While I was doing my degree I learned to play the autoharp and the ukulele and one of my schemes was this – if there were still no therapist jobs by the time I graduated (check), I would learn to play well enough to be a fully-fledged busker. A licenced speech therapist/busker! How cool would that be? Well…that didn’t happen either, as a science degree turned out to be a bit more demanding than it seemed at first, and I found that I really didn’t have enough brain capacity to memorize lyrics, melodies and chords on top of all the management, assessment and therapy information I needed to retain to graduate.
However, by summer the degree was mine and I could devote some quality time to music, so in August I joined a ukulele band, the SpaStrummers. A genial fellow named Dave started the group in October 2011, playing their first gig in May 2012. The membership has grown to 50+, but not everyone attends practices at the same time and there is a core group of about 15 or 20 who do most of the gigs. The group is about having fun, not virtuoso playing, which suits me fine. I’m a fearless singer, but I’d never really mastered an instrument well enough to feel really comfortable playing in public.
I played my first gig with the group on a lovely day in September at a Ukulele Day in Presto Classical, a local music shop. Absolutely hooked.
The group gets more and more popular, we were invited to support a choir at a Christmas concert where the Lord Mayor of Warwick wondered where we had been all his life. We play weddings and birthday parties and fetes and festivals. We are hosting Leamington Spa’s first ever Ukulele Festival on the 20th of July. And we're playing at the Warwick Folk Festival on the 25th and 27th of July.
I have calloused fingers, despite the nylon strings. My playing has improved to the point that chords which seemed impossible are now just sort of tricky. I’ve done solos at band practices and even got to lead the band at a gig. I may even have a go at picking, who knows. My busking days are closer than ever could be imagined.
On the 23rd of June, Dave organised a coach that took a passel of us to the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain in Cheltenham. Besides the booked acts there is endless opportunity for the amateur uke-ist to play there. We arrived in time to set up for the Big Busk, hundreds of players in the pedestrian zone led through a 20 song list. We had downloaded and practiced this the week before, as many of the songs were new to us, one known only to me, so I got to lead it (I’ll Fly Away – it’s on the Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack that woke us up every morning for months on the CD clock/radio). There was also a curious emphasis on cowboy songs – Rawhide, Ghost Riders in the Sky.
Truly, I can say that the Big Busk was possibly the most fun I ever had with other people (clothed or not) ever. More was to come…
The rest of Sunday’s events were at The Exmouth Arms pub, with an open mic and stalls. Dave didn’t put our name down to perform, however we all ended up in the pub itself and led a jolly sing/playalong with anyone who joined in. We discovered that there were groups quite nearby us that we’d never heard of (the brilliantly named Moselele, from Moseley in Birmingham, for example), so we could do a bit of publicity for our uke festival as well. And the general consensus was that the Spa Strummers know a heck of a lot of songs and that they are darn good at starting and ending together. For a fun band this is about as good as it gets.
What I’ve learned: I can actually play an instrument in public without embarrassing myself too much; it’s more fun to play with other people; I could still achieve my dream of being a busker, and there could even be a busking partner to do it with; nothing is too silly; I have the best husband in the world – he carries my music stand, gets me coffee, takes photos, rejoices in my silliness, and encourages me to do things that I want to even if sometimes they scare the heck out of me…
|First gig with the Spa Strummers at Presto Classical|
I'm in the front row, second from right, bobbing about. Who can sit still when you're playing the ukulele? And who would want to??
|Leading the band at the Dunchurch Fete|
If you look quickly near the end you can see a glimpse of me in my red hat and Alun with two gigantic coffees (one for me)...