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Lucy Zirins - “As a 12-year-old it was so hard to comprehend the death of my lovely uncle Chris, aged just 41. An accordion player like my granddad, he was learning to play acoustic guitar. When his stuff was cleared out, the guitar and his books and CD tutorials were about to be skipped and I asked if I could have them. I guess I learnt to play guitar to keep his memory alive.”
the clock forward to 2008 and the confused young girl who first picked up a
guitar just four years ago is now an apprehensive 16-year-old, stepping out
onto King Rollo’s Acoustic Stage at the Great British Rhythm & Blues
Festival in Colne. By the time she steps down from that stage half an hour
later, Lucy’s life will have been transformed. As Alan White of
earlyblues.com wrote after the event: “I saw Lucy for the first time at the
Colne R&B Festival 2008 and all I can say is… ‘Wow!’ This young lady will go
far – such a natural talent for the blues in one so young”.
Roll forward another four years and the 20-year-old Lucy has just been voted runner-up in the ‘British Young Artist’ category at The British Blues Awards and in the ‘Blues Matters’ Writers’ Poll has been voted winner of the ‘Best Newcomer’ category and runner-up to Ian Siegal in the Best Solo Artist category. She has just finished recording her debut album at Liam Watson’s famous Toe-Rag Studios in London, with Michael Messer in charge of production and some of Britain’s finest session musicians in support. Lucy’s burgeoning CV now boasts music festivals across the UK, tours to Italy and France, stages shared with such music legends as Buddy Whittington, Walter Trout and the late great Louisiana Red, selection by PRS for Music to represent Britain’s most promising new talent…
And what effect has success had on Lucy Zirins? As an entertainer, it has undoubtedly helped her develop a strong bond with her audiences, boosting her confidence and refining her stagecraft. But as a person she remains the same giggly, engaging, generous and utterly delightful young lady who made me cry “I love Lucy” when I first sat in one of those audiences and saw her perform.
How did Lucy get started in music? “Well”, she explains, “mum and dad played tapes and CDs in the car since I was a baby and I guess the music they listened to rubbed off on me – 60s/70s/80s for mum, blues and rock for dad. I used to make up song lyrics in my head to the sound of the indicators – maybe that’s why I’ve such a good sense of rhythm now!” At this point Lucy breaks into a fit of giggles. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that lovely Lancastrian laughter… and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
With family roots in Cumbria and Latvia, Lucy Zirins was born in Burnley, Lancashire in 1992. She made her stage debut in school as a 9-year-old singer and actress with the lead role in Lynn Brittney’s nativity play ‘Babooshka’. Graduating from Shuttleworth College with excellent GCSEs, she enrolled at Nelson and Colne College, achieving A levels in Music, Music Technology and English Literature – the ideal platform for a guitarist and singer-songwriter. Lucy also achieved Grade 7 Trinity College Vocal (with Merit), Grade 5 Rockschool Guitar and Grade 6 ABRSM Music Theory and was the recipient of college prizes for Music and English.
But, as they say, it’s not so much what you know as who you know. Lucy’s introduction to professional rhythm & blues and the slide guitar came via her influential music teacher at high school, Saph Wright, whose multi-instrumentalist husband Paul Corry played with and wrote songs for the Michael Roach Band and featured with such stars as Jamiroquai and Roy Wood. Paul gave Lucy her first brass slide and after a few months’ practice she bought her beloved resonator, Talulah.
Still just 15 years old, Lucy’s contact with Paul Corry led to her
attending a Michael Roach workshop at Burnley Blues Festival, where she so
impressed the professional musicians present that she was offered a
scholarship to attend Euro Blues Week later that summer. On her first visit
Lucy received The Sam Mitchell scholarship for slide guitar players and the
following year Lucy was asked to return on part scholarship in memory of the
late great John Jackson for young people playing blues. The visits
introduced Lucy to such greats as Orville Johnson, Steve James and Rick
Franklin and gave her a week’s tuition in acoustic and slide guitar under
the watchful eye of Michael Messer. “I have not seen a young girl play and
sing blues like Lucy since Jo Ann Kelly, Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams
started their careers”, declared maestro Messer, a musician regarded as one
of the greatest living practitioners of slide guitar and listed by ‘Spirit’
Magazine alongside Duane Allman and Ry Cooder.
With Michael’s patronage and support and a rapidly-expanding fan base, Lucy’s career began to take off. 2009 saw her cutting an EP of blues covers and originals, ‘Angel Blue’, performing at festivals in Stockport, Morecambe, Burnley and Colne, appearing on BBC Radio Lancashire and becoming one of the youngest ever musicians to receive royalties through the Performing Rights Society.
“Music is my passion because there’s nothing else like it in the world”, explained Lucy.“Nothing else can express feelings like music does and it’s the greatest feeling ever when you can pass those feelings on to the audience. It felt amazing to receive my first check from PRS for Music – it was amazing to have earned money for the thing I love doing most in the world!”
Within a year Lucy and her roadie / photographer / chauffeur / videographer / sound engineer / manager / father Ian had packed their passports and crossed the Lancashire border for festivals and club gigs in Ripley, Harrogate, Keighley, Todmorden and Carlisle. And Lucy was off to the Big Smoke, having been invited to join an elite group of young singer-songwriters at the inaugural 2010 ‘PRS for Music Class Of…’ event at their London headquarters. Where Yorkshire and Cumbria beckoned, the world opened its arms and Lucy found herself on stage in Orkney in Scotland, Beauvais in France and the Franciacorta Festival in Italy. But there was always time for home appearances, including a fourth successive annual appearance at the 2011 Colne R&B Festival.
By now it was becoming increasingly difficult for Lucy to balance the competing demands of her day job and her stage appearances, as she found herself spending an increasing amount of time writing songs. So busy had she been that she didn’t even have her own website. It was time to take stock. At the start of 2012, Lucy Zirins made the decision to pack in the day job and work towards a professional recording contract. Since then she has written several great new tracks and spent time in recording studios with music professionals, working on material for promotion and future album release.
Now a mature and confident 20-year-old, Lucy told me excitedly about the broadening of her musical direction. “I’ll always love blues and I’ll be forever grateful to the amazing blues musicians who have helped me along the way. Joining Michael Messer and one of the last great Bluesmen, Louisiana Red, on stage was an experience I will never forget. But I’m getting more into soul, jazz, folk and country, and really beginning to find my own sound as a songwriter and performer and I think that’s really important. There are only two types of music – good and bad – and I want to write good strong songs that make people feel something. I want to leave a stamp on peoples’ hearts; the way Eva Cassidy, Aretha Franklin and Carole King all did on mine.”
I’ve known Lucy both as an avid fan and as a personal friend now for long enough to know that when she says she’s going somewhere, she’ll get there. It may have thrilled me to see this incredible young musician walk away from the 2012 British Blues Awards bearing the runners-up certificate as Young Artist of the Year, but it didn’t surprise me in the slightest. Lucy Zirins is destined for great things in the months and years to come. Read about it here first – on her new website.
Mike Green, December 2012.