Inspired by his violin, carved but never finished by Richard Howard in 1915, Sam Sweeney has created a live show and album of instrumental music inspired by the Great War.
An expansion and development of his acclaimed live show Made In The Great War, The Unfinished Violin centres on a fiddle the 19-year-old Sweeney came across in violin maker Roger Claridge’s shop in Oxford, made but not assembled by one Richard S Howard of Harehills, Leeds, in 1915. Claridge had come by it at auction, in pieces, in an old manila envelope, put it together and put it on sale. It’s the instrument Sweeney has used for numerous albums and countless gigs, and in time he set about digging into its history, and uncovered the fateful tale of Richard Howard, a music hall performer called up in 1916 to the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment to fight and lose his life in the Battle of Messines on 7th June 1917.
Last summer, Sam visited the battlefield. “Playing over Richard Howard’s grave was incredibly emotional. We were all just stood there, sobbing. He was unknown, no one knew anything about him, no one would ever have visited his grave, ever, and all of a sudden, there I was, playing his fiddle to him”.
Sam Sweeney is a veteran of the mighty Bellowhead, artistic director of the National Folk Youth Ensemble, founder member of the acclaimed instrumental trio Leveret, and a superb instrumentalist at the forefront of the revival in English traditional music. The Unfinished Violin is his first solo album, and will be released on Island Records this November.