Familiar Faces is a chance for us to get to know members while we wait for jams to resume. BUMS Inc members are invited to submit their brief bios for this section of the newsletter.
Jim Bills is a familiar face from the south side of town.
Who am I?
Hi, Gidday and Aloha
I’m often hanging at the Coorparoo Jam, usually standing up playing. I am an instrumentalist, so you won’t hear me singing any time soon.
My musical journey started well before we had TV. AMEB piano culminating in matriculation grades allowed an Engineering career. I also got my first taste of performing at school — Ob-La-Di on acoustic upright to an unruly hall of students, and pianist for a symphony orchestra. Ukulele was nowhere on my horizon. In fact, I’d been scarred for life by Tiny Tim!!!
Getting a taste for performing
Shortly after leaving school, I was (shocked to be) asked to fill-in with the premier local group on organ. Their keyboard player had been drafted. No rehearsal, a borrowed Farfisa Organ and Fender Twin Reverb, 3 days organ experience and a few handwritten chord sequences, and I reluctantly fronted on stage. After 30 minutes I was hooked. If you have not yet played with a group on stage, then you are missing an amazing experience. It will provide both enormous satisfaction and musical growth.
Playing for new headline acts, with new charts every week was fun and exciting. I played both organ and piano. We opened for Brian Cadd. (Here’s our actual opening song 2001 – A Space Odyssey.) We also opened for J O’K and backed Del Shannon. (No charts for that one! But that’s why you see me wince when Runaway is “attempted”). I also played a gig with Polished Brass – an Adelaide based showband.
Family and profession got in the way, and I was relegated to playing my Rhodes Piano at home. In 2000, I bought a Yamaha CVP109, then arranged and recorded numerous multi-track digital performances, which I was able to share with friends and family far away. (Most played is I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair.)
But such instruments are extremely heavy!
How and Why Ukulele?
In 2009, Julie and I took a holiday to Hawaii – and got excited about the culture and people. Still damaged by Tiny Tim, I resisted the urge to buy a holiday ukulele, but on the following visit Julie dragged me into Hilo Ukulele during the afternoon rainstorm and we purchased a beautiful Kanile’a Tenor from Ken Cameron – a Scotsman who had recently been living in Brisbane!! She has been culpable in increasing my collection of ukulele (yes, that is the plural). Despite my strong musical skills and knowledge, learning to play was to be a challenge, but probably because of my ingrained high expectations.
Where did BUMS come in?
Experience told me that I would learn most quickly if I could play with other people. So I wandered into BUMS in 2011. With “Treasury of Ukulele Chords” by Roy Sakuma at hand, I joined the back row and bumbled through songs I knew, learning to contort my hand in ways contrary to all good piano players, and being constantly baffled by this strange video display that is neither chord chart, cheat sheet nor musical notation, and which often missed large sections that had been deemed uninteresting.
As a Performing BUM
I joined the BUMS Big Band and played a Hawaiian lunchtime gig at the RSPCA, a morning tea performance at Coorparoo, and a few others I cannot recall, whilst seeking instrument setup, arrangements and performances that I would be proud of. I was then invited to join a “choral” group that was directed by Antonia who was a vocal teacher and accomplished musician. Over a few years we grew with exceptional 4-part vocal harmonies and a few vocalist changes. Then we performed as Kine Kool for SPRUKE in 2015. (We played a couple of “Kool” jazz numbers. 😊)
I was involved with the “first” SPRUKE in 2013, and particular about concise song charts to encourage audience participation. As Kine Kool, we’ve continued this at subsequent SPRUKE and Kenilworth Festivals, with only a couple of “pure” performance songs. Kine Kool line-up has changed a few times, and is now Steve and I – here’s Summertime Blues at Manly Deck.
Julie and I have developed a strong attachment to Hawaii.
During our multiple visits, we’ve met many of the island’s musicians and developed strong friendships.
We listen to Hawaii No Ka Oi radio daily.
As an engineer, musician and tradesman I have continued to develop my knowledge of ukulele as an instrument.
I have been engaged with the Logan Chamber of Commerce since about 2013, and am a Life Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management (now called IML AU/NZ) and was National Chairman. I have also had involvement with various community groups, and have co-ordinated and hosted multi-day concerts for Brisbane Basket Brigade and for the White Lady – Rural Aid Fundraiser. Thank you to all of the BUMS members that have joined me!!!
Brisbane Basket Brigade FREE Concert for volunteers 2017
I had to replace my Yamaha keyboard, and am doing some new recordings.
This Masquerade is the first one on the new instrument.
I also have a guitarlele, steel guitar and harmonicas sitting beside my desk awaiting devotion, and of course, some new solo ukulele performances!