Performer strikes a chord

Taelor PeluseyBusselton Dunsborough Times
Gordon Lee performs with Bryan June at the Boyup Brook Country Music Festival in 2015.
Camera IconGordon Lee performs with Bryan June at the Boyup Brook Country Music Festival in 2015. Credit: Supplied/Busselton-Dunsborough Times

Gordon Lee is not your average octogenarian.

Sure, there’s no shortage of talented — let’s say, more senior — songwriters, but what makes Lee so impressive is that he didn’t learn the guitar or start writing music until he was 71.

And he’s bloody good to boot.

Some might know Lee as a table tennis star, but in the past few years, he’s begun making a name for himself as a country singer-songwriter — particularly at local mic nights where he performs an ever-growing repertoire of funny, quirky, and occasionally heart-wrenching, original songs.

The retiree, who splits his time between Dunsborough and Fremantle, draws inspiration from life, with humorous tales such as the time he was given a medal from the mayor for his table tennis accomplishments, but Nobody Wants To Go; and the time a buddy was convinced he’d found The World’s Biggest Crab.

He also writes about love and nostalgia, with songs about his wife and family, and takes a look at the harsh realities of life and death in the painfully poetic The Day’s Gonna Come.

But that song’s bleak subject matter is a far cry from this energetic 81-year-old’s usual persona, which is underpinned by perseverance and self-determination.

Lee, like so many, first picked up the guitar as a teenager but soon became frustrated with the tedious task of learning scales.

The second-hand guitar he’d bought was put aside, remaining out of sight and mind for decades.

It wasn’t until some 50 years later, when Lee was on a long-haul flight to Rio de Janeiro for a table tennis tournament, that inspiration struck. “I wrote a song and thought, I’ve got to sing this,” he said. “I got the guitar out, got some strings on it ... and I went to a teacher.”

Lee had a few lessons with the teacher and learnt some basic chords.

He then began poring over YouTube videos, watching tutorial after tutorial.

The song Queen Of The Table — paying tribute to Australian table tennis great Dorothy De Low — soon took shape, and would go on to become the first track on Lee’s debut album titled 50 Years On.

Lee said at first it was nerve-racking to sing in public, but was encouraged by the appreciative audiences at the open mic nights he was frequenting.

He’s now gone on to write some 50-odd songs, has a repertoire of about 300 covers and has recorded three albums.

His table tennis career has afforded him the opportunity to play at far-flung venues around the world.

Lee has even taken the stage at local festivals, such as the Harvey Dickson’s Country Music Show, where he won awards for best album and best senior in 2012.

It is a huge feat by any measure, made all the more impressive by the age at which he got his start, but the ever-humble Lee doesn’t need fame or fortune to feel like a success.

Rather, he says its the quiet satisfaction from kicking personal goals, the capacity to inspire, and — of course — the applause that keeps him going.

“I think you’ve succeeded as a musician if it pleases you to play,” he said.

“It’s not money or anything that I’m chasing — it’s just appreciation, and hopefully I’m inspiring someone else going through life to think, ‘gee, if that old guy can do it, I can do it’.”

Gordon Lee is also patron of the Geographe Bay Table Tennis Club.
Camera IconGordon Lee is also patron of the Geographe Bay Table Tennis Club.

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