The Life and Songs of Shirley Lynn – Part 1

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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

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!

Stillness, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Abstract Art: Saturday Writing Sagas 8

He asked me, ‘What do you think of abstract art?’

I replied, ‘I don’t have a background in art. I’m a storyteller. But I do like to photograph patterns in nature – ripples in water, how nature becomes abstracted art’

I was thinking how much art fascinates me, and yet I don’t know all it’s history.  I don’t feel equipped to comment about art as if I’m an historian or art specialist/expert. Yet I can comment about it from my heart, from a meditation with the art piece, that is by being with it in a state of grace and seeing what it speaks to me.

What’s this have to do with my writing journey?

This week has been a time to connect with artists in other art forms, such as Alesa Lajana, a song writer, currently learning about weaving , Doris Kinjun, local elder and weaver,  Lyn Marshall a painter, and photographer depicting the creative process in words and reflecting on inner and outer journeys in landscape, and Buffy Sainte-Marie an amazing songwriter (through blogged interviews.)

Wikimedia image. Buffy Sainte-Marie

It’s been a time of conversations, listening,  reading, and taking in the essence of how others create things.

I find myself thinking about the creative writing process as Marshall writes of it, as being in a state of flow, grace, meditation and worship and realise to do this one often needs stillness.

I ask myself – where do I find stillness in my day? I find it in the early morning, before other demands and realities of motherhood, and family, and so much more catch up with me.  It’s before I open diary, facebook,  email – and its connecting to the tablet of heart rather than the tablet of communication.

The time of stillness – time to float, daydream, connect with the messages of memory and experience – and think well what do I really want to say, and why – is precious in the making.  It insists on a space where there are no demands, but a free fall from a plane above life, above meaning; yet it requires diving into the essence of life, contemporary challenges for our society;  for analysis, and creation of pieces that can connect to others.

In today’s time of stillness a free form write for a new poem occurred.  It felt like unpacking dreams, hopes, aspirations.  It became a time to connect with Buffy Sainte-Marie and think about the power of music to add emotion to words, and to consider the power of journeys of people like Lajana, who look for the hidden histories – and the people like Marshall who look for the essence of things like nature – and represent that in abstractions and deep and meaningful titles.

This is the space I need to be in when writing and thinking.  It’s a space where my blog cannot always follow me.  In that space of stillness I enjoy solitude and the sense that no-one is watching me.

The other space where I find inspiration to write is being in the thick of life, experiencing it, being with people, in conversation, and knowing about their journeys.  In this space, I free flow in my google searching, and  can find  Sainte-Marie as easily as Lajana or Marshall, and yet my meetings with them in real space offer something different.  

Another writing Saturday saga meditation perhaps, for another time.

Where do you find stillness to look for your creative flow?

Finding the Zone in Song Writing – through Song Trails Tully

Michelle Walker and Bob Elliston, Singing a Song they wrote after meeting in Last years Song Trails – June Perkins

This year Tully Song Trails  gathered the musical experience of nineteen people from the ages of fifteen to seventy-eight years.

All ages worked together and came from the genres of  bubble gum punk,  folk, country, rhythm and blues, and rock.  We had harp,  saxophones,  bass, flutes, guitar, trumpet and voices – high and low – all of us were motivated to do what we all love- make music.

Peter Farnan was again one of the tutors, this time joined by Morganics a hip hop artist from Sydney.  Both had considerable talent in producing songs, which was  important on the last day of the workshop when two songs were recorded.

The Song Trails Weekend  reminded me of what most of us like in songs and what composers and writers search for to make a memorable song.

1-  A groove in the music.

2- A contrasting chorus and verse – with a stable chorus and unstable verse (reverse this for an unusual effect).

3- Writing with a sense of the history of the genre you are writing in whether it is Blues, Hip, Hop or Jazz.

4- A texture of instruments and voices that fits the groove of the song.

5- Music is collaborative.

6- Instrumental solos can build of be scattered through a song for great emotion and can have a certain feel to them coloured by the song.

7- Writing songs means tapping into creativity through many means, from drawing on the subconscious, the feeling our piece of music gives to us (ie you can begin with the music and then add the words that fit that piece).

8- It’s important to search for the unpredictable rhyme.

9- Having a hook in a song makes it extremely memorable.

10- It is possible to write a song in just over an hour, but it might take more time for it to settle.

DSC_0926_fun (2)
Songtrailers posing hip hop style -taken by Giuliana Bonel

As for the new format of Song Trails, it’s a ripper, from a participant’s point of view you learn a lot more about song making than the original three-hour workshop.  You have a great chance to form connections with other artists, and you see much more of the song producing process if you have never witnessed this before.  We learnt concert protocol and added to our performance experience.

The concert at the end of the three days featured local talent who had participated in the workshops extensively, with Peter and Morganics supporting on instruments and doing just a few of their own works.    The feedback I’ve received from people who headed to the Tully concert was that is was great quality.  They audience were amazed by the newly composed songs and impressed by the local artists – they also enjoyed what Morganics and Peter shared.  Especially Morganics rap/ode to Tully.

The three day workshop format is a ripper, the only challenge I can forsee is that if you have over twenty participants you’re going to need another tutor, to assist in mentoring the groups and recording songs.  Another singer, musician might come in handy throughout the weekend just to have another genre, person with different life experience there.  Although a lot of this can come from participants as well.   It really depends on who turns up to the workshop.

I was delighted QMF employed me to photo document song trails this year.   It might be possible with more of a budget to regularly make a montage  photo video as part of the three-day workshop.  Yes, I know I’m shamlessly plugging for another documentary gig and an extension of this role to possible music video maker, what can I say – I absolutely loved documenting Song Trails as a participant and it was energising wearing the two hats. I threw a photo montage together on the spur of the moment on the Sunday morning, and Morganics did some rhythmic editing to time it to the music.  Hence a small music video was possible!  I went home after the workshop and mixed a montage for another song as well.  Loved doing that but wasn’t really part of my original time budget for the project, just felt moved to do it for participants.

Those attending the concert enjoyed the behind the scenes photographs, especially the family and close friends of the participants.  The parents of the youth participants said their kids came home every day raving about what they had learnt, who they had met, and other local youth are rearing up to do it next year on the recommendation of their mates.  Morganics was a hit with them!

Importantly this workshop worked as everyone was deliberately mixed by the tutors and collaborated with people they did not know, all ages and genres mixed.  This was extremely good for ensuring everyone learnt something new.  So a big thankyou to Peter Farnan and Morganics,  you both did a great job.

In breaks many people were trying out playing the harp of one of the participants, and so many youth want to work with the harpist next time.  I think she felt like quite a celebrity.  Peter was extremely delighted to record a live harp, which he said he had never done before.  So perhaps people will be lining up  for the  facilitator’s experience at  Song Trails remixed and have an experience like Peter’s, although everybody would love to see Peter again as he has such a subtle way of helping you improve a song.

Another highlight for me was extremely talented songwriters turning up to support emerging songwriters by attending the workshops.  Their willingness to attend the workshop really made it for the other less experienced participants, I refer especially to  Michelle Walker, Sue Day and Shirley Lyn, who added to the positive dynamic of the weekend.  More experienced song writers and singers should not discount participating in Song Trails, for the opportunity to meet up and coming artists and form collaborations and friendships.  Who knows maybe some more song trailers will present co-written songs, just like Michelle and Bob did on the first evening.

A big thankyou to Queensland Music Festival, APRA, Cassowary Coast Regional Council, Queensland Government, and Kareeya Hydro for bringing this workshop to Tully and making it so accessible, as the workshop was free.  The support crew of Song Trails were great as well, thankyou so much for all you did whilst in Tully.

Taking a Bow at the Final Concert – David Perkins

Song Trails Returns to Tully time to get organised…

me and guitar
Self portrait – At work song writing

I’ve been at work in the creativity cocoon again, emerging for a walk to the corner store today, only to meet a lady who had been trapped in her home by slippery mud and had then been able to finally get out.  She had a huge smile on her face and was very chatty.  There might be a song in that –  mud free days are here again – she was bright and cheerful and so thankful to finally drive out of her drive way.

I’ve written at least fifteen songs since I began my song writing journey, maybe more, but this week I am finally compiling them and reworking them.   Song writing, like photography, has been something I’ve developed  since living in the ‘rain country’ of the North.  This week I recorded some of  my songs on the mobile and began an audio diary of them.  They are changing as I review them and rework the chord progressions.  I’ll try recording on the tablet as well.

I think I’ll have to build up more courage to share them with musos for feedback.  I am thinking whether to throw key changes in.  Are they too short? Too long? How would they sound on different instruments?

Guitar Prayer

This new-found work ethic is partly because Song Trails is coming up and back in Tully, and it’s returning for three days not just a few hours.  I am not sure exactly how it’s going to work but we do get more time to share our own work this time and we are creating and recording songs.

I don’t consider myself a singer, but hopefully I can carry my songs well enough for others to like them.  One thing I noticed today was that I do sing with a lot of emotion, and the songs have come from somewhere special in nearly all cases, whether it be daily life or a special occasion like the day of the national apology.  I still tear up singing some of the songs even after all this time, not sure if they would affect others like that, but they do mean something to me and that’s a start right.

I love that one of my facebook buddies is so into song writing and she makes a lot of audio files of her songs.    She was excited to know this workshop was on in my area, and sent me a notice about it straight away.  I had already heard about it but good on her, I love friends who will do this for you, encourage your dreams. Amazingly I have never met her, but I would love to one day.  I am sure we would have a jam!  Another friend who professionally  records songs and has heard some of my efforts, has told me to keep on working at the song writing.  I’d love to write a song that Karise Eden would love to sing, really enjoyed watching her journey on the Voice.

Another job I am doing whilst at the Song Trails Workshop is documenting it by photography!   I did document last years workshop and blogged it for Critical Mass, but this year I’m being paid to do it by QMF.  I love taking photographs of events like this so it’s wonderful to do it on a professional basis at a workshop with a topic I love.