Far, Far From Ypres at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh
I have never quite understood the meaning of the Theatre of War.

But what I do know is that, if it is well done, there is no better place to remember the war dead than in a theatre (or in this case, a concert hall).

When so many have been planting poppies and gathering round cenotaphs to commemorate the centenary of Armistice Day, 26 performers have been travelling Scotland with a two-hour multimedia production presenting World War One through recruitment songs, marching songs, songs from the trenches and music hall songs, as well as new songs, poetry and prose.

Far, Far From Ypres was devised, written and produced by Ian McCalman, a folk singer who now runs a music studio. While we tend to think of folk singers as just providing a good night’s entertainment in the pub, they also keep history alive by collecting and singing traditional songs. So who better qualified than the front man of folk trio The McCalmans, who disbanded in 2010 after 46 years of taking Scotland’s music all over the world as well as having their own TV and radio series (I still have cassette tapes of recordings I made of their programmes on Radio Scotland in the Seventies!).

Not only has Ian devised this show but he is encouraging schools and musical groups to give their own performances and is making the script freely available.

Among those joining Ian on stage were Stephen Quigg, The McCalmans’ only other surviving member, as well as the greatest names in Scottish folk, such as Barbara Dickson, whose uncle was killed in the Great War aged just 16, Dick Gaughan, Scottish Gaelic singer Mairi MacInnes, Siobhan Miller, Ian Bruce… the list is a long one, but they were all part of this tribute to the Scots who gave their lives for their country. Lined up as if soldiers on parade their emotive performances, enhanced by a couple of snare drums and guitars, together with the ubiquitous but ever welcome pipes and the occasional concertina and accordion, were a fitting and respectful tribute.

Narrator for the event was BBC Scotland presenter Iain Anderson, who told the story of the Scottish war effort, its horrors and its humour, through the eyes of a fictional young Scot, graphically illustrated with pictures on a back screen.

It was a privilege to be part of it, and fitting that Far, Far From Ypres has been nominated Event of the Year, sponsored by VisitScotland in the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2018. Ian McCalman should get some sort of award too.

As a footnote, the evening for me was made all the more memorable when I found myself sitting next to a German, who had come to Scotland especially for this show. No, he didn’t have an agenda; he is just a big fan of The McCalmans (and was able to fill me in on who was who!) but it was strange to hear him joining in some of the songs. Over a drink afterwards we talked of how we had all become one nation as part of the European Union and spoke of our concern over Brexit. One thing for sure, we knew we were allies.
www.the-mccalmans.com/farfarfrom ypres