Saturday, January 7, 2017

It's not about the ukulele. But it is.

We have our final Ukestralia rehearsal in Australia today. We'll do a couple of rehearsals when in Opotiki as well, but the Australian buck stops here today. We are furiously rehearsing our music with our chosen talking sticks - the ukulele. 

The uke is what brings us together, and shows us ways to move beyond the original catalyst of 'ukulele'. Whilst it is just an instrument - which so many people have taken up - it is also our ticket to embrace a wider world of music and related experiences. 38 of us travelling from Newcastle to Opotiki, creating new stories for us to tell our children and grandchildren. Stories that we make, and that we tell.

This Ukestralia trip to an obscure small town in New Zealand's most easterly region came about because of Kiri Hata. Kiri is a Ngai Tai woman who lives in Newcastle and is a very active member of the Ukastle Ukestra. Kiri said 'come visit my tangata whenua'. A lot of ukestrans said 'awesome'. And so we are crossing the ditch.

The Opotiki Ukulele Festival is shaping up to be something rare in the world of ukulele festivals. It is more than ukulele and music making. It is very much about cultural exchange. Many Australians admire the prominent place of Maori culture in New Zealand life. Australians and New Zealanders (Aussies and Kiwis) are very close siblings. But the kiwis, and their relationship with the land and its people, reminds us of how far we aussies have to go to have a respectful and more integrated relationship with our land and its indigenous people. We look forward to learning.

We are being welcomed into this community through the common language and connection of music, and I am honoured and privileged to have been asked to do the mihi for us Australian visitors at the powhiri. These are rituals at which I will no doubt demonstrate my clumsiness and ignorance, (especially when speaking and singing in reo), but I will do my best. 

For years our ukestras have sung and played Pokarekare Ana - many Australians remember it from school radio in the 1960s and 70s. Like an oaf, I have counted this song in jauntily, and too fast. Our performances are nothing like this one here! If you have ever been a tourist in Aotearoa (the other name for New Zealand), for instance at Whakarewarewa in Rotorua, then you will have heard this beautiful love song performed. We have also sung and picked the national anthem, God Defend New Zealand, just because it is a good song. But for this visit Kiri has suggested we perform a more contemporary song in reo, and we seem to be doing a good job of it (for a bunch of aussie pakeha). We shall see. We shall see.

The ukulele has brought us together as a community in Newcastle, Australia. And now as a music-making community we are able to reach out to others of similar persuasions and enjoy each other's company and learn more, and experience more.

So it is about the ukulele. And it isn't. What joy and experiences making music can bring.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Apply Learning From Ukulele Yoda I Can!

Titanic Struggle #1: Maggies Defending Home

Maggie. RIP.
Ukestra this morning was witness to a titanic struggle. We are blessed to be in the beer garden at the local club, once a week, and the bushland across the carpark is home to beautiful animals, kangaroos and birds alike. Butcherbirds, koels, tawnies, magpies et al. Because of a recent adoption (and subsequent death), I have a renewed fondness for maggies. But clearly magpies have no fondness for goannas.

The goanna was on a mission. Eat a baby magpie from a nest on high. The troops were screechingly warbled in from all neighbouring territories, and despite the best snapping efforts of maybe a dozen hysterically community-minded maggies, the goanna retrieved its lunch.

The classic Tawny Frogmouth pose: You can't see me! I'm a tree!

Titanic Struggle #2: Student Retention

In the beer garden I had an equally titanic struggle. Prevent someone giving up in disappointment.

It's too hard! I don't understand what you mean by 'riffs', they opined.

All this time, and I didn't know that this was their aspiration, and with what they struggled. If they had said nothing, then I would be none the wiser when the day came that they were inexplicably 'no longer there' .

But this word came at just the right time - before I had planned the class (let's face it, I rarely plan). And so, in 15 seconds, I had formulated a plan of attack to retain and teach. To take the teachable moment by the horns.

No! Don't distract the class on my problems! They plead.

There are no silly questions. I comforted. If you are asking about this, others are bound to be. Some could do with the revision.

And so the pentatonic and My Girl came into the class plan at the last moment. And it worked a treat. Tentative learner retrieved. Students revised. Loose ends gathered. Until the next time.

Wisdom of the 30-Something Year Old

Learned from Ukulele Yoda in these last two months, one thing I have. This, it is.

A good teacher, what makes. hmmmm? ... the Wise One a class full of teachers ask.

A cascade of advice emanated from the Gathered Padawans. Be Observant! Be Well Resourced! Be Skilled! Know Your Scales! And on...

Yes.Said He ...but...this the nub of the good teacher be.

Be Prepared for Anything.

Good one Oh Wise One. Good. One.

And no. There is no good connection back to the magpie story. That's it. End of story.

Except - isn't that a beautiful tree? --- >

The Tree of Yoda

Monday, September 26, 2016

I'll have a Cabin and a Wombat Thank-you - Rosewood Folk Music Camp 2016

Picture this...arriving at Folk Music Camp and finding your assumed 'shared cabin' with unknown others is actually just for you two, and it's got an ensuite to boot. On the strength of this alone, I consider my 2016 teacher experience at Rosewood Folk Music Camp a rampant success.

Listen to a rehearsal whilst you read.

Add to that a wombat and 160 ukulele players and it was a crazily good weekend. I've written about Victoria's folk music camps before but this was a new high.

Rosewood is September-tucked in a valley of the Strathbogie Ranges (Central Victoria) at Charnwood Bush Camp (an old private school camp with various camp-type things – a zip line, canoes, wildflowers, kangaroos and a tame wombat).

Intermediate class
We were hired as the 2016 ukulele tutors, and for us it is a pilgrimage back to the Australian heartland of community music. Despite all of the competing and fascinating alternatives to our workshop (Instant Band, Youth Band, Whistle, Fiddle, Ensemble), our classes attracted record numbers.

Our first programmed session was 'intermediate ukulele'. That was crowded out in a small tent with 60 people. We complained to each other that the committee had programmed our venue in error. The small tent couldn't contain the 60 intermediates, and we were pretty sure that putting us in the large marquee for a beginners session was surely overkill. We couldn't get more than 60.
Beginners class, including tanbark covering some vomit.
100 came to the beginners session. Ouch.

What we know we do well is to get beginners and intermediates to a level where they can mutually support each other in an engaging and uplifting performance. We clearly achieved that, after a total of only two sessions each. We came together in a full-throated, harmonised uke-riff driven, strum-supported inclusive singalong.

But it is the first time ever that we have included a wombat in our performance. We highly recommend it, although they are rather short.

Every Band Needs a Wombat

The wombat had been hanging around camp all weekend. Chasing children (really just trying to attach to a new mother) and seeking food. At the evening concert it thought it would like to be one of the 300+ people crammed into the marquee for Sunday night's climax. Weaving between chairs, tripping people up, and occasionally making unauthorised crossings of the stage.

In the corner of the marquee a space had been allocated as a crashpad for small children to snuggle up in the cold in their sleeping bags. At one stage a parent was seen hauling said wombat out to an appropriate bush or dugout, but it just came rushing back into the warmth and fervour. Understandably what sane wombat wouldn't prefer sharing a toasty sleeping bag with a small child on a cold spring evening.

It came our turn to perform two songs, with 160 ish people. We told most of them to stay in the audience, and just to perform from there, but we got a few key players, riffers, singers and children (who wanted their turn in the sun) up on stage. It was mayhem, crowded, and glorious.

Our performance ended and we milled our way off stage, except for one teenager who remained reluctant to get up from his position next to a foldback speaker. The wombat had crawled into his lap and fallen asleep, an ukulele perched in front, strumming or riffing for the performance, surrounded by a wall of (apparently comforting) sound.

Comes a time when we have to leave our mumma

Jane with a wombat
Difficult to pack with a wombat
Next morning everyone packs and leaves. I went down to reception to finalise things with the committee and they were packing up, complaining that the little rascal was still around. I shunted him/her outside, providing a rather certain foot in the bum to get outside. Not hurtfully, just insistently. They did. But then a new problem began.

Are you my new Dad/Mum/Foodsource? The wombat galloped up with me to our bunkhouse, like a good dog at heel, into the cabin and the delighted arms of Jane, other adults and children.

This never happened at Lark. But this is Australia, not the USA. Wombats, not human-maiming bears.

What a great weekend.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Just sing. Everyone can do it.

It is difficult to highlight one person over another, but it is a privilege to watch a voice blossom. Yes we are ukulele teachers, but the uke allows us to sing. The goodness of our work was highlighted for me last night when the Jukestra performed at a school function.

I have taught Meabh since she was 7 or 8. She has always wanted to sing, and kept trying, but never quite got it, not quite the pitch, not pure or strong or confident enough. Even a year ago her lack of confidence wouldn't let her voice out in public. But this year it has started to emerge, and last night everyone went WOW!

For me this moment was the culmination of listening to the student and of conveying basic vocal technique. But the most basic attribute that I bring to that student-teacher relationship is the belief that everyone can sing, (at least in some style - think Tom Waits). It is my role, as teacher, to hold that belief for the student until they know within themself..

For me successful singing is about expressing our love for life. Fame, fortune, "The Voice" can hold no candle to that.

Just sing. It is good for you. And everyone can do it.

Well done Meabh, you inspire me.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What is the future of Ukulele Festivals? Feckless?

I wonder if Ukulele Festivals will ever grow up? Folk Festivals have grown and morphed over the decades. Some have even got out of control and lost their original feel, but at their kernel, they are still Folk Festivals – celebrations of the diversity of music expressed by communities. And they're still around.
Ukulele Festivals are a different kettle of fish, all seeming to have elements of the following:
  • some sort of skill development smorgasbord;
  • a celebration of the nascent performing skills of hundreds of (mostly retired, but some children) amateurs in their fabulous newly formed large uke-focused friendship groups;
  • a few wonderfully, quirky, and competent duos or ensembles;
  • singular stellar highly paid professional international performer outshining everyone and adored by the few hundred attendees. 
How on Earth can Ukulele Festivals grow up? How can they appeal to a wider audience? How can they be sustainable beyond and through this Precambrian epoch of Tiny Tim novelty?

SPRUKE – the 2015 Brisbane Ukulele Festival 

Hard, fast, built to impress – this seemed the mode of choice for the Festival Organisers choosing their stellar ONE at SPRUKE. Aldrine Guerrero was certainly that. I'd not really heard of him before, but his chops were extraordinary, and he seems to be reaching out (and achieving) the Jake stars.

Where does that leave us? With an ukulele in hand, can we only aspire to these unachievable stellar heights, or must we remain true to the singalong set, yet stuck in musical reverie? Where does this dichotomy leave the rest of us, the Jacks n Jels of this world? This is where our morning-after conversation went.

Virtuosity? Or Canvas 

Jane asked, do you think you are better on the trumpet or the ukulele?

A strange, but useful question!

First answer – trumpet. I know my scales and arpeggios, I have a good ear for melody, I have a nice tone (when I get the right notes). I just know the instrument better, and have been playing it longer. But nevertheless, I am no master. I've only been mistaken once for James Morrison (when I was 18, and he was 18, and the case of mistaken identity only lasted as long as it took to purse my lips and blow my horn). So yes, I can solo better on the trumpet, and there aren't too many of them around, (especially at ukulele festivals). I have a certain advantage there.

But if I want a canvas upon which I can paint a much broader performance, then the uke is clearly my drug of choice. I could be talking about a guitar, or an accordion, or banjo, but for portability, adaptability, and airport security, the ukulele tromps all over those aforementioned instruments.  So the uke is my preferred canvas. It allows me to be a better musician and performer than does the trumpet.

Jack n Jel - painting on a four string canvas

Its perfection for this purpose was no better displayed than in our Jack n Jel SPRUKE set on Sunday. We stumbled quietly through our first selections – a song of the old western trails in the US, nice harmonies, demure and obscure that didn't belt anyone over the head with prowess, noise, volume or known nostalgia. However, what we do best is facilitate collaboration. Jane is crook, and so we shanghaied Anu Grace, a beautiful professional singer and uke teacher from Townsville, press-ganged into singing My Baby Just Cares for Me. She has a supple and sublime voice, and a humble yet powerful performance presence (assisted ably by some well place dimples). She's adorable, and we were able to shine because she shone so wonderfully. We were a great combo for the song.

But the trio was only possible because we - Jack n Jel (we are still looking for a permanent name) - are a good solid duo, who hold the responsibility for the message that WE want to convey, most often with an ukulele.

There is much applause for Anu and then we were permitted to easily return back to duo mode. We well acquitted ourselves with some great and diverse originals from Jane (how much more diverse can you get than a slide blues on a baritone in banjo tuning, and then a 7/8 Balkan inspired tune about refugees?), and then my cute fictionalised account of our meeting and falling in love.

The Final Sweep of the Brush from the Palette 

We finished with a feckless (the word of choice for right wing Australian politicians last week) and sparse number – Peggy Lee's (and Jessica Rabbit's) 'Do Right Man' – a song that allows the dubious couple dynamic between man-woman/Mark-Jane to be well mined. On Sunday the mining struck pure gold.

Set up with just two ukes - a baritone doing a rather restricted falling bass line, whilst my concert uke did some repetitive arpeggiated thing with some fiddly bits when permitted. The story painted over this is of a feckless (such a good word, it deserves repeating) man for which a duped (and, may I say, stupid) woman has fallen. It's a great song, and Anu apparently knew it, because pretty swiftly she came onstage to add something. She was more than welcome, although unplanned and utterly spontaneous.

Great. I now had two powerful women telling me to go out and get a real job. Just what a muso needs – two whinging, whining wailing women. Nothing for it but to pick up the trumpet and try to get a real (non-ukulele) job. We ended up sparring, wailing, whinging and whining at each other, two women and a hammered man with a horn shoved in his gob yelling, whining and whinging back. It worked a treat. I have never felt more berated yet musically powerful. From all reports the performance was like  stumbling into a smoky New York jazz bar (well, maybe not 'all reports'. But that was how one well-travelled woman praised us afterwards).

And all courtesy of some well crafted glued together pieces of wood hosting four taut strings. This is the canvas that allows us to musically paint and travel, whether it be across the globe, or from bedroom to lounge. A guitar would get in the way, often sonically too.

The Ukulele Siren is calling

The uke does not call us to be virtuosic. It calls us to participate, to come together, to express ourselves. It offers itself as a musical canvas for these things. What we need to learn is not always to expect that we are going to strum our hearts out. At times we can arpeggiate them, to alternate, to put in dynamic, to leave space for our whinging and wailing to be expressed. We need to leave room for this, midst our apparently interminable and unavoidable ukulele happiness.

Apparently the purpose of writing a good article is to answer one's first posed question. I'm not so sure I can do that, for only time will tell. But I do know that I want uke festivals to continue doing what they set out to do, but also to leave room for diversity of performance, and to encourage other instruments to be a part of this welcoming family. Perhaps we should more overtly recognise its role as a canvas, rather than as an objective in itself. It is, after all, predominantly about the music and the community it creates.

It is not about the instrument.

Leave that to the shakuhachi festivals.

Friday, August 14, 2015

My Lark Camp July 2015 - a 1965 slide night

Trying it on - a slide night

Dad. c1964. No shirt. Has beer. Fingal Bay. His castle.
Me. Nude. Mum. Mother duties. Fingal Bay. My first house. Kitchen sink bath. Only option.
In the 1960s and early 70s, my Dad would occasionally turn off the telly, turn out the lounge-room lights, set up the screen, and show us slides from his trips to New Guinea, or old ones of the bay. I longed for these (and still do). Dad would pepper the event with his own annotations, fuelled by reverie and perhaps a beer or two.

In contemporary times such things are now mostly non-events, happening in the privacy of our Facebook feed, or in fleeting, sharing and caring palm-to-face mobile device moves.

We've just left Lark Camp for 2015. Last year I wrote lengthily about my freshman experience. If you haven't read it, I would encourage you to. It gives a blow-by-blow account as seen through the eyes of a novitiate. In 2015, as a more accepted part of the Lark family, I now lack the dispassionate external eye necessary for such reflections, and besides, this year I was probably too immersed to have time for in-camp screen time.

Except for the first bit, some small thoughts from my first days of 2015 Lark Camp. The remainder is more like Dad's 1960s slideshow. (Did you know you can click on the photos to make them bigger?)

A few words, but not many

Is it possible to become accustomed to the pace?
  • An early rise as there is not much scope for intimate sleep-ins due to the presence of cabin-mates; 
  • Maybe a dawn campfire song preceding the bell-rung breakfast, eaten with many strangers who become family; 
  • Swing band workshop at 9:30 (on trumpet); 
  • Run ukestration workshop at 11; 
  • Swap over with Jane on teaching, 
  • Maybe do some photocopying on the most glacial machine I have ever met (even in the 1970s);
  • Grab lunch, cheese and tomato sandwiches (if I'm lucky), followed by a novel peanut butter and jelly sandwich; 
  • Try to stay awake for the beginners swing guitar class; 
  • Follow up with, if I am still awake (unlikely) and if some other fascinating bit of musical wizardry doesn't seduce me, the intermediate swing guitar class; 
  • Nap in the 30 minutes of cabin sun seeping between the trees prior to heading off to early-evening latin band class (on trumpet); 
  • Dinner/more chats; 
Then dancing, dancing, dancing, with the one with whom I vertically express my unconsummated horizontal intentions.
As with last year the question remains - can I keep up this monotonous pace for seven straight days? Right now, at the dawn of Day Three, the task seems daunting.

On Day Seven I'll have tears.

The Slide Show by me (Frank's son)

Hair preparation. Mary-Jane braided Jane's hair in preparation for a week of dust n music n few showers.  Hair corralled from this ...
 To this...

Our pile – ready for the pickup from our Sonoma County compatriots, driving in a four car caravan (convoy). Lark is about a 20 minute drive from Mary-Jane n Jovan's in Mendocino. The boys from my old band (voicepopfoible) would recognise this pile.

Comrades from Sonoma County
The music starts in the queue. Janeen (in red top) is the most volcanically delightful female dancer at Lark. I enjoyed our dancing last year. I enjoyed my brief dances this year. Chris, in the leather jacket is a baritone sax player. They didn't like me saying sax-off-on-ist. Americans prefer sax-off-phonist. It sounds less lascivious. He makes industrial food manufacturing equipment. An occupation definitely not as lascivious as that of a saxophonist. Speaking of lascivious. Steve on the right there is a university professor specialising in statistics and sex and something else. Why is it not surprising that I don't remember his third speciality? Phil, on guitar is already recalling his complex choro lines from last year. The music has begun, and we haven't even got through border security.

Ukulele Activities

Our reputation clearly had preceded us from 2014, as the ukestra class size doubled. I took the first class, Jane the other. An hour and fifteen minutes each.

Each day, for seven days, at 11am and 12:30pm, we had ukestra sessions. It only mizzled one day (wet air), so it wasn't an issue being outside. Finding eough chairs was sometimes an issue!

Scheduling performances was a small challenge, but thanks to the hula teacher, we had ours scheduled in the Camp Two Dining Hall for the Wednesday. This gave us five days to develop some skills amongst our participants, and to arrange them. Unfortunately we missed out on getting one of these posters, but they were so beautiful.

All of our hard work eventually paid off, complemented beautifully by Jerry and Adrienne, two of Lark Camp's most accomplished dancers. They did the Tango to our Libertango. We were so thrilled and proud to have our work on Libertango come to fruition. It does work! For both beginners and for more experienced players! This is the motley crew who showed up.

But to see how they played, watch the video. The dance is so beautiful, and the accompanying music ain't too bad for five days of pulling it together!

We performed 3 songs - Budapest, Libertango, and this one - Purcell Canon.

Accommodation, Amenities, life around camp

Ain't it a cute little hut in the forest? Actually, that's the dunny (Australian for 'restroom').

Our cabin (number 32 - same as last year) is a 5 minute walk from the main action at Camp Two. I am grateful for the distance as the midnight dances are very noisy and youthfully exuberant. It is also right on the creek. So we hear a bit of babble from the brook, footsteps on the footbridge, and we get some sunlight because of the cleft in the forest made by the creek. Windows made of wire. Door made of creak (note to self - take WD-40 next time).

The Bobbsey twins wanted me to take a photo of them wearing the same top. Marty on the right is one of the Camp Two 'mother hens'. Need to know something? Ask Marty.

Huck's homeless euphonium, reflecting the red striped tent. The player never picked it up. He got shanghaied into being the piano player for the swing band. There are instruments everywhere around camp. Left, happy, ready, safe.

A nearby fiddler. She has a gorgeous sense of self, sun, hair and cooler-covering tablecloths.

Non-ukulele activities, and dancing

At the very last minute on the last day, I joined the Scow (the garbage truck) as it ferried trashie musicians to Greg Moore's 'World Band' in the meadow.  Fantastic stuff that reminded me of revolutionary brass band music. Not innovative, but revolutionary. I'll be doing that next year definitely.

Lark is not a performance festival as such. You do not go there to 'see' things or performers. You got there to be a part of it. To play music. To live differently for a week. That being said, my favourite spot for 'performances' was around our Camp Two Campfire at 7:30am. I sang quite a bit there, and was appreciated. At Lark I particularly appreciated Mr Erik Hoffman, an intriguing and attractive fellow of good pacifist stock. Erik is the dance caller par excellence. He also sings a rather pleasant song around the campfire in the morning. He is also known for wearing dressing gowns in public rather stylishly. A bit like Caesar.

Somebody took a leadership role in the Latin Band with the singers section.

Jane rewrote the rap lyrics to Mambo #5, and herded the cats into some form of discipline. She knows how to do it. She's been doing that with me and other Novocastrian ukulele reprobates for 5 years now.

The difference between the Australian and American folk scenes? In Australia we have specialists in Mexican music. In the USA they are specialists in the music of specific states of Mexico. Nydia lead a South American session, behind her is a woman playing guittaron (a bass instrument). Nydia's child, Yasmin (age 6), spoke to me on the bus, affectionately called Camp Four, and usually with much music, reverie and singing aboard, runs perpetually between Camps 1 and 2 (through Camp 3). She asked me why I didn't speak the same language as her. I had to explain it was still English, just a different accent.

One of the lauded instruments in Camp One was from a Swedish tutor who had a Nyckelharpa

This one and a half minute video is of a night walk from the bridge (across what I call the Gaita Gulch) to the hall at Camp Two. The first lights are wrapped around the bridge railing, then it is a wee piano accordion rehearsal in a van. In the distance, and dominating the night soundscape is a pan-pipe group, but not before a gypsy jazz accordion/hurdy gurdy jam. The pan-pipe group process into the dining/dance hall.

Balkan dancing in the hall at Camp One. Jane is in a pink hat amidst the blurred frenzy. This was Jane's favourite dance.
Eden Macadam Somer is a Boston Professor (which means 'lecturer' in American). Watch her feet in the first 15 seconds.Thrilling and beautiful stuff. Eden and Larry performed in the Camp Two dance hall one night after dinner. I met Larry in Camp Four (the bus). We had a damn fine chat. Larry is originally from the wastelands of Detroit.

And so. Next year? One suspects so. So many good people to share music with, and not that many active years left on the planet (?optimistically, maybe 50). May music whilst the sun shines.

Thanks Lark, you make music so much fun. And life so meaningful.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Palm Creek Folk Festival - a sleeping disaster (but a great festival)

Before and After, all at the same time.

Jane is meditating on the shed floor – our excellent one star Airbnb Mission Beach accommodation. I am ticka ticking on the puter on the bed, (thanks Cynthia for the fandom prompt). The bright green stinging ants are crawling across the underpants drying on the passionfruit vine. Anywhere can be home.

Anywhere except a crowded performers camping area where we lie, tent by tent, snoring sinus by farting anus, too close for comfort for a good 3 night's sleep.

Walking out of Townsville airport without being frisked by customs or border security seemed very odd, because, good lord, FNQ feels like another country - climate, culture n all. The Norrrrthhhh Queeeenslaaaaander taaaaxi driiiiiver was barely legible, relaying mumbled stories from the Townsville Bulletin about pissed off customers suing venues for delivering only 3 minutes of a scheduled 5 minute lapdance. Yes, this is civilisation Dorothy, but not as we know, not as we know it.

Our home for Thursday night is a beautiful Queenslander, our bedroom has louvres, not windows. Our hosts, Anu and Lawrie, have a verdant garden midst the sterile South Townsville blocks of people who care not for greenerie. The tide rises twice a year on their block, through the drains.

But, as old Abbottophile uni and school buddies remind me in barbed Facebook exchanges, there is no such thing as climate change.

Enter the Festival

People still remember me from 8 years ago, one of voicepopfoible's last gigs. “You guys were great! I remember that last gig! Dunno why you ever broke up!”. Well...time, and tide, waits for no man.

And it was 'manny' in 2007 during the infamous Pasha Bulker weekend, me and Ruby safely ensconced 2000km from the floods that stole our car from Daughter #1 and her Mother. Palm Creek 2007 was us four blokes (and a 12 year old daughter) just talking shit together, giving each other shit, getting shitfaced (except me n Ruby) on a blokes' weekend away. Goddam fun.

But I remember I slept ok back then.

This time Palm Creek is with the woman with whom I love and work. We are a great team. She is my protector. A man needs a good protecting woman, particularly when she fiercely defends her right to sleep. Because the voicepopfoible of this festival are nine blokes, horn players no less, from Brisbane band Bullhorn. They are here for a good time, drinking piss from lunchtime, performing at midnight, then coming home to party. But not on my sleep time! thinks Jane who roars at them from bed at 1:30am. Someone mumbles 'good call', and they guiltily shuffle off to bed, only to make matters worse by sleeping in the tent next to us, drunken snores keeping me further awake.

But their performance was excellent, at least on the first night from the 'comfort' of my bed. I could swear it was a precise fender jazz bass holding and pumping those rhythms. But no. It was and is a sousaphone, an instrument that you climb inside to play. The main stage is 400 metres away, but I swear the bedding and dust is lifting with every bass drum / sousa hit and trumpet/trombone swathe of air cutting through our tent. They sound brilliant. Must go to the concert tomorrow night (at a much more agreeable hour of 10:30pm).

The next night's attendance at said concert leaves me gasping with admiration. A two trumpet, two trombone, two sax (one a very rare bass saxophone), drumkit, sousa, all topped with an overweight big brown man, beating his chest with passion and belief, and in command of an audience eating out of his congenial MCing hands. I have not been so impressed by a band (and never by 'rap') in many years, and I fight it out at the front for dancing space. I jump with the dust-clad masses as we all give our sinuses a self-inflicted battering. 4 days later my face is still swollen as it tries to clear the drought-dust from inside the cavities of my cheeks, nose and eyes. Bullhorn are da shit man, sinuses or no.

That night, I sneak out of the tent to find a homelessness shelter somewhere on site, somewhere quiet to sleep that is not an airbed or surrounded by snorers. At 2am I claim a lost mattress in a rat frequented shed. Ahhhhhh....sleep....rats or not rats. At dawn the mosquitoes carry me back to Jane and I nap some more.

The Palm Creek Ukestra

Our brief at Palm Creek is to teach ukulele. We don't teach ukulele. We ukestrate ukulele, create a ukestra, then provide a performance space for the result. But we do have beginners, and seem, miraculously, to be able to cater for them at the same time as the ones who are seeking a challenge. Most people can play, we have a few teenagers, and numerous baby boomers. It is gratifying that it worked out, because the program really didn't give much indication of what was gunna happen. They bill me (Mark Jackson) as the act, and not Jane, and there is no overt link with the ukestra. And then the 9:15 time slot (am) (for the 'ukestra rehearsal), is written in a small and obscure part of the program. By small, I probably mean 6 point font. So it meant we felt a bit apprehensive about whether people would come.

But they did. 40-50 each day, including two Ukastle Ukestra Alumni who either happened to be up this way, or who now live in the area. The raves and complaints, as usual, were superlative. Never done anything like this. My local group is so boring, this is wonderful. I learned so much. And lots of laughter. Our teaching personalities tends to amplify our character traits. Me the disorganised shambolic and funny one, Jane the organised disciplinarian who laughs readily.

My favourite person was Amber, a girl of 11 (nearly 12) who was very studious, serious and reliable about the tasks at hand. In contrast was Emily, maybe 10/11 years old, who wanted to be the lead singer, but didn't have the voice for it, and who, when we shifted the spotlight from her, just up and left. Too hard, she said. I think what she meant was 'too hard on my ego, I didn't get it straightaway, or wasn't able to be the star immediately, so I'm not going to try anymore'.

Amber was so much more pleasant and real.

Monday it was raining (praise be!! The dust is gone! Bring on the mud! Or get us outta here). We gather at 11am for a final rehearsal to ready ourselves for the performance on the main stage. The organisers' intent for the Performers Camping and socialising area comes off for us. We purloin the legendary Mal Webb and his wonderful accompanist, Kylie Morrigan, as our erstwhile Gotye and
Kimbra for Somebody That I Used to Know. That brings the house down (as does the uke swapping). But what really surprisingly brings the house down even more is the Mick Legge arranged 35 uke 'Edge' solo in All I Want is You by U2.

Success. Phew. (Can you come back next year?)....

Still Nameless

We also do a set as Jack n Jel. The audience vote (yet again) indicates that they don't like our new name. They didn't like SQuidge – so what are we supposed to do for a name? We purloin Lawrie, bass player/godfather of festival / enlightened motor cycle mechanic / Radio National carpenter. He helps us along. We wander through the set, acquitting ourselves rather nicely and depart. On our way out people are stopping us saying how much they enjoyed it. Really? Why? You are funny. I never knew whether you were serious or whether some of that shit was made up, real or not. Woteva. Must work on the new bio...I hate bios. I hate referencing Mark Jackson in the third person. We all know he's a twat.

A toast to a good festival and goodbyes

And so we leave, the bus taking us to the airport. Alan, the bus driver, is breath tested on site before being allowed to leave. The cops are INSIDE the festival gates, which only seems right and proper.

This festival has been so different to those 2 or 3000km further south. For one, there were no Morris Dancers. Two, grog is wandering in hands everywhere. Smoking is banned on site, but no-one takes any notice. Down in the more civilised lands of New South Victoria, we know that we only drink back at the campsite, or in the licenced fenced off areas of festivals. Here, beer, wine and the essential stubby holder is everywhere.

Over the weekend I am offered such fine hospitality at various campsites, including one where I secure a pina colada and a nice biscuit. I politely and wisely decline the biscuit.

It's been a great festival.