Thursday, 9 May 2013

Peter Moss and his return to his first love - ukulele

In my last post I told you about the new ukulele that Pete Howlett is building in Wales for Peter Moss…. now let me tell you about Peter Moss himself.

The fact is that Peter Moss, a Lancashire lad, has been pretty well-known in the fretted instruments community around Toronto and Halifax, Nova Scotia since 1989, when he was tracked down by Mel Collie and asked to cross the Atlantic to attend the first Toronto meeting of FIGA, the Fretted Instruments Guild. Since then, he has built up quite a following over there, having been back to Toronto three times and to Halifax Nova Scotia six times, and has a sell-out gig coming up in June, but he has not been so well-known here on his home patch for a little while. It’s his banjo-ukulele playing that has them all sitting up and taking notice in Canada…

Well… in February this year, Peter’s wife bought him a wooden ukulele for his birthday. That was an inspired gift… it was not his first wooden uke, but truth to tell, he had not played one for many years… oh yes, he had had one before….. and fellow uke addicts will not be surprised to hear that upon picking up and playing his new ukulele, an old flame was instantly rekindled in his heart – a passion for the wooden ukulele. He started a YouTube channel and made some videos – wooden uke and banjolele. When I saw them I was pretty impressed by his dazzling playing. Now, the name and ukulele playing of Peter Moss were completely new to me, but it quickly became clear that his name was already very well known to the ukulele and banjolele cognoscenti over here….. and I was very curious!

Well, I have been able to have a chat with Peter and I can tell now you more – as promised.

Peter has not been away from making music in the UK, but he has been concentrating on guitar and saxophone for some time. Life’s twists and turns had steered him away from his first love, the ukulele – but thanks to his wife and that birthday uke, Peter is back.

He has been telling me his story….

It began with another birthday ukulele. His father, who played Spanish guitar, bought him a wooden uke for his eighth birthday, and taught him to play it. Peter took to it like a duck to water. By the time he was ten and a half, he was a competent strummer and had already won a local talent competition hosted by the Manchester Evening News. He also had a little show set with his sister Wendy. In those days the Formby songs were considered too risqué for children to sing, so their Dad taught them the old Tin Pan Alley songs like Baby Face, Five Foot Two, Who’s Sorry Now… becoming a young member of the George Formby Society, Peter learned the split-stroke and other Formby strums and was rapidly increasing his skills and repertoire.
His father had taught him all he knew, and wisely introduced Peter to other skilled players.

One very influential person was Ray Bernard, a founder member of the newly formed George Formby Society. Ray played melody … Lady of Spain, Rubinstein’s Melody in F…. and Peter was fascinated. From that moment he was committed to this style of playing. Then George Graham, the banjo repair man for Shep’s Banjo Boys lent Peter a recording by Roy Smeck. And by ear, from that record, Peter learned to play Roy Smeck. Virtuoso stuff indeed. From playing around the chords and picking out melody finger-style, Peter taught himself chord melody playing and improvisation. He was not yet thirteen.

In 1973, when Peter Moss was still only 12, there came a significant milestone in his musical journey. Peter had been working on a banjo-ukulele version on the William Tell Overture, no less… with galloping triples, finger-picking and a great crescendo… he played it in the annual competition of the Northern Branch of the BMG – British Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar Federation, in Wythenshawe - it went down a storm – and he won. Later that year, he played it in the Southern Branch competition, and won that, too. Peter was the first person to work out the William Tell Overture of banjo-uke, and he was still only 12 and a half. It’s still played as a show piece by gifted players.

1973 ended with a TV appearance for the young Peter Moss, playing with his sister Wendy in the Christmas Special of Junior Showtime, playing old-time banjo-uke favourites like Somebody Stole My Girl.

It’s great to see Peter Moss back on the ukulele-banjolele scene here at home, where he is picking up new fans all over the place.

If you want to catch up with him, coming up – places world-wide to catch up with the great playing of Peter Moss!

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