At the Brisbane Celtic Ukulele Group a number of BUMS explore Celtic music under the guidance of Brendan Williams and Peter McMeel. Geoff Dancer explains the development of the group.


Why Celtic?

Why Celtic and not Irish? Because the group also plays some Scottish tunes and songs. Celtic generally refers to the languages and respective cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man, where Celtic languages are still spoken today.


Rather than standard ukulele tuning, the Celtic group encourages members to tune their ukuleles in D (2 semi-tones higher).

Why? This tuning tends to be a more favourable tuning for playing with other instruments used in this genre, such as the violin, mandolin and tin whistle, and particularly in the keys which are commonly used (G, D and A).

D-tuning, sometimes called Canadian tuning because it is extensively used in Canada, has a long history with the ukulele. The king and queen of Hawaii were first introduced to ukuleles which were D-tuned.


The group encourages playing by ear, in line with the strong oral tradition of Celtic music. We play and sing a mixture of songs and tunes, most of them traditional. The tunes include jigs, reels, polkas, hornpipes, waltzes and marches, and even a concerto.

The group always encourages musical collaboration with other instruments suited to this music. We also encourage people from all levels of musical ability. When starting off, playing chords to the melodies is easiest.

Group Origins

Brendan Williams and Peter McMeel, who started the group, met in Darwin. Brendan brought a rich Irish musical legacy with him from Ireland. While Peter added a love of folk music, and an interest in parlour music from the 1900s. Their talents combined in a top end band called “Catalpa”, playing Australian bush music.

Brendan and Peter later joined forces again in Brisbane, where they sold ukuleles together in market stalls around Brisbane. Peter was also a foundation teacher at BUMS. He introduced many current members to the ukulele, and ran the first free 30-minute pre-jam ukulele lessons at Coorparoo.

Session Venues

In 2017, Brendan and Peter decided to establish a Celtic session together. So the first session started on 25 May at Toowong Bowls Club because it was close to Peter’s home. A couple of the current group members were later introduced to the music at the BUMS workshop on Celtic music at Zillmere Hall held in March 2019.

The group moved briefly to ‘The Brat Cave’ in Woolloongabba in May 2019 before relocating to the ‘Dandelion Social’ restaurant in Wynnum Road Morningside in July 2019. This night-time venue was performance-based, and often included people playing a wide range of instruments other than the ukulele — guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, double bass, accordion, tin whistle, flute and bodhran (Irish drum).

At the end of 2019, it was decided to establish an additional workshop-based daytime venue. The sessions at Monte Lupo Gallery Café in Tufnell Road, Banyo focused mainly on the ukulele. One of the reasons for this new venture was to establish a quiet environment more suited to the gentle picking of tunes on an acoustic ukulele.


Covid-19 had a major impact on the Celtic Ukulele Group. Both the Morningside and Banyo venues closed. The ‘Dandelion Social’ Restaurant ceased to operate. And it is uncertain what the set-up might be if Monte Lupo Café Gallery re-opens. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the group continued by holding weekly Zoom sessions until the group could physically meet again.


A small passionate, dedicated group of ukulele players who love the music currently attend the sessions. Their expertise continues to grow in an unexpectedly exciting way throughout this COVID-19 period. The group currently meets in private homes. But now that COVID-19 restrictions are starting to ease, some thought is going into re-starting the sessions in a public venue.

The Brisbane Celtic Ukulele Group

The Brisbane Celtic Ukulele Group

The group had strong links with BUMS in the past, and has a renewed desire to keep sharing with BUMS members into the future.

You can listen to a recording of the group recently playing a Scottish tune called “Calum’s Road” by clicking on the link below:

If anyone is interested in finding out more information about the group, or coming along to one of the sessions, please give Brendan 0412 701 492 or Peter 0447 721 669 a call.

Geoff Dancer

None of us would pick a pandemic, but pandemic picking is another matter. Salli Chmura describes the Ukulele Orchestra of Greater Brisbane’s picking adventure pre-pandemic, during lockdown and the easing of social restrictions.


COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in the musical world since its onset and sent many of us to find refuge in Zoom sessions. Let me tell you about our adventures in this realm with a picking group that I set up.

in January Lesley Allan, Cath McCourt and I (Salli Chmura) attended a week-long picking workshop at Bellingen with Cathy Welsford, and followed this with Lesley, myself, Geoff Dancer and Leeanne Horne participating in a one-day ukulele orchestra in Sydney run by Ian Porter.

Based on our enthusiastic enjoyment of both these activities, the picking group started on Wednesday nights from the end of February, working on three pieces – the Rose, Chanson d’Amour and Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom. Luckily we had four practices before COVID hit.

Zoom then became the lifeline for our group – now named the Ukulele Orchestra of Greater Brisbane – and Julie Minto (Mama Juju) joined us. We persevered with two sequential 45 minute sessions a week, working on the three pieces and adding a fourth piece, La Paloma. Unlike other music groups using Zoom, we were mad enough to have everybody playing simultaneously (unmuted) with Salli keeping the group together trying to count out loud while picking and listening to the delayed feedback of all the other pickers.

Ukulele Orchestra of Greater Brisbane

If you’re interested in how difficult and crazy this was, just check out the sound file …

I think we would all have gone crazy if the Zoom sessions had continued for much longer. However, we had lots of laughs throughout the sessions, which was very therapeutic. Our playing certainly improved when we got together in person again.

Now the UOGB is getting together once a week and we’ve welcomed Judy Holdaway to our group. We rotate homes for practices, and have a fun time catching up on gossip while working hard on our pieces. Members of the group are learning about conventional musical terms with Salli talking about first and second time endings and the like. Our practices are excellent for developing listening skills, as in a picking group it is important to be very precise with playing exactly on the beat. We are all improving our skills in reading tabs or musical notation, and Geoff, Leeanne and Lesley are having fun getting their heads around reading music for C ukuleles after having learnt to read the music at Irish sessions with their ukuleles tuned to D.

We have added several more pieces to our rehearsal list – the Harry Lime Theme, Puttin’ on the Ritz and Sweet Dreams. Puttin’ on the Ritz is very challenging but we are chipping away at it a little at a time. Some of Sweet Dreams is a challenge as the notes go up to the 15th fret, where it is difficult to produce a good sound.

Our group is very enthusiastic about the pieces we are playing. We are looking forward to exhibiting some of our expertise in the future when we can all get together again. We are very fortunate that Julie has agreed to sing with a couple of the songs and Cath is adding a fuller sound to the music with the addition of u-bass to one of the pieces. Down the track we might add some strumming to other pieces. However, we’re primarily a picking group which is how we would like to maintain it.

Everybody is learning heaps. Some are learning more about standard musical terminology and improving their skills in reading tabs. Some of us (for example me) are discovering playing the notes further up the fretboard in 7th position (I never even knew what that meant a few months ago!). Others are improving their counting skills, especially with the more difficult rhythms and counting multiple bars of rests. We are improving the tonal qualities of our notes. Lesley is working on playing in campanella style and for one song is using a tenor ukulele with baritone.
If you’d like to hear a sample of a rehearsal when we were able to get together again, click on the link.


Salli Chmura (a mad picker)

BUMS Member Profile – Erin Harrington

Erin, known professionally as Miss Elm, has many irons in the ukulele fire.  She is a song writer and ukulele performer and in 2019, released two singles – ‘Clean Slate’ and ‘The Castle’.  Check out the video and music for ‘The Castle’ at

She is releasing her first solo EP ‘The Shape of Light’ on 6 February 2020 at the Junk Bar in Ashgrove as the first stop on an East Coast tour.  See for more details.


She’s a music teacher, an endorsed artist with Lanikai and runs ukulele ensemble classes called Ukulele Rockers. She has developed her song writing skills using the I Heart Song Writing Club, a global online community.  See

She’s been a BUMS member since 2015 and talks positively about the value of the BUMS community in helping her development. She took a year off in 2016 to complete a fashion design degree in Melbourne but the lure of ukulele and her music drew her back to Brisbane.

Erin’s love of music started early encouraged by her jazz musician father and mother involved in the theatre. She started playing violin at age six and played piano during her later studies to gain a degree in Popular Music.  She formed a quartet called Miss Elm which produced three EP’s and was a finalist in the Folk, Singer Songwriter section of the Queensland Music Awards.

Her conversion to ukulele started when working at the Morris Brothers Music store in Stafford. She loved the simplicity, variety and powerful sound of ukuleles.  And much easier to take on the road. She soon became an accomplished performer which, together with her wide vocal range, gave her a unique sound. She has performed at festivals (including SPRUKE) and other venues across Australia.

Erin is now passionate about helping others find the joy in ukulele and music. Her Ukulele Rockers workshops are a good example where she leads a group of adult ukulele players in series of workshops over a ten-week period.  The first series in 2020 starts on 3 February at The Grange. For more details see the flyer at

Her favourite ukulele is a six-string Lanikai. For anyone not familiar with this style, it has double C and A strings tuned an octave apart to give a fuller and louder sound. After five hard years of work, Erin’s six-string began to fail. She approached Lanikai who liked her work so much that they gave her a new uke and made her an official Lanikai artist and endorsee in 2019.  See

Life hasn’t always been easy for Erin and her development as a ukulele professional has been challenging.  On a positive note, these times gave her the experiences and wisdom which she used as inspiration for her song writing and the ‘Shape of Light’ EP.

Over the Christmas to New Year period, Cath McCourt stepped up to keep the Woodfordia Ukulele Jam tradition alive in the Coopers Beerhouse. The uke group met every morning of the Woodford Folk Festival from 10:00 am to 11:15 am.

Geoff Dancer gave Cath a hand setting up, and encouraged crowd participation between his Woodfordia MCing commitments. And pocket rocket, Jazz Hands Cath McCourt, was soon leading a bar full of enthusiastic jammers.

Coopers Beerhouse ukulele jam, December 2019.

Woodford first requested BUMS volunteers to run daily jams in 2016. Tony Richardson took on the gig, and invited Cath to play uBass. The jams were very popular. Since 2016, the Woodfordia  jams in Coopers Beerhouse have been run by a number of our performing members including Tony, Cath and Mick Angeles. When Cath heard that Mick couldn’t make it this year, she volunteered to go solo to keep the tradition alive.

In 2019, Cath’s been running the WE BUMS jams at West End, and had a growing repertoire of jam songs. So she relished the opportunity to make the song selections for the Woodford jams. “It’s as hot as hell up there over the Christmas-New Year period, and after each year, I say, ‘never again’ … so why am I doing it this year? I love it … just love it,” said Cath when she picked up the laptop and projector for the gig. It takes about a week of preparation to cover a week of daily jams, but Cath was determined to bring new material to surprise the crowd at this year’s event with her ukulele magic.

Tony Richardson and Cath McCourt lead the Beerhouse jam, December 2019.

As an additional surprise for jammers, Tony Richardson joined Cath for the weekend jams, and undoubtedly, in true Tony style, brought a change of pace and repertoire.

And the jammers just kept coming. There were a few BUMS on seats, but many new faces.

Enthusiastic ukers, Coopers Beerhouse, December 2019.

Tony Richardson believes the Woodford Folk Festival is a ‘wonderous experience’. “I’m chuffed to be part of it,” said Tony after the event. “There are a number of long-term Woodfordians amongst our BUMS members, and they have promoted and encouraged ukulele to be there. It’s soul enhancing! You should try it.” he said.

Cath McCourt reported, “I’m happy to say the jam session attendance at Woodford Folk Festival from Christmas to New Year was to the max every day. Being the new kids on the block at Woodford, it’s great to break down the barriers. Now ukulele playing patrons can feel a connection and a contribution to the festival. We received a lot of positive comments from patrons, for example, ‘the Woodford spirit in action’, and ‘thank you for reigniting my passion for making music again’, and ‘I enjoyed the song arrangements, not the same old C and G basics’. We are already planning next year!”

BUMS member, Milo Milosvek attended the jams two festivals in a row. He had a lot of fun both years, but thought this year’s song selection was particularly good.

Terry Fitzpatrick had a great time catching up with old friends and meeting new ones at the jams. In his view, “Playing music with another person is a wonderful bonding experience. A sense of deeper connection is formed because of the invitation it gives to move out of our left-brain rational side into the right-brain heart-centred feeling side. Something our world desperately needs more of in these very trying heat-filled, drought-ridden days. Many tears, joy and laughter were shared so generously during these precious moments at the festival.”

“The group was beautifully led by the very talented and fun-loving Cath McCourt. I’d like to thank you Cath for making it such a joyous experience for everyone.” said Terry.

L-R: Chris Slater, Leanne Williams, Peter Grace, John Low, Caroline Haig and Frank Buckley, John Henderson MIA.

Supernova at SPRUKE. What a blast!

When Leanne’s brother-in-law turned up at Sunnybank with  two large fibreglass aliens, we knew this would make our intentions clear.  “We’re going big on Space, fun and entertainment and you can join in’.  Our aim was to create an interactive show and our audience rose to the occasion – singing, role playing, clapping patterns, shouting and waving their little stars about on cue.

So, who are Supernova?  We are seven players from the northside of Brisbane playing a wide range of ukes, a bit of percussion, a keyboard for special effects, two male and two female vocalists and an eclectic and challenging set list. Everything had a space theme covering songs from The Church to Monty Python.

To make it happen we devoted Tuesday mornings for about 4 months. Band practice included a dedicated morning tea (can’t overstate the importance of this — playing was business with lapses of hysteria, humour and discussion — but tea was proper socialising). Thus, bonded and ready, we inflicted ourselves on our unsuspecting audience.

We all play with other bands and Supernova was designed to be a one-off event. But it was so much fun, it could re-emerge at other festivals. You have been warned.

By Caroline Haig

Congratulations, Miss Elm!

Hot on the heels of Clean Slate, Erin Harrington is keeping the dream alive. This month she’s released the hauntingly captivating folk-pop song, The Castle. Erin’s also crossed yet another item off her bucket list — princess for a day — during filming of the video for the single.

Read reviews in:

  • Happy Mag — Miss Elm signals the future …
  • Partae — Miss Elm ‘The Castle’

It’s been a year of successes. Now Erin also features as an endorsed artist on the Lanikai Ukulele website.

We’re a foursome from the north side of Brisbane, who met in early 2017 when Len put an ad on the BUMS website looking to form a group.  Len, David and Peter had already met in 2012 at a U3A ukulele class (what a coincidence).

The group comprises David Smith playing baritone (CGEA), Diane Davis on baritone (DGBE), Len Farina on bass and Peter Grace on tenor.  We all like to sing but Peter does most leads.  Between us, we also play in The CAGE (who practice at Corinda), CHUMS (from Compton Gardens, Aspley), NUMB BUMS (Zillmere), Ukulele Saints, Supernova and in social groups. In addition, Len teaches beginner uke at U3A, and Peter is co-coordinator of the Northside jam.

Until recently we had focused on preparing sets to lead at BUMS jams so most of our arrangements remained pretty simple.  We have received lots of positive feedback from jam goers for variety and song choices.  With a few performance opportunities, especially playing at SPRUKE 2019, we developed some songs to a higher performance standard with more intricate rhythms, harmonies, backing vocals and separate ukulele parts.

By the way, on the subject of parts, most jam goers who have played with us will know that we all have synthetic body components we didn’t start out with which all help to make up spare parts in Spare Parts.

The genesis of the “Hint of Rosemary” lies within the CAGE which rehearses at Corinda State School on most Sunday afternoons. The CAGE was initially formed to recruit a group of adult beginner ukulele players and to bring them to performance standard for SPRUKE 2015. While many were indeed beginners there was also a smaller group of more experienced musicians who shared a common interest in popular music from the 50s to the 70s and who wished to focus on coming together to perform as a more intimate group.

We began rehearsing and as the group developed, we needed an identity and began throwing out ideas, some serious and some more light hearted. One of these was a suggestion that we call ourselves “A Hint of Rosemary” as one of the members of the group is named Rosemary. The name stuck and the identity grew. Our backgrounds are mostly a combination of teachers and healthcare professionals. The membership is not static as some of us still work while others enjoy retirement and travel so our travellers move in and out of the group depending on their travel plans.

The instrumentation generally comprises 5-7 ukuleles (concert, tenor and baritone), acoustic guitar, U-Bass and sometimes Cajon or other percussion. There is an eclectic mix of vocal styles and ranges so lead vocals are shared around depending on the songs we are working on with the remaining voices delivering a blend of close harmonies which is something the group has become renowned for.

Since our inception the “Hint of Rosemary” has performed widely and are regulars at SPRUKE, the Sunshine Coast Ukelele Festival at Kenilworth and other local venues. One of the highlights of our musical journey was being invited to perform as the support act for Vic Kena’s “The Australian Ukulele Show” at a fundraiser for St Sebastian’s Primary School. Following our performance at SPRUKE 2019 we are taking a break to recharge our batteries and hopefully will regroup in 2020.

Rod Iffinger

A terrific experience

Over the last few months David and I have participated in The Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Senior Concert Series, which is run each year in Brisbane, and culminates in the opportunity to perform in and around Brisbane city and in the Gala Production at Brisbane City Hall.

Each year there are ten Masterclasses presented by various “named” celebrities — Normie Rowe, Angela Toohey, David Rogers-Smith to name a few — who offer tips and tricks to enhance your performance.  These Masterclasses are not only fun, they are informative and a great opportunity rub shoulders and perform along side these wonderful individuals.

The Concert series is presented around Brisbane in various locations.  David and I had the pleasure of performing at Sunnybank Hills Shoppingtown this year and last year in 2 locations.

The experience is open to all seniors over 60 — we are not quite there yet, but there is always exceptions to the rule.

I would encourage anyone to take the time to explore this next year.

We had a great time and found this was a valuable learning experience.

Angela and David McGrath

Tyrone & Lesley at the Brisbane Festival

Celebrating 20 years of brilliance, Tyrone & Lesley are back for the Brisbane festival with a new show — “In a Spot”! A ukulele-led dance of screen and song where there are no wallflowers, Tyrone and Lesley in a Spot will transport you all the way to exactly where you are. It’s funny ha ha, funny weird and a little bit funny Valentine. It’s Tyrone. It’s Lesley. It’s their high spots in bright lights.

Get your tickets today.