The Ukulele Man

2013-08-22 12.12.25 Well, I can think of far worse ways to spend my time than sitting outside in the August sunshine, overlooking Upper Tamar Lake, fighting off the odd wasp,  while chatting to fellow Midlander Paul Clews. So, that’s what I did on Thursday.

If I say I also enjoyed a rendition of George Formby’s “When I’m Cleaning Windows” that was much better than the original, you might begin to see a link with ukuleles.

Paul, something of a Twitter supremo, uses social media for most of his business marketing, and his business is….very successful, though multi-faceted.  It never ceases to amaze me quite how many jobs people around here have, often due to changes in circumstance, and Paul is no exception.

Originally from Staffordshire, he has lived for 29 years in Devon, so must be considered fairly local by now even if he doesn’t sound it. It’s a long, complicated tale of how he arrived here, but it involves family, business and the tourist trade, a B & B, no less. Most recently based in Ilfracombe, he had a shop there for 7 years, starting with second hand records, then videos, CDs, and later, a guitar shop. Though tying, it was a tough business to successfully sustain during the winter months, so one winter he just left the shop, walked away and never opened it again. That’s pretty much when he started working more peripatetically.

Now, he takes his holidays in a caravan at the beautiful Tamar Lakes, where he has a few boats to sail, from kayaks to toppers. And he has extended his work across the Tamar into Bude.

So, what does Paul do? Well, it is a good question. First and foremost, I guess, he teaches guitar and ukulele. He had guitar lessons from the age of 10 and reckons that in six months he learned chords D and D7 (useless chords to put together, apparently). His teacher said: “Paul should give up now; he’ll never play a musical instrument in his life”. But he didn’t give up, and he can now play guitar pretty darned well. Inspired in his youth by punk rock (still inspired by punk rock, actually!) both the music and the politics, he continued with guitar and can now teach it to others. Punk had a reputation for stirring up the old order and telling kids from the suburbs that anyone could do it. And Paul firmly believed that.

This summer, and beyond, Paul has been promoting his 2 hour Ukulele Workshops which cost £50, plus travel, if significant travel is required. Given these can take around 8-10 people, it is a good value for money activity.

The workshops are aimed at total newcomers to the world of music, like me, so you don’t need to be able to play a note. There is some learning involved in the 2 hour session, but the real objective is fun, so at a workshop, a group of people play a lot of music, from simple songs for adults through to nursery rhymes for young children.  They are something a whole family can enjoy, of mixed age groups and all abilities; hence, he gets a lot of work from holiday cottages who display his details/posters, for whom it gives people something a little different to do, especially if the weather isn’t looking good. This has been his big summer success, so he has been working even while technically on holiday himself.

The joy of a ukulele workshop is that it can take place anywhere, as it’s highly portable: park, pub, caravan, cottage, fetes and other events (where he has often has £1 tasters). It is also ideal for corporate team – building activities and can then stretch to half a day or a full day. And for anyone who takes to it, a basic ukulele is a fairly cheap instrument to invest in.

2013-08-22 12.13.02

Paul – still wears the tee-shirts!


Apparently, and I didn’t know this, lots of schools in North Devon have a fair few ukuleles tucked away, from some previous Government funding project. Paul went on a totally apt course run by Devon County Council called: “Teaching the Ukulele for Guitar Players” and quickly picked up the skills, so for any schools with under-utilised ukuleles, Paul is your man. He’s not a fan of George Formby though, who often played banjolele, not ukulele, as he shares my belief that he made the ukulele look like a joke instrument, slightly better than the triangle. I just found Formby irritating in the extreme; Paul is more matter of fact, saying “he put the ukulele back 50 years”. 

Paul enjoys the freedom of being self-employed. He has a splendid website which demonstrates his many strands of business interest: music lessons, PA and Light Show Hire, a recording studio, info on the Backtrackers, his band (or rather duo) which plays for parties and weddings (mainly covering well-known songs) plus musical instruments for sale.

Surprisingly, Paul  is quite self-deprecating, saying he “failed his way to success”. What that means in practice is that he is not afraid to go out on a limb and try new things, which, to me, is a positive; some will certainly fail, but others will succeed, and the success of the Ukelele Workshops has surprised even him. One holiday maker described it as “the best 2 hours of the holiday”. He seems to have a natural skill for teaching and, despite professed reserve, working well with people, quickly, vital qualities for workshops with people you’ve never met before.

He enjoys the variety of work he does. Most days he spends in some form of teaching, enjoying seeing people develop their skills. He says: “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still do it, as it is good fun”.

In his spare time, he is keen on podcasting, and is also a keen – and skilled – table-tennis player! As he says: “What I do earns me a living. I won’t have a millionaire’s lifestyle, but it doesn’t feel like I’m working, so life is good fun; I enjoy it”. 

If we all felt like that about our work, what a happy nation we’d be.

Something of an inspiration is Paul: hard working, self made, and enthusiastic while loving life. Now, I wonder if I could learn the ukulele.……





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