Kirsteen McNish introduces an album of long-buried piano compositions, finally brought out into the light.
In early summer this year, Simon Tong called me to tell me about a project he was embarking on with his brother-in-law, Tom Fraser. He explained that just under 30 years ago, Edinburgh-based musician Tom was helping with the house clearance after his grandfather’s death and found an old, scratched, Transco record left out on the street next to a skip. Mildly curious, Tom took it home, gave it a play and forgot about it. It then sat on a shelf for many years, until one day, during early lockdown, he gave it a play, and realised that the record he had found was in fact recordings of piano pieces by his Great Aunt Mirry — whose work, it transpires, had been kept secret from almost all of her family.
Mirabel Lomer was born in 1906 to a military family, and for the best part of her life stayed at home in Ireland, looking after her elderly parents. In the early 1950s she worked caring for an elderly couple in Wiltshire, both of whom she nursed until they died.
Whilst most of her life was spent caring for others, and despite the fact that her father had not allowed her to play music within his earshot, Mirry had written music throughout her adulthood. In quiet rebellion and creative escape, she composed this piano music secretly, and her nephew and confidant Geoffrey captured it on his tape recorder.
In summer this year, Geoffrey, who is now in his nineties, invited Simon and Tom to go through an attic where he had archived all of Mirry’s work. Hundreds of stereoscopic slides, super-8 films, photographs, stories, poems and further recordings were found, all lovingly preserved by Geoffrey.
Tom and Simon have been re-working the original compositions, in the hope that this secret life will now reach beyond Mirry’s own four walls. The resulting album, Mirry, is an experimental call-and-response to Mirry’s original recordings.
Once the project started to take shape, we invited director Camella Kirk to re-work some of the found footage, which has brought magical new insights into Mirry and her life, her talent, warmth and her character. Camella highlighted the poetic rapport between Mirry and Geoffrey, who had great fun creating these experimental, intimate vignettes together. We witness them playing with camera angles and set-ups, lingering sometimes at length on details of flowers and the landscapes close to where they lived, illuminated by trippy hyperreal colours. The dual stereoscopic slides demand you look and look again. We pored over them and chose a selection, which you see here and throughout the record artwork.
Listening to these tracks — that skip like light on water, shapeshift, glitch, suddenly take on new directions and allow spaces to breathe — I soon realised that there was another important message drawing me in, beckoning me.
The act of caring and being a carer is often invisible and undervalued in society, but so many people are dependent on those who fulfil these roles. Two thirds of us can expect to be carers in our lifetimes, and half of those will be women by the time they are 46 years old.
After lots of phone calls it was evident that Tom and Simon were keen to share, through the prism of Mirry’s story, the stories of those who care and feel aspects of their lives aren’t quite heard. Working on something that reflects part of my own private life (I am a carer for my own child; full-time since the start of lockdown) has been a delicate line to tread, but it also feels as if this project is something which has been serendipitously sent my way. Acts of care and support for others, however small, seem crucial right now in interconnecting us all. As part of this project, we want to encourage folk to donate to the Carers Trust, helping them to continue the work they do.
Mirry’s original recordings will eventually be released digitally next year so people can enjoy them, work with them and give them new forms, creating new conversations.
Mirry’s is a story of hope; about finding glimmers in the dust, and about how one’s creative work can live on and continue to reverberate and evolve long after its original conception.
‘Mirry’ will be released on the Dutchess label, initially in a run of limited Dinked Edition vinyl, available through independent record shops from the 8th of December. A full release is planned for early 2021.
Hear Mirry’s story featured on an episode of Radio 4’s ‘Short Cuts’ here (air date 8th of December).