Music is a big part of my life, but there are some things that are obviously more important, family being one. It’s pretty impossible to sum up in a few words how they have shaped me as a person, but maybe I can give a few insights into how they’ve taken part in my musical journey.
I couldn’t say for sure where I became aware of music, but one of my first musical memories is of my Grandmother and her Piano. We’d visit her after school and run wildly around the room as she played “Peter and the wolf”, and we’d re-enact it. She was a classical pianist, with a great passion for music. From what I’ve picked up my Grandfather, a Scotsman, used to sing arias with her for the joy of it, and though I never met him, I’m told we had similar voices. My mother studied at Guildhall in performing arts, before going into theatre for a number of years, so she also sang a lot, and Dad grew up on a farm, attending the local village church through his youth, which engendered a healthy appetite for singing in general.
All in all, my family embraced and loved music, but we were not a musical family in the sense that some I know are. We were all encouraged to learn instruments. I began on recorder, and my sisters on piano and violin. Though I enjoyed it, I was never very good at practice and was not great at reading sheet music. I wish to this day I knew more theory because I’d love to compose some arrangements at some point in the future, but it’s a skill yet to learn. I think it was my Dad who decided that I would need an instrument that I could practice in an informal way, so he gave me a guitar. That’s when I began to learn by ear or through friends giving me chords as I went. I guess I learnt through participation rather than books or lessons. I did try lessons but I couldn’t learn that way. When I think about these things, perhaps I wouldn’t have ever come to writing music if my family hadn’t created this atmosphere, or these moments hadn’t occurred, I guess I’ll never know! Funnily enough I feel that my limited knowledge of music forced me into improvising, and so I began to discover musical creation.
Anyway, skipping on a few years I had written a number of songs, a lot of them I’m sure were not great, but my family were very kind and would encourage me to keep going. Steadily they got a bit better, and it started to become an accepted thing in the house that I would sit in the kitchen and play background music. I think everybody, including me, saw my music as a hobby and nothing more. But even in that light, my family encouraged me to continue writing. It was only years after, when leaving university, that I decided to take it more seriously. I thought it was the right time in life to see whether I could do something with the songs i’d write. It was step by step, there was no big dream.
The first year or so was very hand to mouth, and I worked a couple of jobs to make rent. I was new to London, and not very suited to it, but I said to myself that if things went backwards I’d stop and pursue something different. It was a completely new experience for me, finding gig venues etc. and must have been even newer to my family who had to watch on. It didn’t exactly move forward quickly, but it didn’t go backwards either, so I continued. Both my sisters have also gone into freelance creative jobs, one an illustrator and the other a photographer. So none of our routes can have been an easy ride for the parents.
However, I never had anything but support from my family. I was always welcome to escape London and head home, and remember the things that I loved about writing. That’s one very important thing, my family, when I felt lost, always reminded me of who I was, where I came from, and what I loved doing. They kept me grounded, and still do. And I’m very privileged to have that. I think both my parents have had experience with journeying in their own way, and Mum has always had the insights into the difficulty of creative walks of life through her thespian days, so they have always been understanding. Both my sisters have been involved throughout, and have just collaborated on the artwork for my new album “little giant”. I’m so glad to have friends and family involved, their support has been a real foundation, there participation a joy, and they have helped me to continue loving what I do.
Roo Panes’ album Little Giant is available now.