Tee Jay at work in downtown Victoria. “I am absolutely over the moon with excitement,” he says.

Busker finds his niche with ukulele

Tee Jay and his Amazing Blazing Ukulele to perform at Granville Island

Terrence Groom reaches for his ukulele and quickly positions his fingers on the four strings of the instrument.

He begins to strum slowly and then breaks into a quick rhythm of a classic rock tune from Pink Floyd.

Welcome to Tee Jay and his Amazing Blazing Ukulele.

Groom, also known as his busker pseudonym Tee Jay, is one of the most popular buskers in downtown Victoria, but this year, he’s taking his act to another level.

Beginning this spring, he’ll perform for hundreds of thousands of tourists after gaining a spot in Vancouver on Granville Island’s Busking Roster.

“I am absolutely over the moon with excitement after being chosen to perform at what I consider to be the Madison Square Gardens of busking in Western Canada,” says Tee Jay, a James Bay resident.

“I will always treasure the memories I have of performing here in Victoria where I was able to hone my craft to the point where being chosen to perform at Granville Island could become a reality for me.”

The road hasn’t been an easy one.

The gay, HIV-positive, recovered drug addict has been in and out of jobs and relationships and been denied by his family.

Tee Jay, 49, has been a musician and performer for more than 40 years. He picked up drumming at age four, but took up any instrument he could get his hands on.

In Grade 6 he was first introduced to the ukulele and joined the Island Ukuleles, a performance group which twice competed in Hawaii.

After high school, Tee Jay put the ukulele away and concentrated on a rock music career, playing drums for several heavy metal bands, even a Rush tribute band.

It wasn’t long before his life spiralled into the darkness of the internet porn industry. He discovered crack cocaine and crystal meth and soon after was diagnosed HIV-positive.

Tee Jay returned to Victoria seven years ago because his life was a mess.

A friend bought him a ukulele in 2011. The instrument sat on his mantle for a few months until one day Tee Jay was watching a TV program on the making of the Pink Floyd album, Dark Side of the Moon, and he picked up the ukulele.

“It [playing the ukulele] came back just like that and it blows me away at the proficiency that I attack the music,” he says.

Tee Jay wasn’t settling on typical ukulele music. Instead, he would make daily trip to the library and find music books and learned how to arrange the music to suit the instrument.

The result? A stylish rendition of both classic and contemporary rock tunes.

“It’s so very interesting – you go to pick up an instrument 20 years later – you approach it from such a different angle that you did initially,” Tee Jay says.

In the spring of 2011, Tee Jay performed for the first time on Government Street with ukulele in hand. Soon, he was strumming away on tunes from Elton John to Pink Floyd and pretty much everything in between.

“You have to get notice and I did,” Tee Jay says.

Last summer he split his time between Victoria and Vancouver and soon Granville Island came calling.

Tee Jay is one of 132 buskers that will perform on the island this year, said Una Memisevic, Granville Island Cultural Society busking program manager.

She said all buskers are encouraged to apply for positions.

Tee Jay will be only one of two ukulele performers at Granville Island this year, and he plans to make the most of his opportunity.

“I’m looking forward to bringing something new and something vibrant. Granville Island is made for showcasing.”

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