Where You're Meant To Be


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Where You’re Meant To Be
"Somehow Moffat manages to be endearing even when he's being crass.."

Folk ballads are a peculiar thing - they tend to be presented as a singular tradition, a product of The Past, but in fact, though that belief itself is very old, and close scrutiny shows that they have been constantly evolving. The real cultural conflicts hinge on who has control over this process. Where You're Meant To Be depicts a specific instance of such conflict, with the seemingly unstoppable force of indie musician Aidan Moffat (formerly of Arab Strap) versus the immovable object of celebrated folk singer Sheila Stewart.

Moffat, at 42, is still a young slip of a lad by folk music standards. Having spent some years playing a pivotal role in Glasgow's indie music scene, he's now approaching folk with the zeal of a religious convert. Acknowledging that he's a beginner, he says that if Sheila likes his take on the ballads, even if she's the only one, he'll be happy. Sheila tells him that he's misunderstood them completely and she's really quite upset by it. Ach well, he says, perhaps other people will enjoy his efforts.

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Moffat's willful misinterpretation of metaphor and failure to engage with the cultural importance of preserving the ballad tradition (especially to Sheila, who is a traveller and has been threatened by cultural imperialism all her life) even as he describes it could easily come across as hopelessly obnoxious. Somehow, though, his tremendous enthusiasm wins the viewer over, and he manages to be endearing even when he's being crass. There's no doubting his genuine love of the music and his argument that ballads changing is part of their tradition is in itself a sound one. he also finds evidence that Sheila talked about making them her own, early in her career.

Paul Fegan's documentary is framed through Moffat talking to an imagined version of Sheila, a process that constitutes a form of tribute but also edges a little too far into taking ownership, riding on the coattails of someone else's legend. We don't really see much of her in the film, so there's a sense that when she's being spoken about, she's being spoken for - by somebody she has already said doesn't understand her. Balancing this is a touching tribute from her husband, who describes their first meeting and how she became the whole focus of his life. Though he only appears briefly, he forms a bridge between her world and Moffat's, and illustrates the humanity so important to the songs themselves.

The film is full of humorous moments. Old women exchange alarmed looks upon hearing some of the language in Moffat's updatings, ironic given that much of the old language was just as shocking in its time. Young people laugh at his cheerful baiting of hypocrites in the Church. Though not everything will hit home with the same audiences, overall this is a very enjoyable film with achieves Moffat's stated goal of helping people find a point of connection with the old songs. The only question is, how many of those who don't feel such a connection to begin with will bother going to see it.

Reviewed on: 21 Feb 2016
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When a Scottish indie pop artist decides to re-write his country's oldest songs, the only things standing in his way are an ageing folk singer and centuries of history.
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Director: Paul Fegan

Writer: David Arthur, Paul Fegan

Starring: Aidan Moffat, Sheila Stewart

Year: 2016

Runtime: 76 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2016

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