When a Scottish indie pop artist decides to re-write his country’s oldest songs, the only thing standing in his way is an ageing folk singer and centuries of history.
The debut documentary from Paul Fegan could be loosely billed as a travelogue as it follows the cult musician Aidan Moffat around some of the lesser seen parts of Scotland, but this documentary has hidden depths and it turns out to be so much more than it promises to be. The story begins with Arab Strap founder Aidan Moffat’s mission to discover more about historical Scottish folk music, and in turn learn more about his country and its culture. He does this by setting off on a tour of Scotland where he’ll play reworked versions of classic Scottish ballads and poems, believing that to keep the music alive he needs to change the lyrics and in some cases the context to appeal to a new generation. It’s a road trip crafted into a narrative, but the richness of the material comes through in every small encounter and piece of insight.
This is the loose premise but the film comes into its own when Aidan meets Sheila Stewart, a famous Scots singer now approaching her 80th birthday, and it becomes abundantly clear that she does not share his enthusiasm for tampering with these songs. Moffat narrates as well as stars, and his affable presence is the key to the film’s success, adding sharp wit and amusing anecdotes to enhance the film’s message, but it’s Stewart and the other people he encounters who provide its heart. It’s key that Moffat genuinely wants to learn and and this comes through in every conversation, where it’s clear he takes on board the differing opinions on his approach to keeping the music alive. However, this isn’t just a film about music or old ballads and the people that sing them, but a film about Scotland itself, its people and its history, and it’s incredibly effective at painting a picture of this beautiful, rich country that goes beyond the central belt. It’s sharply directed, capturing some hilarious ‘moment in time’ shots, and like Moffat’s band ‘Arab Strap’, the film has a wonderfully deadpan approach to life and the experience it’s trying to portray.
‘Where You’re Meant To Be’ sets out to educate the audience, as well as Aidan Moffat, about old Scottish music and the people that keep the songs alive, but this documentary becomes something more profound throughout its runtime, and it’s one of the most surprisingly moving films I’ve seen in a long time.
Directed By: Paul Fegan
Starring: Aidan Moffat and Sheila Stewart