“We think of them as protest songs. Some are funny. Some are coarse. But the soldiers are very angry at the circumstances they are in and at the superiors who pulled the wool over their eyes.”
Less than a month after the Israeli-Hamas war exploded in the Middle East, the St. Albert Gazette spoke with Vancouver-raised Brendan McLeod, founder of The Fugitives.
As a teenager, McLeod was obsessed with war history and the stories of Vimy Ridge, the legendary First World War battle that resulted in 10,000 casualties. In his drive to understand it, he read Pierre Berton’s best-selling book, Vimy, four times.
In the account, Berton details the horrific conditions of trench warfare soldiers endured to secure the victory. For some readers, the author illuminated the moment of tragedy and greatness that marked Canada’s emergence as a nation. For others such as McLeod, it forced a critical examination of the futility of war and the actual cost of lost lives.
“Pierre Berton’s book was an incredible read. He synthesized so much in it. It’s not entertaining by any means, but he gets into the personalities and colours it in surprising ways. It was so wildly different from anything I’d read before and it opened a gap in my knowledge,” said McLeod.
Just prior to COVID, McLeod and The Fugitives turned his passion into a thought-provoking show titled Ridge. It pays a haunting tribute to fallen soldiers while at the same time questioning the pointlessness of war. The Fugitives will perform their theatrical show at the Arden Theatre on Saturday, November 11.
The Fugitives perform their 5th Juno nominated album, Trench Songs, aided by a riveting narrative. In this vivid walk-through history, the four-piece collected soldier songs sung in the trenches. They kept the emotional content of the lyrics but revived the music so it’s suitable for bass, guitar and violin.
The trench songs vary from Hanging on the Old Barb Wire and The Next Man Who Dies to Take Me Back to Old Ontario and If I Could Turn the Clock Back.
“We think of them as protest songs. Some are funny. Some are coarse. But the soldiers are very angry at the circumstances they are in and at the superiors who pulled the wool over their eyes,” McLeod.
The band strips away any glorification of war through myths still presented today. Although he has no direct family ties to the military, McLeod once visited the house of John McRae with his parents. McRae was a Canadian physician during the First World War who wrote In Flanders Fields, the nation’s most famous war poem.
“I’m very interested in history and the difference between myth and fact and how the narrative changes over time.”
One of the war’s shocking facts was that 250,000 British teenagers, some as young as 12, fought in the war effort. In Canada the numbers were smaller — only 20,000.
“You can bet that made me sit up and take notice,” said McLeod. Placing underage children in harm’s way appalled him as did the propaganda machine and the decision makers who made battle plans to sacrifice lives while living far from the front lines.
The show’s stories include how Indigenous Canadians fought fiercely and bravely at Vimy and other pivotal battles but were unrecognized at home. Here at home, wartime paranoia resulted in the internment of thousands of patriotic Ukrainian Canadians, and later how profiteers stranded thousands of Canadian soldiers in Europe at the end of hostilities.
Ridge strips away stars from our eyes to give a new meaning to Remembrance Day. It’s another opportunity to digest the foolishness of war and appreciate the sacrifices of those who had no say.
Ridge is on Remembrance Day at 7:30 p.m. at the Arden Theatre. Tickets are $39.25 Call 780-459-1542 or online at tickets.stalbert.ca.
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