Tthere is little memory of musician Tom Fraser of his great aunt Mirry. “I remember her once on the sofa, she was kind of a cheerful little old lady,” he says. “And I went to her funeral, I remember that.”
It was a long time after her death and he found out about the other side of Mirry’s life. A box of things, left on the street in front of his grandmother’s house in Notting Hill, held a record that suggested she was more than just a cheerful little old lady.
It was 1985. Fraser, then captured by The Cure, found a bit of a note in the scratches of lo-fi piano recordings in a brown paper sleeve. “I thought it was awful,” he says honestly. “But then I listened to it about ten years ago and things changed.”
Now curious about the woman who compiled and filmed this material in the 50s and 60s, he began questioning his family about Mirry – his mother, aunts, and especially Uncle Geoffrey, for whom he turned out to be responsible for filming .
Most of her life Mirabel Lomer was a caregiver for her parents in Ireland. “Two people who basically didn’t get along,” Foster says grimly. Her father, who was in the military, courted her mother, a trained concert pianist, but soon after their marriage he insisted on giving up playing. “He thought the music was 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, in her fifties, she moved to the UK to work as a caregiver for another elderly couple in Wiltshire. “And then when the lady died, this old man, now in his 80s, married Mirry and they lived together for a few years and she took care of him,” Foster explains. “She was just constantly guarding people.”
If her life seems to be constantly tormented, the memories of those who knew her, along with the footage, photographs, and Super 8 footage Fraser subsequently found, suggest otherwise. “She was happy in a way that it wasn’t my grandmother,” he says. “Mirry loved the table, whiskey or sherry or whatever, she always smoked and drank and laughed and just had fun. My aunt said she was very fun and kind. And I think people, if they wanted to run away, would run to her for a break, really a little fun. “
Among those who visited were his uncle Geoffrey, and it seems that just in one of those visits “Geoffrey and Mirry were just starting to have fun, starting to record each other, setting up scenes, and at the same time she was constantly working on those pieces of music.” says Foster. “There are a lot of her pictures and videos, which are just played; this pretty old lady who is pounding the piano incredibly fast, flies everywhere with her fingers and enters it completely. And there is another recording of her singing, and then losing the role and quacking with laughter … ”
Over the summer, Fraser released recordings of Mirry with his brother-in-law and fellow musician Simon Tong, best known for working with Verve and Magnetic North. “She didn’t have a lot of tunes, but on the parts she worked on she just kept working all her life and perfecting and perfecting them,” Fraser says. “They’re very dense, nothing repeats, it’s brilliantly fast and complex and really amazing.”
Tong was amazed by the “romantic and very warm sound for them, very crackling and very old-fashioned.” They reminded him a bit of the music from Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective. “About a world that is famous even though you have never experienced those times.”
Together, they began reworking Mirry’s music, passing recordings back and forth, adding guitars, organs, and strings. Tong talks about how often he was “almost brought to tears because he simply felt good, playing to the music of this woman I had never met before more than 60 years ago. Ghosts or ghosts, or any energy that can still travel with age … music itself that retains some kind of energy. It didn’t seem to me that we were turning into something that wasn’t supposed to be. I guess I felt like I respected that. “
Tong was hired by curator Kirsteen McNish, who has been a permanent caregiver for her daughter with a disability since March, to help Mirry turn into a multimedia project. She commissioned director Camilla Kirk to rework the found videos and introduced her to Fraser and Tong Rupert Morrison, who will release Mirry for his label, Dutchess. For McNish, the project became more than just the release of an album, but about the often invisible lives of caregivers and “moments we grab to try to work creatively no matter how limited in circumstances”.
“It’s unbelievable that all this happened, and no one seems to have known about it,” Fraser added. He is not sure what his great-aunt would do for the new album. “Somehow I worry she would absolutely hate it,” he laughs. “But it could be pretty funny to her. I hope she would like it. ”
• Mirry is on Dutchess now.