Sam Sweeney, fiddle player with Bellowhead and Radio 2 Folk Musician of the Year 2015, bought a violin in Oxford in 2006. It had all the appearance of a new instrument but the labels inside gave the date 1915, the name Richard S. Howard and the words ‘Made in the Great War’.
Research revealed that the violin had been started – but never finished – by an amateur luthier and sometime music hall performer from Leeds called Richard Spencer Howard. He had joined the British Army in 1915 at the age of 35 and two years later was killed during the Battle of Messines. His violin had been left unfinished in his workshop. The pieces were placed in a manila envelope and eventually wound up in an auction house in the early 2000s. The parts were bought, and the violin was finally finished, by luthier Roger Claridge in 2007. The fiddle was then placed in the window of his Oxford music shop where Sam spotted it, fell in love with it, bought it and took it home.
The fiddle inspired Sam to develop a unique show to retell Richard Howard’s story. The show brings the reality of the First World War to life through the eyes of an ordinary man, his family and his comrades using story, music and film as well as playing the actual fiddle that Richard Howard started but never had the chance to finish. It features musicians Paul Sartin, Rob Harbron and Sam himself as well as acclaimed storyteller Hugh Lupton.
‘Working on this show has completely changed the way that I see the First World War’ says Sam. ‘By looking at it through the story of one man, I have begun to understand so much more about war and its impact on people’.
Made In The Great War has received standing ovations wherever it has played.