Stephen Sandlilands shares his ukulele journey.


I was bitten by the ukulele bug just after my fiftieth birthday. I’d been a poor guitar player in my youth and took it up again in 2008 and practiced alone with a few lessons. As an avid woodworker, I thought I would make an electric guitar. And, then maybe a jazz acoustic. Eventually I went down the path of making a pineapple uke. As they say – it was all downhill from there.

The fruits of my labour – a Telecaster guitar and a Pineapple concert uke

Playing with others

I soon discovered that the ukulele community is like no other in the music world. The path to fun and learning is through playing with others.

When I was mentioned writing this article to some friends, I joked ‘who haven’t I played Uke with?’ The list would include Redland City Ukes, Baysamba (Brazilian Drumming), The Cage, Kine Kool, Bulimba Tuesday night group, The Ukey Beats, GRUBS and Spin the Cat.

Starting up

Once the pineapple uke was finished, I learnt a few chords and picked a few tunes. And then I noticed an ad in the Redlands Times for ukulele players to join a new group at the Capalaba Sports Club. I joined them and the group became Redland City Ukes (RCUS). I played with them until 2019 and performed at gigs at the Sunshine Coast Ukulele Festival at Kenilworth, Binary Swing time Redfest, SPRUKE and at Newkulele in 2018.

CAGE at SPRUKE

Finding BUMS

I was at a festival in Cairns in 2011 and met my first BUMS member, Cath ‘Jazzhand’ McCourt. I joined BUMS after that and my ukulele community grew and grew. Seems funny now that after meeting Cath 10 years ago that we have just started a duo together called Spin the Cat. We led a set at the Coorparoo jam in February with Mick Angeles on bass.

Networking

Once you are in a community, opportunities come up. I was asked play at a little festival at Victoria Point in 2014 and was looking for a bass player to join me. I asked Jim Bills and then ended up playing with his group Kine Kool for a couple of years.

George Mzor was leading a Tuesday night ukulele group at Bulimba and when he got too busy, he asked me to lead the group in his absence. It was all a chance to improve my skills and learn some more.

Jamming it up at Imbil

The Ukey Beats

My good buddy Darrell Reeves and I played with RCUS at the Newkulele festival in 2018. On the drive back we decided to start a band doing Easy Beats covers – and that became The Ukey Beats. As a duo, we entered the SPRUKE Star competition in 2019 and were really pleased by how well our songs were received.

Steve and Darrell rocking out

We cajoled Carol Dudley (who we knew from The Cage) to be our awesome bass player. She keeps us on track. We also had Marc Ambrosoli as our drummer for a while and were a real four on the floor. We’ve played at jams, open mics and SPRUKE 2019.

The Ukey Beats at Northside jam

It takes a lot of practice and then more practice before you start to get the groove working and playing as a band. But it’s so much fun playing and working with other musos. And then there’s more practise, then some practise and you get much more proficient at your art. Can you see a theme developing there?

It’s good to surprise an audience. The Ukey Beats played at the Northside jam in February and we got good feedback about our musicality. Some of our songs really challenged the audience. For example, if you know David Bowie’s Space Oddity, you’ll recall there is no chord structure to the end. We depicted the end in the song sheet as [?] [?] [?] [?] and it worked.

Take and give back.

The best thing about playing with others is the little bits of advice and wisdom that you get along the way. I’ve learnt so much from all the bands I’ve played with – and I thank all those people.

Without this feedback, my musicality would not be where it is today. I’ll keep on learning – but I am putting back into the ukulele community and BUMS as my way of saying thanks. I am always willing to share my accumulated skills with others who ask. I fell really blessed that I have had this opportunity to share this with you all.

Here’s a tip. I try to keep everything calm and composed when I play. BUMS provides a supportive and encouraging environment to help everyone improve. For instance, when I’m performing the audience will provide feedback. They might point up if my singing is too quiet or point at other things to help improve the finished product.

As a vocalist

The uke is a perfect instrument to accompany singing. In 2015, I got some feedback that I should develop my singing. I took music lessons with Elizabeth Ross and with lots of practice and encouragement my range, power and control has really improved.

In the non-ukulele world (yes, that does exist), I’ve sung with the Queensland Services Heritage Band based at Wynnum as their male vocalist. I would not have got this opportunity were it not for the humble ukulele.

With the Wynnum Big Band (right corner)

Final tip

What I’ve learnt as a performer and entertainer is that the person up front must keep smiling. If you’re happy the audience will be happy too.

If you ever need a bit of encouragement or advice, tap me on the shoulder and say hi.

 

In response to our invitation for members to share their ukulele journeys in our newsletter, Adrian Board explains how he got hooked on uke. Please email to share your ukulele journey.


I’ve always wanted to sing and perform.  Some of my friends could play guitar and sing, and I was so-o-o envious.  I loved being with them when they jammed, but I couldn’t join in.

First jam

Fast forward to 2015.  I was 45 years old, out of work and very depressed.  I decided to take on something new whilst I looked for work.  When I rang David Hethorn, he offered to lend me a uke, and said, “Come down to Coorparoo Bowls Club next Wednesday night.” I figured he’d teach me a few chords over a beer …

When I turned up, David handed me a uke, and directed me to the beginners’ class.  I walked out being able to play the beginnings of “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. That night I joined the main jam, and was blown away by David’s set that included “Budapest, a song by Daft Punk and another by David Bowie. I couldn’t believe it. Daft Punk on a uke?  “That’s it,” I thought,  “I’m hooked.”  “Mate, this is what you’ve always wanted,” I told myself. “If you’re ever gonna find out if it’s possible, then now is the time. Don’t die wondering.”

First open mics

At my second jam, I had a crack at open mic playing Passenger’s “Let Her Go”. It was terrifying. I can’t remember whether I did a good job or not, but it doesn’t matter. I was so proud of myself. I’d set myself a very scary goal and achieved it. People were happy for me. I was definitely hooked.

I became an enthusiastic member of BUMS, and agreed to help at SPRUKE 2015 — Brisbane’s Ukulele Festival. I was put in charge of the volunteers.  I had two things in my favour. Having worked on IT projects, I knew how to herd cats. Secondly, I had amazing support from Keryn Henderson. We spent many hours together, and she became my ukulele wife — John seemed happy to share her. And I met the rest of the committee, and made some new friends.

During SPRUKE I did an open mic. Steve Sandilands jumped in with me. He hadn’t done an open mic before, and I assume he figured that if the newbie could be brave and get up, then he could too. Look at where he’s gone since. Amazing! During that open mic, I made a new commitment to myself that I would perform at the SPRUKE 2017.

First time leading at a jam

Next I wanted to lead a set at a jam, and BUMS and John Henderson and Mick Angeles gave me the moral and musical support.  It was an amazing experience, and it was the first of many jam sets I’ve led since. When you lead a set at a jam, you really do have the best seat in the house. It looks and sounds completely different from when you’re sitting down. You see about 50 to 100 smiling faces wishing you success. The sound of the ukes and voices coming back at you is like a wave of an accompanying band.

First public performances

My first public performance was a paid gig. I couldn’t believe it. David Hethorn asked me to join him for a corporate party. I’d only been playing a few months, and I was extremely nervous, and mostly useless, but I survived.

I followed up by establishing a group (mid 2016) with Chan Hoo, David Hethorn (on piano), Chrissy Heinrich, Steve Sandilands and Keryn Henderson to perform at Sandgate’s Masonic Lodge aged care (now Regis Sandgate). Our performance was very well received. David showed his incredible versatility on piano, and Chan stole the show with his renditions of the residents’ all time favourites. It was for my neighbour’s father. It was the last time he came out of his room before he passed.  It was a joy and a privilege to provide some happiness at that time.

Performing at Sandgate, June 2016

Running sets led to more performances with Blair Marks, John Henderson, David Hethorn (on percussion) and Paul Morris (on ubass) as Ukulele Heroes Collective.  We played first at the Pine Rivers Show,

Ukulele Heroes Collective, Pine Rivers Show, July 2016.

at City Sounds in the Queen St Mall, and in the beer garden at QPAC.

Ukulele Heroes Collective, City Sounds, Queen Street, Oct 2016

Taking and making opportunities

In 2017, David and I auditioned to be buskers at Southbank. Whilst waiting, we met a girl called Ash who was also a ukulele player. None of us got in. As we parted, I realised it would be great to play with Ash – she has such a sweet voice. I chased after her, and when I asked her to join me, she said yes.

Adrian and Ash at Coorparoo

We practised together and played on the main stage at SPRUKE 2017 in front of my family and friends. Here’s a link to a few of those songs at SPRUKE.

Share Your Air

That’s What I Like

Making more music with others

In 2019, I teamed up with Amanda Allwood and Trish Rodwell as Duo-Ver.  We performed at the Sunshine Coast Uke Fest and SPRUKE 2019.

Duo Ver’s maiden performance at SCUF, 2018.

I have learned so much from them — most importantly to perform without the music in front of me.

It was terrifying at first, but with practice I did it. We were getting ready to perform again when COVID hit … Sigh…

Sharing

I love to share what I’ve learnt – whether in my career as an IT trainer, or as a ukulele player and performer.  I’m keen to spread understanding when I play at a jam, and I’ve posted items on the BUMS Online Facebook page because I want others to learn the same things I have.

I started a beginners’ class with my work colleagues, and some of them have been brave enough to perform at jams.

Adrian and a work colleague perform an open mic at Coorparoo.

It gives me great pleasure to support and encourage other players to take this step up.  If you would like to join me in leading a set or an open mic, come and ask me.

Learnings

Ukulele helps me maintain my sanity. I travel a lot for work, and I take my uke wherever I go.  After a day’s work, I strum the day’s stress away. I’m always on the lookout for other uke players to meet new people and learn new songs.  Last week, I joined the Townsville Ukuleles for a jam.

Adrian joins the uke fun in Townsville.

Another learning for me is that I am no longer scared to be scared. There is no excitement without fear. Now I can be ‘that bloke’ who can play songs at a campfire so others can join in. Now I’ve performed at parties and corporate events, even been paid sometimes.

Performing in front of a crowd is fabulous. If you see me perform, then it is you who is giving me joy. It is such a privilege to have you take a few minutes out of your life to listen and, I hope, enjoy.

So, if you have the itch to perform, give it a go. Don’t die wondering!

 

In the next instalment of the series, we find out about John Low’s uke journey.


It’s never too late to start a new journey.  I took up the ukulele four years ago when I finally retired aged 76. My plan had been to spend my twilight years as a (very) mature-aged triathlete.  Sadly, the combination of an irregular heartbeat and stern cardiologist caused me to reassess my future.

Musical heritage

My Mum was a talented pianist.  Sadly, her future on the concert stage was somewhat curtailed by two smashed up fingers from a friendly (?) hockey game.  She misguidedly believed her musical talent resided in her eldest son. After ten years of classical training, she finally admitted that she was possibly wrong.  I left music behind although I can still read music.  And I have a love of the blues – where that came from, I’ve no idea.

I have owned several guitars but never really learned to play any of them.  They spent most of their lives under the bed, dusty and unloved.

A dilemma at 76

So, there I was at a bit of a loose end.  How was I going to remain socially connected and also learn some new skills? A second language didn’t particularly appeal.  And my dear wife didn’t like the idea of me making a hobby of binge-watching GoT on streaming services.

About this time, I attended a couple of concerts in Brisbane.  The first was the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (where I ran into my then GP – a keen ukulele player unbeknown to me).  The second was by Jake Shimabukuro. Wow, this ukulele was a serious musical instrument. Maybe my Mum wouldn’t roll over in her eternal slumber if I took it up.

Finding BUMS

Coincidentally, I came across the Brisbane Ukulele Musicians Society (BUMS) and the fact that they put on ‘jams’ (whatever they were).  Apparently, you could go along to a nominated venue with a ukulele and ‘play music’. I purchased an inexpensive ukulele, presented myself at the Northside Jam, paid my $5 and joined the beginner’s group. My uke journey had begun, but at that stage I had no idea as to where.

Next, I joined BUMS and bought the Ukulele Club Songbook (doesn’t everybody?).  I found ’do-it-yourself’ ukulele lessons on the ‘interweb’ and applied myself to my instrument for an hour a day. I also attended a number of workshops put on by BUMS. They were totally beyond me but at least told me what I had yet to learn.

Finding NUMB BUMS

About six months into my ukulele journey, I was at a workshop put on by Derek Farrell about alternative chording or something.  Jo Kunde announced that the Northside community band, NUMB BUMS, was actively seeking new members.

I explained to Jo that I gave new meaning to the word ‘novice’ but would it be okay if I came along. She told me to come along, stand at the back and ‘fake it till you make it’.

Three months later, I attended my first gig as a NUMB BUMS member.  I was standing in the back row in the Queen Street Mall, mostly ‘making it’ rather than ‘faking it’. It was another step in my uke journey, although I was still not quite sure where.

NUMB BUMS, Feb 2020

Growing performance skills

The following year NUMB BUMS was preparing for SPRUKE 2017.  Zöe Watson asked if I would be interested in doing a rap-based duet with her as part of NUMB BUMS performance. Zöe was not someone you refused, so after I established she wasn’t joking, said yes please.

I heard that three NUMB BUMS members had started a small group to practice together.  I asked them (Frank Buckley, Peter Grace and Chris Slater) if I could join in and the Ukulele Saints (Francis, Peter, Christopher and John) was formed.  We’ve added a few members and had a lot of fun since.

Saints early days

Later Day Saints

Bring on the baritone

During this period, I went over to the dark side and purchased a baritone ukulele, then a second one (couldn’t help myself).  The a few months later exchanged my Cordoba Tenor ukulele for a tenor guitar (a four string beast and quite rare).  And then I capped it all off with the purchase of a ubass.

John Low and baritone

More performing

In the last couple of years, I have been fortunate to perform with both NUMB BUMS and the Ukulele Saints at many events. We went to Newkulele in 2018 (as the BUMS Festival Group), the Sunshine Coast Ukulele Festival 2019 and SPRUKE 2019 (with Supernova).  I’ve played at BUMS jams and also in a wide range of gigs in Brisbane and surrounds.  These have ranged from kindergartens to aged care homes and pretty well everything in between. And over the last 12 months, I have found myself teaching others.

Supernova, 2019

More new directions

Being a little bit nerdy, the technical aspects of recording, both audio and video, interested me.  Now my home contains a plethora of microphones, cables, mixing desks, DAW’s, and amplifiers.

During the COVID close-down, a few enthusiastic members of the bands I am involved with produced videos with which band members can practice. These were extremely useful when face-to-face practice was not possible and and we found playing together through Zoom was almost impossible.

The real benefits

But most importantly, I have met amazing people, many of whom have become close friends.  All this at a time of life when many of us in the older age groups are faced with a diminishing, rather than an expanding, social group. This, together with the new musical skills I have learnt (okay, okay – am learning) over the last 4-5 years helped to keep the ravages of age mostly at bay.

Buy a uke and start on a musical journey – you never know where it will lead you.

In response to last month’s invitation for members to share their ukulele journeys in our newsletter, Peter Ransom tells us about life with uke. Please email to share your ukulele journey.


My first acquisitions

On a whim I bought my first ukuleles back around 1981. In those days I played banjo and guitar in the Caxton Street Jazz Band and I really had no idea about what to do with my purchase!  I actually bought two ukes — both 1923 Kumalae sopranos, solid koa construction with friction tuning pegs. They belonged to a chap who had, amongst other things, been a scriptwriter for The Man from UNCLE. He’d bought both instruments from the factory in Hawaii while working in a band on a cruise boat operating between the USA west coast and the Hawaiian Islands. Sadly, he’d suffered a stroke, and I became only the second owner of these little gems. I still have one, but it needs a little TLC — at 97 years, who wouldn’t?

The Moonshine Five (actually only four members), a folk/jazz/skiffle group in Melbourne , 1963. Yours truly on banjo, Bruce Woodley (Seekers) left rear on guitar. The blonde is Prue Acton.

Ukuleles shelved

This acquisition didn’t lead to any great passion for the instrument. Every two or three years I would play one or the other for a few minutes and then put it away. There was a missed opportunity, though. In 1997 I transferred to Hong Kong and a uke would’ve been ideal to play in my tiny apartment, but they’d been rushed into storage. After 18 hectic months in HK, and a stint in Japan, returning to Brisbane was good for me in many ways. I met and later married Jennie, and restored some lovely vintage cars.

Beginning at BUMS

Eventually, in 2011, I went along to BUMS at Coorparoo with one of my little Kumalae ukes. Not exactly a light bulb moment, but something connected! But I realized that here was an opportunity to play and sing with like-minded people.  After the rather restrictive traditional jazz genre I could get into virtually anything I fancied, be it rock, Latin, swing, or C&W.  I prefer the great melodies of the 30s and 40s.

For folk who’ve recently taken up the ukulele, it’s an entrée to an unpretentious world of musical pleasure and fun, with as much challenge as you care to take on. I’m like some others who have come from a longer-term musical background. I started at 14 on guitar, soon took up banjo and eventually made the ukulele transition, which fits nicely with my time of life. Music was never my day job, and I’ve always been happy with where it’s taken me.

I’ve settled on the concert uke as my preferred instrument and had a gorgeous custom instrument built by Allen McFarlen (Barron River Guitars & Ukuleles in Cairns).  An indulgence? Yes, but a great investment!

Performing

Presenting the occasional set at our jams is something I really enjoy, along with doing open mic spots. Appearing at uke festivals as GIRT BY C is an opportunity to present material that’s typically a bit different, very old and requires a lot of work to get it right. In 2015, I took my ukulele on Channel 9’s ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’. I was told that to get through the selection process you need to stand out. Talking about my uke certainly played a part in it. Check out my performance.

Working on my own is my preference. That’s largely because I can’t reasonably expect anyone else to be sufficiently interested in the genres I tap into. Going solo also eliminates any conflict on issues like repertoire, arrangements, presentation and where and when to rehearse!

The Caxton Street Jazz Band in Brisbane c. 1979. Me again on banjo.

Having said that, I miss the true jam sessions of the jazz world. A world in which a bunch of musos agree on a tune and a key and then play — totally unrehearsed, no charts, no arrangement, anyone can join in or drop out.  The results are always interesting and sometimes breathtaking.

Latest challenges

Putting some of my songs up on BUMS’ private Facebook page has been an interesting exercise. I can get it reasonably OK from a technical perspective but playing, singing, recording and actually publishing can be confronting! While I happily perform solo in front of a big audience at festivals, playing to a camera is sterile. It requires some skills that I just don’t possess. Should I have bothered? Why can’t I smile? Does anyone like my stuff? Look at the chords I fluffed! But as the man said, the sun still comes up each morning, and since I’ve survived the challenge I’ll probably go again.

Stay tuned …

PjR

Girt by C Website: pjransom.wixsite.com/girt-by-c

Maree Reedman

The 100 Days of Ukulele Challenge is a ukulele journey with a difference.

Budding singer, songwriter and ukulele player Maree Reedman tells us how she wrestled with the challenge.

Maree shares her  journey.


Performance Anxiety

Fear clamped all the way from my stomach to my throat as I waited to go on stage at the Sunshine Coast Ukulele Festival open mic. I should be alright. I’d practised the song. But it was the biggest crowd I had seen — over a hundred people. I walked up to the mic, my heart beating faster than a rock song. When I sang, it was like a strangler vine had taken over my vocal chords. I couldn’t control my voice. It was much higher than it should be. The crowd was kind and sang with me. But to this day, I remember the man who made a face and turned away.

That was a few years ago. I’m not a natural performer. I don’t thrive on people’s attention. I don’t love parties. And yet because I love playing the uke, I keep trying to find a way to become more confident on stage. I’ve improved since then, and I’ve never felt that level of fear again. I’ve done more open mics and busking, and even entered songwriting competitions where I’ve had to perform my song.

Taking on the Challenge

Day 10: Choir Girl by Cold Chisel

Then I saw this year’s 100 Days of Ukulele on Cynthia Lin’s Patreon page. She launched the challenge a few years ago, from another internet-based art idea, #THE100DAYPROJECT. Now she hosts it every year in a private Facebook group.

Ukulele musicians are invited to post a song daily. There are no rules, you can do a song whenever you want.

But I have always been fascinated by hardship and the personal growth that it yields, so I wanted to do it the traditional way: one song, every goddamn day.

 

Getting Started

And yet, should I wait until I was better? I hadn’t figured out my iRig pre-amp yet. What was I going to do about sound? A friend said, “For God’s sake, just record yourself in the bathroom.” And so I did … for my first song.

I’ve posted over seventy songs. I joined Facebook and uploaded to YouTube. In the beginning, I spent hours setting up my recording space — the best spot for the amp and the mic and the music stand and lighting (my study faces west and doesn’t get much natural light).

Day 61: Waiting For You To Come Home (Original)

I’ve had technical glitches and reno-across-the-road problems that have wrecked recordings which took so long to make, and have even driven me out of the house in search of a quiet place to perform.

Day 71: If You Could Read My Mind – Gordon Lightfoot/Johnny Cash

In the beginning, knowing I had to record, I had that familiar churning in my guts. But it’s just part of my everyday routine now. I smile at the camera. I laugh like a madwoman when I make mistakes. Sometimes I sing like I’ve always wanted. And every day, people give me positive feedback.

The Outcome

I still chafe against perfectionism. Sometimes I can’t make the song sound like I want it to. I don’t have much time to learn or rehearse or arrange. It is a wicked, fantastic behavioural experiment for my high standards that I have to post something every day no matter what.

I still get envious of the performers whom everyone loves and who are better than me. But I’ve made friends all over the world, and I remember what another participant wrote: It is beautiful where we all are at this very moment.

What is YOUR ukulele journey?

People take up playing ukulele for lots of reasons – for fun, as a challenge, to meet new people, to stimulate their brain cells, to keep up with their kids and grandchildren.  Why did you pick it up?

You might have started playing a $35 ukulele in your back bedroom, or by attending a beginners’ class somewhere.  Once you got over sore fingers, there are many different directions to take with the world’s friendliest musical instrument.  We plan to ask you — our members — to tell us about your journey and what the uke has done for you.

Steps along the way

Here are some examples on steps you might have taken or could take.

  • Attend a live BUMS jam or try a jam you haven’t been to before.
  • Attend workshops run by BUMS, at festivals or by private teachers.
  • Access YouTube videos to improve your skills – fingerpicking, strumming, playing melodies.
  • Upgrade your instrument to sound better and play more easily.
  • Play for your family.
  • Practise so you can do an open mic at a jam or on BUMS Online.
  • Join a BUMS community band for regular practice.
  • Perform in public.
  • Join in BUMS Online jams and tutorials.
  • Find a ukulele buddy or buddies to play with.
  • Take singing lessons.
  • Learn how to use internet resources create song sheets with lyrics and chords.
  • Form a band with other BUMS.
  • Learn to use a microphone.
  • Amplify your uke.
  • Record yourself and edit your videos.
  • Try a different style of ukulele – banjolele, baritone, ubass, or an eight string or a six string uke.
  • Develop on percussion skills.
  • Run workshops for other musicians.

There is a no doubt that ukulele brings people together to have fun.  Just look round at all the smiling faces at a jam (Can you remember back in February?).  There are few other musical instruments where players join in like this.

What do you get from playing?  What’s your story, and what has ukulele done for you?  Write us your story or get in touch with Peter Grace to chat about your journey.  We’d love to hear from you.