Silent page finds its voice at arts festival

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A rare collection of little-known Scottish songs will be brought back to life in a project specially commissioned by the Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival.

Ten years ago, award-winning Castle Douglas songwriter and community choir director Ali Burns came across the William Macmath collection of songs held by The National Trust for Scotland at Broughton House in Kirkcudbright.

The archive was owned by Glasgow Boy Edward Hornell when he lived in the house at the turn of the 20th century. The works were penned by Macmath while he was helping the great American ballad collector and academic, Francis Child, produce his definitive work English and Scottish Popular Ballads 1882 to 1898.

Inside the fragile pages of Macmath’s personally-scripted notes were two books of unpublished songs and song fragments. It is these two volumes that the project is focusing on.

Ali said: “Many of the songs may not have been sung for a hundred years or more and the broad scope of this project is to sing the collection back to life.”

In order to move the project forward, Ali approached some of the region’s top traditional Scots musicians – Emily Smith, Jamie McClennan, Robyn Stapleton, Allan Jones, Claire Mann and Wendy Stewart. She said: “We decided that this project is about making a collection of singable songs with good arrangements and to do that we are allowing ourselves the freedom to edit and tweak songs.

“We’re coming at it as musicians who are singing the collection back to life rather than academics striving for ‘correct’ versions.”

Further information on the Macmath project can be found at macmathsilentpage.wordpress.com.