Sam Sweeney - 'Unfinished Violin - New CD Mintpack Album - Pre Order 02/11/2018
Ten years ago, I went searching for a new violin. Little did I know that the instrument I fell in love with would have such a remarkable story and play such an important role in so many people's lives.
The fiddle I bought had the appearance of a brand new instrument but was dated 1915 and the name inside was Richard S Howard. Research by my Dad revealed that the violin had been made, but never finished, by a luthier and music hall performer from Leeds called Richard Spencer Howard. He joined the British Army in 1915 and in June 1917 he was killed at the Battle Of Messines aged 34, leaving behind the carved pieces of my unfinished violin.
This story led me to make a show in 2014, which in turn led to me appearing on BBC Radio 4 to talk about it. It was this radio programme that then led to me being asked if I'd like to make this album.
When I was approached about making this album, I admit I was initially sceptical, fearing that making an album based on the music of the First World War could be an exercise in battling with bombastic arrangements of melodies tinged with jingoism and imagery of war. It soon became clear, though, that the period, the people and the stories surrounding The Great War, would provide some phenomenally beautiful melodies and ideas with which to make an album.
The iconic Regimental Marches of The British Army were a huge source of inspiration as the majority of them are traditional folk dance tunes or song melodies. As a fiddle player with a passion for traditional tunes, I find it fascinating that these old tunes could be so important to so many people, not only as functional music but as music that could inspire courage and become something to which entire nations have an emotional connection. The same can be said for the piping tunes that appear on the album. It is almost beyond belief that only a hundred years ago there were unarmed pipers walking straight into oncoming gunfire, and yet these pipers and their tunes provided courage and inspiration for British troops in times of unimaginable hell.
Just as Richard Howard's life was cut short at Messines, composer George Butterworth never returned home and Pipe Major William Lawrie was invalided out of The Somme only to die in hospital before making it home to Scotland, my fiddle lay unfinished for decades and might never have been completed. By some amazing stroke of good fortune, the pieces of my violin were found and Roger Claridge, a violin maker in Oxford, completed what Richard Howard had started. But that is not to say my fiddle is now finished. I happen to be the lucky guardian of it for now but I hope it will continue to make music after it leaves me. One of the most poignant things I've taken from making this album is the fact that melody has always been important to people, whether that be in everyday life or in times of immense suffering and strife. My hope is that these beautiful melodies, many of which existed before The Great War, will keep being adopted, played and played with for centuries to come
1. Highland Soldier
2. St Patrick’s Day - Young May Moon
3. Sad Am I
4. The Shell That Shook The Billet
5. The Girl I Left Behind Me
6. Begone Dull Care
7. The Battle Of The Somme
9. Valiant Soldier
10. The Rising Of The Lark
11. The Wellesley
12. Rose Howard
13. The Old Brags
14. The King Of Prussia’s March
16. A Lament