Where You’re Meant to Be (15)

four stars

Dir: Paul Fegan

With: Aidan Moffat, Sheila Stewart

Runtime: 76 minutes

EVERY now and again a film comes out of nowhere and knocks you sideways. You know little of its subject matter or those who star in it, but after the film ends and the credits roll life just seems a little better, richer, for having seen it. Not bad for a documentary made for pennies and featuring language that could strip paint off a battleship.

The purveyor of the salty phrases in Where You’re Meant to Be is Aidan Moffat, whom trendier readers might know as one half of Arab Strap, once a band of this parish. Personally, I would not have known Aidan from Adam (sorry Aidan; apologies, Adam). Once a hip young gunslinger from Falkirk, Moffat is now middle-aged, certainly feeling it, but definitely not acting it.

Clever old Aidan has had an idea: “I just wanted to take the old songs of Scotland that made me giggle and rewrite them for fun.” The old folk songs, in his mind, featured the likes of bonnie lassies, speeding ploughs, and all that tartan clad schtick. His new songs, in contrast, would be rooted in modern city living, complete with Neds and Friday night fights in the taxi queue. Oh, and orgies as well, though one suspects that one owes more to his imagination than reality.

His first stop in trying to learn the ropes of folk is to visit doyenne of the scene, Sheila Stewart. He tells her all about his wizard wheeze, thinking she will find it hilarious. She does not. She really, really, does not. Folk music is Sheila’s life. It represents her heritage, her Scottishness, her very, for want of a better word, soul. Far from being twee, it speaks of what life in Scotland was really like, the ugliness as much as the beauty.

Moffat, however, just does not get it. He thinks, for example, that the line “My ship lies in harbour, ready to sail” is about an actual ship when really it is about someone approaching death. Instead of enhancing songs, Stewart accuses him of “blootering” them.

It is a measure of Stewart’s personality, director Paul Fegan’s storytelling skills, and Moffat’s willingness to look an absolute warmer, that we immediately know which side we are on here. You may never have been closer to the Scottish countryside than Maryhill Park but you instinctively know Stewart deserves to win this argument.

Undaunted, Moffat starts his “Where You’re Meant to Be” tour offering free whisky and a show. Many among the audiences find his lyrics hilarious, others are shocked to the core and show it in their pursed lips. The humour is indeed as broad as the Clyde. His vulgarity knows few boundaries. As for the language…

Yet instead of coming across as an oaf you would cross the street to avoid, Moffat turns out to be an endearing sort. He is funny, which helps enormously, particularly about being Scottish yet knowing very little of his heritage. He is not afraid to challenge convention, to shake things up, but he gives respect where it is due.

Fegan clearly has little in the way of a budget but this is a beautifully made film, with lovely touches and inspired sequences. In one, for example, Moffat is in a cafe when a song starts up. The music is not coming from a soundtrack, but from a couple of tables along where two performers are sitting. The archive material, featuring Stewart and Moffat, is spot on.

Several sub-plots are woven through the piece, but the focus always returns eventually to Stewart and Moffat, the middle aged whippersnapper and the grand old lady of Scottish folk. Do they ever see eye to eye? Will Miss Stewart lamp him with a chair if he changes one more word of her beloved songs? You will have to see it to find out. Be warned though: take a hankie. Or as Moffat would say, take a ******* hankie.

Limited release from tomorrow includes Glasgow Film Theatre, Cameo and Filmhouse, Edinburgh, DCA, Eden Court, Inverness and Belmont, Aberdeen. For full listings go to whereyouremeanttobe.com