Following on from the 2014 summer tour of the same name, Where You’re Meant to Be details Scottish indie-rock legend Aidan Moffat – formerly of Arab Strap – as he takes a trip around the various communities of Scotland, re-working traditional Scottish folk songs with a modernist bent.
Moffat’s narration explains early on that he is “ignorant of his roots, but that’s because [he’s] more interested in the present, and the uncertainty of tomorrow”, which is a good example of Moffat’s typically Scottish poeticism which runs throughout the film. Moffat has made a name for his dark wit and apt observations of modern Scottish living, so his appropriation of the traditional folk song, which is based on similar themes, is not at all surprising.
Moffat and the film’s director, Paul Fegen, make strong use of the singer-songwriter’s deep voice, which largely drives the documentary, not just in the performances of these songs but also his narration; this plays a key part in the film’s narrative, as he addresses it to Sheila Stewart, the film’s other main component.
Stewart is a musical legend in her own right. As the last surviving member of her family, she was the living embodiment of a strand of famous traditional folk songs, which had been passed down through her family generation-by-generation. As a result she became a TV and Radio personality, as well as a performer during the 70’s.
This is how Moffat, in researching songs to use for this tour, discovers Stewart, whom he goes to meet due to his desire to use her family’s songs. The pair’s interaction is particularly amusing, as captured in a conversation had while driving around Stewart’s countryside home, as she sees Moffat’s re-workings as an encroachment on her family’s songs and tradition – especially as he takes the lyrics “too literally”.
What is fascinating however is as we follow Moffat & Co’s tour around the beautifully scenic corners of Scotland, the songs become Moffat’s own. Passed down from Stewart – regardless of her protestations – as well as others, she becomes a surrogate mother to Moffat, who represents the next generation to perform these songs.
The film, therefore, opens up an interesting question as to whether it is right to, in the eyes of Stewart, “abuse these ballads and melodies when the traditional versions are still relevant” or whether Moffat’s (and I expect the majority of his audience’s) generation are in fact merely continuing this tradition, in their own terms.
The film, and tour, culminates in Glasgow’s famous Barrowlands Ballroom (where this premiere screening takes place), which Moffat argues is as crucial to this generation of Scotland’s musical identity, as were the various town halls and countryside farms – both of Stewart’s traveller heritage – and the myriad other locations Moffat visits.
In a truly beautiful scene, the various people that Moffat and his band have encountered during the tour are all present at this final performance; this includes Sheila Stewart herself, who eventually becomes so disgraced by Moffat’s “butchering” of her family’s song, that she gets on stage and performs it herself with Moffat’s band and audience participating. It is a very moving moment, as Fegen carefully splices the younger Stewart’s TV performances – along with Moffat’s earlier shows – all building towards this climactic, last performance from the great Stewart, who sadly passed away shortly afterwards.
Where You’re Meant to Be is an awe-inspiring film, tapping into both Scottish and folk music identity, which Stewart argues “is one of the most important aspects of Scottish culture.” A warm, affecting, beautifully constructed piece of documentary filmmaking, which I would encourage anyone (Scottish or otherwise) to discover for themselves.