Top Tunes with Mari Lowe

Portrait photographs by Jon Pountney

Top Tunes is a new feature for Get the Chance in collaboration with Outpost Coffee and Vinyl
The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently got the chance to chat to Mari Lowe.
Hi Mari great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hello. I’m from Bridgend and I work in heritage. Working in heritage basically means that I get paid to work on projects which explore the past, present and future of everyday people. Often this involves working with a museum or other cultural organisation.
I went to a school called Archbishop McGrath in Bridgend which has since moved to a bigger (and better!) site. It was a small, modest secondary school with teachers who were very caring. Thanks to their encouragement I applied and got into the University of Oxford to study Archaeology and Anthropology. Archaeology is all about the people and societies of the past and anthropology is all about the people and societies of the present. Before I went to University I didn’t know much about Anthropology but I had watched a lot of episodes of Time Team so I felt well-qualified to study Archaeology.
Going away to University was such an important time for me. I really enjoyed the course and I also met people who lived or worked in other countries. I have been lucky enough to visit Sarawak, Spain, Mexico, Singapore, Kenya and South Africa, all because of people I met at University.
After that I did my masters in Museum Studies at Manchester University and I’ve worked in various jobs in museums and heritage. It hasn’t been simple. I’ve done everything from dressing up as a Victorian lady to making films with a refugee charity. Like many careers in arts and culture, it’s not that easy to pursue.
For the last 8 years I’ve lived in Cardiff and I’m pretty happy here. I’ve worked for The Cardiff Story museum and Oasis Cardiff among other things. I’m currently working for Sherman Theatre on a project called Love, Cardiff: City Road Stories. My job is to find people with connections to City Road and record interviews with them. Those recordings will be used to create a performance and an exhibition. It’s quite an ambitious project – we want to reach out to a lot of people and we’re doing it in a relatively short space of time.
This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to? 
Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. I met him a couple of years ago and interviewed him. I can see why he has made it. His voice is very cool and he also comes across as a really genuine person. His first studio album is just about to be released but some of his tracks already exist on single and EP. Life in Her Yet is a beautiful song about his Gran.

Other than that the soundtrack to my life these days is actually BBC World Service. Obviously it’s the BBC so it’s very PC and from a British perspective but it helps to remind me each day that my country is not the centre of the Universe!
We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, so we want to ask you to list 5 records/albums which have personal resonance to you and why. 

1) Different Light by The Bangles – this was the first record I singled out from my dad’s vinyl collection. I must have been very young but for some reason I liked it and would ask him to put it on the record player. It may have been because of the song September Girls – I was born in September. Looking back I was really lucky to live in a house with a real record collection. I grew up in a quiet, very ordinary home but there were always books, records and art materials around. I realise now what a positive influence that has had on me. When I got older, old enough to actually put the records on myself, I chose things like Paranoid by Black Sabbath, or Led Zeppelin II and another favourite was Eat to the Beat by Blondie – that one’s in my collection now.

2) Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins – I never bought a copy of this. I started listening to the Smashing Pumpkins because of my older brother. Anyone who has older brothers will know what a strong influence they have on you. We’re talking about 20 years ago – a new release would be up to £20 on CD. He would diligently save his pocket money or wait for Christmas to get the records he wanted. I started doing the same. The first album I chose and bought myself was 1977 by Ash. There was five years between me and my brother – I must have been so annoying trying to copy him and hang out with him. Sadly he passed away but I know that being an annoying little sister will always be part of who I am!

3) Cowboys from Hell – Pantera – this record is pretty silly but I still love it. In my mid-teens I got into metal. It was the era of bands like Deftones and System of a Down. Once I got into metal I started going to local gigs. Around that time there was a really fun and accessible music scene in Bridgend. I met a few people back then that have become friends for life. Actually, I hope they know this but they were the extended family I needed at a really hard time in my life. Listening to Pantera might not be everyone’s idea of sanctuary but it was for me.

4) Make Believe – self-titled EP– someone very special copied this EP onto a cassette tape for me along with some other related bands. That got me listening to the more thoughtful side of rock music and to honest I drifted away from the big noisy bands. I think that brand of American indie is also interesting because some of them had something to say about American life and the promise of the ‘American dream’. I travelled to the States on my own when I finished my degree at Oxford and I was surprised by how foreign it felt. I thought all the films I’d watched would be enough to make it feel familiar but it didn’t. It’s such a huge place you can go from one state top another and it feels like a different country – different landscape, different people, different values. And the inequality is so obvious. Just take the Greyhound.

5) Oh No Not My Baby – Maxine Brown – this is one of my favourite recordings from the ‘60s soul/Mowtown era. Her voice isn’t as big as some of the other soul divas but it has a kind of sweetness to it. I could listen to records from this era all day. Fantastic voices, but also I think the old-fashioned romance appeals to me too. My record collection in my teens and twenties was very male-dominated but since then I’ve made a conscious effort to listen to more female musicians and vocalists. It must have been tough for women going into the music industry back then. Now there are so many talented female musicians making it, but also promoters and producers. I hope that continues.
Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?

I’d have to choose Siamese Dream, maybe the track Cherub Rock. It’s got a great 90s rock sound and I think without seeing the physical cassette tape and appreciating that as an album maybe I wouldn’t have gone out and bought my own records.
Many thanks for your time Mari.

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