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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.