EIF 2016: Where You're Meant to Be, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Edinburgh International Festival
David Arthur / Paul Fegan (writers), Paul Fegan (director), Julian Schwantz (cinematography)
Aiden Moffat (narrator), Aiden Moffat, Sheila Stewart
Running time

It took Paul Fegan three years to make ‘Where You’re Meant to Be’. It’s a seventy-five minutes film that manages to cover over three centuries of culture and encapsulates a debate that’s likely been raging since writing and notions of ‘tradition’ first came into being.

‘Where You’re Meant to Be’ focuses on a struggle, between the boy from the Arab Strap Aiden Moffat and the late folk-singer and tradition bearer Sheila Stewart.

The last of her tribe, Stewart was recognised as both a singer of tremendous range and power, and as a proud and often prickly custodian of Scottish Traveller culture and the roots of the oral tradition.

Orality isn’t really what Aiden Moffat is about. Coming as he does from settled rather than travelling roots, his principal experience lying in pop culture before an interest in traditional music and song took him on a different path, one which here crosses with that of Stewart.

It’s here that the heart of the film and its argument lies; Stewart wants what she sees as ‘her’ songs, or rather those of her family and culture to be preserved as they are; Moffat wants to create new versions that can be sung in the likes of Fauldhouse or Falkirk (where Moffat hails from) without embarrassment or a sense of clinging to a half-forgotten past that does not echo in our present.

Sometimes this works; Moffat’s version of a courting song contains mentions of texts and selfies and survives the experience. His re-working of ‘The Ball of Kirriemuir’ is actually more amusing than the attempts at eroticism in the original. Sometimes, however, one finds oneself on Stewart’s side, feeling that there’s no need to ‘fix’ something that doesn’t really need it.

It’s a fine line both find themselves walking, and Fegan’s film manages to be even handed by allowing both sides of the debate to speak very much for themselves.

Some very fine camera work helps to turn a conversation and meditation on the ever-changing experience of cultural production, into a wider one on keeping and altering, time and circumstance, and something that is also an elegy for one of our country’s finest traditional singers.

Stewart died before the film premiered. ‘Where You’re Meant to Be’ feels like not only an obituary for a remarkable individual, but at times a keening for a lost civilisation, leaving unanswered the question of how her songs can be new-sung in a strange land.

Screened 16th August