Extraordinary tale behind Sam Sweeney: The Unfinished Violin

PUBLISHED: 17:00 20 July 2019

Sam Sweeney: The Unfinished Violin. Picture: Courtesy of Sam Sweeney

Sam Sweeney: The Unfinished Violin. Picture: Courtesy of Sam Sweeney

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Folk star Sam Sweeney to perform finale for Lyme Folk Weekend with The Unfinished Violin

Sam Sweeney: The Unfinished Violin. Picture: Courtesy of Sam SweeneySam Sweeney: The Unfinished Violin. Picture: Courtesy of Sam Sweeney

Music lovers with an eye for history will have a rare chance to see - and hear - one of the most moving stories of recent years when folk star Sam Sweeney brings his band to the Marine Theatre for the finale of this summer's Lyme Folk Weekend.

The show, entitled The Unfinished Violin, features music from Sam's album of the same name, and centres on the extraordinary story of one very special instrument.

Sam, a veteran of folk supergroup Bellowhead, and a winner of the BBC2 Folk Musician of the Year award, bought the fiddle in a music shop in Oxford having been captivated by its 'really pure and melancholic tone'.

After taking it home, he looked inside the body and was surprised to see a signature - that of Richard S Howard of Leeds, dated 1915.

Richard Spencer Howard, a musician and instrument-maker, had begun crafting the violin before being called up to serve in World War One – and was killed before it was completed and he had had a chance to play it.Richard Spencer Howard, a musician and instrument-maker, had begun crafting the violin before being called up to serve in World War One – and was killed before it was completed and he had had a chance to play it.

'But it looked like it hadn't been around for that long,' said Sam.

The owner of the music shop revealed that he had bought the violin at an auction when it was still in pieces in an old manila envelope, and had put it together and offered it for sale.

After some more research, Sam began to uncover the true history of the instrument and the story of the man who had originally made it.

Richard Spencer Howard, a musician and instrument-maker, had begun crafting the violin before being called up to serve in World War One - and was killed before it was completed and he had had a chance to play it.

Sam Sweeney: The Unfinished Violin. Picture: Courtesy of Sam SweeneySam Sweeney: The Unfinished Violin. Picture: Courtesy of Sam Sweeney

Private Howard joined the Duke of Wellington's Regiment (West Riding) in 1916 and died on the first day of the Battle of Messines in Belgium on June 7, 1917.

Now Sam has recorded his debut solo album, The Unfinished Violin, using the instrument to play traditional tunes which the Army marched to and an original composition, Rose Howard, named after the young daughter of the fiddle's maker.

In 2017, he invited relatives of Private Howard to join him at the soldier's graveside in Ypres, where he played the violin on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the soldier's death.

"Playing over the grave was incredibly emotional," he said. "We were all just stood there sobbing. He was unknown, and all of a sudden there I was playing his fiddle to him."

Sam Sweeney: The Unfinished Violin. Picture: Courtesy of Sam SweeneySam Sweeney: The Unfinished Violin. Picture: Courtesy of Sam Sweeney

The story was turned into the acclaimed live show, Sam Sweeney's Fiddle: Made In The Great War, and then developed into the new album last year.

You can catch Sam and his band, performing the whole repertoire from The Unfinished Violin - played on the instrument itself - at the Marine Theatre, on Sunday, September 1, the final day of this year's Lyme Folk Weekend.

Tickets are available from the Lyme Folk website, or from Lyme Regis Tourist Information Centre on 01297 442138.

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