WHEN I heard someone say he was giving ukulele lessons to a 70-year-old who wanted to bring along his 90-year-old mate for lessons, I flexed my arthritic fingers and revived my Jimi Hendrix fantasies.
This piece of unintended encouragement came straight from the teacher's mouth some time back as a group of us settled in at the Meeniyan Hall waiting for Iris Dement to strut her stuff.
The wonder of it all is the number of musicians whose path I've crossed since moving down to the Bass Coast. Now I am no longer surprised when I hear that our carpenter, our electrician and our solar panel man are all playing in bands when the sun goes down.
So I took it in my stride when I found myself sitting beside West Creek guitarist Ian McMullan that Meeniyan evening. The big advantage of such good fortune is getting the inside information on the intricacies of the musical performance as it unfolds. What sort of guitar is Iris using? Why the second guitar resting there on stage? How does it differ? Don't you wish you were sitting at another table?
Ian treats my curiosity with tolerance. Perhaps I should join up for some lessons. That would send the average age of the class soaring to new heights.
Around these parts, you’re the oddball if you don't write, sing or play a musical instrument. The more I listen and talk to our local musicians, the more fascinated and inquisitive I become.
Shane Simpson, lead guitarist with the long-gone Amear Beg, has patiently broadened my awareness of the makes and models of guitars, banjos and mandolins, and told me all
there is to know about Dobros. He even lent me the book.
I found the word Dobro wasn't even in the Macquarie Dictionary. Well, all right, that was before I knew how to find it on the internet, but Shane told me first.
He brings colourful names to life. Gibson guitars called Firebird, Flying V, Sunburst and the Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster. Talks about famous guitarists who favour the different types and models. The likes of Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix and our own famous Swan Hill boy Bruce Mathiske. Haven't heard of him? Check him out on YouTube.
There's Rob Wilson (Barbeque Bob and The Ring of Fire)and his White Falcon Gretsch guitar who explained to me all about the middle eight (commonly: 1st verse - chorus, 2nd verse - chorus, middle eight - chorus) which happens in the middle of a song, the length of which is generally eight bars. I’m not sure if I have really got a handle on this bit yet but hear it is common in most of the Beatles’ songs. If, as I am told, it is a departure from the home key, a different melody from the rest of the song, the Neville Brother’s Yellow Moon is a good example.
There's Larry Hills, our own composer and chorale director, who answers my questions about major and minor keys and the structure of twelve bar blues; Wonthaggi’s John Coldebella who plays acoustic guitar and writes songs that can sweep you from joy to tears in a chord beat; the duo of Judy John (mandolin) and Carol Robinson (guitar) who make such beautiful sounds are somewhat elusive but catch them if you can; and the Bass Coast Pickers (Mary and Michael Whelan and Alison Chapman), who came to my attention at a party only last week. By popular request, they ended up playing a Pete Seeger bracket that made it hard not to tap the toes and sing along.
The local talent is deep and wall to wall. Living in the burbs of Melbourne, we knew nothing like it.
There was a time when I pinched my teenage son’s Maton and signed up for a CAE holiday course in guitar for beginners. That was all of 40 years ago. When they started to talk about split chords, the Maton and I packed up and went home.
Learning to play a musical instrument is as alien to me as learning to speak Mandarin but it sure would sound better. Then again, maybe not.