Folkwales Online Magazine March 2012
Gwerincymru — o Gymru o’r byd
by Mick Tems
A talented young musician with strong hopes of a musical teaching career is fighting back after being on life support and at death’s door – and she’s determined to raise as much money as she can for the West Wales puppy rescue centre Many Tears with her trio Pastal’s first CD, called Tears No More.
Stephanie Webb-Elder, from the harbour town of Fishguard, was 15 when she was diagnosed with complex epilepsy. Stephanie – known as Steph to her friends - said: “I’m 27 now. I used to play clarinet when I was 14. My music teacher was working towards me getting a diploma, to go to university for a career teaching music.
“But seven years ago, I was on life support at Glangwili hospital. I had pneumonia, which I didn’t recognise: I just thought I had a cough. But my brain went into status, which is when it fits and fits, and doesn’t come out of the seizure. I was on life support for seven days, and each day I had 40 fits under the general anaesthetic. The doctors wanted to transfer me to London, but I was not stable enough.”
Sheph fortunately survived, but her seizure had effectively wiped her brain’s hard drive – very much like a severe stroke. She had to re-learn so much knowledge: “I couldn’t walk or read, let alone read music,” she said. “My writing was like a seven-year-old. But I was determined to walk - the nurses ordered me to stay in bed, but as soon as their backs were turned I was off up the hospital corridor, dragging myself along the rails.
“My worst moment ever was when I was discharged from hospital. My mum persuaded me to play my clarinet, as she thought it might make me feel better. I opened my clarinet case, but I could not figure out how to put the clarinet together.
“It was just horrible. Before I went into hospital, my clarinet teacher was working towards me going to university and studying music, but I could not put the clarinet together. My clarinet teacher was marvellous, but he couldn’t understand. He kept telling me: ‘But you KNOW this piece of music’ – but I could not remember.”
There were fears that Steph could not survive another two years – but she said: “I’m still here at 27. I’m beating it now - the next target is 30!” She even took up the ‘cello, which had lain unused in her sister Maggie’s room; Maggie is also a hereditary epileptic sufferer.
To guard against any seizure destroying her memory, the specialists suggested that Steph should have a “memory box” – important photographs mementos and songs to jog her brain into remembering events.
“The CD came about because I refused to copy one CD to another,” said Steph. “I thought we could actually play them – so we did.” She had a duo with Alan Coy, guitarist and sousaphone player, so they asked another folk enthusiast, Paul Hayes, if they could use his recording studio for free. Paul agreed – and so the trio Pastal was formed.
“These two wonderful guys have had to put with me bossing them around, telling them what I want on the CD”, said Steph.
“Right from an early age I’ve been told that I cannot have children, because of the anti-epileptic pills I have to take. It’s still possible if you take one, although you still need genetic counselling, because there might be something wrong with the baby. But if you take two or three, having a baby is not possible – and I’m on four.
To me, this was fine; I would carry on with my music. But I always had this urge to care for someone who could rely on me. I contacted Many Tears, a puppy rescue centre in Carmarthen. My mum said we could only have one puppy – somehow, that one puppy has increased to eight!”
Steph wants all the cash from Tears No More to go to Many Tears. There has already been a party launch to send the CD on its way. Paul said: “As long as people enjoy the music, that makes us happy. If we can raise funds for Many Tears or for Epilepsy, that’s good.”
The CD has won support from George Whitfield, Fiddlebox and Pressgang musician, and other artists including Eric Bogle. It turns out that Steph contacted Eric, asking for permission for Pastal to perform one of Eric’s famous songs, Leaving Nancy. Eric replied, saying how he loved dogs and giving the go-ahead. The trouble was that Pastal hadn’t recorded it – Steph had asked Eric about the wrong song.
Pastal hurriedly went into the studio and recorded Leaving Nancy, which is a bonus track on Tears No More. The price of the CD is £10, and Many Tears will receive a big whack out of this.