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.
THE BRISBANE CELTIC UKULELE GROUP
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.
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.
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 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.