story that needed to be told.

After the intial discovery we set to work reading and researching about the Kolar Gold Fields and the project began to take shape. The momentum of the project grew largely thanks to contacts made in India- Mrs Gayatri Chandrashekar, Mrs Bridget White Kumar, and Dr S. SriKumar all of whom have written fascinating books about the Kolar Gold Fields and who have all responded to our questions and initial ignorance with warmth, patience and a wealth of information.

So, what are we actually planning?? Well, all the research so far has been leading up to our project start date 1st February 2019. We will spend a year on the project and by the end of it we will have produced a CD of music, an accompanying booklet, a dedicated section on our website and a short film telling the story of the Cornish miners and their Indian counterparts who lived and worked at KGF.

Music was and is a huge part of life at the Kolar Gold Fields and our project will reflect that, with new compositions, traditional Cornish and Indian folk music, songs, hymns and carols we know to have been sung at KGF by Cornish miners, and, most importantly it will be a collaboration between us and musicians from the Kolar Gold Fields area. It is very important to us that we tell all sides of this story and represent the different cultures that coexisted at KGF.

We knew that for the project to work we would need funding, and were thrilled when both the Arts Council England and Cornwall Heritage Trust agreed to support us, we are incredibly grateful for their support.

From February we will have a dedicated project section on our website where as well as keeping up to date with our progress you will also be able to read individual stories of Cornish miners, find more general information about the Kolar Gold Fields, and specific resources such as a list of the Cornish miners who lived at KGF and the music we know to have been performed there. If you have any information you would like to share, if you had relatives who lived at the Kolar Gold Fields or would just like more information you can email us at

We can’t wait to get started and share this project with you! x

*Photographs belong to Pauline Tamblyn Bick (Cornwall) who was born at KGF and who has shared with us the story of her father Roy Tamblyn who lived at KGF with his family. We are very grateful to the family for their support of this project and for sharing their story with us.

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A weekend in East Anglia, new projects...and a new band member!


One of the more unusual things about The Rowan Tree is our geography. As a band some of us live in the most westerly part of the UK (Cornwall) and Tom lives in the most easterly (Norfolk). This presents us with lots of challenges, but we try to think creatively round the fact we have a 7 hour drive if we want to make music together! Technology plays a big part, 'Tresor' (our winning song at Liet International) was composed by all four members of the band over WhatsApp, and we chat most days on messenger. When it comes to rehearsals, what would often be spread over many weeks if we lived closer gets condensed into weekends, and we've disovered that when we are together we work very quickly when it comes to arranging or composing new material,  just as well when you only get a few hours together every now and then!

 Tom has spent many long hours driving between Norwich and Cornwall this past year, and it was about time we did it the other way round! So Neal, Rich and Laura set off from Cornwall to East Anglia for a weekend of working on new material, meeting our new drummer(!), a gig in Norwich...and planning some exciting new projects we'll be working on soon.

A 'quick' stop at Chapel Cross Tea Room just off the A303 turned into a rather longer stop. We ate cake in the sun, sang in the converted chapel, met the lovely owner Rose and by the time we left we’d arranged to go back and play a gig there in a few weeks time! 

We arrived in Suffolk quite late on Friday evening and reunited with Tom, drinking wine, catching up and talking through plans for the coming year.

The following morning we began work on a really exciting commision for the Lowender Peran festival. We will be performing in the 'Levow Brythonek' concert which is a collection of Cornish, Breton and Welsh songs, alongside the Lorho-Pascos from Brittany and members of Jamie Smith's Mabon from Wales. It was great to be working on new material and by lunchtime the songs had taken shape enough for us to make rough recordings to practice along to until we can next meet together. 

After lunch we met band artist and all round lovely lady Gilly Middleton (Alisier Art) for a quick drink, before heading over to Lowestoft for dinner with Laura and Tom's family. We were very fortunate to be given use of a studio at The Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft for a practice session so the theatre was our next stop.

Since we began the band Tom has been doing an impressive job of playing both guitar and drums (sometimes at the same time!) but we had been considering the possibility of bringing a drummer into the band for a while. Tom's friend and mega talented dummer Richard Morgan had recorded drums on our EP, and when Tom approached him about playing drums with us on a more regular basis he was up for meeting us and having a jam. We only had a couple of days in East Anglia so had booked a gig in Norwich the following day. It's testament to his talent (and bravery!!) that Richard agreed to play a gig with us only 24 hours after meeting us for the first time! We rehearsed all evening and Richard slotted in to the band as if he had always been there. We met again the following morning to run through the set then packed up and drove over to Norwich. 

Norwich describes itself as 'a fine city', and having returned to the car (after a trip to the pub and a look round the cathedral) to find we'd left a door wide open and all instruments were still inside, we decided it was a very 'fine city' indeed!

Our gig that evening was at The Mitre Norwich, Tom's local and a beautifully renovated pub. The staff at the Mitre had been really helpful promoting the event and they were equally as helpful and welcoming in the 'real' rather than virtual world! We were joined by local band The Shackleton Trio and it was a treat to listen to them, their wonderful albums provided us with a soundtrack on the journey back to Cornwall. 

We spent a lot of time plotting future projects while we were away, and while it’s too soon to reveal any details we can give a couple of hints…Let’s just say that Tom’s unusual (weird) obsession with the A303 will be put to good use, and we will be exploring an area much further East than East Anglia. Next year’s going to be an exciting one…watch this space!

A winning week at Liet International XXL!

This week saw us hitting the road once more, and there was a LOT of road to travel! We were headed for Liet International XXL in Leeuwarden, Friesland NL. We set off with a sense of anticipation, this was an adventure into the unknown, a province and an event that none of us had been to before. 

We arrived on Monday evening in Leeuwarden to be greeted by Tjallien, Coordinator of Liet International, who was as friendly and welcoming as the city was beautiful...very! She showed us to our accomodation, a sailing ship moored up in the centre of the city. It was an impressive home for the week, though with about 30 people on board and the four of us in a rather bijou cabin we got the sense it would be rather 'cosy' and we would get to know our fellow musicians very well...After some time to settle in and get our bearings we found our most important location, a pub by the canal, and were soon joined by the familiar faces of Mark Trevethan, Cornish language lead and judge for the week, Whyte from Scotland who we had met previously at the Pan Celtic festival and other groups and artists from across Europe. It was our first taster of the week to come, and we had a feeling it was going to be good, even if the mildly claustrophobic member of the band swapped cabin for car on the first night at bed time! 

Tuesday was our soundcheck day, and first experience (other than mealtimes) of Neushoorn, the venue for the competition the following day. It was a fantastic venue with the most relaxed sound and stage team we've worked with! After soundcheck we played some tunes on the ships deck, had some photographs taken by the talented Aron Weidenaar and listened to the beautiful music of Gerda Stevenson and Kyrre Slind

Tuesday's highlight had to be the boat trip we were taken on by new friends, amazing musicians and 'expert' local tour guides Luko Reinders and Bas Postma. We spent 3 hours navigating the canals of Leeurwarden in the sunshine and in the wonderful company of Luko, Bas, Whyte and Billy Fumey. There was added excitment as we went off the reccomended route (a deliberate mistake by Luko and Bas of course...) and ended up lying in the bottom of the boat to get under what must surely be the worlds lowest bridges! Laura even managed a swim, but should perhaps have thought about how to get back in the boat before getting out...We topped the day off with a night out at local bar Scooters, where we gave the locals a taste of Cornish folk, probably not something they've experienced before at their regular jam nights! 

Wednesday was the big day, and after watching the other acts during the dress rehearsal we felt privaledged to be in the company of such talented groups and artists. We were unsurprisingly nervous once the evening began, but the whole event felt much more like a celebration of minority languages and music than a competition. As the 14 judges on stage began giving their scores things were looking good for us, but we've learned through experience that nothing is certain and with such quality songs we had no expectations. When the actual moment came when we were announced as the winners we were completely stunned. Every act that had taken to the stage would have been a worthy winner, so for us placing 1st felt unreal, but also a huge honour and amazing to get the Cornish language out there to a wider audience. After accepting our prize and playing Tresor once more we moved onto the after party...which was a great party.....a really great party....

Thankfully Tom had played so much music during the party that he hadn't had much time for beer and was within the driving limit, so at 4am we packed up and instead of going to bed we hit the road. It's a long way from Leeuwarden to Cornwall...16 hours to be exact! 

In the film Austin to Boston, Gill Landry comments that "we find ourselves here quite often saying goodbye again and again....after all, the road is just one long goodbye". The sadness we felt at leaving is testament to the friendships we made, and the extraordinary people we met. It is always the people we share an experience with that make it special, and thankfully we find in this strange musical world we're in whilst we can never go back and relieve an experience we often get to meet people again in other contexts and make new memories.

Thank you to the organisers of Liet International for putting on an event that shares and promotes minority languages, we learned so much about other languages and cultures whilst we were there! We were looked after so well by all involved and are so grateful for the opportunity you gave us. We hope to see you all for another adventure one day!

The Rowan Tree & The Grenaways play Echos & Merveilles, Toulouse!

We had a couple of weeks at home catching our breath after the Pan Celtic then was time to hit the road once more, this time to Echos Et Merveilles in Toulouse, France. On this trip we were joining The Grenaways and taking both bands to play at this unique festival. Ireland had been our first trip as just one band and had felt strange to be away without our Grenaways family, so we were very happy to be reunited. There was however a spare seat on the plane, meant for trumpet player Claude who was stuck at home in hospital. We missed both his playing and company!

On Friday morning, after a good night's sleep at our hotel, Tom was met at the airport and we headed to Le Bascala in Bruguieres. All the volunteers, organisers and crew made us very welcome and we were spoiled with a 3 hour soundcheck! 

The Rowan Tree were first to take to the stage, and after listening in the wings to the beautiful sounds of Eirdan  and the enthusiastic crowd, the nerves were replaced by excitment. The Toulouse audience didn't disappoint and between the cheering, dancing and incredible lights on stage we couldn't fail to find this one of the most exciting gigs we have played so far. After the surreal experience of signing and selling out of CDs we joined the audience to watch the mighty Neko Light Orchestra who wowed us with their magical performance and musicianship! Rather later than we're used to (we need to work on our Rock n Roll body clocks!) The Grenaways took to the stage for our headline gig. The audience's enthusiasm and the fantastic atmosphere of the festival meant that this was another gig to remember. Our experience of playing in France will stay with us, and is one we hope to repeat very soon!

The festival itself was a wonderful mix of craftsmanship, battle re-enactments, beautiful music and unity amongst people with common interests. It was an honour to share the stage with bands such as Faun and Fanel who really knew how to put on a show!

Thank you to all the fellow musicians we met and new friends that were made over the weekend. Special thanks to Nicolas and his team for all their hard work over the weekend, and to the wonderful Franz who not only ferried us around all weekend but was also a joy to spend time with and whose beautiful CD kept us sane on the late night drive home back to Kernow!  

The highs and lows of a week at the Pan Celtic Festival!

Overall its been a great week at the Pan Celtic Festival in Letterkenny, here are the highlights...and the lowlights of our week in Ireland!

It was a long journey to get over to Ireland, having travelled from Cornwall and Norwich we met and made a stop off in Shropshire for a gig in aid of the Lingen Davies Cancer Fund. After a great night of music and meeting some lovely people we set off early the next morning. The ferry crossing was very rough and while the boys got through it with a beer or two, Laura lurked in the shop for an hour or so (being not so subtly tailed by security!) to avoid anyone suffering from seasickness!

After settling into the house we were staying in we got some food and tried to be sensible with an early night, although sleeping in a new place proved elusive for some of us and much of the night was spent watching nature programs on RTE... not so Rock and Roll!

On Wednesday we had our first competitions, group traditional singing and Richard had the solo trad singing. Our housemates and all round lovely people Tir Ha Tavas and The Aggie Boys Choir were also in the Group Singing competition and despite the Cornish support and solidarity and everyone putting in a great performance, we were beaten by the Welsh who, (though we may say it through gritted teeth) were worthy winners! 

Thursday was the big day for us as we were competing in the Pan Celtic International Song Competition with our song Tresor. At lunchtime we went for a soundcheck, then to another one at 4, though it was a couple of hours waiting backstage before we got our soundcheck. Just before the competition we realised our wallets had been stolen from our dressing room, which didn't help the nervous wait backstage while the other countries performed their songs! Despite the nerves the stage at the An Grianan Theatre was a wonderful one to perform on and despite no sound coming from the keyboard we enjoyed performing the song. The wait backstage for the results was painful, all acts were in the Green room watching the scores come in on a blurry TV with next to no sound. Luckily someone had a phone to stream it on and after 3 judges scores we were in the lead. By the time the last judge came to score there were only two possible outcomes, either we would win outright or would draw in first place with the Irish. The scores came in...........and a draw was declared. A secret judge had been scoring in the audience in the event of a tie and placed the Irish above us in their order of preference, meaning we came second :-( Suddenly we understood why they kept the secret judge a secret, they weren't very popular in the Cornish camp! Such a close result was frustrating to say the least, but we were proud to have got a 2nd place for Cornwall. 

After the competition rather than crawling into a hole somewhere we headed over to Cornish and Manx night. The Cornish and Manx bands put on a great show, and seeing people 'interpretative dance' to our sets of tunes made our night. Big thanks to The Aggie Boys for getting the dancing going! 

Friday saw our whole house dress up in traditional Cornish outfits and join the Pan Celtic parade through the streets of Letterkenny. In the afternoon we set off to explore the beautiful Donegal coastline and in the evening went to watch a gig by the incredible Donegal band In Their Thousands. 

Saturday saw another competition as Laura and Tom entered the instrumental duo. Once again we were beaten by the Irish...but the judge's comment that he'd heard some 'unusual music he'd never heard before' bought a wry smile to our faces! So, we headed to the pub and joined The Aggie Boys, and later some of the Welsh contingent, for pub singing and playing. 

A few drinks in and we decided it was about time we worked on some new music. Not wanting to disturb anyone in the house we went to a nearby golf course with instruments and and got to work. It was pretty chilly out there but warmed by beer we developed 3 new tunes which will be appearing in our set very soon! 

Sunday we packed up and started the long journey home with a stopover in Poynton, Manchester to reunite with The Grenaways. Without a doubt the best thing about the week was the time we spent with The Aggie Boys Choir and Tir Ha Tavas. We couldn't have asked for better housemates, supporters, fellow Cornish, competitors, friends. Thank you so much to all of them for making our week, and to all from Kernow Pan Keltek for all their hard work with the organisation. Also, thank you to all the new friends we met from the other Celtic countries. We hope to see you all soon! X

The Rowan Tree win Kan Rag Kernow!


We were delighted to win Kan Rag Kernow (Song for Cornwall) 2018 last week. We were up against 3 other great acts all with lovely songs and we thoroughly enjoyed an evening of excellent Cornish music! We now go on to represent Cornwall at the Pan Celtic Festival in Letterkenny and will be competing against the other Celtic nations in the international song contest!