Sam Sweeney’s Violin Tells a Personal Story Behind the Tragedy of War

— News — Editor

Folk fiddler Sam Sweeney and his unique instrument, dubbed The Unfinished Violin, have been the subject of widespread attention this week. Around a decade ago, the young musician purchased it from a music shop in Oxford. Upon returning home, he noticed that the instrument — which he recently described as looking ‘brand new and totally unmarked’ — dated back to 1915, according to the maker’s card visible through one of its F holes. Given its pristine condition, this piqued Sweeney’s curiosity.

His father decided to do some investigation and uncovered that the violin had been the work of Richard Howard from Harehills, Leeds. Richard was a music hall performer who had begun crafting the parts for this violin in 1915, enlisted in the Army in 1916 and been killed in the Battle of Messines in 1917. His violin had remained incomplete until it was purchased by an Oxford-based violin expert in 1993, who finally gave life to the instrument.

Sam had been using his violin all the while, but having uncovered the extent and poignance of its history, he set about responding to its story creatively. At first, he had devised a live show, Sam Sweeney’s Fiddle: Made In The Great War, but more recently, he decided that his debut album as a bandleader, entitled The Unfinished Violin, would be the next project inspired by the instrument and its story.

The album opens with Highland Soldier, a tune collected by a soldier killed at the battle of the Somme, and includes songs such as The Girl I Left Behind Me – a song which has always been significant in relation to war and soldiers leaving their homes. Sweeney hopes the album can carry listener’s thoughts beyond matters of war, but in the approach to the 100th anniversary of Armistice day, it has been firmly in people’s minds for that reason alone.

Sweeney appeared on the Antiques Roadshow recently, discussing the story of the violin and playing a piece in memory of the fallen. Find out more about his project, below.

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The Repeat Listen: Satori – In the Corners of Clouds


Tasting Notes: Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio – Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio, John Coltrane – Interstellar Space, Sonny Rollins – Freedom Suite, The Włodzimierz Nahorny Trio ‎– Heart, Emergency – Homage to Peace

Saxophonist Josephine Davies made the transition from alto to tenor saxophone whilst studying at the Guildhall School in London. It will come as no surprise that, like many players, her decision was influenced by the discovery of the music of John Coltrane, but her affinity with his sound is just one part of her musical story. Davies is also a knowledgeable academic, possessing a doctorate in existential philosophy and psychotherapy and maintaining an interest in the social and cultural aspects of music, allowing those ideas to also influence her playing and composition.

Take, Wabi Sabi, the opener to her new trio record, In the Corners of Clouds. It takes its name from the Japanese concept of beauty in imperfection, which manifests in Kintsugi pottery repair and numerous other traditional Japanese disciplines. The connotations of such an idea make sense translated to a jazz trio record which forgoes a harmony instrument in favour of a streamlined saxophone, drums and upright bass combination. The setup is bound to encourage improvisation and resourcefulness, leave space to be occupied by tone and emotion. Thinking in abstract terms, there are similarities to be found between the two concepts. Even the group name itself, Satori, originates from zen buddhism. Josephine’s worldly interests, as well as her concern for contemporary matters within jazz, imbue her work.

Throughout the album, Josephine proves herself to be a triple threat: an invigorating improviser, emotive melodist and great commander of tone. Her melodies create a pensive mood, but never sound staid or cold. The recording is clean, natural and impactful, with the resolute contributions of Dave Whitford on bass and James Maddren of drums adding power, anchoring the time and emphasising the freedom of the improvised passages. On Oddities, Whitford and Davies lock in together – the movement and rhythmicality recalling the way Phronesis sometimes interact. Cry has the feel of a spiritual jazz lament – one that, within the typical spiritual jazz ensemble, may be adorned with octave-spanning piano arpeggios and shimmering hand percussion, but here has an intriguing dryness, focussing in on the core instruments.

There aren’t many groups exploring this combination or composing with the warmth that Josephine Davies does. The new record is a rewarding listen, with memorable melodies, flooring interplay and a dimension of honesty and reality.

New Sounds

CHAINES, a non-binary transgender composer working with electronics and contemporary classical ideas, released a new live recording this week. The King – LIVE is their first recorded version of their semi-improvised live set, run through at their home studio but and presented unedited, so as to reflect the development of the process from their studio record, The King. The live recording has many beautiful qualities, seemingly imbued with nervous energy, yet assured and moving. Telling us more about the process, CHAINES explained that they had to re-evaluate the approach that had birthed The King, in order to make the step to playing it live. Having been involved in Brighter Sound residencies and programs, they credit individuals involved with modul:projects for helping develop their approach toward remaking material from The King live, as a solo performer. ‘I’ve realised a single person can actually produce a massive variety of timbres and effects all by themselves.’ CHAINES states. ‘I have modul:projects to thank for a great deal of thought prompting regarding performing live with electronics – Dan Valentine, Joshua Horsley, James Booth and Danny Saul. Valentine in particular prompted me to think more about dissecting tracks for live performance, rather than trying to just create them exactly as they appear on the record.’

London-based afro-dub outfit Fofoulah release their epic new LP Daega Rek today. The incredible collision of abrasive textures, electronic beats, acoustic instrumentation and Senegalese vocalist Batch Gueye’s toasting, is one that will appeal to fans of Okzharp & Manthe Ribane and Golden Teacher amongst others.

Diving Station released a second single from Feather Mouth this week. Taking Tongues addresses our habits as partners and communicators – the group’s command of structure and dynamics crafting a chaptered tale within the four-minute pop form. You can stream the new track below.

New Visuals

In just ninety seconds, vocalist Silvia Perez Cruz takes us inside the harrowing tale of director Álvaro Brechner’s forthcoming film, La Noche De 12 Años. Three men are subject to an experiment under a military dictatorship in the new picture and Perez Cruz’s spectacular, dramatic track encapsulates the fear and desperation of their experience.

Yoshi Sodeoka’s new video for Norrin Radd Dreaming, a new track by Oliver Coates featuring Malibu, is a glitchy, psychedelic affair. Lose yourself in the folding skies and chopped and augmented cityscapes – as Coates’ crunchy synths and beats draw you into a state of hyperawareness.

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