At one time or another, either my booker, promotion company, fans, promotors or journalists have all asked me…
…for an information leaflet that not only addresses my latest release but also provides a little background on me. Even though a professional writer would undoubtedly do a better job, I have decided to write the Biography myself. After all, who knows more about my journey than I do?
My name is Shirley Ann Grimes. I was born on October 11th, 1972 in a small town in the South-West of Ireland, called Killaloe. I grew up there with my parents and twin sisters. We were, by Irish standards, a small family but were (often to my dismay) related to half the village, which didn’t make life easy for the wayward child I was. I couldn’t get away with anything. There were ears and eyes all over the place.
I don’t have a lot of fond memories from my childhood. When I look back, the most prevailing memory I can conjure up is one of confusion. I just never really fit in. But that story is for another time….
I borrowed my first guitar when I was 15. I went to a couple of classes where I learned a few chords but most of my learning was done amongst friends, some of which had started to play the guitar around the same time as me. Jesus, we practiced until the tips of our fingers were raw. We learned every folk song known to man. We played Bowie, Dylan, Donovan, Led Zeppelin, Christy Moore, Chart toppers, anything we could get our untrained fingers around and as soon as we had enough songs in our repertoire, we formed a band, got a regular gig in the smallest pub in the village and filled it every week. We were a trio, Hyper, Chris and myself and we called ourselves ‘Everything but the gear’. We were great! Not because we were exceptional performers or cover artists but because we let the music ignite us, get inside us and let it do its thing. When you are sixteen and the walls of your hometown begin closing in around you, making music can be a lifesaver.
I had always sung for myself and for friends of the family who came over to our house after an evening in the pub but playing the guitar opened an entire new world to me. It was during the summer of 1989, that I met two great traditional musicians, Martin (Murt) and Bríd Ryan from Newport, Co. Tipperary. Murt was a magician on the box accordion and Bríd, a relentless lover of traditional music and the craic, played Banjo. They were always up for a session and as soon as they heard me sing, they made room in the car for me and brought me everywhere they went. I played with them and many the great traditional musician for the following two years, right up until I boarded the boat that was to take me away from Ireland in the summer of 1991.
Like many young people, I wanted to travel and see a bit of the world but above all else, I had a real urge to leave Ireland. Bar on a school trip, I had never left the Island before. I was a gullible 18-year-old, had very little money in my pocket but I had my friend Sylvia with me, a guitar on my back and knew, that if all came to all, I could busk for my keep. The boat brought us to Le Havre where we hitched a ride on a cattle transporter that brought us to Rennes. From there we hitched to Paris before taking a bus to Amsterdam. When I look back and think of some of the things we got up to. Our guardian Angels must have been on full alert 24/7.
Before leaving Ireland, I had met a Swiss girl who had invited me to make a stop-over in Bern, should I be passing through Switzerland. She told me Bern was a great busking town and because her ex- boyfriend was a bass player, she knew a lot of musicians and could maybe hook me up with a few of them. On the night of my arrival in Bern, I went to the ‘Altstadt Sommer’, a summer concert series in the city center where I met the two musicians who were to become my co-conspirators for the following couple of years: Bänz Oester and Gilbert Paeffgen. We immediately began playing concerts together and within a year, were invited to play the main stage at the renowned ‘Gurten Festival’, a next to impossible gig to land. Things took off, gigs were coming in left, right and center and by the end of 1992 we had recorded our first CD “Songs of Seas and Ferries”. It was a roaring success.
But Bänz and Gilbert weren’t the only musicians I met upon arrival. Whilst busking one day, an Australian girl called Nik Hanlon approached me. She was a singer songwriter, dating a Scottish singer-songwriter. We became friendly, began busking together and ended up causing traffic jams in Bern. I remember massive crowds gathering around while we two teenagers belted out all the songs we loved. Bern was a great busking town back then and Nik an experienced traveler. Me, I had just begun my travels and was so grateful for the guidance she provided. Nik went on to tour Europe and America with B-Goes, after which she moved back to Australia where she now lives in the rainforest.
Within a year of moving to Switzerland, things had begun to happen and although I had always wanted to live a life around making music, I hadn’t expected it to actually happen! I wasn’t ready for all the buzz. Performing started to totally stress me out. I just wasn’t enjoying the experience anymore. so I quit and stopped playing music completely for over 2 years, publicly for 4. Instead, I got involved in a government funded Youth Project called “Via Felsenau”. The origins of this project lay in the youth movement that took Bern by storm in the mid 80`s. Thousands of young people had taken to the streets to voice their anger towards a society that was too set in its ways and was unwilling to cater for or support what young people might envision for their future. Thanks to the relentless protests that went on for quite some time, several projects were initiated by local government. One of them was a project where young people were provided with land on which they could build a communal living space. As a result, Europe’s largest clay house with six apartments was built. Each apartment had five bedrooms and a communal living space. I joined the crew when the project was well underway. The clay house was built on a 220 meters squared, concrete Basement. The Basement lay empty after the completion of the house. Money was tight and we knew that we had to somehow make use of that space. A large group of us decided to open a club. Within six months, that large group had shrank to five. That club went on to become Bern’s first “Techno” club. I spent four years as a part of this team. They were exciting times, wild times and full of learning experiences. I have unfortunately no photo evidence for my time in Via Felsenau….a real pity…
In 1996, I started work on my second album. Gilbert Paeffgen and Joe McHugh brought me out of hibernation by inviting me to sing on their 1996 Album “Offshore”. Gilbert told me he had met a bass player called Wolfgang Zwiauer, whom he thought would be perfect for my songs and as soon as I met Wolfgang, I knew Gilbert had been right. Little did he know that Wolfgang would not only go on to become a long standing musical partner of mine but also my life partner and father to both my children. I scraped together the money I needed to fly Wolfgang, Joe, Gilbert and myself over to Ireland to record my second Album ‘Ode’. I released ‘Ode’ on my own label. ‘Ode’ was my debut as a songwriter. I was very nervous at its release. I had no idea how people would react to it. At the time that still really mattered. I was 24, still young and had convinced myself that I could and should conquer the musical world! ‘Ode’ was given the title ‘a small masterpiece’ by the press and I the title ‘Queen of Melancholy’. It was an important album for me on every level.
Wolfgang was a young and upcoming talent. Extremely musical and completely flexible, he could play equally brilliant no matter what the genre. He introduced me to Fabian Kuratli, who went on to become my first drummer and Oli Hartung, who went on to become my first electric guitarist. Folk Shirley, went electric! I was drawn away from acoustic music towards a rockier, poppy kind of sound. In hindsight, I know I just felt this was the way I had to go, it was what I thought people wanted to hear. I had no experience in this area of music, so I went and got myself experience in the form of Mat Callahan, a Californian producer who had just moved to Switzerland. Mat guided me on my path away from what I had done up until then. He gave me extreme confidence in my writing and supported all the changes I felt I had to make. In 2001, ‘New Waters’ was released.