MY INVISIBLE MUSIC CAREER PT 5: UKULELE (2005 – )

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Blue Moon Man, art © Bradfield Dumpleton

The Elevator – Bradfield Dumpleton 2015 (Cordoba tenor & Bruko soprano ukulele, cello)

Ukeboy

The author c.1968, blissfully unaware, or presentient?

Following 25 years exploring guitar & percussion, my primary instrument of the last decade has been, and will continue to remain,  Ukulele.  Beyond all the pop fads & historical derision, the ukulele is such a versatile & deeply expressive instrument in it’s own right, simple yet complex, delicate yet certain in its melancholy humour, humble & eloquent in a world of noise.

It came to me by accident, quite apart from the much-touted “ukulele revival” – a cheap old school-issue Mahalo that smuggled itself home via a child’s schoolbag, like the innocuous little bacteria that it is, and nuzzled into my unsuspecting arms.  With its alien tuning it was a delicious mystery, a creative conundrum, a code to be cracked & a lock to be picked.

The Article – Bradfield Dumpleton 2015 (Cordoba tenor ukulele, cello, balafon, cajon)

My fingerpicking guitar habits immediately found home on these four small strings, and a bouquet of sounds bloomed forth: touches of appalachian hillbilly, classical, 20s jazz, ragtime! My ignorance of the instrument was my bliss, as I gradually discovered its range of voices – sometimes harp-like, or classical guitar, even banjo-esque.  After the frenetic guitar music I’d been playing with the Spondooli Brothers, ukulele was a relief to my hands, my brain, and my ears.  Gradually guitar receded into the dusty shadows, for a few years at least, while I lost myself in this marvelous new device.

Bowler Hat – Bradfield Dumpleton 2013 (Mya Moe resonator ukulele)

Ukulele was my bridge from skewed neo-gypsy music into 20s jazz, ragtime, crooners, swing….what I had learned in the Spondoolies about melody, harmony & dissonance, fingerstyle technique and delicious chords, I could now apply to sweeter sounds.  For several years my main ukuleles were a Cordoba tenor & a Bruko soprano, both of which have a delicate voice, and these instruments both helped me find a little wry humour and tenderness in my dark period.  As I gradually emerged from that abyss, I discovered YouTube and gathered enough confidence to put myself (privately) out there to the world.  I was pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback to my tunes, and discovered a vast resource of inspiring uke players around the world, from Bach enthusiasts, fiery flamenco, clawhammer oldtime, and jazz of all eras.  I hosted Bosko & Honey’s entourage when they toured Tasmania as part of their national  “Ukulele Safari”, put in a few solo performances when I was coordinating the monthly Acoustic Nights at Brookfield Margate, and accumulated some interesting recordings of dedicated fellow ukulaliens.

Somewhere around 2011 I bought a Nashville metal-bodied resonator uke.  It was not a prestigious instrument, but I liked that it was cranky & cantankerous, it was clunky & had grunt.  It immediately brought out more dissonance in my playing, some harsher rhythms, some gutterblues and dirty bits.  I don’t generally name instruments, but this one I called – PIGBOX.  Pigbox opened a new door in my ukulele exploration, this time as more of a percussion instrument, a little more brash & funky perhaps.

In 2012 Pigbox found a perfect match riding shotgun to Gordeaux Unknown’s baritone banjo uke, when we collaborated as the Porchmonkeez, but that’s another story, and another album.  I’m gradually hobbling together a collection of tunes that I only ever play on Pigbox, which will eventually be officially not released (like most of my other “albums” – that is, I complete them but can’t afford the time or money to have them pressed and to promote them).

There Was A Light On – Bradfield Dumpleton 2014 (Nashville metal resonator ukulele, cello, banging things)

In 2012 I invested in a custom-made Mya-Moe walnut-bodied resonator uke, after seeing ukulele & pedal steel maestro Gerald Ross playing western swing tunes on one that he had commissioned.  The resonator cone gives the uke so much more presence but the wood provides warmth in the tone. It’s a superbly-made machine and has enriched my playing even further.

Skedaddle – Bradfield Dumpleton 2013 (Mya Moe resonator ukulele)

UKULELE with ROSS SERMONS (2012 –  )

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Live with Ross Sermons (left) @ Rosny Barn, 2013

BROOKFIELD APR 2013Also in 2012 I was accepted into the Hobart Conservatorium of Music.  Unfortunately the unpredictable timetable was not sustainable around my family & work commitments, but I completed the first semester & got a high distinction.  For someone as isolated as myself, it was just fantastic to be around musical peers, to hear music oozing through the building, and to get sincere peer feedback.  I was a little surprised to still find derisive attitudes towards ukulele from “educated” musicians, but the jazz in there worked on me by osmosis & I began figuring out jazz stylings I’d not tried before.  My experiences at the Con gave me the confidence to think about collaborating again, and so I looked up  Ross Sermons, a Southern gentleman from North Carolina, recently moved to Tasmania & a consummate bass-player, having been a sought-after session musician in the Nashville scene for several decades.  He generously agreed to try collaborating on some of my uke tunes, and a musical friendship quickly ensued.

Tasmanian Summer (Bradfield Dumpleton 2005) – BD – soprano ukulele / vocals, Ross Sermons – doublebass, from the album Limited Emission CD.

Swingaling Thing (Bradfield Dumpleton 2011) – BD – tenor ukulele, Ross Sermons – doublebass, from the album Limited Emission CD.

LIMITED EMISSION COVEROur initial rehearsals went so smoothly, Ross decided to record them in his loungeroom, and in early 2013 we released a small cross-section of our repertoire, entitled Limited Emission CD.  It includes a few wry songs about personality disorders, Tasmanian weather & suchlike, plus many instrumentals, spanning such styles as tango, jazz, bossa nova & rembetika.  You can listen to the whole album here.

The tonal complement of doublebass & fingerstyle ukulele is a particularly sweet one, and Ross’ technical mastery adds extra finesse and colour to my various noodlings.  Playing with Ross also inspired a wealth of new material, much of which we’ve performed live but have yet to record.

Blacksnake Hop (Bradfield Dumpleton 2006) – Live with Ross Sermons @ Rosny Barn, 2013