Quinns Rocks musician strumming with ‘long-lost friend’ in Clarkson

Digital artist Owen Bell (Quinns Rocks) with his dog Arrow. Photo: Martin Kennealey
Digital artist Owen Bell (Quinns Rocks) with his dog Arrow. Photo: Martin Kennealey

SWEDISH nyckelharpas are rare instruments Down Under, but shoppers may hear one being strummed occasionally in Clarkson and Quinns Rocks.

Owen Bell owns the unusual instrument and busks at Quinns Rocks and Ocean Keys shopping centres from time to time.

“I actually own two, the only ones in WA and, to my knowledge, I’m the only player in the State,” he said.

The nyckelharpa musician will perform in the food hall at Ocean Keys from 11am on September 1, October 6 and November 3.

Bell has played fiddle for almost 40 years and got his first nyckelharpa in 2014, which he likened to “a long-lost friend”.

He said his two fiddles originated in Scandinavia as well – “a Hardanger fiddle which originated in Norway although made in the UK and a curious horn fiddle designed by and made by in Finland by the same guy who designs gardening tools etc for Fiskars”.

“I’ve known about nyckelharpas for years and always wanted one but it wasn’t until the internet that I was able to track them down.

“You can’t just walk into a music shop and buy one, like you can a fiddle or a guitar – unless maybe you’re in Sweden, where they are the ‘national instrument’.

“I was slightly concerned by their seeming complexity and wasn’t sure I could ever learn to play one, and they’re rather expensive.

“Anyway, I tracked down a maker in Queensland, a Swedish man, who only makes about four a year.

“Initially, I got a second hand one from him just to see how I got on with it.

“Amazingly, within an hour of putting it around my neck, I was playing a tune.

“It so surprised me, it brought me to tears, as if I’d discovered a long lost friend.”

Bell said he sold some of his other instruments, including a saxophone and mandolin, but not his fiddles, to get a nyckelharpa made.

“After getting that and having similar success, I recently ordered another as a ‘back up’ and sold the second-hand one back to him as part of the deal to help pay for it,” he said.

“I’ve had the new one for several months. Almost identical in appearance to the first, it has a different tone.

“I rely on my music so much, not only for the sheer joy of playing, but as a form of meditation and even ‘medication’, as I suffer from depression.”

Bell, who said he would be lost without his music, plans to visit family in Cornwall, UK soon.

“A nyckelharpa will go with me, but there is no way I will allow it to travel in the baggage hold, so I am buying a seat for it,” he said.

“After all, who would expect your dear friend to travel in the baggage hold?”

The Quinns Rocks musician will also dress up to play at a medieval fare at Manning Park, Spearwood on October 28 from 1pm to 5pm.

Bell recently spoke to the Times about his work as an artist and the latest set of stamps, featuring frogs, that he designed for Australia Post.