Sam Sweeney, musician

5When fiddler Sam Sweeney worked his way through an array of instruments on sale at an Oxford shop in his hunt for a new violin one stood out from the rest.

It had a particular voice demanding to be heard and the captivated 18-year-old folk musician who had just left school bought it and took it home.

It was 2008 and this was the start of a remarkable story which Derbyshire based Sam has now been sharing with audiences across the country with his moving show Made in the Great War.

“When I bought the fiddle I couldn’t possible have imagined that I would play a part in the life of such an extraordinary instrument,” said Sam.

“I tried out many violins in the shop but I fell in love with this instrument. I thought it was new – it smelt of varnish and everything – but later at home when I looked inside I noticed the label had the date of 1915 and the name Richard S Howard.”

There was also another sticker that said ‘Made in the Great War’.

“I just couldn’t understand it and went back to the shop to discover more.

“The owner, Roger Claridge, told me that he had bought the parts in a manila envelope at auction and had later finished it and put it in the shop for sale.

“I was so intrigued by the story that together with my dad, who is a keen genealogist, I set out to find out more about the life of this man.”

They discovered he was a sometime music hall performer from Leeds who was conscripted in 1916 at the age of 35 and killed less than two years later during the battle of Messines Ridge.

The violin he had been working on was left unfinished in his workshop and in his memory his daughter Rose kept the pieces in the envelope for nine decades.

The potent story inspired Sam, who lives at Stoney Middleton, to create an intimate multimedia performance telling the fiddle’s incredible tale and saw him take the instrument to the dead soldier’s grave in Belgium.

“I took the fiddle he never got to finish to his graveside and I played it to him. I played his regimental march – the Wellesley. I think the story came full circle at that point,” said Sam who says there are often tears when he tells the tale.

You might think that devising and performing your own show to mark the anniversary of the Great War would be enough to keep anyone busy this year but not this 25-year-old award winner who first picked up a fiddle aged six.

Sam Sweeney is one of the hottest musicians currently on the folk scene and he hardly sits still – when one tour is over another is about to kick off.

He has twice been nominated for the Musician of the Year in the BBC Folk Awards has made numerous television appearances and currently plays with Bellowhead, Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band, Fay Hield and the Hurricane Party and The Full English.

His newest band is Leveret, a trio that includes Rob Harbron and Andy Cutting – heroes of his since he was a teenager.

“What we all adore is English traditional instrumental music and we just play and play and play. We bounce off each other and the whole premise of the band is not to have anything set in stone. There is no arrangement. It just happens,” said Sam.

The threesome recently put that aim to the test in an unexpected way when they recorded their first album.

Having booked a studio in the middle of Wales for three days they discovered that after 48 hours there was a technical hitch that meant their work had been lost.

“At that point we had just eight hours left so we recorded the whole album just as it came. We were under pressure but it worked,” he said.

Leveret are about to embark on a few gigs one of which is at New Mills Arts Centre on December 12. There will be another tour early next year.

Sam’s first band was Kerfuffle, which he formed with his brother and Hannah James when he was just 11 years old. In their eight years together they produced five albums.

In the same year Sam won the In The Tradition Award at the Assembly Rooms in Derby and he has been a darling of the Derbyshire folk scene and in particular Derby Folk Festival ever since.

“From the moment I picked up the violin I never wanted to do anything else. I never wanted to be a footballer or an astronaut. Because I started so early I learnt everything by ear before I knew there was any other way.

“Even though I was taught classical music I didn’t really fit in. My bow was always going in the wrong direction – well all over the place obviously – and I got told off for tapping my foot.

“It was always going to be folk music for me and I wouldn’t change a thing about my life just now.”

Go to http://www.samsweeneymusic.com to find out up-to-date details about gigs.

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