Top Tunes with Gary Owen

Hi Gary great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
I’m a playwright. My family are from Pembrokeshire, I grew up in Bridgend, and I live in Cardiff. Mostly recently I’ve written Iphigenia in Splott for the Sherman Theatre, Violence and Son for the Royal Court, and Killology for both the Sherman and the Royal Court. Right now I’m working on a new version of Chekov’s classic comedy The Cherry Orchard, which relocates the play to Pembrokeshire in the very early 1980s. It’ll be on at the Sherman in October.
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?
I’ve actually got a playlist called “Just Great Songs!” – with the exclamation mark and everything – and I’m listening to that. Right now it’s playing “In Every Dream Home, A Heartache” by Roxy Music. A title I will almost certainly steal for a play one day. And now it’s playing “Glosh” by Cotton Wolf, from their amazing new album “Life in Analogue”.

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why?
On any day it could be any of dozens of other records, but for today. I find it almost impossible to work in silence, but at the same time if I’m going to work to music it can’t be too engaging, or it’ll distract me. So I’ve got a whole load of records that are maybe not quite music, or just very low key music, that I put on when I need to work. The top one is Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports”, but I use a lot of his ambient albums, especially “Discreet Music” and “Neroli”.

And then there’s a brilliant album called “Electric Enigma”, which is field recordings some guy made by going out into the desert and sticking up a big antenna so he could record radio noise made by cosmic rays and the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field. It’s available for free from the Internet Archive and it’s very beautiful.
And I’ve got a CD-R called “Buildings”, which is two hours of recordings made by sticking contact mikes to buildings with lifts in them. So it’s two hours of lifts, going up and down buildings. Simon Proffitt gave it to me and I don’t know where he got it from. I worry he made it himself. Anyway it’s gorgeous.
“Bendith” by Bendith. Bendith are a Welsh folk supergroup made up of family trio Plu, together with Carwyn Ellis, mop-topped singer from psychedelic pop wonders Colorama.

They came together to make music mostly about Carwyn’s childhood in Carmarthenshire. There’s a lovely documentary show about the project on iPlayer which features live versions of the songs, and lots of pics of the villages and houses Carwyn’s family lived in, lots of elderly men in barns and sheds in the 1970s, and I’ve got a lot of very similar photos of my family in Pembrokeshire. And the music is so breathtakingly beautiful it stops me in my tracks every time I hear it. Not an album I can work to.

“Fantasia on a Theme from Thomas Tallis” by Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams is a deceptive composer in that he seems very catchy and undemanding and writes actual tunes (which is probably why I like him) but there’s a huge melancholy in much of his work (which is probably why I like him). “Fantasia…” was written in 1910 and it is, as its title suggests, a fifteen minute riff on a tune written in 1567 by the Elizabethan composer Thomas Tallis. Aside from being straightforwardly beautiful music, I love it because there is something glorious and heroic about these two men, collaborating across four centuries, together creating something neither could have made alone.

“Night Thoughts” by Suede. I have loved Suede since they and I were skinny indie boys in the 90s. Now they are chiselled indie men and I am a haggard old wreck, but I love them still. “Night Thoughts” is their latest album and I think it might be their best.
It’s nostalgic and sentimental and over-blown and glorious. They made a heart-breaking film to accompany the music that turns the album into what we now call a visual album. I was lucky enough to see a screening of it at Chapter, after which Brett and Mat did a q&a. I couldn’t ask them anything as I was too much of a sobbing mess.

“Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” by Gavin Bryars. This is a 70 minute piece based around a loop of a homeless man singing a brief refrain, which Bryars recorded I believe in Elephant & Castle in 1971. And what Bryars did was to build up an accompaniment to the man’s voice – gradually he is joined by brass, strings, layers of harmony and eventually Tom Waits turns up and sings along with him. There’s something profoundly deceitful about it. No-one really took this man and lavished the care and attention and love he deserved on him, as they did on this snatched recording of his voice. So the piece is a comforting lie. And yet – it is irresistible. It is beautiful. I fall for it every time I hear it. In my guts I feel it is a wonderful tribute, even as I think it is a lie.

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?
“Music for Airports” because I need it to work. But then, it’s not proper music. I could just work next to a lift and have Bendith to listen to. Yes, I’ll probably do that.

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