An Anglesey musician has spoken movingly how writing a song with nursing home residents conjured memories of his beloved late grandmother after being kept apart by the Covid-19 pandemic
According to Tom Owen, the experience was all the more poignant because Coronavirus restrictions meant he was unable to see his 97-year-old gran, Elizabeth Owen, in the months before she died.
The song, titled Dyma Cariad (Here’s Love), and which also drew inspiration from Anglesey’s community heritage, is on a new album available to download through the charity Live Music Now Wales.
Tom said when writing the evocative piece during the height of the second lockdown his mind was filled with bittersweet reflections of times spent with his grandmother, affectionately known as Betty to family and friends.
She sadly died of natural causes only weeks before he started work on the song-writing project in which he linked up with Glan Rhos Nursing Home, near Brynsiencyn, Anglesey.
Due to the restrictions Tom had heartbreakingly been unable to visit his grandmother in the months before she passed away.
He said: “In a way the resulting song is a personal tribute to her as well as others of her generation, like all the wonderful Glan Rhos residents, who have spent a lifetime contributing so much to our vibrant Anglesey community.”
A well-known local singer and multi-instrumentalist, Tom is one of five talented musicians from different Welsh counties commissioned by the charity Live Music Now Wales to produce the album titled Unlocked (Datgloi).
The compilation album features 10 newly penned songs all inspired by the heritage of five different communities across Wales.
Live Music Now is the UK’s leading musicians’ development and outreach charity specialising in bringing outstanding music experiences to vulnerable groups.
Last year marked the organisation’s 30th year in Wales and this project is a key part of its anniversary celebrations.
Live Music Now Wales Director, Claire Cressey, said the album is an especially significant achievement given that it was produced during the challenging period of a national lockdown.
She said: “All the musicians did exceptionally well to produce such original, powerful and expressive songs while confronted with the emotional and practical difficulties posed by the Covid-19 lockdown.”
She said the project, supported with a £10,000 grant from the Welsh Heritage Lottery Fund, had a two-fold benefit.
It gave much needed work to struggling musicians unable to perform live during pandemic restrictions, and it has created a lasting musical record reinforcing stories of local heritage and emphasising the value of community.
Tom hopes the album will be an engaging way to raise awareness about Welsh heritage and culture.
He said the Glan Rhos Nursing Home managers and care team played an invaluable part in the creation of his song. Staff encouraged residents to interact with him via online Zoom video conversations.
Tom said: “The lockdown meant that for safety reasons I could not visit Glan Rhos in person, so we had to use video conferencing to communicate which was a massive challenge for me as well as the residents. But they were all brilliant and individually inspiring in different ways.
“I was reminded so much of my grandmother and the project heightened my awareness of the struggles people can go through in older age.
“I tried to capture through my music this sense of being physically near but emotionally so far away.”
Tom – whose stage name is Pixy Tom – delighted in the Glan Rhos residents’ undoubted love of music.
He said: “I’ll always remember residents like Arfon who was a choir member in his younger days and could belt out a harmony with the strongest voice, and Gareth who is a fan of Elvis and gave a fabulous rendition of Are You Lonesome Tonight. Then Kathleen would talk over us all about the trials of living in lockdown.
“I felt their actual voices and the sentiments behind them were so strong that they deserved to be heard, so I recorded them directly and layered their voices over my piano composition, sampling them if you like.
“The result is almost like a muffled old wireless effect, creating faint echoes which the listener has to strain a little to hear, rather like talking to someone who is living with dementia.”
During the video sessions Tom, 34, also entertained the residents with different instruments. He plays 15 in all including piano, piccolo, guitar, banjo and fiddle.
Glan Rhos Nursing Home activities manager Wendy Rogers said Tom had a natural rapport with the residents which inspired them to spontaneously burst into song.
She said: “I recall a time when one or our lady residents started singing a tune her father used to sing her. It was so moving we were all in tears. We can’t wait to hear the completed Unlocked album.”
Tom is a member of the jazz quartet Tacla which has built a loyal following across Wales. Based near Moelfre, Anglesey, he and his Dutch girlfriend, Amber, are currently expecting a baby boy.
Tom’s second song, titled Sunbeam Sublime, was inspired by another Anglesey resident Denise Reagan, who he spoke to at length over the phone about her love of the historic Pistyll Church on Llyn Peninsula.
Another North Wales musician, Patrick Rimes, also considers himself lucky to have been tasked with creating two songs for the Live Music Now Wales project. One of his songs involved working with Meddyg Care Home, Criccieth, and for the other he collaborated with year 10 music students at Ysgol Brynrefail, Llanrug.
Patrick who grew up in Bethesda, focused on the old quarry cottages of north Wales slate mining regions for the theme of the song created with Ysgol Brynrefail.
Live Music Now Wales director Claire Cressey said the high quality of the album had exceeded all expectations.
She said: “There are some extremely moving songs of really high calibre here. It is almost like a musical time capsule in itself.
“Not only does it highlight so many important aspects of our Welsh heritage through the lyrics and music, but the album in its entirety is a reflection of what will for future generations be seen as a phenomenally significant period of our history, enduring the pandemic.”
The Unlocked album can be downloaded for free but there is also an option to make a donation in return for the download. All contributions will help future Live Music Now projects and aid developing musicians of all ages across Wales. The charity is also planning to release some accompanying short videos about the community organisations and projects which inspired each song. The album was recorded at Cobra Music Studios, Newport.
The Unlocked (Datgloi) songs are:
Dyma Cariad – produced with help from Glanrhos Care Home
Sunbeam Sublime – produced with help from Denise Reagan of Anglesey
Just another day – produced with Bridgend Ironworks/ASD Unit
Alright on the night – produced with Maesteg Town Hall/Men’s Shed
Rosehill Quarry – as title, produced with the quarry organisation
Roots Foundation – as title, produced with the foundation members
Jordan Price Williams
This Tree, This Man – produced with SWGMC
I have a story – produced with Oasis Refugee Centre
Creigia Top Deiniolen (rocks above Deiniolen) – produced with Ysgol Brynrefail, Llanrug
Morio (seafaring) – produced with Meddyg Care Home, Criccieth