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Nuke-Clear Impact On Next Generation

27 May 2024

The Nukes on ukes - and how creating and teaching your craft at the same time can offer a satisfying career path.

What do you get if you cross three creative, savvy musicians with a few crates of ukuleles and a room full of kids? 

I found out after spending a day with The Nukes - a 3 piece ukulele band from Tāmaki Makarau: Dave Parker, Josh Parker and Ben Collier who have a reputation for their original musical approach.

The band's been together for 16 years, regularly playing a range of gigs from festivals like WOMAD and Splore to small town halls and schools. As well as being captivating performers, they've put their skills to further use in combining teaching with music as a business venture.

Fresh from their recent appearance at Wellington's CubaDupa festival, I met up with them at the Franklin Arts Centre, in Pukekohe to go deeper on how they find the balance of performing and teaching - and why the ability to engage with people of all ages is so crucial to them.

Uke can do it  

Today’s audience is a room full of fizzing five to ten-year-old kids. 

As well as making the kids' workshop a free event, The Nukes made a call out to local primary schools in the area to lend ukeleles, to make the experience as accessible as possible. They clearly have a passion for music and finding ways of sharing it with other people, including children.

Photo: Liz Skinner.

Dave explains “We don’t cast ourselves in the role of teachers as such, because you've got a lot of that at school already. But we’re coming in alongside them as learners. 

"Kids find (a ukelele) an interesting instrument that’s accessible. We want to say 'hey, you can do this' but we also want to set the standard - to create interesting songs and interesting narratives that have substance.

"Whether it's a song about worms or elephants or flightless birds…it's stuff that kids can really get into and feel they’re not being sung down to.”

Immersed in the Nukes’ self-made songs and a room full of the next generation, it was hard to stop smiling. 

Towards the end, everyone was invited onstage to become part of the band. A surprising amount of musicality was exhibited by the youngsters - some of whom had only begun learning to play a chord or two earlier that morning. 

But more than just that happened on stage that day - the joy of creating and performing music was transmitted through soundwaves, between teacher/ musician and learner/child. 

Photo: Liz Skinner.

The Nukes have done hundreds of workshops for children. As Collier comments, while not all children are natural, it's hugely rewarding when they see a spark ignited.

“It only takes one kid at a workshop that gets inspired by us and carries on the journey. Sometimes a kid will say ‘That was really good, it really helped me…I know A minor (chord) now…and I’m going home to write a song’ and then I think, cool, job done.”

Although the band agree they like being on stage, they clearly enjoy sharing the limelight and a bit about their creative process too. 

Writing songs is demystified into a real, tangible thing that anyone - including under 10-year-olds - are capable of.

Dave details “It's a reciprocal thing…whether it’s a kid laughing at one of your jokes, or it’s them doing their best to learn a new chord or a new skill or put their thumb in the right place, there’s real value in that."

Although workshops and gigs do (usually) earn income - it’s not reflective of the time, effort, skill and musicianship the band put into generating, crafting and sharing their music. 

So why do it? For The Nukes, it’s about connection.

“(It's) the way your song is reflected back at you by the audience’s faces," Dave relates. "We don’t just write songs for the sake of making music - we want an audience...be it the kids in a school or an arts festival or whatever.

"The interaction we get in a workshop, and then again in a performance situation - that’s really a lot of why we do it. 

When it comes right down to it, we love to write material, we love to rehearse it. But if we just stopped there and didn’t take it out to the public - to teach people our songs and perform our songs - then we’re losing a step there." 

Permission granted

Photo: Liz Skinner.

Going to see the Nukes is a lot more than sitting in the audience, tapping your feet along to their catchy and relatable songs. It's an invitation, a call to create. Whatever age you are, in whatever medium - whether it happens to be a ukulele, a pen and paper or whatever you have on hand.

Josh muses “I think a lot of what lacks generally today - artistically - is permission. 

"As kids, we are given permission to pick up crayons and do whatever we want. But as adults, we don’t get that same kind of permission…it’s not offered in the same way, it’s not supported.”

Dave adds “Some people paint pictures, some people write novels, some people make movies. We write songs - it’s always been about songwriting. It just happens to be on the ukelele.”

Their APRA-awarding song Peas and Carrots rings in my ears for days; I can’t look at lemons the same after their song about one captures my heart (it’s also their most played song on Spotify). I’m listening to Bootstraps as I write this. 

But what I’ll remember long after the Nukes’s song lyrics fade into a different ear-worm is their invitation to keep giving permission to write and create - for this generation and the next.