On June 4, I arranged for Tyrone to make a brief appearance at B.U.M.S. That’s the Brisbane Ukulele Musicians Society. There are groups like this all over Australia, (often titled with similarly nutty acronyms) where uke players of varying levels of skill but uniform levels of enthusiasm get together to socialise, learn and play the instrument. Years ago I’d been present at a few meetings of the group’s earliest iteration, at founder Sam Lovejoy’s invitation. I’ve written elsewhere about why the this little instrument has gathered such a worldwide following: at tonight’s gig the uke’s not a curiosity, it’s a given.
There are meetings elsewhere in town, but tonight it’s at The Green Bar at the Coorparoo Bowls Club, a friendly, two-story venue that’s resisted the tide of blandness that’s washed over many venues. Here you can still get a cheap beer or pizza, play pool and have a chat, surrounded by the familiar (un art-directed) paraphernalia of this traditional Australian social space, untroubled by hipsters. Honour rolls: gold paint on varnished silky oak. Pictures of past presidents. Plastic chairs. Long towels on the bar.
Tyrone was due to perform a short set to plug his upcoming show Gentlemen Songsters, and I wanted to enhance the gig by involving the audience in writing poetic odes to the uke: Haikulele. Yet another of Tyrone’s inventions. A few written that night are published here, with permission. They wrote these on their laps in a couple of minutes during Tyrone’s set.
Uke, uke till you puke
And I loved to play the goat
Until I found the uke
The gathering is upstairs, there are over a hundred people here, all with instruments, facing a stage where the mics are set up. The beginner’s group for newer players is finishing up. Central is a video screen with a running order: later chords and lyrics will appear here as people begin to play communally. But it hasn’t started yet. There’s excited chat and the plinking, raindroppy sound of multiple ukes being tuned.
John, Jo, Lindsay and others who I’ve met via email are friendly and welcoming, and I’m putting faces to names. Blair’s on sound, and he’s eating a pizza. I’ve worked with him before; he’s a uke player too. No problem. It’s well-organised and cordial.
Lacking a phone booth, I hang out in a small storeroom to the left of the stage while Tyrone prepares for the gig. The walls are vertical join timber. Very Queensland. There are Christmas decorations on the shelves, a bowling magazine and an ancient New Idea. All sorts of stuff. The 1954 president looks down benignly from her crooked frame. Tyrone’s getting dressed. I hear it starting.
Four string melody
Upsets the neighbour’s doggie
There’s a thrum and a punch to communal uke playing that’s impossible to capture in words. A youtube video won’t do it either. The sound surrounds you, and when you hear it, it’s easy to imagine why you might like to be in the middle of such a sea.
Tyrone’s finished the bowling magazine and is reading about a celebrity marriage in the New Idea. He asks who the celebrity is. I have No Idea.
I can’t see the stage, but I know the group’s being led from the stage by Lindsay, who I’d chatted with earlier. He’s singing. Everyone’s singing. Many people harmonise. It’s a very pacific sound. There’s someone on U-Bass, which lends a rhythmic punch. They’re playing well.
There, song of my youth
Play you and sing on four strings
Man I am happy
I peer out through the shelves of food, flour and spices through a bamboo blind. They’re playing Eight Days a Week, one of three well-known songs in the first set. The lyrics and chart are probably being projected, but it doesn’t sound at all hesitant. It sounds effervescent. There’s a jouissance in the joinery.
Tyrone gets on and does his thing. Blair helps him position the mic in response to his left-handedness, and typically Tyrone then re-exits, and re-enters, demanding to be greeted by applause. Four songs and scattered patter, plus distribution of the Haikulele forms, reading of one or two and the presentation of prized Tyrone and Lesley albums. The crowd, so loud before, is listening. Ting! Someone dropped a pin. Applause. The set finishes, and Tyrone departs.
Four strings of awesome
George Formby to The Ramones
All songs are fair game
After a break, the evening continues with a fun, short, and well-managed open-mic . One song, maybe two, then you’re off. The performers are nervous, but good: the audience is supportive wants them there.
One chap, collar up, hair coiffed, sings La Vie En Rose in comedy-french, a party piece that works. Tyrone’s got some competition there. Another guy plays ‘Whatever Lola Wants’, a song I really like, which is quite difficult to play. He’s apologetic when he fluffs a chord, but we’re with him. There’s a tenderness in seeing people perform for (perhaps) the first time that’s irreplaceable. All of us gathered here tonight are performers too, so in a sense we’re literally ‘with’ him. There’s love in the room.
Pick yourself up & dust yourself down
I just can’t help myself
Wallflowers on the shelf
The evening continues, with strong strumalongs led by various BUMS. I have a beer and take a seat. I have a chat with various folks, many of whom are enthusiastic fans of Tyrone and Lesley. It’s good to meet them, but it’s time to sing and play. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight. As I walk down the stairs it’s Riptide.
Everyone at tonight’s Brisbane Ukulele Musicians Society is strumming accord.
When the sands and seas
Do part us
And my uke I can no longer see
Remember it was a loving hand
That wrote these words to thee