The Life and Songs of Shirley Lynn – Part 1

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At Song Trails – Taken by June Perkins

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.

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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.

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Shirley with Songwriting group at Song Trails

 

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:

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At Mondos – photo supplied

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.

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CD Cover Image – Supplied

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.

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Blue Tonic with Jim McCabe

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!

Nature Boy

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The poster words were recorded by Nat King Cole.  Nature Boy“is track #10 on the album The World Of Nat King Cole. It was written by Ahbez, Eden but made  famous by Nat.

This poster is my artistic tribute to this song, which has become a jazz standard.

Eden was a singer songwriter, Hippy nomad, beat poet,  who lived in a park in LA.

Online I found recordings by Cher, Celine Dion and  American Idol  contestant in 2011 Casey Abrams.   Furthermore, it was used in the movie Boy with the Green Hair.

I like the Ella Fitzgerald version of  Nature Boy because of the beautiful background guitar.

Another haunting version is by  Afro Blue Nature Boy .

I often enjoy writing with music in the background to find a rhythm and tone.  As a young writer I loved jazz.  Not many people in my household like it.  But secretly, I still love a bit of jazz,especially something as haunting as this, which can be sensitively interpreted by the artist and  has an interesting background story.

Toni Morrison wrote a book called Jazz that two university class mates bought for me one birthday, a sad tale but with a beautiful use of language that I have never forgotten.

Perhaps I’ll write some Haiku with this melody running through my head.  Perhaps I’ll write a novel with someone as a jazz musician (wrote a poem called that once).

 

What books do you know which are greatly inspired by music for their structure and language?

Mother’s Day Inspiring Stories

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Violinist bats (sculptures in the park), goannas and ducks attract the attention of my children. We all enjoy the reflections of the late afternoon.

The ducks pose.  Birds feed on the flowers. Sound of Music classics from the band’s free concert fill the park. ‘Climb Every Mountain’and ‘My favorite things.’We all like different songs from that one.

The garden is so full of green, colour and people.  A mother walks past and says, ‘if you just stay calm I’ll give you chocolate when we arrive at the car.’ Friends meet and the Dads tell each other’s children to be excellent to their mother, not just today but everyday. I store the day in photographs, poetry and this blog.

I like days like these as stores for future short stories.  Perhaps I will have a mother with curious children trying to make her away around the garden. She learns to be patient and see the world through their eyes again.

Perhaps however the children are impatient, and it’s the mother who wants to stop and look at everything with her brand new digital camera. Perhaps I could write a story about a bat who wanted to join the orchestra and went in search of a violin maker. They are sick and tired of being in photographs, but are happier if they can take photographs just like Mum.

Now, I am seven again, watching the ducks – writing a poem.  I am a child with my mother walking under a bridge as she tells me tales of ancestors and bridge spirits who will look out for me.

Word Rain

I found the opening phrase of this poem in an old notebook – but the lines after that are all new.  Some days editing and reshaping comes so easily.  A long hiatus makes cutting so much easier.     

I have days where rhyme is on my mind and that’s the time to attempt poems that require them.   I haven’t had one of those for a while, so I’m not going near rhyming forms in my poetry challenge, not yet.  

Word Rain is over on the ever rippling on Ripple Poetry Blog.

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Word Rain – June Perkins

It’s hard work
sowing word seeds
that don’t want to grow
into story grain
but brace against it
waiting for rain’s inspiration.

Rain pitter patters
on the ground
sings out
the beginnings of stories
invites
the creation of metaphors.

But rain laughs
at its cliches
as couples take shelter
only to discover
they’re in love
& teases
as droughts end
& country folk run out to taste & dance

Rain brings floods,
sends people to the tops of rooves
into arks
with animals two by two

But when you smell
petrichor you understand &
find your unique story

Those memories
take you to a story place

There a man in a canoe crosses the  river
of what once was a road
& a smiling woman waits for him
in a blue raincoat.

You have found your beginning.

By June Perkins

She Shared Her Medal

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This story appears at ABC Open’s  I Was There – 500 Words Project

Head over there to read the work of other contributors to this project.

The Paralympics, in 2000, gave us one of the most precious memories of our life in Sydney.

My husband and I were living there with our two young children (our youngest was not yet born.) We were both looking after them, whilst doing our PhDs  at the University of Sydney on scholarships, and had just moved to the inner city.

Obtaining tickets to the Olympic events was hard and expensive. We were on a pretty tight budget. We chose instead to watch the Marathon with some close friends, from the road side (cheering on the world with a banner and chanting ‘World, oi, oi,’ which people joined in with) and watch what we could on television, including the race to stop the Nation, with ‘Our Cathy.’

However, when the Paralympics came along there were many tickets still available and everyone in Sydney was encouraged to support the paralympians as much as the Olympians so we knew this was our chance to make it to something special. The organisers wanted full venues and began to offer cheaper tickets to some of the events.

We decided it was a brilliant opportunity to see some athletes doing their bit for their countries, and went to buy tickets to the athletics, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis.

What an experience!

These athletes were so talented, humble and approachable.

We felt honoured to be able to witness their feats in the sporting arena and at the athletics there was an extra treat. Many of the athletes sat amongst the crowd between their events and freely mingled.

We were sitting a few seats down from a medal winner, Tracy, a visually impaired runner from England, and wanted to congratulate her on the recent win in the 200 metres we had just seen. She had blonde hair and a kind face and wasn’t very tall. Everyone around us seemed to be doing the same, so we didn’t feel shy to and began to approach her. Before we knew it my eldest son (at the time just a toddler) was sitting on her lap for a photo with the medal around his neck.  I remember her coach or manager lifted our son up to make it easier for him.

She also signed our Paralympic program.

We saw her and other Paralympians as we wearily but happily made our way out of the stadium later.  They were surrounded by admiring youngsters, having photos taken, autographing and encouraging them to do their best whatever life deals them.

They had no trouble being ambassadors as well as athletes and did it with such unforgettable dignity.

To this day, every four years when the Paralympics is on the telly we take the time to watch it. And although it may not be as commercially successful as the Olympics the stories of each of the athletes have a tendency to be inspiring.

We think back to our own special moment, participating in the history of the Paralympics.
(c) June Perkins