After missing out on 2 issues of Inspire because we finally found a nice place in Perth!), I thought i might make it up with not 1, not 2, nope not 3, or 4, but 5 inspiring stories. You might also be interested in the face of all the moving, and the lack of a television, I’d read about 10 books in less than 2 weeks. Of course, that included skims and picture books. I’m not the naturally academic sort. And I’m easily turned off by prose. But 2 non-fiction good reads and a few other biographies, climatology, art, Australian birds… So with these characters still fresh and alive in my head (most of them real and living btw, just new to me, that’s all) I thought I’d share with me some interesting and inspiring stories.

  1. Ed Sheeran / Phillip Butah
  2. Janet Ahlberg / Allan Ahlberg
  3. Kasey Chambers
  4. James Bowen / Bob the Streetcat who found him (I’d like to say rather)
  5. Chris McNulty 

My review on Chris McNulty’s performance is a month overdue and it’s most regretful that I didn’t muster up enough courage to speak with her at the end of her show. Truth was she was the personal highlight of the Perth Jazz Festival 2016 for me. While I’m on Chris, let’s decide to feature in reverse order. 


The first thing one might pick up when you hear Chris sing is that she sounds familiar. Her music and her delivery could be completely original since she’s a wonderful songwriter (and jazz vocalist), but you cannot help but recognise the Barbara Streisand and perhaps as my husband eagerly points out, Tania Maria in her voice. Both comparisons are iconic vocal talents themselves and exceptional musicians in their own right, but you could certainly tell her musical influences just listening to her performance of an original arrangement of Strayhorn’s composition ‘A flower is a lovesome thing’.

Chris McNulty at Perth international Jazz Festival 2016

Chris McNulty at Perth international Jazz Festival 2016

Held at the beautiful St George’s Cathedral, the natural chamber acoustics highlighted the rich tones of her voice. Perhaps what stood out most for me was her quiet and unassuming confidence. I identified with her spirit of writing. It was thoughtful and searching. It was kind but not preachy. I appreciated the honesty in her musical choices, and the excellence in her performance and yet, a gentle softness that is warming and almost what keeps the energy in the band warm, and… gelled.

But what moved me most was how she didn’t reveal a heartbreaking story until almost the end of her performance. And hence I won’t either. But buy her cd, listen to it and enjoy the moments of truth that she would bare her heart and soul to you. She paused a while to share a simple message at the end, and it was as a courageous and generous gesture. Through pain and heartache came a boldness to share a little faith, hope and love through her music. Bless her heart. God bless her. 

Music Album "Eternal" by Chris McNulty

Music Album “Eternal” by Chris McNulty

Her cd album is available on ITunes and Amazon

All Chris McNulty images are taken from @McNultyJAZZ (Twitter)

James Bowen on Wikipedia

Bob and James (Image is courtesy of Wikipedia)

Bob and James (Image is courtesy of Wikipedia)

I didn’t plan to go on a biography spree but I must have not realised what I enjoyed, or perhaps needed. Although James did set out at some point to live with his half-sister in London whilst pursuing his musician dreams, the story didn’t quite turn out that way. And that, for me is the beauty. What success means for one could mean so different for another. Many musicians could possibly relate to that. The lesser travelled path. Perhaps, as myself, you may not see success as quantitative at all, and that the process is in its end. The ones to watch may go wow at what you end up achieving, but it doesn’t stop or change why you go on, or in some cases, not. Your driving force isn’t the end, or rather the end is the present. For James, perhaps, if his band had at one point clinched a record deal for example, that would have been to a goal to some form of success. But at rock bottom, which he eventually did hit, he realised that what gave him happiness was a friend. And in Bob, as Bob in him, found. That is the long story Very short. Read all about it here.

To movie-makers, or publishers, this was definitely as James said to his Dad, a one-time “windfall”. But this fairy-tale-ish story, because it isn’t a fairy tale, has hence given hope to many else who needed it, and many more who would need it.

His honesty in telling his story, and simply humility just because it couldn’t have been anyway else, is something anyone could relate to If, they were honest enough. Hope, that is not a flimsy flippant thing,… that is Real; Faith that is that mustard seed worth taking a leap for; Love, that is beyond that for oneself, but the care for someone else, and the compassion to move into action to put aside selfish desires to better a life for each other,… those things brought through Bob to James, helped him recover from his drug addiction. For me, it was true inspiration, in my writing, in my teaching and in my everyday as a human being.

PS: Yes, this issue’s Inspire#4: The Big Issue, is also dedicated to James & Bob, for obvious reasons, if you’ve read the book*.
*or click here.
The film “A Streetcat Named Bob” opens in United Kingdom on 4th November 2016.

Books on James & Bob:
Streetcat Named Bob
The World According to Bob
Social Media:
Twitter @streetcatbob
Facebook @StreetCatBob


Remember the hit song ‘Not Pretty Enough‘?

I dug not only her hit song on her debut album ‘Barricades and Brickwalls’ released under EMI. But years, later after little effort put into to search for her updates, and hearing that she had backed away from the industry, I felt as a friend should, leave her alone, for a bit. To sort her life out.

A Little Bird Told By by Kasey Chambers (A Memoir)

A Little Bird Told By by Kasey Chambers (A Memoir)

Two weeks before, I visited the local neighbourhood library, going through the biography section as I often do, I found a familiar name I thought i’d forgotten. Kasey Chambers. Most musicians, iconic figures, celebrities etc only decide to write a book when they begin thinking about leaving behind a legacy in their time of retirement, and so naturally, you don’t expect someone putting out a book about themselves at about their 30s. But upon reading the first few pages of her book, I understood.

Like how I’d mentioned that my debut album was a closure to an old chapter, and the start of a new. This was a natural move for her. And in doing so, she had indeed, if she ever doubted anymore, reached out to others who identified with her story.

A musician friend of ours had recently shared how the lines between work and love had blurred and it had taken a toll on her. Therapy was required to get her through all the knots. For Kasey, music had always been in her childhood, it was what they did for fun, as a family. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call work. With the success of her debut album ‘Barricades and Brickwalls’, the pace of songwriting, and the pressures of a singing career took a toll on her health. As James Bowen did, she hit a brickwall herself. In the presence of her mother and brother/manager Nash, she confessed she needed help. She had developed an eating disorder, and quickly losing sight of herself.

The rainbow that came out of it was how she realised that she needed to continue playing music, but not as work, to help her get back on track. She didn’t go on as Kasey Chambers for a long time, she hung out in the background, backing singers, doing live gigs with her favourite bands. Basically, she revisited the reasons why she enjoyed music-making in the first place. That helped her recuperate, readjust, reassess where she really needed to be.

Recalling the times when I had myself, withdrawn from all kinds of music because of a doctor’s grave prognosis of what seemed like the end of my music career (because a vocal scan revealed that i had a birth defect called the ‘Horseshoe Defect’ in my vocal cords that would later prevent me from pushing myself further), I truly understood the pain and loneliness of tearing yourself away from something you love, or rather, more like water is to a fish. I also shared her joy and jubilation when she got back to playing music. It is sometimes when the world presents you a dead end that would then push you beyond what you never else would have been able to dream of as a possible path. I would never have been able to share my knowledge as a voice teacher, a stage performer, a jazz musician, a songwriter, if i wasn’t first told I couldn’t.

So yes, Kasey, thank you for taking the courage to do what to you seems like an early autobiography. You were right, when you thought someone else out there could identify with your struggles, on one level or another.

Bless your music, your heart and your stories of the wonderful Outback.

Kasey is currently recording her new album, and preparing to play AmericanaFest in Nashville this September before returning to headline the inaugural Tweed Valley Country Roots Festival (NSW) over the October long weekend. Early bird tickets on sale here.

Catch Kasey Chambers at these venues if you live in Australia or happen to be visiting:
9th July – Shoppingtown Hotel, Doncaster, Manningham
13th August – Goulburn Workers Club, Goulburn
and more here.


Janet & Allan on Wikipedia

Janet's Last Book by Allan Ahlberg

Janet’s Last Book by Allan Ahlberg

In the local neighbourhood library’s Art section, on a 3rd shelf from the bottom hides a thin little book. It stared out shyly at me, and I knew i would adore it the second I set my eyes upon its cover.

Janet’s Last Book“. Three simple power words spelt, person, finite time, and a quiet view into the world – the book. Written by Allan Ahlberg, her husband, about her, Janet Ahlberg. Between the eagerness to read the back cover of the book, the middle pages and all the little illustrations and drafts within, I somehow managed to find the calmness to read through from the first page. It was then I realised this was one of those books that spelt ‘The End’ from the start. It bore a heart-wrenching bittersweetness page to page,… from cover to cover. Since she was never one for hyperboles nor drama, one could witness the writer steering away from expressions of his own longing for his wife.

“Following Janet’s death, Ahlberg retreated to a dark place of inconsolable grief. In 1997 he put together a private book of his wife’s personal work, cards and drawings, for friends and family, titled Janet’s Last Book.” (see SMH article)

And it was most beautifully done, celebrating her love for life, friends and family through her curious eye for art and crafting. She made beautiful things and was a collector of sorts, unwilling to throw much away. She made gifts for neighbours, for friends, for people who helped her out, showing appreciation in the most creative and humorous of ways.

In her last days, lying in bed, she told Allan, ‘Rose would like this’, referring to her own scarf. That was her way of parting.

I was intrigued and inspired by the couple’s team work, love for each other, for those about them, and how they built a little home together with imaginary children, then a real one of their own, their daughter, Jessica Ahlberg. Jessica would be a wonderful children’s book illustrator herself, collaborating with her dad, Allan Ahlberg on ‘Half A Pig‘, Goldilocks‘ and ‘The Bucket‘. She is currently writing and illustrating her own children’s book, something she had been shying away since it had always been the ‘family’s firm’.

What, however is most inspiring lies here. Both Jessica and her mother, Janet started off teaching in classrooms, then realised it wasn’t for them, before going into illustrating. Some of us who had ventured out believing we would be engineers, teachers or dancers end up doing something completely different. And that is okay. Their story is an example of how if the old saying of ‘following your heart’ really sticks.

If however, you happen to be going into illustrating children’s books and working with your husband as Janet and Allan, you’d better be having at least some of their humour. Allan shared that he always came clean that their process was such: he comes up with the story and words in a day and Janet 6-9months of drafting and sketching and illustrating. :)

Leaving with you a video of ‘Goldilocks’, the father and daughter collaboration, and its process:

Find Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s books here.
Find Jessica Ahlberg’s books here.


Ed Sheeran: A Visual Journey (by Ed Sheeran/Phillip Butah)

Ed Sheeran: A Visual Journey (by Ed Sheeran/Phillip Butah)

Last but not least, he’s one of the up and coming singer-songwriters as we know it now. But apparently, it wasn’t the way you’d have imagined. Well, at least not how i had anyway. Not a hugely into pop music for about 6-7 years now, I find myself rather removed from writing contemporary tunes for the radio these days. However, I do have great respect for those who continue to better themselves in the contemporary songwriting business. And in a time as such, singers who really dig finding their own voice in this world of music are really, really interesting to hear out for.

I confess i wasn’t an Ed Sheeran music fan, and perhaps still am not. But I am now of his person. His unassuming spirit, dedication to surrender to his craft, and belief in the simple, honest things in life, to me, have raised him to a place that no current pop artist has yet done for me.

He isn’t your regular sit at home youtube star, he’s been out there, given his all, worked hard on churning out his music as practice pieces ’til he was happy with them. He confesses, some days he gets nothing at all. Some days they keep coming. He lives his life, loves his family, and credits his friends. Ed Sheeran is the real deal, in every way.

If you haven’t yet read his autobiography, please do. If you love his music more than his words, all the more, get the book. It will inspire you to get out there and do your own thing. He confesses in his first chapter that he isn’t naturally your child prodigy in music. Like myself, he wasn’t really exposed to a lot of music as a kid. Whatever my dad listened to was what i ended up listening to. His dad had always told him he could do anything he set his mind to. Took him to concerts and spent time with him. His family never had a TV until he was something like 17. His first TV show was The Simpsons which blew his mind. (As it did ours, I’m sure). I think these were important factors which set the environment for him to keep playing the music. What else are you to do without your video games or your TV these days? You laugh, but it’s true. Just take the noise away, you’d find amazing things to do with your time.

What moved me throughout his rags to riches story was how he continues to dream. Not the way people would want him to. Not the way where he has to hide himself from. Having been signed to a record company before, I do know the games they want you to play. If you could find it in you to have a backbone to say no, you’d be living a lot happier, and lighter in your music career (even if it means giving up work with a certain company). I like the way he chose to say yes to Atlantic Records, because he appreciated being appreciated for his music. He is that loyal guy in the room, quick to spotting the likewise and rewarding that too.

This collaboration was with his good friend, Phillip Butah. The two is a magical pair really. Phillip is the 4th artist I know who is a self-confessing introvert. You can actually see it in his work. It makes you understand the sort of friends Ed and Phillip are. There is a lot of quiet understanding and support between the two. Phillip’s art work of Ed is a fusion of realistic sketching with contemporary colours. I enjoyed the choice selections of Ed’s various profiles.

What moved me most was how genuine this entire collaboration was. The friendship, the moments, and how the two always always credited people and parties who helped them out.

You could not get far in this industry, or ANY if you haven’t learnt the art of crediting others for their work. Most work on many levels especially in the beginning is borrowed, and our sharing of it makes the world go round, IF you credit them respectively. There is more where it came from, so always share and credit and share and credit and share and….That’s co-creativity with the world and with the One who first created us.

God bless you and your art/music.

Share this if The Big Issue (Inspire#4) had inspired you in anyway.

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