Every now and then we make a big decision that involves big change. And although change is good it is also stressful. But for me that stress of change also brought with it an interesting way to dispel stage fright.

Having lived as a British expat in Canada for more than a quarter century I find myself back in the United Kingdom for a period of unknown duration. From the moment I made this decision my life has been a whirlwind of activity and emotion.

The list of things to get in order before the move was dizzying. And one of the most important items on that list was handing over the running of the Vancouver Ukulele Circle (VUC) to my good friend Tom Saunders and a cohort of volunteers.

The VUC has been a big part of my life since I started it in September 2000 and to leave it in the hands of others produced unexpectedly powerful feelings in me. In one positive respect it felt good to no longer have the monthly responsibility but, much stronger, was the realization that I wouldn’t be seeing these wonderful people every month. I acutely understand the benefits I get from every ukulele meeting and the concept of losing this monthly boost to my nervous system was actually quite overwhelming when I thought about it. And those good people didn’t make it any easier for me with the heartfelt send off they gave me.

Many came wearing bow ties and several performed songs dedicated to me. It was an extremely touching occasion and I am very grateful to Adam Abrams who had the presence of mind to film the evening to create a short video of the event.

If you want a sense of how much the people of the VUC mean to me here is the video for you.

The video shows why I’m making the move and also why the change may not be a permanent one. Indeed, come June, I’ll already be back in Vancouver to set sail with a group of gung-ho uke enthusiasts on a cruise bound for Alaska (btw. there are still some places left if you’d like to come along with us!)

But once that is done I plan to return to the UK to continue this adventure for as long as it takes. Except the word “adventure” doesn’t really do justice to the amount of change I’ve just put myself through. I knew I was taking a big step but I didn’t really think too deeply about what it means to leave behind your home, family, friends, familiar routines and career in order to relocate and start over again. I was too busy packing up and preparing to think about what it would be like to actually have moved.

The first two weeks in England were fine. It still felt like a vacation. It was after that the real terror began to set in. I’d found a place to live but that ended up not working out so I had to scramble to find something else. I also needed to do all the other necessary things for modern living, such as getting a phone, a car, a bank account and most of all an income!

I awoke every night in the darkest hours, my head spinning with the awful things that were going to go wrong for me. It was near debilitating. Although, with each new dawn, as daylight poked the fingers of its dim yellow glow through my curtains, the fear would largely evaporate and a more balanced perspective would return.

This is where friends are invaluable. And it was my oldest friend Lorna (we’ve been friends since the age of 2) who told me, “Don’t trust any of those thoughts that come at 3 am.”

And she is right, but those thoughts were hard to turn off and it was a tiring way to live.

It’s impossible to even think about gigging in this country without the aforementioned phone, car etc. I am still only just in the early stages of making contacts and getting bookings over here. In fact it was that same dear friend, Lorna, who got me my first booking. She set up a variety show in the village of Great Longstone near the Derbyshire town of Bakewell. The lineup consisted of: a talented young guitarist playing his first ever public performance, the village postman who is an absolute whizz on the tin whistle (what a crowd pleaser he was), myself and Lorna who, over the years, has become a skilled singer.

The show was a roaring success. It was far beyond a sell-out. Several were unable to get in and the hall was jammed to the rafters with people. As I waited backstage listening to the audience’s pre-show chatter a curious thought came to me.

I realized that I felt calmer than I had done in months. Here I was, about to perform in front of a packed house, and I had never felt so relaxed in all my life. Not even the tiniest hint of jitters. No stage fright at all. Nothing! This is an unusually rare state for me.

I thought about it and realized that this was the first time in months that I felt in complete control of my circumstances. My thoughts and concerns have been all over the place but to now be backstage and about to perform felt routinely familiar and therefore calming to my shredded nerves. Finally, here was something in my life I had control over. A show is a show is a show and no matter where it takes place the parameters of what must be done are the same wherever you go.

Everything about the show was enjoyable and the audience reacted with joyful abandon. They knew when to listen, when to join in and seemed to relish every moment.

If there is a musical lesson to be drawn from my experience it is this: In order to ease the suffering of stage fright the solution is obvious. Simply make your life into such a terrifying ordeal that entertaining a large crowd of people will seem like child’s play in comparison. Ta daa!!

What should I call this phenomenon? So far I’m torn between Life-Fright and Stage-Calm.

I’m pleased to report that things have calmed down a lot for me in the last week or so. Contacts are being made, work is coming in and my day to day experience in this “new” country is both exciting and enjoyable.

And, by the way, Lorna also gave me another quote to pass on to you:

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
George Eliot

© Ralph Shaw 2017