The Looking Glass Anthology - Tribute to Willie Campbell

The Looking Glass Anthology - Tribute to Willie Campbell

Date: 27/05/2022 15:31

Northern Ireland Screen invited four artists to respond to the films within the Digital Film Archive. The Looking Glass Anthology is a collection of beautiful works by a range of musicians and poets that capture what the archives mean to them on a personal level.

Singer-songwriter Matt McGinn explains his encounter with UTV film of busker Willie Campbell from 1965:

"I often let my imagination get the better of me. It can be a very tiring thing. I see something in my head and know immediately that I won't be happy until it exists in the real world. It happened again here... 

A friend directed me toward a video on the Northern Ireland Screen Digital Film Archive. It was a black & white video of a city centre of what I recognised as Belfast. As the camera panned right, it focused in on an elderly gentleman, sitting on a stool and playing an instrument I hadn't seen since watching the Royal Variety Show as a child. I later learnt that his name was Willie Campbell and he busked the streets of Belfast for decades playing the Musical Saw. 

With the exception of the hustle and bustle of the city centre streets, Willie played for me the Derry Air unaccompanied, his tuning, phrasing & tone impeccable as his bow floated over the saw. As beautiful as it was, it felt to me a very lonely sound. I have busked before and it can be a lonely place, even on a crowded street. I wanted to accompany Willie and join him in his tune.

It turned out that my imagination wouldn't stop there. Willie wanted more from me and I was willing to do whatever he needed. The rest is in the video. I managed to bring onboard an incredible team who gave their everything to make this video come to life. Be sure to check out their names in the credits and if you ever happen to meet them, give them a massive thank you from Willie and myself. 

Thanks especially to Natalya O'Flaherty, Darragh Murphy, Arco Strings and NI Screen for trusting a crazy imagination. 

There's plenty more to Willie's story. You never know, I may get to work on that someday..."

In the finished piece, Matt has created a beautiful suite that takes the viewer back to the Belfast that Willie Campbell knew so well. Working with Dublin poet Natayla O’Flaherty who reads her piece, 'The Busker', Arco Strings and uilleann piper Darragh Murphy, Matt explores what we might think of as ‘the time before’ when the strains of Willie’s playing floated in the Belfast air. Filmed by Sam Kwan in the stunning setting of Carlisle Memorial Church, archive and modern film combine to create this stunning and emotional work. 

Watch the rest of the films in the Anthology here