Vintage Falkirk documentary film brought back to life at Hippodrome

Pupils with musician Tom Butler
Pupils with musician Tom Butler
  • Vintage documentary ‘Falkirk’ to be screened at Bo’ness Hippodrome
  • Screening will be accompanied by a live soundtrack performed by Falkirk school pupils

It’s 1938 in Falkirk.

In Dollar Park, the fountain dances in the sunlight as fish swim in the pond below; a toddler peers at a tiny monkey in the little petting zoo.

We have all written songs before, but nothing like this

Rebekah Mooney

In the modern child clinic, cheerful, efficient nurses wear starched, pristine uniforms and heavy veils. In the foundries, iron glows as it flows through the foundries that pulsate with the sweat-soaked toil of heavy industry.

These are just some of the images of Falkirk that were captured on a film to be shown at the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow, 1938.

The black and white film had been made to promote the then burgh to the world – and it boasts of how modern the area is.

“Falkirk today is one of Scotland’s most progressive towns, having among other things – a nursery!” boasts one caption, as children play happily on a slide and see-saw.

Other images will stir memories for Falkirk Bairns: the old public baths, long since replaced by the Mariner Centre; the firemen playing darts and snooker who suddenly race to answer the call of the bells at the Fire Station in Newmarket Street; the rattling conveyor belts of bottles of beer leaving Aitken’s brewery.

It’s 2015 in Falkirk. Well, Camelon Education Centre to be precise.

That spellbinding old footage, discovered in the Scottish Screen Archives, is being shown once again.

But this is no history lesson. Young musicians – all high school pupils from across the district – are busy rehearsing a brand new soundtrack they will perform to accompany this film, when it is shown as part of the fifth Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, held this month in the beautiflly refurbished cinema in Bo’ness.

Under the banner ‘New Found Sound’, they are part of a unique schools project which is now also in its fifth year.

And not only are teenagers playing in the orchestra – six high school pupils have also been busy composing the new score that will accompany those old images.

Those pupils have also been honing their conducting skills so that all eyes will be on them as they take charge while members of the Falkirk School Orchestra provide the accompaniment to the old footage.

For a festival that prides itself on blending the old with the new – this year there are three world premiere soundtracks – the combination of old films and young talent is appropriate.

For young musicians Kyle Hayden (17), Grant Kirkwood (18) and Craig Ross (18) of Denny High and Adelle Cameron, Jade Malarky and Rebekah Mooney (all 15), from Graeme High, this is an opportunity they are delighted to grab.

Rather than being phased at the thought of conducting their peers in front of a packed auditorium, they all agree it’s a “once-in-a-lifetime chance”.

As keen musicians and aspiring songwriters, the chance to work with professional composer Tom Butler to create a score is one they know won’t get again.

They’ve come up with the tunes which Tom has helped them orchestrate; now he is giving them guidance on how to conduct it.

“I absolutely love it - it’s a great experience!,” said Rebekah, while Adelle and Jade agree. “We have all written songs before, but nothing like this.”

“It’s been amazing – having to stand in front of an orchestra full of people, doing something you’ve never done before. We’ve learned so much!” said Adelle.

The boys too, who are in S6, are clearly enjoying the challenge.

“It’s exciting – and slightly nerve-wracking but very enjoyable!” said Craig.

Grant agrees: “We have learned so much about conducting skills and composing. It’s given us a lot of insight into how things work.”

The Falkirk film – one of three to be shown on the day – was dug out of the Scottish Screen Archive by the Silent Film festival team – only to be told that permission would have to be sought from the original owners.

But when a little investigation revealed the owners were none other than Falkirk’s archives – run by Falkirk Community Trust, which is also responsible for the Hippodrome – things became a little easier.

It has been edited slightly, so that the young people will each conduct a short section of the music they have composed.

And they are not the only young musicians to be involved. Members of Falkirk Schools Traditional Music Groups – intermediate and advanced – will also be creating brand new music for two other gems from the Sottish Screen Archives.

The tutors involved are well-known and respected musicians: John Somerville (Treacherous Orchestra), Marc Duff (Capercaillie co-founder) and Steven Holland.

They work year-round with young musicians, and for the festival they have focused more on improvising a soundtrack to accompany the images they see on screen, rather than composing a formal score.

The films they will accompany are ‘In Sheep’s Clothing’, which shows crofters ‘rooing’ and carding woodl to make jumpers as well as fascinating footage from the ‘Scottish Moving Picture News: Route March 1st Battalion Lanarkshire Volunteer Regiment’.

Dating back to 1917 it shows young men proudly marching off to war as the community cheers them on.

Festival producer Shona Thomson is delighted with what she has heard so far from everyone involved. “They have done a really great job!” she said.

New Found Sound takes place at the Bo’ness Hippodrome on Sunday, March 22 at 11 a.m.