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Story of 100-year-old fiddle to unfold at Sage Gateshead

When Bellowhead's Sam Sweeney bought a fiddle, he was embarking on a journey of discovery

Sam Sweeney with Richard Howard's fiddle
Sam Sweeney with Richard Howard's fiddle

You could say a fiddle is only as good as its tune but there’s a very good story attached to Sam Sweeney’s fiddle.

It’s a poignant story and it will unfold Friday night in Sage Gateshead’s Hall Two during a Folkworks concert called Made In The Great War.

This is the first in a series of autumn events at the Sage commemorating the outbreak of the First World War 100 years ago.

It was in 2009 that Sam Sweeney, fiddle player with folk band Bellowhead, bought a violin in Oxford.

It looked new but a label inside dated it at 1915. There was a name, too – Richard S Howard.

Intrigued, Sam did a bit of research. He found the violin had been made, though left unfinished, by an instrument maker and former music hall performer called Richard Spencer Howard, who was from Leeds.

He had been conscripted in 1916, aged 35, and was killed two years later during the battle of Messines Ridge.

The violin stayed in his workshop but the pieces were eventually given to his daughter, Rosa, as a memento of her father.

Rosa kept them all her life. When she died, they were sent for auction.

They were bought, in 2007, by instrument maker Roger Claridge who assembled the fiddle and put it in the shop window where it was spotted by Sam.

Sam was so moved by the story that he created this multi-media performance telling the story of the fiddle that took a century to complete.

He collaborated with story-teller Hugh Lupton, Bellowhead colleague Paul Sartin, concertina player Rob Harbron and lighting designer Emma Thompson, who organised set, projections and lighting for the show which, of course, features Sam on the fiddle Richard Howard never got to play.

Friday’s performance takes place at the Sage at 8pm. Tickets: 0191 443 0808 or www.sagegateshead.com

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