Falkirk music maestro brings silent cinema to life

Silent film accompanist Forrester Pyke
Silent film accompanist Forrester Pyke

One of the most popular and enduring silent films is being shown in Stirling – with live musical accompaniment from a master of the form.

Legendary director Yasujirô Ozu’s ‘I Was Born But…’ is a comedy of everyday life, seen through the eyes of two young brothers who become leaders of their neighbourhood gang in suburban Tokyo.

As they outwit bullies and witness their father kowtowing to his boss to get ahead, Ozu’s superb comic timing and beautifully observed focus on everyday family life is full of warmth and humour.

And the visual masterpiece will be enhanced by the live accompaniment from pianist Forrester Pike, who has now been accompanying silent film for 20 years.

And it all began in Falkirk. Forrester was at that time the musical director of Falkirk’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society when the call went out for someone who could provide live accompaniment to some short films from the Scottish Screen Archive.

In a room in Falkirk’s Friendly Hotel, a small audience gathered to see a selection of the gems the archive has in its care and Forrester provided the live soundtrack. It proved such a popular combination that he continued to perform and was soon improvising for feature length films.

Now a regular at venues such Edinburgh’s Filmhouse and Inverness’s Eden Court, Forrester’s burgeoning career coincides with a resurgance of interest in silent film.

He will be a familiar face to local audiences as a regular accompanist at the annual Festival of Silent Film, which has proved a hugely popular event for Bo’ness’s lovely Hippodrome.

In fact, it was at that festival in 2012 that he first got to know Ozu’s masterpiece.

It’s a film he has grown to admire.

“I have played for a film “blind” before – having read only a description – but the more often you do a film, the more you can put into it as you see other things,” he said.

“It’s a really good film to play for because it’s got a bit of everything – it’s got comedy and drama, so I can give vent to a range of music!”

His extensive training in harmony and counterpoint along with a lifelong love of improvising, made him a natural when it came to providing a soundtrack for silent films.

“When my father was alive he was very good at making up organ voluntaries and my mother was a good singer, so music came from both sides of the family.

“I enjoy sitting and making music up. I am also the organist and choir master at Bridge of Allan parish church – I get a lot of practice improvising when brides are late,” he laughs.

“I’ve been told that I have a very good imagination and it all comes together when I’m playing.”

Although in his youth Forrester was a keen actor, he says that while the film is on screen he forgets about the audience and immerses himself in what’s happening to the characters.

“I try to change the music to make it like the characters are speaking,” he explained.

He is also delighted that this performance will also include two rarely seen gems from the Scottish Screen Archive.

‘I Was Born But…’ is at the macrobert centre on Tuesday, September 30 at 7.30 p.m. Tickets, priced £8 (£6.50) are available from the box office on (01786) 466666 or from www.macrobert.org.