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