A rare historic collaboration between the UK’s leading string orchestra, Stranraer’s award-winning traditional folk singer and a popular Scottish composer, will debut in Newton Stewart this month as part of the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival.

The Scottish Ensemble and Robyn Stapleton will perform songs from the Ballad Book of Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe (1781-1851) who was born in May 1781 at Hoddam, Dumfriesshire.

Sharpe was a social and intellectual ancestry of some distinction and his early education was nourished on Jacobite story and tradition, which was to be the main driver of his artistic studies and research.

Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe (self-penned as “C#”) was educated in Edinburgh and then at Christ Church, Oxford, graduating in 1806. Following the appearance of The Minstrelsy Of The Scottish Border (1802), Sharpe contacted Sir Walter Scott.

They were to become lifelong friends and Sharpe contributed to his works, including the famous ballad of The Twa Corbies.

Sharpe is also credited with giving Scott his version of The Douglas Tragedy and Bessie Bell and Mary Gray. In the later years of his life, he became a literary recluse and his peculiarities and eccentricities became ever more pronounced.

Sharpe died in March 1851, leaving one of the most extensive collections of antiquities ever accumulated by a private individual in Scotland. Much published material survives him, notably the ballads, letters, etchings, studies in Scottish genealogy and a history of Scottish witchcraft.

In a collaboration between Scottish Ensemble and Robyn Stapleton, songs from Sharpe’s Ballad Book will be newly arranged by composer Mike Vass, and performed for the first time as part of the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival.

The concert will also feature songs from Robyn’s debut album Fickle Fortune and newly arranged songs local to the region.

Robyn Stapleton was BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year and performance highlights include singing on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Disks, at BBC Proms in the Park and her debut album has received outstanding reviews.

She has recently been working alongside singer Emily Smith as part of McMath: The Silent Page, a project which has brought new life to the songs of Galloway song collector William Macmath.

It was through this project that Robyn was first introduced to the songs of C# and her interest in his collected ballads began.

She said: “The first time I looked at Sharpe’s ballads, I knew they were very special indeed.

“I really wanted people to know about his collections and to hear these wonderful songs performed.

“I’ve always wanted to work together with a string ensemble and I know that the Scottish Ensemble musicians will bring tremendous strength and beauty to the music.

“I’m delighted also to be working alongside Mike Vass who will be arranging the songs.  There are some unique versions of well-known songs such as Annie Laurie, which I’m sure many local people can connect with, and some more surprising pieces such as a song in the Irish language, and a song which is from my own area in the Rhins of Galloway – Fair Margaret – a very striking story which I’ve never before seen or heard.”

The event takes place at the McMillan Hall in Newton Stewart on Thursday, 26 May, at 7.30pm.

Tickets from the Midsteeple box office on 01387 253383 and further information from www.dgartsfestival.org.uk


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