The symphony of history: Brian Morgan meets Wagner's great-great-grandson, who is following in the composer's footsteps

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
NOT EVERY visitor to Cenarth, west Wales, is there for the salmon fishing, or to see the waterfalls and coracles. Some call at the Teifi-side home of Adrian Wagner, to buy cassettes and CDs from one of Wales's least well-known musicians.

Wagner? Bizarre enough: but even more so when you learn that this is the great-great-grandson of Richard Wagner, composing, performing and producing his own recordings, as well as keeping alive a historic Wagnerian link with this part of Wales - Richard Wagnervisited Aberystwyth with Liszt, where he saw the wooden grail of Nanteos and planned Parsifal.

This is the only cultural link with Richard Wagner that Adrian will acknowledge. He gets anonymous death threats from people he assumes share his own hatred of what the name Wagner became synonymous with.

Adrian's own account of his descent runs like this: Richard Wagner had 13 illegitimate children by various opera singers during his first marriage. As was customary, the children bore the father's name. One of these children came to England with his two sons. One of the sons, Adrian's grandfather, set up drapers shops in London. The other went to Cornwall to run tin mines.

Adrian's grandfather fought for the British during World War I, but was interned briefly during the Second World War and his shops were burned down by local people. On his release, he joined his brother in Cornwall, starting a coal merchant business. He was known as the 'singing coalman', because of his passion for opera and for delivering arias along with the coal. Adrian remembers his grandmother telling him to keep quiet when visitors were in the house.

Adrian's late father, John Wagner, was a professional musician, who joined the Marines, then the Royal Air Force, becoming the force's musical director. His mother, Gwendoline, is a former member of the Glyndebourne chorus. Adrian was born in Kent in 1952, learned music in choir school, and was taught arrangement and orchestration by his father.

But at the age of 17, he heard Pink Floyd for the first time. It led to a complete change in direction. No more formal music training after that, he says: 'The music I heard them play - 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' and 'Interstellar Overdrive' - made me want to escape choirs and orchestra and create my own sounds.'

He set up his own band, learned recording technology, took a job with Bob Moog, the synthesizer guru, and then produced his own budget-price keyboard, the Wasp. It sold vast numbers but lost money, bankrupted him, and in 1981 cost him his home. After just three weeks of unemployment, Fairport Convention asked him to mass-produce the cassettes of their latest album. That enabled him to start again, building up a client list of 300 bands, all of whom still use his company, Music Suite.

Adrian has been composing since the Seventies, but much of his work has been for television commercials - one, for Cadbury's Smash, had Martian-like voices from the Wasp synthesiser - and Panorama specials such as 'Silkwood' and 'Mafia Wars'. Adrian wrote music such as 'Inca Gold', which he now owns after originally recording it for Chrysalis. This has been re-released on Music Suite and is his most successful disc, with sales into six figures.

In 1985 he brought Music Suite to Wales. This is where Adrian Wagner registers the only connection with Richard. The grail quest Richard Wagner adopted for Parsifal has become Adrian's own leitmotif (his description).

Adrian discovered the book The Holy Blood and Holy Grail (about the legend of Rennes-le-Chateau), the Mabinogion, the Welsh holy grail tradition, and planned his latest album, The Holy Spirit and The Holy Grail, incorporating the proposition that the world's ills can be laid at the door of male-dominated religions.

What kind of music is it? He says: 'I'm not insulted by the term New Age, because my customers read magazines like Chalice or Resurgence. If it were sold in record shops, which it isn't because they say there isn't room on their computers, it would be half-way between rock and New Age. It is sold in gift shops and places that sell alternative remedies. But unlike true New Age music, it is meant to be listened to, not to relax with. My first review, in Country Quest, says it is 'dripping with energy', and 'charged.' '

All 16 tracks, with titles like 'Crucifiction' and 'The Vision', were recorded in Cenarth using digital technology (and mastered by another Welsh company Nimbus Records). Adrian is now working on an orchestral version.

The Holy Spirit and the Holy Grail: cassette pounds 7.95, CD pounds 9.95 (both prices include p&p), from Music Suite Ltd, Cenarth, Dyfed, SA38 9JN. Tel: 0239 711032.

(Photograph omitted)