Friday, November 16, 2018

Vale Maitland Ukestra - Long Live the Pluckers!

Hello Ladies and Gents,

It's not you, it's me.

It is with sadness that I am letting you know that I have decided to stop doing Maitland Ukestra.
It's been 8 and a bit years. That's a significant portion of my life, and it's been a wonderful journey, both socially and musically. Maitland Ukestra / Paterson Pluckestra has been so integral to the evolution of our musical life in the ukestras, and to the initial thought that perhaps I could eventually make a living out of this lark.

April 2018
Reasons are numerous, but in the main it's probably about simplifying my life a little, away from the ritual of driving to Maitland from Fingal Bay every Monday. I will miss the drive, and I will miss the Monday night camaraderie shared over a schooner of black and a wealth of good musicians. It is gratifying (and one of my main goals) that many of you already get together on other nights of the week. But life continues to move on, and so I will.

Reflections and thanks...

I started the first ukestra in Newcastle exactly 9 years ago. By July 2010 I had started one in Maitland, and with that I felt my immediate financial life was more secure. It seemed like a bloody miracle.

The People

We've been through numerous supportive and notable characters.  I believe Evelyn would be the longest standing of the old guard, always quick with a quip and suggestions. Not long after that it was Bob, who of course departed our Hunter shores late last year. Bob became, and still is, a good friend.  But of course, as Alfred E. Neumann once famously said, "absence makes the heart grow fonder...of someone else who's around". And so space and time now separate us. Bob wrote and suggested many songs - some parodies (the immediately execrable Kurri Kurri Eleebana), and the originals (the unforgettable and eminently singable and prescient 'Today Might be the Day'). Most of these I took to other ukestras, often to be performed at various festivals. I also have Bob to thank for my wedding venue, where Jane and I got married 4 years ago (almost exactly!). It was a splendid affair, and we were privileged (with my two bridesmaid daughters) to spend our wedding night at Bob and Liz's.

After starting at the Grand Junction Hotel (lovingly often called 'The Junkyard') in 2010, in mid 2012 we decided that we might be better served by moving to Paterson. On Monday 29 October 2012 two or three fellas turned up at the Paterson Tavern after a swell weekend at the Newkulele Festival. I was notably absent, thinking I deserved a rest.  I think those might've been Chris, Trevor and Cameron. The first two have been real regulars, and the latter one very sporadic, but I still know his name and talents. All three gentlemen are fine musicians. I know I've taught some of them some things, but probably I've probably learned more from Trevor than he has learned from me...although he is still shit at filing. I recommend that you do NOT attend any of his purported "filing classes".

The move to Paterson brought us two locals, one perhaps more irregular than regular in more ways than one. Judy has been extraordinarily supportive and forthright in her own quiet way. Ian too, but in his own peculiar way. Rest in Peace Campbell, you are well missed.

Farley, the Kates, and the Kens have also been regulars, as have Ray, Neil, Lynne, Maurene, and Annita. Some irregulars to be mentioned would be Vicki and Virginia. We managed to avoid getting any health notice slapped on us, but this never prevented a few people leaving the planet during my 8+ years, the aforementioned Campbell, Doug, and the real estate agent whose name I cannot remember. On the more youthful end of the spectrum we've had Rosie and Kia, and let's not forget Liam who grew up into the Junkyard Family through the ukestra from age 14. When he attained his majority, he prioritised other allocations for his limited discretionary expenditure.

These are the notable long stayers. There have of course been a constellation of others, coming and going for whatever reasons. But one defining factor of Maitland Ukestra over the years has been the building of playing skills and some of the rich and gorgeous voices, some there from the beginning, others discovered, some delicate, some blowing your head off. I am grateful for the friendships and acquaintances I have made, and for the support and inspiration.

The Venues

Liss of the Junkyard - Christmas 2010 
I have to say thanks to Ben and Liss in particular, from the Junkyard. It truly is Newcastle's greatest pub. Shame it's not in Newcastle. They have been such a support to me, farewelling us with grace to Paterson, and then welcoming us back, ready for our second marriage, all being forgiven. Not that there was anything to forgive, other than poor lighting. It is very odd indeed that as I write this requiem for the Maitland Ukestra, I receive a life-changing note from Ben & Liss saying that they are terminating their two decade tenure as active creators of that most wonderful musical oasis. Gosh they'll be missed and we can only hope that their custodial mantle will be passed on with the reverence that is due.

Many ukestrans of yore will not forget our first big Christmas party at the Junkyard in 2010. Novocastrians caught the train up, filled the restaurant and partied as if they had never enjoyed playing music together before. Prior to the rise of the ukulele that was certainly true for so many people, so it was understandable that it was a party to remember.

Nicole at the Paterson Tavern was also very welcoming, for four years or something like that. I wonder if the same blokes are still gathering on the front verandah as they've apparently done for aeons.
A balmy November evening at the Paterson Tavern
My apologies for the length of this dissertation. Too long and too many C#dims for Errol, I suspect. I miss Errol, the original Patersonian curmudgeon. He is, of course, still playing music, but he turned to the dark side....those damn banjos.

The Performances

The Pluckers have impressed at each Newkulele Festival, and at Ukestra Showcases, and numerous local festivals (Planet Dungog being notable), not to mention a variety of local bashes. Who can forget a major festival performance where one recalcitrant member had to be dragged swaying from the bar to complete their performance duties. Our most recent performance at the 2018 Newkulele Festival was clearly our best. Such finesse. More important than the performances however, is the preparation leading up to these. For it is in these crucibles that friendships are found, and community is formed. Rehearsals and time together brings people together, makes you aware of the foibles of individuals, and affirms the reasons why you play music rather than live with them. No affairs have ever occurred (to my knowledge, or at least become public knowledge).
An evening at Evelyn's.
What Now?
As mentioned before, many of you already get together as musical compadres. And some of you come down to ukestras in Newcastle. You are of course welcome to do that, and any uketen credit you have can be used there. Ken and his crew at the village in Morpeth are also now having regular sessions, and U3A in Maitland with Anne Robinson I hear is a pretty vibrant community.

However Chris Robinson has agreed to be a contact person for those who wish to keep Monday nights going. No money is forecast to change hands. This is so gratifying, and I am grateful to Chris for instigating this. He, Ray and Trevor (and I suspect others) have taken it upon themselves to take initial musical responsibility for the continuation of Monday nights. Chris's email address is crob4884 @ bigpond . net . au if you wish to involved. May it go from strength to strength!

For those of you who wish to get a refund on any unused portion of their uketens, please just write and ask. Our database works wonders, so we'll have tabs on where you are up to, so just let us know.
Plans are still a little uncertain, but it seems like the final Maitland ukestra session will be 26 November, with a dinner out somewhere to follow on Monday 3 December.

I really am grateful for the support I have received in Maitland, and for the various communities that our work has coalesced over the years. My goal has always been to help people make music together. We've been extraordinarily successful in the Hunter, and of course I am proud of this.

The Maitland Mercury photo that kicked it off in 2010
But for now my direct work in Maitland is done. Keep making music together, it is good for you.

Much love (excessively gooey, I know),


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