Trumpet virtuoso and former principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland John Wallace goes back to his Fife roots when he leads De Profundis – the East Neuk Festival’s ‘Big Project’ for 2017.
The specially curated project, staged in the Bowhouse, Anstruther, on July 1, pays a special tribute to the past generations of Fife miners whose working days were spent in terrible and hazardous conditions but whose leisure time was playing beautiful music together in brass bands.
De Profundis, drawing on the Gaelic Psalm traditions of the Western Isles, features around 60 brass players, including the highly regarded Tullis Russell Mills Brass Bands and the Wallace Collection – an established ensemble of some of the world’s leading brass players all led by John himself.
John, 68, who was born in Methilhill, grew up in Glenrothes and became principal trumpet with The Philarmonia, explained how generations of his family were employed in the mining industries while he himself became a member of the Tullis Russell Mills band at the age of seven, when his father brought home a cornet which he learned to play by ear.
“My grandad, John Williamson Wallace – my namesake – and my two uncles, Charlie and Dave, and my dad, Kiff, started in the Coaltown Band,” says John, who famously performed with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.
“My grandad’s twin brother, Sandy, used to cycle to Coaltown from Windygates with his tuba on his back for every rehearsal.
“They shared a conductor – Johnny Haldane – with Tullis Russell Mills Band.
“I still have some of the Coaltown band books at home.
“My dad’s family all comes from Coaltown and lived next to the Smiddy, which I remember as a going concern.
“On the other side, my Papa Wull was a contractor in the pits – the Wellesley and the Michael mainly, and my Granty – great grandfather a miner too – had to be kicked out of his bed so my mum could have me in it.
“They kept dugs – greyhounds – and raced them at Methil dogtrack next to the brickworks. Those were the days!”
Svend McEwan-Brown is the founding artistic director of the East Neuk Festival.
It is he who devises these Big Festival projects which have a cultural resonance in Fife.
De Profundis is supported by Toby and Kate Anstruther, Shields and Carol Henderson and Donald and Louise MacDonald
As with previous East Neuk Festival projects, the venue will be atmospherically staged and lit for a promenade audience.
There will also be a brass marathon – Festivallaround – throughout the day on July 1 with brass players giving free pop-up concerts at various venues including Kingsbarns Distillery, Kellie Castle, Anstruther Harbour and Elie Beach.
*East Neuk Festival 2017: De Profundis, The Bowhouse, Anstruther, July 1, www.eastneukfestival.com