Lleuwen - The realities of being a Mumsician
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
Every month an inspiring Mumsician and her story will be featured on the blog, so that others can hear about the reality of life as a working musician and mam. I’m absolutely delighted that the first ever Mumsician to be featured, is one of my heroines, Lleuwen Steffan.
I first saw Lleuwen live at the cosy and intimate live music venue, Ty Tawe in Swansea in 2013 where she was performing with her long-standing musical partner, Breton bassist Vincent Guerin. I was blown away by their performance, and I have followed her music ever since. Lleuwen has recently released her latest album Gwn Glân Beibl Budur on Sain Records and it’s an absolute gem. Crazy, cacophonous explosions of sound are followed by tender, melodic songs; and throughout her ability to convey emotion in a no-messing, direct way is just wonderful. The album has been accompanying me and my bump throughout my pregnancy, so I was delighted when Lleuwen’s handwritten letter landed on my doormat, with her answers to my questions….
In your own words, introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your family:
I’m a singer and songwriter and general musical adventurer. My recent album [Gwn Glân Beibl Budr] is in Welsh and so I often gig in Wales. I live in Brittany though! With my husband Lan am my son Caradog (7 years) and daughter Eira (5 years). I have recently purchased a caravan which will stay permanently in Wales and help with the family gigging situation. I have always been a musician and it just seems to be what I do, so not making music has never been an option in my mind – even if I have 10 kids! Being a professional musician is another affair though and I have no idea how I would manage to juggle motherhood and jobbing musician if I lived in Britain now.
How soon after giving birth did you do your first gig? Tell us about it. Were you ready to do that first gig?
The first gig I did after giving birth to my firstborn was a solo gig in a festival celebrating Cymdeithas yr iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society)’s 50thbirthday. There were many people, the gig was televised. Caradog was three months old and I looked like shit. Never mind! It was a joy and there was a depth to the performance that I had not felt before. My friend was with Caradog while I performed and as I watched them from the stage my boobs started leaking. I like to play big dreadnought guitars though so no one noticed. Or maybe they did. Anyhow, my mind was all over the place and all I cared about was my newborn so things like that didn’t seem to bother me much.
How do you cope with childcare at your performances/on the road? Do you take your children with you? Does you partner travel with you?
I was into everything by Ina May Gasking while pregnant so I had read Spiritual Midwifery and books on the continuum concept etc. I have never really been into rules and I enjoyed the babies sleeping with us and coming everywhere with us. They were almost always in the baby carrier. I could even breast feed then in that. Caradog was not even a year old when I got pregnant [again] so it was utter chaos most of the time. One on each boob. Fortunately for me, my husband was working a lot during that time and so I could stay at home a lot of the time. I still composed though, every day, and seemed to enjoy it even more with babies. I had to refuse a lot of gigs though… including a trip to Japan. It was worth it though because now, with such little age gap, it’s easier. When I am not there I know they look after each other.
Now they are at school I travel alone sometimes. 10 days max or my heart hurts too much. I did bring my daughter with me for my tours of chapels in February [this year] and it was delightful. She got to be proud of her mother and be in the team. I won’t take the kids with me for the next tour because it’s a full band and much preparation for the music plus they would miss school. I don’t want them to fall behind because they enjoy school and enjoy being pupils, so the last thing I would want them to feel was that they have to catch-up on work and friendships. I am fortunate that my husband is so wonderful with them and that he is fine to single-parent them when I do these gigs during school term. During holidays, festival season etc they always come with me, all of us. Family is the ultimate team work!
How do did you deal with feeding or breastfeeding your baby whilst away on the road.
I did buy one of those tit-sucking machines. It was highly recommended by a friend and was crazily expensive. I used it twice. The kids didn’t take the bottle. I think if I had used this machine earlier it would have been ok. I don’t even know. I hated the ordeal anyhow and my 74-year-old former neighbour came to the house while I was expressing the milk. He’s used to milking cows so he gave no shits. I was horrified though. It just didn’t work for me so the kids came with me to the gigs.
Has having children changed you as a musician?
I feel that I honestly create better songs since the children came along. I have more pain and more joy because of them. I worry a million times more about the state of planet earth and whilst what we leave for them. The mess they will have to clean-up and the things they will experience. The things they will have to experience and the possible grand-children… and what about great-grandchildren? What kind of a home will this place be when they arrive? It hurts to dwell on these things and before having the children I did not worry as I do now. But truth is pure, in joy and pain, and it gives more depth to me as a human therefore as an artist. I feel like the kids have taught me more than I will ever be able to teach them. That is something no one had told me before I became a mam. It’s the most surprising thing and it changes and develops as the children grow. Art is about life and so are our little ‘uns!
How often do you go away as a mumsician?
I am obliged to work on a regular basis as part of the intermittent du spectaclehere in Brittany. It is a contract for artists of the performing arts that allow artists to make a living out of their art and allows holiday pay etc for artists. So to answer the question I have to work as either a musician or actor at least five times a month throughout the year. If not, I would lose my professional status as an artist and would have to find another way of making a living (which I have done many times in my life!)
What advice you would offer a mumsician-to-be?
My advice would be to slow down, be gentle on yourself, refuse gigs if you can and don’t want to do them. They really are babies for a very short time. Make the most of it and remember it’s the quality not quantity of the work that is important. I don’t have much advice about making money while you are a new mother though. I had to rely on my husband and felt really bad about it. But now I’m the main breadwinner of the family so every thing does come and go. It’s teamwork.
Do your children take an interesting music?
We love to dance. That is our main pleasure with music, the kids and I. I sing to them before they sleep, usually with my guitar. They like Ar Hyd y Nos. There is a line in that song –
“golau arall yw tywyllwch i ddarganfod gwir brydferthwch” which means “darkness is another light to find beauty.” That lyric has helped my daughter to not be afraid of switching the light off at night!
How easy is it to practice, compose or be creative with a child in the house?
I have loads of open tuning because my children keep playing with the pegs of my guitar and sometimes it sounds great! When they are home I can only work 10 minutes at a time but for songwriting it’s great to have that distance and reflection rather than obsession over bits of the song.