You saw it first in Bo’ness ... HippFest and Hubby on tour

RM Hubbert 'Hubby' pictured by Alex Hewitt
RM Hubbert 'Hubby' pictured by Alex Hewitt

It was a mesmerising performance: A unique guitar soundtrack from one of Scotland’s strongest creative voices, accompanying a rarely seen Soviet silent film.

RM Hubbert’s live score for the 1926 Western By the Law provided, said one newspaper critic, “a fresh coat of paint on an old masterpiece”. We saw it first in Bo’ness, commissioned as part of the annual celebration of silent cinema that fills the town in March.

And now the multi-award-winning Scottish composer and song-writer will take Po Zakonu’s film and its new score on the road for no fewer than seven performances, taking in places as far afield as Shetland and Orkney.

Also hitting the road soon will be another Hippfest 2017 hit, Together.

This 1956 film by Lorenzo Mazzetti stars the Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi in a rare acting role.

A slice of everyday working class life, it follows two deaf-mute dockers in the midst of the wary, hearing community.

Jazz musicians Raymond MacDonald and Christian Ferlaino’s live, semi-improvised accompaniment, using saxophone, percussion and goat bells, will tour from November this year.

Several films and live scores which premiered at the festival have gone on to tour as far as London and even, on one memorable occasion, to an outdoor screening in Bologna, Italy.

These tours are made possible by funding from FilmHub Scotland and for the Hippodrome team they are an important part of raising the profile of the historic cinema – the first purpose built in Scotland.

“The festival is about celebrating the heritage of the building but also celebrating the heritage of cinema,” said festival director Alison Strauss.

“It’s great for us – it’s another chance to hear these new compositions and it gets the Hippodrome’s name out there.

“I’m finding now that wherever I go in the country, people have heard of the Hippodrome. The work we do has an impact year round and countrywide.

“By the Law is our biggest ever tour, going to seven venues across Scotland.

“It’s nice that it’s going to well-known venues such as the Filmhouse in Edinburgh but it’s also going to places such as Stromness Town Hall and reaching out to the Shetland islands – I think that’s really exciting.

“The other exciting thing is that the tour appeals to Hubby’s loyal fan base and introduced them to silent film and vice versa – it also attracted people to his music.”

The festival works with some of the best known film accompanists working in the UK – pianists such as Neil Brand and Stephen Horne are firm favourites.

But it’s also made some bold choices, commisioning exciting, modern scores for the classic films.

Alison, who trained as a film archivist, sees her role here as being something of a “matchmaker” between film and artist.

“Sometimes it’s been because there’s a film I feel I would really love to bring to the audience and that was the case with Together,” she said.

“I thought it would be really exciting to revisit it, so I tried to identify who might be sympathetic to it.”

She had already worked with Raymond MacDonald and he was quickly interested in exploring the themes in the film.

“Other times I identify a musician based on the way they write, if they are used to collaborating or if they are about storytelling – painting pictures in your mind with music,” she said.

“I knew I would love to work with RM Hubbert, so thought about what would be a good film and gradually narrowed the options down.

“ When I approached him I had a different film in mind actually – it’s like matchmaking really.”

The Scotland-wide tour is only one part of the Hippodrome’s determination to introduce more people to the joy of silent film.

The production team are currently working on another, more local tour, where they take the films and music to places such as care homes, reaching across the generations from primary pupils to the elderly.

A few carefully chosen gems are also being brought to the Hippodrome itself as part of the Taste of the Silents season, which is running this year.

And that’s all in anticipation of next year’s event, which is now taking shape – ready for more music and movies to come to life.

It might even get some visitors from Orkney ...