CELTIC CONNECTIONS 2014, GLASGOW ROYAL CONCERT HALL 17th January 2014
The original stories behind this concert date back nearly a century now, but a later starting-point came in 2008 when Greentrax Records released the double CD "Far, Far From Ypres", a collection of soldiers’ marching and trench songs, music-hall favourites and home-front anthems from 1914-18, alongside subsequent songwriters’ reflections on the conflict, curated and produced by Ian McCalman. A theatre production of the album, with script written by Ian, proved a powerful highlight of Celtic Connections, 2012, described by the Festival Director, Donald Shaw as "Brilliant". The show features many of the stars of the folk and entertainment scene, including Ian Bruce, Ragged Glory, Soopna, Sangsters, Dick Gaughan, Stephen Quigg, Tom Ward, Stevie Palmer, Siobhan Miller, Brian Miller, Ian McCalman, Dennis Wilson, and Sineag MacIntyre, with narration by Iain Anderson and projection graphics by Pete Heywood.
STV Website review of the Celtic Connections concert.
"Far, Far from Ypres" is one of these collaborations that could only take place at "Celtic Connections", though when the singers walked on stage, uniformly dressed in black, it was hard not to imagine them as a classically trained and rehearsed choir. Participants had queued up to offer their services, including Scottish folk legends such as Dick Gaughan, whose "Why Old Men Cry" was one of many highlights. The show was put together by Ian McCalman, who along with Stephen Quigg, Ian Bruce, and narrator Ian Anderson, kept the show moving through the years of WWI as seen through the experiences of soldier Jimmy MacDonald and his fellow Scottish soldiers in the trenches.
Anderson’s reading of letters, diaries and the beautiful poem "In Flanders’ Fields" by Major John McCrae gave continuity and perspective on the history, experiences and music of the trenches, which included old favorites "Pack up your Troubles in your Old Kitbag", "Goodbyee", and "It’s a long way to Tipperary", and hymn parodies "When this Bloody War is over" and "Whiter than the Whitewash on the Wall". Then there were the music hall favorites "If you were the only Girl in the World" and "Roses of Peccary", and more recent songs such as Eric Bogle’s "No Man’s Land" and Judy Small’s "Mothers, Daughters, Wives".
I was particularly impressed by the singing, which combined powerful solos, robust melody and beautiful harmony and told stories of excitement and hope, suffering and endurance, humour and escapism, fear and disillusionment in the words of those involved in the horrors of the Western Front. Scotland suffered 140,000 losses, not a large number in comparison with other countries, but a bigger proportion than any other nation, including seven Heart of Midlothian footballers, and an even more disproportionate number of Highlanders, whose contribution was beautifully recalled in the beautiful Gaelic song "An Eala Bhan" (The White Swan) by Sineag MacIntyre.
........... the singing was powerful, the sound quality was excellent and the words were crystal clear. On top of (or rather behind) all this, was the projection of images of the war by Pete Heywood, who managed to link appropriate pictures to the songs, while never taking away from the centrality of the music and words. Sadly there were no cameras to capture this unique event, but the music was recorded, and a fuller version from 2007, remains available on CD from Greentrax.
"Far, far from Ypres" was a fitting memorial to the Scottish contribution in the First World War, and without being overtly political, it powerfully reminds us of the horrors of war and the individuals and communities touched by it. It ended with the personal story of Harry Lauder, whose own son’s death inspired his signature song, "Keep Right on to the End of the Road".
Thank you "Celtic Connections" for taking this project on board - the sell-out audience showed their appreciation with a standing ovation, and I’m sure there are other themes that could lend themselves to similar treatment!
by Malcolm Duff