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Review: Sam Sweeney’s Fiddle: Made In The Great War, Sage Gateshead

Bellowhead's Sam Sweeney told the story at The Sage of a violin whose first owner died in the First World War. Martin Ellis was there

The multi-media production Sam Sweeney's Fiddle: Made in the Great War
The multi-media production Sam Sweeney's Fiddle: Made in the Great War

Sage's Hall Two stage appeared set for a play with props and a backdrop to set the context of First World War trenches.

I hadn’t been sure what to expect from a show promoted as a multi-media performance but had been looking forward to finding out.

Fiddle player Sam Sweeney introduced the evening, explaining that after a short set and an interval the music would centre on the discoveries he made when researching the history of a violin he had bought.

He was joined on stage by fellow Bellowhead member and fiddler Paul Sartin, concertina player Rob Harbron and storyteller Hugh Lupton.

Over the first set they played tunes with a military theme.

Lupton explained that in the trenches officers would tell Greek myths and then recited one himself in the traditional folk storytelling style.

Frivolously, I wondered if it was a method of driving men over the top.

But the core of the evening related to Sweeney’s fiddle. He discovered that a violin maker had bought the parts at auction but that they had been made by an earlier maker, Richard Howard, who was conscripted before putting the instrument together.

Sweeney found that Howard was also a music hall entertainer.

Via the music, video and Lupton’s narrative, we learned about Howard’s life, family and death in the war.

The music was tremendous, beautifully crafted, poignant and played with delicate precision.

I found the narrative verbose at times but the set, lighting, projections and theatrical directions were polished, seamlessly supporting story and music.

The performance by Sweeney and his fellow musicians was moving and memorable.


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