I spent much of 2015 telling friends and family how great it would be if I owned a ukulele. It didn’t matter than the only instrument I had ever managed to get even the faintest semblance of a tune from was a kazoo, in my mind I would be knocking out ukulele versions of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in the local pub in a matter of weeks and playing before a sell out Wembley audience by the end of the year. Imagine my delight when the big, beardy fella in a red suit left a ukulele under the Christmas Tree. I tore the paper off and picked up my tiny, 4-string instrument; struck a pose reminiscent of a young(ish) Mark Knopfler and began to strum. As an acoustic version of the dial-up internet modem sound rang out across the room I thought to myself “this may take a little longer than I planned”.
This is why Whalebone annoys me. Their ability to effortlessly produce gorgeous acoustic melodies from their instruments acts as a sharp reminder that talent is far more than just wishful thinking. It requires years of committed practice and a whole lot of patience.
For Whalebone founder member Steve Downs, that would amount to over 30 years of honing his guitar talents with the likes of Roy Wood and Charlie Landsborough. Finally opting to ‘go it alone’ in 1998, it was to be almost another decade before Whalebone would be fully formed – with guitarist Charlotte Watson becoming a permanent member in 2005 followed a couple of years later by talented fiddler Sarah Ibberson.
Today the group have 4 albums to their name, including their 2013 album ‘Runes’ – which made it through to the penultimate round for Best Folk Album at the Grammys – and their most recent offering ‘As Turn The Seasons’, recorded in 2015 and from which the song ‘Into the Wind’ above is taken.
The music is described by Steve as being “folk music viewed through a rock lens” and it’s easy to see why. Tunes such as ‘Girl in the Moon’ (As Turn the Seasons, 2015) brings to life the ethereal, mystical tones of Celtic culture whilst somehow keeping an underlying classic rock vibe reminiscent of the likes of Dire Straits and Fleetwood Mac. The influence of classic rock is even more apparent in their lives gigs, of which they are regular and numerous, where the band mixes original tracks with their own personalised instrumental acoustic covers of tracks such as the ‘Paint it Black’ and ‘Hotel California’.
Not content with just performing for their fans across the Midlands however, the group also regularly deliver workshops catering for everyone from beginners to “born again guitarists”, with a focus on having fun.
I know of one particular ukulele owner who could probably do with popping along for a few sessions.