Music in the Key of Shortis

A unique take on the world of music

 After a very well-attended series of courses in Canberra, John Shortis now brings his personal quirky take on the topic to the Southern Highlands, exploring its patterns and mysteries- chords, keys, time signatures, modes, harmony, melody, and music notation, explained like never before.

John Shortis is a musician, a songwriter, an arranger, who has made a living from music for over 40 years. He’s written countless songs for kids and adults, orchestrated for full symphony orchestra, written the music for an opera, had 3 composer-in-residences, and much more.

His formal music education is short- a year of piano with the nuns, a year or two of euphonium and trombone in the school brass band- yet his musical knowledge is wide, his passion for music theory palpable, and he is puzzled by the fact that, to many, this gripping area of music is seen as something dull and boring. To him it’s endlessly engrossing, a source of permanent fascination and discovery, a page-turner.

They never knew it, but The Beatles were his surrogate music teachers. Back in the ‘60s, as new songs of theirs came out he would play them by ear, and was intrigued by their chords, their melodies and harmonies, their key changes, time signature shifts, use of modes, and all in a vast range of styles.

His unorthodox learning methods have led him to develop his idiosyncratic slant on the world of music, which will form the basis of a 4 week course, called Music in the Key of Shortis. Full of stories, humour, context, chord wheels and patterns, watch as the mysteries of music unfold from Shortis’s quirky viewpoint.

And what better way to learn about music theory than from a man who’s never had a theory lesson in his life! THIS WILL NOT BE DULL!

‘…..Thank you very much.  I found your explanation memorable, what a privilege to be taught by someone who lives and breathes music and communicates like a poet….Thank you so much John – this is fabulous. As a young kid who found theory overwhelming and just didn’t get it, and gave up, I might just have passed those exams if I’d had your explanations! What I do remember is now falling into place…’

Saturdays May 23/30, June 13/27, 2-4pm                                   

$80/$70 concession                                                                        

Robertson Community Technology Centre                                            58-60 Hoddle Street Robertson (opposite Robertson Farm Machinery)                                                                                           

Bookings essential 6238 1827, or


Good Evening Europe- the untold story of Eurovision

To mark the 60th Eurovision Song Contest, and Australia’s new role as competitor in the event, Shortis and Simpson take you on a roller coaster ride through six decades of European history, complete with glitter, over-enthusiastic dance moves, and corny songs (there is the odd good one too). Founded in the mid fifties to bring Western Europe together through television, the Eurovision Song Contest is more than singers and songs. It mirrors the extraordinary changes that have occurred in that continent from post-war Iron Curtain to Middle East conflicts, the fall of the Berlin Wall to wars in the Balkans, Polish Popes to Russian grannies, French ballads to pappy pop and world music- it’s all there, and more in Good Evening Europe. Not to mention Abba, Cliff Richard, Sandie Shaw, Buck’s Fizz, Dana, Dana International, the bearded Conchita, and Riverdance. It’s fun, surprising, daggy and moving. So get yourself to Vivaldi’s the week before the 60th show hits the airwaves, and boom-bang-a-bang, ring-ding-a-ding, and ding-ding-a-dong. Four shows only.

Teatro Vivaldi, ANU campus

Thurs/Fri/Sat May 14/15/16, 7pm (3 course dinner and show) $70/$80/$90(depending on seating)

Show only $30/$40/$50, 8.30pm

Sun May 17, 5.30pm (canapés and show) $40/$50/$60(no show only)

Bookings 6257 2718




John Shortis has been working with the community in the Dandenongs area east of Melbourne, to create a show for the Anzac centenary, based on local stories. It has a cast of 300 kids and adults, a 50-piece band, and Shortis and Simpson.

Mt Evelyn Discovery Church, Sat Apr 18, 2pm

Belgrave Heights Convention Centre, Mon Apr 20, 7pm

To book……

OUT OF THE CABINET 1988 and 1989

OUT OF THE CABINET 1988 and 1989

Cabinet documents meet the Enlighten Festival

Another lot of cabinet documents have been released at the National Archives, and as usual Shortis and Simpson will present a musical and satirical look at the relevant years (1988 and 1989), accompanied by an overview from Archives historian, Dr Nicholas Brown.

’88 and ’89 gave us the Bicentennial, new Parliament House was opened, the Fitzgerald Inquiry was in full swing, George Bush senior became US President, the events at Tiananmen Square unfolded and the Berlin Wall fell. Bob Hawke cried on national television, Andrew Peacock replaced John Howard as Opposition leader, and it was the time when the first ACT elections were held.

Our music charts were jumping with the hits of Crowded House, Madonna, Tracy Chapman, The Bangles, U2, Bobby McFerrin, INXS, Ian Moss and much more.

Out of the Cabinet is part of the Enlighten Festival, so make it a night out- see our public buildings illuminated, and enjoy Shortis & Simpson’s humorous musical journey through 1988 and 1989. These shows always book out, so book now.

National Archives of Australia. Fri March 6, Sat March 7, 6.30pam and 8.30pm each night. $16/$13 concession. Event lasts 1 hour. To book go to




Songs of migration to accompany A Ticket to Paradise?

A Ticket to Paradise? is an exhibition that delves into the rich diversity of the nation’s migrants and their experiences, and looks at promotional campaigns which presented a Utopian view of Australia as a welcoming country full of opportunity. The exhibition features archival film footage, audio recordings, and many images of migrants taken between the 1940s and 1990s, and a special interactive globe featuring personal stories of migration.

Join Shortis and Simpson and their Worldly Goods choir as they perform songs related to this theme, then have a wander through the exhibition.

National Archives of Australia, Queen Victoria Terrace, Fri/Sat Feb 27/28, 7pm, free. No bookings required. Performance lasts 20 minutes.


We,ve Got Our Standards

Shortis and Simpson present a Christmas show with hardly a Shortis original song in sight. It’s because their new show, We’ve Got Our Standards, is made up of well-known songs, but given the Shortis and Simpson treatment.

Their definition of standards includes the American songbook, but goes way beyond into the worlds of classical, folk, world music, country, TV themes, and of course Christmas songs. And they’ll sing about some of the hot topics, political and otherwise of recent times in parodies of well-known songs.

Hear You Are My Sunshine in a Turkish scale, Blue Moon given a Japanese flavour, Puppet on a String gone bluesy, Abba as Berlin cabaret. Then there’s Dylan, Cohen, The Beatles, Johnny Mercer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Slim Dusty, Roy Orbison, and much more.

For a great night’s entertainment, with unpredictable and quirky musical moments, plenty of humour and Christmas spirit, don’t miss We’ve Got Our Standards.

Teatro Vivaldi, ANU campus, Sat Nov 29, 7pm (3 course dinner and show) $70/$80/$90.Show only $30/$40/$50, 8.30pm. Sun Nov 30, 5.30pm (canapés and show) $35/$45/$55. Bookings 6257 2718 or


For a joyous blend of world music, and songs related to the venue, spend a pleasant half hour with Worldly Goods community choir.

High Court, Sunday Dec 7, 1pm, free


Coming up….


Australian music before rock ‘n’ roll

Direct from Canberra, Australia, John Shortis and Moya Simpson present, in Lanark, Scotland, their unique style of documentary cabaret in Tin Pan Aussie, the story of an emerging Australia, as seen through its popular music.

Shortis is a musician, songwriter and music historian, Simpson a singer and comedienne. Together they combine surprising research with musical versatility, humour and poignancy to take you back to the first half of the twentieth century, to a remote nation that enthusiastically embraced whatever was on offer from Britain and the USA, and added its own perspective to create a popular music industry that was unknown to the rest of the world.

Tin Pan Aussie traces the journey from ragtime to rock ‘n’ roll, Antipodean style- from the ubiquitous piano carried by bullock cart to every corner of the outback, to the portable ukulele that came with the Hawaiian music craze, from the yodels of hillbilly music to the razzamatazz of vaudeville and dance bands, and much more.

Lurking throughout the show is a tale of a young nation forging a new federal political system, finding its identity in a world coping with the pressures of the Depression and two world wars, and grappling with its acceptance of its indigenous people.

Tin Pan Aussie is rich with well-known (in Australia) ditties like I Like Aeroplane Jelly, Along the Road to Gundagai, Our Don Bradman, and rediscovered gems such as Sheep Dip Blues, Bridge of Our Dreams Come True, and Memories of a Lovely Lei. For laughter, tears, musical heights and depths, and a new slant on Australian culture and history, don’t miss Tin Pan Aussie.

St Mary’s Club Rooms, Lanark, Scotland, Wed Sept 3, 7.45 pm. Bookings

Then on Oct 23, Shortis and Simspon perform Prime Time, a cabret show based on John Shortis’s songs about all of our Prime mInisters. At the State Library in Perth. Details available soon.

And on Sat Nov 29/Sun Nov 30, Shortis and Simpson will perform We’ve Got Our Standards, a personal and quirky take on their choices of well-known songs. Hardly a Shortis original in sight. Details available soon.



A Liberal Dose of Shortis and Simpson

Has the new Senate raised your temperature, given you a headache, caused nausea? Is your mind being twisted from left to right as Titanic Clive espouses an ETS, and Green Christine pushes for no tax rises on petrol? Or do you simply have a bad case of Abbottosis, or Shortenitis? Whatever it is that has you as sick as a PUP, A Liberal Dose of Shortis and Simpson may be just the tonic you need. With an epidemic of afflictions and disorders the order of the day on Capital Hill, Doctors Shortis and Simpson have a remedy based on a mix of wit, irreverence, and the odd guffaw. To kick the Abbott habit, lose the Bill chill, wean yourself off Christine, and survive Clive, take A Liberal Dose of Shortis and Simpson, administered twice only at Smith’s Alternative Bookshop, in the Melbourne Building, on Sunday August 10. If pain continues, consult your doctor. (But be warned, expect a co-payment of $7).

Smith’s Alternative Bookshop, 76 Alinga St, Civic. Sun Aug 10, 3pm/7pm.

$30/$25 concession. Bookings


a musical sunset

 Voices meet strings as the sun goes down over Lake Ginninderra, when Worldly Goods Choir and Canberra Mandolin Orchestra lift the ceiling off the Belconnen Arts Centre with their tunes and croons, their humming and strumming.

Linked by the comic cabaret of Shortis and Simpson, these two community groups celebrate the nationalities and cultural backgrounds represented by their participants. Traditional music from Greece, Italy, Finland, Germany, Russia, and France meets Henry Lawson, Freddie Mercury, Aeroplane Jelly and more.

StringSing brings the choir and orchestra together for the first time, sharing repertoire and stories, within the extraordinary acoustics of the Belconnen foyer. Rich textures and joyous sounds, humour and heartbreak, singing and stringing- all will be present at this not-to-be missed musical sunset.

As John Shortis writes in his theme song-

When it comes to a beautiful fake lake,

It’s you that takes the cake,

Lake Ginninderra,

When it comes to a home a duck and drake make,

It’s you that takes the cake,

Lake Ginninderra,

Dive in and swim,

And string and sing,


Sunday July 6, Belconnen Arts Centre, 5pm.                                  $25/$22concession/$15 students (plus small booking fee)                  To book, go to-



Marking 50 years since The Beatles toured Australia

50 years ago, in June 1964, conservative Australia was rattled by a visit to our shores by the ear-splitting, long-haired, yeah-singing phenomenon that was The Beatles. Booked at a bargain rate before Beatlemania had hit, they won our hearts with their quick-witted irreverent humour, refreshing optimism, and sheer good music.

For The Beatles themselves it was a nightmare round of sterile hotel rooms, dingy dressing rooms, hectic civic receptions, bruises from thrown jelly babies, not to mention the screaming fans that drowned out the music to the point that the Fab Four couldn’t hear themselves, and didn’t sound that fab.

When It Was ’64 is performed by Shortis & Simpson with a Fab Band- Kate Hosking (bass and vocals), Jon Jones (drums), Dave O’Neill (lead guitar), Bob Rodgers (rhythm guitar and vocals).

In When It Was ’64, Shortis & Simpson tell the story of Australia at the time, and the effect the visit had on us, interspersed with songs of the era. Then, with the help of the band, they will perform the complete set The Mop Tops played here all those years ago. And for those who can’t sit still, there will be a dance floor. Don’t miss this evening of humour, surprising stories, and great music. Canberra Southern Cross Club, Woden, Friday June 13. Dinner and show (2 courses) $64, 6.30pm. $29 show only, 8.30pm. (Preferential seating for Dinner & Show patrons.) Bookings: 6283 7288. Info



See Simpson as you’ve NEVER seen her before in this new musical inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s novella of the same name. The story of a doctor living a privileged lifestyle in revolutionary Moscow, until a brutal experiment on a stray dog brings chaos to his ordered life and threatens to destroy his professional reputation and avowed bachelorhood. Satirical, allegorical, and timely.

Street Theatre, Thurs/Fri/Sat 22/23/24 May, 7.30pm. $39/$29 conc. $34 groups of 4 or more. Bookings 6247 1223 or


Up-to-date political satire

Australia has been under new management for around 200 days now. To mark the occasion, Shortis & Simpson, between flying Qantas, driving Holden, and eating Cadbury’s, have been working away at a new satirical cabaret, Open For Business. Yes, as the Age of Entitlement sinks slowly in the West, they sing of repealing and concealing, boat stopping, and public service lopping, not to mention detention, slippery Senators, and more. And, as they sail the Sea of Liberal Blue, they won’t let ALP red, green Christine and yellow Palmers out of their sights either. Open For Business is their first political satire show since the election, and will contain the usual array of stings and barbs, thought provoking moments, laughs and tears. If there was ever a time we need a good laugh it’s when we’re Open For Business. Two shows only, don’t miss it.

Teatro Vivaldi, ANU campus

Sat April 12, 7pm, 3 course meal plus show $70/$80/$90 depending on seating, show only $40/$50/$60 (show starts 8.30pm)

Sun April 13, 5pm, champagne and canapés $35/$45/$65 (no show only)

Bookings 6257 2718

Out of the Cabinet

To go with the release of cabinet documents of Shortis & Simpson present a comedic musical take on the years 1986 and 1987. Their unique style of satirical comedy is sure to entertain and give you a feel for the political, musical and social scene of the time. Get a dose of history too as the wry National Archives historian Dr Jim Stokes presents highlights of the Hawke government from 1986 and 1987 Cabinet records recently released to the public. A glass of bubbly on arrival is included as part of the ticket price.

Friday 28 February and Saturday 1 March, 7.30pm National Archives of Australia Queen Victoria Terrace Parkes ACT 2600 $20 adults, $15 concession. This event is part of the Enlighten Festival. Bookings essential: either ring Ticketek on 132849, or go online to, then hit the Ticketek link

For more info go to

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