Sunday, 19 August 2018

Charity auction - handbuilt koa soprano ukulele by D J Morgan

Well, as I told you in my last post, it's fair to say that my life is not what it was a year ago. A list of changes would be a long list, consisting of things I can no longer do. This time last year I was going to the gym three times a week, trying to build strength and fitness, hoping that perhaps that was all that was needed; I hadn't quite come to the certain conclusion that there was something very seriously wrong. I was still driving, visiting friends and family, going to the shops, going for my ukulele lessons with Phil Doleman… I had danced for the last time but I didn't know it. I'm not going to do the list of things I can't do any more, it really is too depressing and I'm determined not to let depression get a hold of me. But the fundraising.... as soon as I had my diagnosis and went to the MND Care Centre to see my new neurologist and his team, I was put in touch with the MNDA. Motor Neurone Disease Association. Already they have helped me with getting a stairlift, and support is there at the end of the phone if we want advice... I thought it important to start fundraising for them. I started a Just Giving page, and a Fightback Fund on the MNDA website. People have given so generously... and some friends are fundraising for the MNDA themselves, because it's really the only way to fight this disease. Help support the sufferers and their families; fight to find a cure. Half the people diagnosed with this are gone in less than two years... the going isn't nice. They tell me that mine is progressing slowly... but month to month I'm aware that I'm weaker and more wobbly. But I can still play, although a fall a few weeks ago set me back, when I hurt my hand.

I'll tell you about the friend who is bungee-jumping off the Middlesborough Transporter Bridge in a couple of weeks time to raise funds... I'll tell you about the friend who is shaving her head... aren't they absolutely mad and totally brave and wonderful? And right now I'll tell you about the D J Morgan uke auction.

Dave Morgan has become my friend since I bought one of his wonderful ukuleles back in 2015. I posted about it here. It wasn't long before I bought a second uke from him, my beloved Sprucy Lucy, my favourite uke that is the one that I play the most. I also have the first mini-pineapple that he built, and another soprano, a mahogany one that I had so I could keep one in D tuning. Four D J Morgan ukuleles and I love them. Dave decided that he would build a special uke to auction for my charity, the MNDA. We talked about it, decided on a soprano, he decided to build it in koa. As soon as it was finished, he brought it over to show me. It's gorgeous and sounds amazing! What an utterly fantastic, generous and selfless thing to do. He'll say he didn't want me to say that, but I'm saying it anyway because it's true!

So, here are the details... Koa soprano ukulele, MNDA Charity Auction...

Don't miss this! You can bid for this uke, wherever you are ... the woods are all able to be exported, free from CITES restrictions, and Dave will post out anywhere...good luck!

Thanks for coming back to see how things are going. Much appreciated!

Is life still a ukafrolic? That is the question...

If you've wondered what has happened to my posts over the last twelve months, perhaps you have wondered whether ukulele fun is still as important in my life as it was... well, I have to say, other aspects of life have loomed rather large since I last posted in July of last year.

I won't bore you with too much detail... but since the beginning of 2017 I found I wasn't walking so well. Then dancing became difficult, then impossible, and I had a few falls. Thankfully I could still play ukulele... the problems were all legs and feet. A series of investigations finally resulted a few months ago in a diagnosis of MND. Motor Neurone Disease, ALS. If you have no knowledge of it, it's a "rare" neurological disorder; incurable, particularly nasty... it will see me off in the end. Not surprisingly, concern about tests and results tends to focus the mind somewhat... the blog didn't get a look in. I'm sure you will forgive me!

Certain trains of thought did result in songs being written, including one that I think is one of my best... I'll share a little later! But the reason I'm writing now is that I have been fundraising for the MNDA, Motor Neurone Disease Association. It's a brilliant organisation here in the UK, they support people living with MND in all sorts of ways, they fund the MND Care Centres in certain hospitals, (including mine) and they fund much needed research to try to find a cure for this awful disease... and friends are helping me to fundraise in all sorts of ways!

I'm anxious to tell you about one fantastic and very generous fundraiser which has just started. My friend and favourite luthier Dave Morgan of D J Morgan Ukuleles decided to build a koa soprano ukulele especially to auction it in an online auction this week... proceeds to go directly to the MNDA. Isn't that wonderful! The link will tell you all about it, so I'll finish here, and post again separately about the auction.... thank you so much for coming back to read this after all this time!

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A Song for My Dad.....Daddy Take Me Fishing

We were out in the countryside with friends one day a few years ago. I can't now remember where we'd been, but on the way home I realised that we would soon be passing close to a place I used to go to with my father when I was a child. Dad enjoyed fishing - coarse fishing, that is fishing for freshwater fish that are not game fish... roach, dace, tench, perch.... and he would take any chance to go fishing in the summer to lakes and particularly on the River Severn. I realised that day that we would be going past Atcham, a hamlet on the Severn... it had been one of Dad's favourite fishing spots, and I used to love to go along. I learned the names of the fish that he caught, but most of all I loved to just potter and play along the river bank, looking at the flowers, the dragonflies and the butterflies, enjoying the sun and the air and the country sounds.

I wanted to see it again - to see that riverbank by the old stone bridge, for the first time in fifty years. Long-Suffering-Husband and our friends waited for me in the local hostelry while I walked across the bridge and down to the riverside. I walked along the river bank, saw what had changed, what had stayed the same. It was a very profound and unsettling experience that I was not prepared for. Although the grass had grown very long on that riverside meadow, and the bushes at the edge of the bank were larger, seeming not to have been cut back recently, that riverbank and the views around it seemed at the same time to be unchanged, it was like being taken back in an instant to my childhood - it was as if, if I had turned round suddenly I could have seen my Dad sitting by the river, quietly watching his float, waiting for a bite. It actually literally took my breath away. When I rejoined the others I couldn't speak, could hardly breathe, and I admit the tears flowed. Dad was gone too young, in his fifties, a victim of cancer. When he died I was still in my teens.

How precious those simple days of childhood were.

Last autumn I started to write a song in tribute to Dad, and to those special times together. I left it unfinished until a couple of months ago, when I managed to complete it.

The plan for yesterday was to go to this month's meeting of the Stourbridge Branch of the GFS, the George Formby Society. The weather was gorgeous so we decided to take another trip to the Severn before going from there straight to the meeting. So we went to Arley, a real quiet beauty spot on the river between Bewdley and Bridgnorth, and another one of Dad's favoured fishing places. It was heavenly... no traffic noise, just the sound of splashing of the shallow waters over the stones in the river, breeze in the trees, birds calling, and the quiet chatter of some people fishing just the other side of some bushes on the riverbank. We sat there quietly, drinking in the tranquillity for about half an hour. I said to LHS, "I think I'll sing my fishing song at the meeting tonight...."

And I did. First time I've sung it for an audience - I think they liked it!

So here it is, my song for Dad... video'd just after I finished writing it.

Thanks for dropping in! Do drop in again!

(You might notice that this is on a new YouTube channel that I've started just for my own songs. There's only a few on there right now, I'll be adding more of my songs as time goes on....)

Monday, 10 July 2017

The joy of sound, the joy of silence

Beethoven's 7th Symphony. Have you ever listened to it? It's very dramatic, a stunning piece of work... Beethoven himself described it as "one of my best works".... but he wrote it in 1811-1812 at a time when he had become almost completely deaf. Makes you think, doesn't it... the composer could hear what he wanted in his mind, and was able to translate it onto a written score, although he could never hear it for real... certainly it brings home just how much we value our hearing. About a year ago I lost my sense of smell, which also severely affects the ability to taste. I do just count myself lucky that it wasn't my hearing or my sight that has gone AWOL! Playing and listening to music is so very important to me.

I also value silence... real silence. My (Long Suffering) Husband has to have noise around him most of the time. He will have music playing in his work room, a radio on in the kitchen, and the TV may well be on in the living room. I can live with this... well, most of the time! He also enjoys the radio on during the night, something I can't tolerate so he has to use earphones. His need for sound is different from mine. And sometimes when I'm home alone, like right now, I enjoy the peace of having no radio, no deliberate noise, just the silence, peace and quiet. But it's the yin and yang, the black and white, the contrast, the fulfilment of different needs at the time.

On a holiday to Tunisia some years ago, we went on a wonderful three day trip south to the Sahara. We saw some amazing sights on the road south... a Roman coliseum, (El Jem) oases, miles and miles and miles of olive plantations, and shimmering, endless multi-coloured salt flats... but the thing that probably made the greatest impression on me was the utter silence of the Saharan dunes. I remember sitting there at the top of a dune, the other trippers around me, and each one of us was in total awe as we gazed at the landscape of the dunes, and listened to the sound of silence.

No sound. nothing, not at all... no traffic in the distance, no birds... not even, that day, a breath of wind.

And no one spoke, for several minutes. It would have been a sort of desecration.

The introduction of sound into silence, and vice versa, is a hugely important and effective part of musical composition and performance. Dynamics, variety in the volume of the music, is directly related to this, and it's something that I know I don't pay enough attention to as a player. But today I vow that I will, in future.

So that's my thought for the day. Sound and silence. Now I'm going to make myself a coffee before LSH comes home and switches on the radio! Silence is sometimes golden. Just sometimes... but I do recommend Beethoven's 7th if you've never heard it! To think that we can hear it, where he never could...

Thanks for joining me for a few minutes. I appreciate it. I won't be gone too long....

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Fingerpicking with Manitoba Hal!

Hal Brolund, AKA Manitoba Hal is another one of my favourite players. Fantastic bluesman, a golden voice and a unique way with a ukulele. If you've never seen and heard him play live, you are really missing something! He has just recorded this great tutorial on fingerpicking... so I thought I would share it here. I'm a huge fan of this man! Watch and learn, watch and learn!

Brilliant, eh?

Thanks for dropping in. This was a very short post - I wanted to catch the publish time...

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Taimane Gardner in Digbeth, Birmingham, England, 2016

I first saw Taimane perform when she topped the bill At the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain (UFGB) in 2014. She was amazing. She brought the house down. I blog-posted it here... so when I learned that Taimane was coming to my city to perform as part of her first tour of the UK, I was determined to see her again. The venue was small, the experience was intimate, and once again, she blew everyone away with her talent and unique style of performance. Even LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) was very impressed, and glad that I'd made him come along, because he hadn't seen her before.

Taimane is from the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Visit her website here!

Her tour was organised by Ukulele Events. See more exciting things to come up here!

As for me, this was just one of the exciting ukafrolics from last year that I never got round to posting in good time, but it's here for you now and I hope you enjoy the video! I shot it on my ancient iPhone 4 and am actually very pleased with how it turned out.

Til next time, thanks for dropping in!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Phil Doleman, great uke teacher - sends me home buzzing and inspired...

"Life for a Lady with a Ukulele or Two..." (subtitle of this blog) inexplicably just seems to get busier - time is always full. It seems I used to have more of it to fit everything in ... perhaps it's just me getting older, which I certainly am, and can't complain about that, as the alternative is - not acceptable at the moment! But blogging is taking a hit, for sure. It isn't for want of something to write about, there's plenty. I'm playing uke just as much, I think, still flitting around from on song to another, one skill to another, one genre of music to another, one aspect of the uke and music to another ... and I still don't care. I know I'm making progress. And the credit for that goes to my uke teacher, Phil. Phil Doleman.

I've been going to Phil for personal lessons for more than two years now. I don't go every week or even every fortnight; I fit a lesson in every few weeks as is convenient for both of us, and it's just great. A highlight of my week. I always come away having learned lots, often with my brain hurting - I'm always having to say, "hold on, let me write that down, I'll never remember that when I get home..." and I always come away at the end of a lesson inspired and buzzing. He's good, you see. Knows how to teach. He weighs up where you are pretty quickly and can see what you need to improve your playing and widen your musical understanding. And now that I've been going to him for so long I'm totally at ease playing with and for him, no nerves - that's just great too. He's easy to be comfortable with.

I had a lesson today. Having woken a little late after my first really good night's sleep in ages, I was rushing to get everything together for my lesson, only realising when I arrived at Phil's home that I'd forgotten my glasses! What a chump... no problem though. We spent the whole hour doing stuff that didn't need sheets to read, based on chord progressions that Phil knew I knew... playing songs in several different keys, making me work things out just outside my comfort zone... interesting jazzy alternatives for the chords, all over the fretboard... wonderful stuff that sounded just great.

Well, LSH and I will be seeing Phil with Ian Emmerson on Thursday evening, off up to Belper again to see them supporting Del Rey. Looking forward to that. If you haven't got a ticket - well, you're too late. Sold out.

Next day, Phil will be travelling to Dumfries to appear at the Ukulele Festival of Scotland. A lot of my favourite performers will be there, but I'm afraid I will not. It clashes with the summer convention of the George Formby Society in Blackpool, and LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) and I are delighted to be going to that, as we always do. Can't do everything, can't be everywhere! We will both be meeting up with friends we can now call old friends, I'll be helping to organise the Sunday afternoon concert, and might - just might - take a turn on stage.

So it's still all go. I promised to write about something I did in April - and I will. Honestly!

Thanks for dropping in, I really appreciate it - do come again! I'll try not to leave it too long before I write again!

Photo of Phil Doleman by Ed Sprake for GNUF

Saturday, 20 May 2017

My Beltona resonator uke arrived!

My Beltona arrived a few weeks ago, finished exactly to my requirements and it is every bit as gorgeous as I knew it would be!

I have wanted one of these since I saw Del Rey play one at the GNUF (Grand Northern Ukulele Festival) in Huddersfield in 2014. Beautiful sound. I had toyed with cheaper resonator ukes in the past and had not liked them at all, but this.... was a revelation. And so I lusted after one. But quality like this does not come cheap. I saved - and waited. Til now!

These ukuleles command a lot of respect among folk who know about resonators. Built by Steve Evans to the highest standards.... everything about mine is faultless. Beautifully finished, and perfect intonation.

For more general information and a great review of one of these instruments, I would refer you enthusiastically to Barry Maz's review on the blog Got A Ukulele. It's a superb review - there is nothing there for me to argue with and I will not try to reinvent the wheel!

So I'll keep this little write-up brief, and you can look at that review for more general info.

I chose a concert size in the original double-bout shape - no cutaway.

I asked for side dots as well as fret markers. Barry had remarked that there were none on the tenor one that he reviewed - but ordering one, you have only to ask! Steve builds these to order!

I chose planetary tuners - they are geared 4:1 I believe, and don't stick out at the side, as geared tuners do - planetary tuners look more like friction tuners - but the gearing is enough to make tuning quicker and less fiddly than friction tuners. I thought the extra expense was worth it.

My uke has a new headstock shape! An elegant sort of tulip shape, and I really like it. It looks good with stick-out-the-side geared tuners if that is your choice, and of course it's lovely with friction or planetary tuners that stick out of the back.

My choices were all about colour - Beltona fingerboards are made of rosewood and I asked for the fingerboard and headstock to be simply as dark as he could do it. As for the body of the uke, I wanted a mean, bluesy look in graphity shades with a sunburst. Steve sent me some photos of previous builds and I was able to point him in the right direction.... I'm thrilled with the result! This ukulele gleams and looks silvery pale at one glance - turn it slightly and it turns dark and moody. Perfect! It looks like a mean machine - as I think resonators should look! My photos of this uke are not really very good - taken with a smart phone past its best. Note to self - must do better!

Choosing strings, I checked out youtube video reviews and noted that D'Addario Pro Arte strings came highly recommended for resonators. Steve said the same when I talked to him about it, so I happily settled for those. To me, they feel really good under the fingers, and being black, they look good on this uke too!

I love to hear a resonator uke finger-picked with picks... Phil Doleman plays this way and so does Percy Copley, I've been having a try. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I find it less tricky than clawhammer! I'll get there! Meanwhile, video.... without fingerpicks!

Thanks for dropping in! I should post more often I know - I don't know where the time goes, it just goes faster and faster!