TMusician Tom Fraser’s memories of his great-aunt Mirry are few. “I remember her once on the couch, as if she were a very happy old woman,” he says. “And I went to his funeral, I remember.”
It was a long time after her death that she learned about another aspect of Mirry’s life. A box of belongings, left on the street in front of her grandmother’s house in Notting Hill, contained a record that suggested she was more than a jolly old woman.
This was in 1985. Fraser, then captivated by The Cure, found little note on the scratchy, lo-fi piano recordings in a brown paper sleeve. “I thought it was terrible,” he says frankly. “But then I heard it about 10 years ago, and things had changed.”
Now curious about the woman who had composed and recorded this material in the 50s and 60s, he began to ask his family about Mirry, his mother, his aunts and in particular his uncle Geoffrey, who was known to have been responsible for make the recordings.
For much of her life, Mirabel Lomer had been a caregiver for her parents in Ireland. “Two people who basically didn’t get along,” says Foster grimly. His father, who had been in the military, had courted his mother, a trained concert pianist, but shortly after their marriage insisted that he stop playing. “He found the music depressing,” says Foster. “He just didn’t like it, so he moved the piano as far away from him as possible.”
Not much is known about Mirry’s life in Ireland, although it seems likely that, despite her father’s wishes, her mother taught her to play the piano. Later, when she was 50, she moved to the UK to work as a paid caregiver for another elderly couple in Wiltshire. “And then when the lady died, this old man, now 80 years old, married Mirry, and they lived together for a few years and she took care of him,” explains Foster. “She was constantly taking care of people.”
If her life seems like a constant monotony, the memories of those who knew her, along with the Super 8 recordings, photographs and footage that Fraser later found, suggest otherwise. “She was cheerful in a way my grandmother wasn’t,” he says. “Mirry loved to drink, whiskey or sherry or whatever, always smoking and drinking and laughing and just having fun. My aunt said she was very funny and kind. And I think when people wanted to get away, they would run up to her to take a break, a little joy actually. “
Among those who visited him was his uncle Geoffrey, and it seems that it was on one of these visits that “Geoffrey and Mirry just start playing, they start filming each other, putting scenes together and at the same time she constantly works on these pieces of the film. music, “says Foster.” There are a lot of photos and videos of her, just playing around; this old lady hitting the piano incredibly fast, her fingers flying all over the place and completely tucking in. And there’s another recording of her singing and then losing her part. and laughing out loud … “
During the summer, Fraser played Mirry’s recordings with his brother-in-law and fellow musician Simon Tong, best known for his work with Verve and Magnetic North. “He didn’t have a lot of melodies, but the parts that he worked on, he just kept working his whole life and refining and refining them,” says Fraser. “They are very dense, nothing is repeated, it is incredibly fast, complicated and really incredible.
Tong was struck by the “romantic sound and very warm to them, very crisp and very old-fashioned.” They reminded him a bit of the music from Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective. “From a world that is familiar even though you’ve never experienced those times.”
Together, they began to rework Mirry’s music, flipping the recordings back and forth, adding guitars, organ, strings. Tong talks about how often it “almost made him cry, because it felt good, playing the music of this woman he had never met, from over 60 years ago. The ghosts or spirits, or whatever energy may still travel over the years … the music itself that holds some kind of energy. It didn’t seem like we were turning it into something that it wasn’t supposed to be. It felt like he was being respectful, I guess. “
Tong enlisted curator Kirsteen McNish, who since March has been a full-time caregiver for her disabled daughter herself, to help turn Mirry into a multimedia project. She commissioned director Camilla Kirk to rework the found video footage, and introduced Fraser and Tong to Rupert Morrison, who would release Mirry on her label. Dutchess. For McNish, the project became more than just an album release, but the often invisible lives of caregivers and “the moments we take to try to do creative work, however restricted in the circumstances.”
“It’s amazing that all of this happened, and no one seems to know,” adds Fraser. He’s not sure what his great-aunt would think of the new album. “I’m a little worried that she absolutely hates him,” he laughs. “But you might also find it quite amusing. I hope you like it “.
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