The popular musical culture of the villages north of St Austell was shaped by the rise of the clay industry. In common with other industrial regions like South Wales and the North of England it produced a strongly working-class culture associated with brass bands and male voice choirs. Indeed, the Clay Country witnessed some of the first bands in Britain. The expansion of the industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries led to the formation of more bands in smaller villages and this progress was sustained in 1912 by the establishment of the Bugle Band Festival, an event that is still popular today.

The twentieth century also saw the emergence of a male voice choir tradition. Even today the Imerys Engineering and Imerys Eastern Area choirs perform throughout the area and beyond with the support of the clay industry. The ‘Golden Age’ of the clay choirs was undoubtedly in the 1950s when Treviscoe competed in the International Eisteddfod at Llangollen. In 1955 Treviscoe beat seventeen other renowned choirs from England, Wales, Yugoslavia, Germany and the USA. Not only did they emerge as British champions, but also came second only to an Italian choir including the young Luciano Pavarotti. This was followed in 1956 by their overall victory.

Methodism was inextricably linked with the area’s musical identity. Brass bands performed at chapel functions, Sunday School events and tea treats with some bands, such as St Dennis in 1908, even including the word ‘temperance’ in their title to demonstrate a commitment to Methodist beliefs. When Treviscoe returned from their triumph at Llangollen it was symbolic that the choir assembled outside their village chapel to sing their test pieces and the popular hymn ‘In the sweet bye and bye’. By the middle decades of the twentieth century a local hymn-writing tradition had emerged with clay villages like Nanpean, Treviscoe and Trethosa giving their names to popular local hymns.

Bugle Band
(click to enlarge)

Wilson Manhire (1884-1942) from Molinnis near Bugle composed over 800 pieces for piano, violin, choir and organ and was leader of the Handel Festival orchestra at Crystal Palace in London. Apart from composing several sacred compositions, he was also a leading figure in setting up a Choral Society at Bugle Methodist Chapel in the 1930s.