It’s a cold Brisbane morning when I phone Shirley Lynn, a singer-songwriter, based in the much warmer Cairns. I first met Lynn at Song Trails, a weekend song writing workshop, Tully, in 2012 and was impressed by her constructive and enthusiastic communication and the original compositions she shared.
Since then Lynn has been having some great musical achievements which include: releasing an EP called “It’s About Time”, winning a competition to promote the Port Douglas Carnivale with her original song, “My Kind of Paradise, in 2012, producing a video of this with a RADF grant and most recently releasing an EP of songs with her duo, Silktones, titled “Liberty.” Lynn’s journey to these achievements is an interesting and inspiring one.
With a warm coffee at my side we begin by tracing how Lynn first began her musical journey.
I wrote my first songs as a teenager sitting in my bedroom in the Atherton Tablelands. Early songs were sometimes about saying things that were difficult to express in other ways. Since then the lyrics of my songs have always been important to me but my recollection of specific songs written as a teenager is vague.
My first instrument was the piano, both my grandmother and mother played piano. I had lessons and did a certificate three in music but by high school I wasn’t into ragtime and the type of music they were teaching me anymore. I took up the guitar and then continued to teach myself.
I was lucky at the beginning because many opportunities to share my music just found me. I played a lot around the Atherton Tablelands at local venues: pubs, hotels, restaurants. My parents were very supportive. Initially I had borrowed a friend’s PA system to perform then before too long, Mum took me to Cairns where I purchased my own gear.
Lynn had a positive beginning with her music at the same time she worked as a teacher.
Whilst I was a teacher I didn’t do as much writing but continued to play the guitar and perform locally.
Some of the things I did as a primary school teacher when teaching writing and creativity to children, like brain storming, drafting and reshaping, I apply to my own song writing process. After a trip overseas in the mid-eighties I began to write songs again. I wrote a song and played it at my sister’s wedding.
I did take an interest in the recording process when my husband and I spent time working in in the Torres Strait (he was principal of the school on Yam Island) and we had a four track Tascam recorder.
We regularly produced a radio segment called “Chit Chat” for the community radio which was broadcast every Friday. The show was produced for the purposes of the children’s language development, and always included music and songs from the students. We sent it to Thursday Island where it was then broadcast throughout the Strait. At that time I did experiment with some song ideas and still have remnants of those recordings somewhere, one I specifically remember was called “Mango and Malibu”.
When my two sons were born, I concentrated on singing them lullabies and nursery rhymes and my desire to perform and create music otherwise went by the wayside.
About eight years ago Lynn quit teaching and was attracted back to making music more central to her life again. Although initially she didn’t head straight back into music, instead completing some IT training specialising in technology and website construction, she worked from home initially then for the TAFE and the Indigenous Lead Centre as a project officer and an instructional designer completing various projects over her 7 years there.
However, something was still missing. This led to Lynn resigning from her TAFE job and seeking a new pathway through an old and long standing love in life – music. Lynn shares that her husband has been incredibly supportive through her whole process of discovering an authenticity about herself through her music.
In the last few years music has become the pivot in Lynn’s life; she cannot let a day go by without picking up her guitar and working on songs and her craft of song writing. The words and music tend to come into existence together as she creates her songs with guitar and notebook in hand:
I began my journey back into music doing open mics. I had notebooks of songs and would work on them until they were ready to share publicly, and then test them out at places like Songwriters on the Waterfront. This is held at Mondos, and run by Terry Doyle. Terry has done a lot to support the promotion of original music and he has launched 25 albums from local artists in Cairns.
This open outdoor mic event features all original songs (no covers). It is a magic and relaxed location where people dine and listen to music. It happens regularly, unless it rains.
Lynn characterises her songs as ‘lyrical and rhythmic in their style,’ and is keen to not be put in a genre pigeonhole as she continues to want to experiment and explore.
I don’t like to be put in a box, but now when I contact radio stations and enter more song writing competitions the genre question is frequently asked, so I find myself having to reflect on it with a need to consider how to best categorise them.
On the Liberty CD the sleeve cover describes the work as swing blues, country pop, and folk. As I listen to her music again and some of it for the first time, each of her songs seems to have different combinations of these genres making for interesting fusions (I will do some album reviews in future blogs).
Lynn’s return to music has been accompanied by an intense thirst for learning the craft of song writing, which was part of the reason she was at Song Trails 2011-2012:
I am open to learning, and enjoy going to music camps to engage and learn things from being with other people; afterwards aiming to consolidate the skills picked up and begin to incorporate learning that inspires me into my own practice.
Lynn stresses how her song writing process is ‘evolving’ and changing as she learns from various activities she has engaged in including: workshops, online research, books she reads, collaboration with others and recording:
Lynn found inspiration from Kristina Olsen who has tutored at Music on Magnetic camps that Shirley has attended three times.
Kristina provided so many song writing tips, I still go back to her website to draw on her expertise and remind myself of things that she taught.
More recently, I have completed an online course developed by Pat Pattison and I am in the process of reading a couple of his books. I find the knowledge that he reveals very helpful too particularly when he is talking about stable and unstable structures.
Lynn, who performs solo, duo – Silktones, and in a band Blue Tonic has found collaborating with others both challenging and inspiring.
It helps to be open to suggestions and ideas because you can come up with things that might not have occurred when working solo. Sometimes it can also be challenging when different tangents collide – collaboration can hit a wall without some flexibility from those in the process.
..…TO BE CONTINUED in the next installment we discuss how Shirley gained her confidence in performance, how Silktones was formed, the inspiration for some her songs, and more!