Score to bring Battle of the Somme film alive

Morag Gent, Bob Tait and John Paterson. Picture: Michael Gillen
Morag Gent, Bob Tait and John Paterson. Picture: Michael Gillen

An amateur Falkirk orchestra will take on its biggest ever challenge when it accompanies the screening of a silent film of the Battle of the Somme.

Tryst Orchestra will be the first Scottish group to perform alongside the film which was made and released in 1916 – the first ever feature length documentary to record war in action.

Incredibly, it was seen by over 20 million people, almost half of the population of Britain at that time. Many of them would have been hoping to catch a glimpse of a loved one on screen.

The men smile awkwardly at the camera– British soldiers even encourage their German prisoners to get in shot. It’s an extraordinary and powerful document of war.

But for this generation, a new score by acclaimed composer Laura Rossie was commissioned in 2006 for the Somme’s 90th anniversary. Her brief from the Imperial War Museum was to provide a score that would heighten the emotional impact for a modern audience.

The resulting atmospheric, haunting score is being heard live this year as the film and score tour to towns and cities across Britain.

For the tour, Somme 100 FILM, 100 orchestras in 100 venues across the UK will accompany the film to mark the centenary of the battle.

There will be two performences in Falkirk Town Hall: one for invited school pupils and one for the public.

Two members of the orchestra, who spoke to the Falkirk Herald, have a personal connection to the commemoration and are thrilled to be part of such a significant event.

John Paterson, president of the orchestra, has played trombone with Tryst since it was formed. He is delighted to be involved.

“There are a few of us in the orchestra with a personal conection and because there was at least one local battalion at the Somme, there will probably be quite a few people in the audience with a connection too.”

John’s grandfather, James Paterson, was among those who fought at the Somme – he was one of the lucky ones to survive the carnage in which more than one million men perished.

Incredibly, he and his two brothers returned home to their families, alive although not unscathed. Jimmy survived three years in the trenches, although he was eventually badly injured.

James went on to become Provost of Falkirk in the 1950s but in 1914, when he signed up to fight, he was actually under age.

On July 1, 1916 – according to an interview the old soldier gave to the Falkirk Herald in 1983 – Jimmy was among the British reservists. By then he was 18 years old.

A year later he was a lance corporal in command of a machine gun section at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Every single man he was with was killed and Jimmy was badly wounded in his arm.

He was discharged unfit and spent the last year of the war making shells in a foundry in Bonnybridge.

Morag Gents’ great-grandfather, James Taylor from Maryhill, was another young man so desperate to serve his country that he lied about his age.

He fought in the Battle of Ypres and was wounded by a gunshot wound to the foot. But once recovered, he was sent back to the front line – and fought in the Battle of the Somme.

Again, he was one of the lucky ones. He went on to have two children with his wife Peggy and died six months before he would have celebrated his 100th birthday.

Said Morag: “He didn’t tell me or his other great grandchildren much about the war as it was something he never talked about to us kids. Like many veterans he simply said – you don’t want to know.”

She added: “I feel proud to be part of something so special that commemorates an important part of our history which should never be forgotten.”

John said: “We can be a little bit blasé about war footage now but what we have to remember is that this was the first of its kind. It’s moving and quite shocking to see what these men went through.”

But despite the emotional impact of the score, the challenge for the orchestra is a technical one.

“We can’t afford to get carried away with the emotion,” said Morag.

It is timed with exact precision so that the scenes match the score. To achieve this, conductor Bob Tait will hear a click through an earpiece that he must use to set and follow the tempo.

Bob explained: “Laura Rossi has put the interpretation in for the conductors, so it works with the film. The orchestra will have to watch the beat much more carefully than they normally do!”

They agree it is one of the most challenging projects they have taken on – but it’s one they are enjoying and they know it will be memorable and special evening.

On Friday, October 7, at 7.30pm, the film will be introduced by Provost Pat Reid, local historian Ian Scott and the composer herself, Laura Rossi.

For tickets, call 01324 506850 or visit www.falkirkcommunitytrust.org.