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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A wedding ... a community ...

Our 'engagement' photo. Setting the dress code.
With no expense, except for my time (3 months later - I've had enough - I'm pressing 'publish'), this post is about my / our wonderful wonderful wedding. You may merely wish to flick through the photos, purloined primarily from Facebook. Or zip straight to the end for the friend's video of the wedding vows song. 

Alternatively you may elect to read a completely biased and political account of my thinking about marriage and getting married, and its relationship to community. If the latter is your affliction, well then, by all means, flail yourself!

The anti-wedding rant

Ray – (the interminably joking now father-in-law): How much are you going to pay me for my daughter?

Me – (the skeptical, intellectualising, socially conscious soon-to-be-son-in-law): Four cows.

My mother still has her Glory Box, full of glorious stuff in her bedroom. It contains the wealth she brought to her marriage. I can't remember what is in it now, perhaps christening gowns and the like. Certainly not the jewels and wealth that would accompany Arabic or Bedouin daughters.

But for the wedding of Mark and Jane there was to be no father-giving-the-bride-away; 
  • no walking down the aisle; 
  • no $30,000 bridal photography package (they DO exist, or so my newly acquired cousin-by-several-marriages assures me);
  •  no 1-2 hour awkward wait for the bridal party to return from their beautiful location photo shoot; 
  • no “I do's”; 
  • no stiff collared matching suits, or tulle or taffeta-laden dresses of dubious design and colour; 
  • no awkward sitting around allocated tables with people you don't need or want to know.
Ours was to be a bush dance and picnic, and a ceremony (with some speechs and the obligatory bits), appropriately butchered, sauted, and filled with suitable context and pathos. It needed to make the relevant people cry, including ourselves.


Enough rant.... for all of what has just been written is merely an opening to a verbal and visual description of our wedding, particularly in the absence of an official wedding photographer (who, anyway, would've provided an over-idyllised picture of our romantic joining).

The Engagement

An engagement photo? Announced 2 months after the question was posed.
I posed 'the question'. I didn't 'pop' it.

Me: I'm wondering whether it might be a nice thing for us to have a party where we get married? What do you think?

Her: Oh yeah...maybe...

Me: Huh? Um ... is that a yes or a no?

Her: Well, it's a half arsed acceptance of a half-arsed marriage proposal.

After we sorted that out, we became excited and more post-acceptance and post-winter-swim lovey and gushy.

But there was to be no long winded 'engagement' for us. Ruby, my 20 year old daughter, had just scheduled to leave Australia to study in Spain for a year. Departure – 3 December. Time, weddings and adult euro-bound daughters wait for no-one.
Chris and Annie's hilarious "can't be there" apology.

Nominally marketed to relos and friends as a bush dance, we seemed to do nearly everything ass-about-face. The plan ...
  1. Eat
  2. Ceremony
  3. Open mic.
  4. Dance.
In retropsect it is easy now to see that an overt (yet not) river of community ran right through our thinking. Objections and advice from 'elders' were met with an eventually well trod retort....

OMG! C'mon!!! We are 50 ish!!!! Give us a break! 
You don't get it, this is a community event. It will work.

Venue - ✓

The choice of venue was our first success.
Jane tries out the Woodville Hall with Queenie supervising
In 1983 I voted in a small country hall near Maitland, whilst on a country pushbike ride with a bunch of fellow leftie bushwalking uni students. I imagine we would've been fairly pleased that Hawkey got voted in. 

More recently, ukulele has lead me back to this locale for a regular Monday night Ukestra at Paterson. And we used the hall once for a funny video

The Woodville School of Arts Community Hall sits on a knoll in the floodplain of the Paterson River. In its backyard is a shed which contains the Woodville community's official Flood Boat, last used in 1974. Around it is land (lots of land under starry skies above), a wee school, and a crumbling cottage. Sublime. A youthful Queen presides over all, as does the ghost of Woodville's most famous son, Les Darcy, world boxing champion circa 1932.
Eminently photogenic old building with young geezas in front. Courtesy of Instagram.

Food -

The second useful decision was the food. Everyone bring a plate to share. Simple. The American Indians called it potlatch, which became anglified to potluck. This decision drew the most doubting fire from the expectant mother-in-law.

Oh we'll get a caterer in for our party of relatives”.

No you won't – this will work.

Music -

And then music of course. A bush dance. Some ukulele. A little bit of open mic.

These three things – venue, food, music - were easy decisions.

And the weather – late November in a rapidly warming climate – that was always going to be in the lap of the …

We neglected to plan for photographer, hire cars, reception seating, wedding dress, bridesmaids, groomsmen, hens night, bucks night (no. wait. there is photographic evidence).

Before you jump to some awful conclusion, these two gorgeous women are my daughters. And I am trying to look like an ugly buck

Ah....yes... the Ceremony. It had to brew.

Planning the Ceremony -

The design of the wedding was partially shaped around trying to avoid all of the contents of this blog's opening ramble, to have little fuss, and to do the legal minimum, whilst still giving people what they want - emotion. We also had to constrain certain members of the family who don't read the internet and perhaps never will.

Car journeys are wonderful things. On the way to Forbes in September, somewhere around joining the Golden Highway, we felt we started to get a grip on what our ceremony would look like.

No damn speeches was Jane's edict. Some form of ritual or gravity was my desire. No reception speeches. Minimal expense.

The final piece of the jigsaw was that it was OUR wedding. Wedding ceremonies always seem to be controlled by others and are events where the two key people are only allowed to speak after the ordained wedding controller has spoken. It seems to me that that lack of control is a perplexing vestige of the usual callow, unconfident youths doing the marrying, and the ritualistic control of our forefathers (in the form of parents, priests, celebrants, photographers, bridezillas, wedding planners). These shape the disempowered nature of weddings where marriage is 'done' to them, not achieved by them.

At this one we would be in control.  The celebrant was an old acquaintance, Lozzie Macey, and we saw her primary roles as telling us how we could have the power, and to inform us of the legal minimum which we were obliged to deliver.  As you will see in the video, her role was minimal. Just perfect. And legal.

The thing with ceremonies is that they have a certain amount of gravity, whilst reception speeches have a lot of disrespect, and often gushing nothings. How could we avoid speeches, yet somehow give people the context and ceremony that they also desire?

Incorporate the speeches into the ceremony, that's how. Over a period of weeks it grew on us. We would ask people to not speak about us, but to speak about themselves, for the people who are important in our lives would then naturally reflect the people who we are.

I am what I am because of who we all are …

or so a pithily packaged African philosophy says.


And so Jane and I are the result of our parents, our siblings, our friends, our children, and finally, the people in our daily and weekly lives. We are the product, as individuals, but also as the couple. If we could do it right, and shape people's speeches in an appropriate way, then we could provide a ceremony that was appropriately dignified and reflective of the who we are in amongst the who we all are.

We are a product of our communities within which we have grown. 

As a nice night-before segue into the wedding day, my family gathered around as the completely unqualified (yet hairdresser-gene-endowed) daughter #2 gave me a haircut.  Meanwhile down the hill, Jane reacquaints herself with her rarely present sister and their ancient nuclear family dynamic.

The Day -

The weather on the day was enough to make one believe in a big bearded white man in the sky directing all things pertinent to keeping Mark and Jane safe. From ten days out it predicted that the weather would be hot, with a nice dip in temperature on the Saturday. It became tantalising to think that perhaps we had chosen the wrong venue. Why would we go 45 minutes and 10-15deg of heat further inland when our coastal home environment invariably offers us far more equable temperatures?

But the sky-beard-man directed perfectly – book-ending Friday with 39deg and Sunday with 42deg. But Saturday? 32Deg predicted, and thus the evening was perfect. (Note: the Sunday was the hottest November day for Paterson (the nearby weather station) EVER! And the hottest day for the year - we were so lucky).

Friends and able-bodied relatives gathered early to put up decorations, to prig and primp hair and the bridal face, to prepare final special salads. Some arrived early to garner a prize camping spot. The throngs arrived from 5pm, a couple of mini-buses, plates of a fantastic variety of foods, with an uncalled emphasis upon vegetarian gourmet foods (in honour of the groom) all plonked upon the hall's trestle tables.

Something is flaring this photo. The Cape Chestnuts perhaps?
The Cape Chestnuts laden with their late spring bloom framed and shaded the picnic / ceremonial area, and kept extending with shade, chairs and people as the sun set over Albion Farm (one of the oldest farms in the Hunter Valley – settled 1812). Miraculously the main meal offerings were left on the indoor trestles whilst people settled in for pre-drinkies. Fairies miraculously appeared, drifting the canapes around the naturally occurring circles of relatives and friends, grouped by blood, politics or musical persuasions. No-one asked anyone to wait on others, no-one was directed to create any sort of horse's douvers, the food and their accompanying fairies just appeared.

And when it seemed mains would be appropriate, I yelled out from the verandah –

Might be good to eat now! We'll probably get married in an hour or so!

Mick, Nikki, myself, Steve, Jane and Aaron. Practising a song they didn't know.
We practiced our wedding vow song out the back, with friends from Bendigo and Bulahdelah, and all was well.

The sun was setting low and someone wanted a couple of photos, so we gathered together a few people in a disorganised fashion and asked if there were any photographers around? Jane's cousin-in-law obliged. Phew.

At 7ish it started to look more like sunset, so we started the proceedings.

The Jackson Clan
The picniccers seemed to be intransigently ensconced in their circles, and the small formal gathering of empty chairs in an alter-like semi-circle seemed increasingly redundant, so we turned the speakers to the crowd and began.

The Context Talks

We had asked 13 people to speak.
  • President of the Woodville Hall School of Arts – Liz Sterel, doing an acknowledgement of country and a welcome to Woodville for all of us interlopers. 
  • Our parents (Ray, Elizabeth, Jackie, and my brother Bob, stepping in for my 23 year deceased father).
  • Our sisters – Jodi (Daintree, FNQ) and Learne (London, UK). 
  • Kyrie and Ruby (my daughters, both in Melbourne) 
  • Our nominal best friends – Arnaud (Melbourne) and Lisa (Adelaide) 
  • Two reflections from our current ukulele communities – Bronwyn (adult) and Meabh (child).
The Jelbarts and an interloper in a vest.
We asked for no more than two minutes each, but once the ball started rolling, it became somewhat interminable. Some people squirmed in their picnic chairs at inordinately long speeches. Everyone got applause. But the feel afterwards was “I loved the diversity of people who spoke, and the different contexts they gave”.

Ray Jelbart. Everyone loves me!
Everyone was appropriately respectful. Only at one stage did it seem like it may descend into marriage reception speech-farce. I introduced my to-be-father-in-law – It is with great trepidation that I introduce Ray Jelbart. And he did not disappoint. My worst fears were realised when he opened his mouth and said “I've been told I can't tell jokes and I can't be racist, so this is going to be pretty short”. In some way this stark opening proved that Jane had fallen a long way from the tree of origin.  But he did ok, and ended (as you would if you could) like a rockstar.

Warning - Tangential thought

The moment reminded me of my Dad's speech at another wedding of mine 27 years ago, where he observed and praised the fact that people of two very different persuasions and cultural backgrounds were coming together. 'What a great country', he said, 'where such a union can occur'. I didn't understand. The bride was not African or something culturally shocking like that. It only occurred to me much later (or maybe someone enlightened me) – the bride was Catholic, and I was from Protestant stock.

Back to it

Both Dad and Ray were harking back to an Australia of old that I am not a part of (except through history). Indeed, this is the context that we sought. 
There but for the grace of God go I.

Arnaud perplexed some people who thought he was long winded with an unAustralian accent (he is from Northcote, a suburb of Melbourne. Many Greens are resident there). Others thought that his speech was the best. I was perplexed for a minute until I realised that he was very cleverly taking the piss out of the whole idea of 'not talking about the bride or groom, but talking about himself'. He perfectly and ironically kept saying very stilted and careful words like “I – love – the – environment – and – have – a – strong – and – enduring – commitment – to – social – justice”. And then re-emphasising that he must talk about himself and not the bride nor the groom.

He, and the others, perfectly achieved what we set out to do. By explaining themselves, so they explained us. And Arnaud very cleverly toyed with that whole notion.

There was a part of this plan that didn't go to plan. The one to two minute request was a complete fail. From the outset this got extended and extended. Very few stuck to the edict, or maybe we didn't communicate it well. So what started outside in the setting sun, ended up with vows in the dark, lit by a strategically placed floodlight. It worked well really.

The Vows

I suspect that all you need to make a wedding important are two things … context and vows.

Lozzie the Celebrant gave us the relevant legal guff, and that we only had to do three things.
  1. She had to say “I'm a celebrant” ordained by Tony Abbott
  2. She had to say “this is serious guys”, and that marriage is between a man and a woman. Jane interjected on this one saying that she hoped one day that same sex marriage could be possible. Take that Tony! 
  3. We had to say the specific words. In the presence of you all here etc.
Not legally necessary was “I do”, “love til death do you part”, “wife”, “husband”, kissing, “you may kiss the bride” (yeah, right, like I was the one who now had 'the right' to kiss, not the bride having 'the right', but me, the new husband who now owns the sheila).

And so we sought some sort of music to say or frame the vows. 3 weeks before the ceremony we discovered a song – this was the last piece of the jigsaw. The one that was the emotional clincher that gave us, and would give those gathered, the important sense of emotion and gravity desired by all.

I'd heard You can't fail me now somewhere randomly on the radio. The song's 'feel' was right, but I did have to try very hard to listen for lyrics that could be interpreted in a positive marriagey sort of way. I played it to Jane (off youtube) one morning in bed – we both ended in tears. This was the song.
The final real piece of the jigsaw was where to do the vows – the legal bit. Again, it was an inspired thought  - why not put the vows in the middle of the song? After a loud guitar solo from an old friend?
Yep. That's the spot.
So when it came to 'the moment', it all seemed to work perfectly. Steve did his solo, then Jane n I downed tools (guitar and banjo). The rest of our friends / band kept the song pulsing, whilst we touched appropriately or held hands (I can't remember now), teared up a bit, said our vows, took the applause, then roared into the uplifting bridge of the song. It was beautiful. I knew it was working as I watched my sister sitting on the ground, cradling my adult daughter, both with tears rolling down their faces. Mission achieved. That was an expensive emotional moment for my Londoner sister, so I'm glad she seemed to get her money's worth.
Jane's cousin-by-marriage (Glen Ryan) is an awesome photographer
Mother made the wedding vest as a patchwork of some of Dad's ties. The police made the pose. Bob Beale took the photo. No-one did the hair.

A scientific analysis of the monetary value of wedding presents

Our expenses were pretty limited. Music from Kent Daniel, hall hire, celebrant, a dress. All up, it probably cost us not much more than $1000: given this article, it bodes well for our future relationship. The hall hire cost was defrayed by another edict from the marrying couple - NO PRESENTS! Instead of a creaking wedding present table, we had a 'Milo Tin' - a jar into which we asked guests to deposit a donation to the hall. So in a way we can now offer a very scientific analysis of the monetary value that a bride and groom (age 50ish) can secure in wedding presents from a party of about 160 guests - $825.50. Nice one Centurion! The Woodville Community Hall thanks you.

Music and Dancing

For maybe an hour a bunch of different people did offer presents of a different kind - their music. Tamarillo (Jane's choir) first up, which then lead into an order from Jane for me to sit down and listen. There was to be a special offering. I was delighted and completely moved by the sight of my hitherto not so musical daughters getting up and performing a song with Tamarillo supporting them.  Ruby provided her big sister with ukulele accompaniment on a song that Kyrie sang. I had not heard Kyrie sing in about ten years. It was beautiful and very moving - the singing, the sneaky planning, and a sisterly/bridal conspiracy that reflected a new stage in the relationship between the three. It was inspiring and beautiful.
Danika and Meabh with a vestless bass player.
I got up with a few Jukestra kids (Olli, Liam, Meabh, Danika) to perform one of their songs and a big voiced Lucy belted out a rendition of Fly Me to the Moon.  We pranced on the Dance Floor, with the 80 year old Mum being danced by an audacious pom who felt it his duty to accompany her.
A few Jukestrans - namely Danika and Meabh - slugged it out to the last on the dance floor. 11/12 year old stalwarts, they then insisted on performing one last time - at midnight....  I accompanied them on bass.

It occurred to me in following days. If this were a century ago, such a local celebration would have been de rigeur. I would have a dozen brothers or sisters who all lived within 20 miles of the hall, and they would all return by horse and buggy to create regular celebrations of the kind that we experienced. 

In the world of Facebook likes, this was the most popular wedding photo. She's so gorgeous. I love her so.

The end ... which is a beginning

There was a significant element of doubt in why we would get married. We have been together for 6+ years. When we first told our really good friends that we were going to get married, they said 'but you already are'. This video evidence is what they were referring to ... 
That was fun, and important, but once we started telling people that we wuz gunna wed - properly - all tearful and excited hell broke loose among the multitude of women in our lives.   

The men? Well that's a different story. Suffice to say that one good male friend responded to the news with - 'ahhhh, ya goose'!  But generally, people's commitment to celebration and acknowledgement, even from London, was immense. We were flabbergasted, that this ancient marriage ritual was so important to so many people in our lives. And it was their emphasis that added weight to the undertaking that we were about to embark upon. And on the day, it was their presence that made the commitment so important.

The Vows - The Movie - Thanks to Kate Fagan for her iPhone Evidence.

That's not all of it, but it's a lot of it. Something for our own posterity. A wedding blog. I hope we can use it to prompt memories in the virtual future, where wedding photo albums are redundant (unfortunately or otherwise).