Published: 23/11/2015 10:10 - Updated: 23/11/2015 10:20

WWI show will tug at the heart strings

Siobhan Miller is just one of the many stars of the Scottish folk scene taking part in the show.
Siobhan Miller is just one of the many stars of the Scottish folk scene taking part in the show.

A SHOW that has moved audiences and performers to tears finally makes its Highland debut next week.

Far, Far From Ypres uses the songs from the trenches and music halls, as well as more recent songs inspired by the conflict, to look back at World War I through the experiences of a fictional Scottish soldier, Jimmy MacDonald.

Devised by Ian McCalman, who lead eponymous folk group The McCalmans for some 45 years until callingh it a day in 2010, the show has attracted some of the leading lights in the folk scene and those joining him in Inverness will include Ian Bruce, Fiona Forbes, Dick Gaughan, Gaelic singer Mairi MacInnes, two time MG Alba Trad Awards Scots Singer of the Year Siobhan Miller, percussionist Donald Hay and piper Gary West.

Although McCalman wrote and produced the show, the initial idea came from Ian Green, who runs specialist folk label Greentrax.

"Ian gets all these ideas, and this was to do an album of songs of the First World War, and this was well before the centenary," McCalman said.

"The album was divided into these traditional songs that you know and some that are not so well known, and more contemporary songs that were written about the war."

The album sold very well and McCalman wrote a script adapting it for the stage.

For its first live show at Celtic Connections, McCalman recruited 25 of the best known singers and musicians from the Scottish folk scene, with BBC Radio Scotland presenter Iain Anderson taking the role of narrator.

It proved to be just as successful as the album, if not even more emotional.

"All the performers come off the stage in tears and all the audience get something from it," McCalman said.

"Not one person in the stage show makes any money from it. Barbara Dickson’s not with us on this tour, but when she does it, she’s just the same as anyone else. Originally Dick Gaughan, who is with us, came on and did a guest slot, but he said he didn’t want to do that. He just wanted to be in with everyone else."

The live show has proved so popular that it has been booked up until 11th November 2018, the 100th anniversary of the war’s end.

However, it is still changing and evolving and one brand new element with a special relevance for the Highlands will see narrator Anderson relating his own family links to the Lovat Scouts in the Gallipoli campaign.

"There was no-one who was untouched by the First World War," McCalman stated.

"I had an uncle and I always wondered about his only having one arm and there were lots of families like that. Very few people who were lucky to come back from the First World War — and the Second World War — talked about their experiences."

Instead, we have songs and poems which feature in Far, Far From Ypres.

"If Wilfred Owen has written a poem in a trench, it has a content that means something, and so do the music hall songs." McCalman said.

Ian McCalman
Ian McCalman

"If someone after that wants to write a song or a poem and feels strongly enough to do that, it means something as well.

"It’s no less important to sing an Eric Bogle song like No Man’s Land or The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, but you do know that Owen was there. A song like Eric’s is an echo of that. It’s also a testament that younger people are not forgetting the sacrifices made."

McCalman also revealed that he hopes to take the show to more locations across the Highlands with a reduced cast tour of the north and islands, similar to what The McCalmans would fondly refer to as "the Tax Loss Tour", his former band’s own regular Highland jaunt which was their favourite tour of the year.

"I have mentioned it to the cast and they don’t care about the money, they want to do it," McCalman said.

However, successful as the show might be, McCalman is unlikely to turn his attention to the songs of World War II for a follow up.

"At the moment, there are no thoughts of that. It’s a fantastic experience we are going through with this show," McCalman said.

"There is something unique about this show and as World War II was to World War I, we don’t want to do a tragic sequel to something that’s been done."

Far, Far From Ypres is at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court, at 7.30pm on Wednesday, 27th November.

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