William Macmath: New Life for Forgotten Scottish Ballads

A life’s work that had gone largely unnoticed. Now, 100 years on, it is inspiring audiences across Scotland.

A multi-artist collaboration to recreate a performance from a volume of little-known and forgotten local songs made its world premiere at the Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival in May to great acclaim. Now, the collective reunite to launch the album of music in the stunning surround of The Caves in Edinburgh as part of TradFest on Saturday 30 April.

Macmath: The Silent Page is a song project of major historical significance to Scotland’s musical heritage. Spearheaded by award-winning Galloway songwriter Ali Burns, who spotted the handwritten song books on a visit to Broughton House in Kirkcudbright, she recruited Dumfries and Galloway’s top traditional musicians – Emily Smith, Robyn Stapleton, Aaron Jones, Claire Mann, Wendy Stewart, and Jamie McLennan, who have breathed life into and recorded the forgotten collection of local songs, ensuring their magic lives on and is not lost again. As Ali Burns explains:

“When I found the books I immediately wanted to hear them sung again and set about imagining how they could be back brought back to life. I can’t stress how exciting it is to be singing these songs and what a unique and precious piece of local heritage we’re working with. It’s the singer’s equivalent of finding a trove of buried treasure.

“The bigger picture of Macmath’s work was that he spent 30 years of his life researching and sending Scottish songs to Professor Francis Child at Harvard University for the publication: English and Scottish Popular Ballads 1882 – 1898. So, although we have a very local collection of songs we’re working on, it’s important to remember that William Macmath was Scotland’s leading song expert: a hugely knowledgeable, well-read man whose contribution to our musical heritage was unequalled.”

Macmath’s life and the stories of each song will be told with narration from Tom Pow at the live performance on Saturday 30 April, guaranteed to be a fantastic evening of contemporary performance continuing to further the flow of Scotland’s traditional music. Then you can take the magic home with you to play over and over again.

For tickets, contact 0131 556 9579 or book online at www.trascotland.org/tradfest