Monday, 6 March 2017

Percy Copley at The White Swan, Hebden Bridge!

I haven't posted for a while. Been busy. Life just gets busier, somehow! But the ukulele is always to hand, and the days are few and far between when I can't fit in a few minutes playing. As well as playing I love to listen to good players, good performers. At GNUF last year, one of the performers to really impress me was Percy Copley. I loved his folky-bluesy finger-picking style. He'll be at GNUF again this year, (5th-7th May) but unfortunately I will not - so when I found that we were free on Saturday, the day he would be playing at The White Swan in Hebden Bridge, I held my breath and suggested to LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) that we hop up north to Hebden Bridge, (a fair way from we are!) stay the night, and enjoy the concert! To my delight he said ok! So in a shake of a lamb's tail the case was packed, a hotel room booked and we were away. It's wonderful to do things on the spur of the moment sometimes.

Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire has changed a lot since the last time we passed through it - that was many, many years ago. More than thirty. It's prettier than it was, it's vibrant, and it has suffered. The Boxing Day floods of 2015 brought havoc and misery to the town. The floods were bad and the link will take you to a page where you can explore photos and articles about why it happened... but businesses and homeowners alike suffered as the roads and buildings went under water. The last business to reopen was the The White Swan... the landlady Liz doing an awful lot of the clearing up herself, getting by with a little help from her friends.

Now Mary Agnes Krell, the main organiser of GNUF, lives in Hebden Bridge with her partner the ukulele builder Rob Collins. (tinguitar) They were not flooded out but being big-hearted folks they were there helping everyone else to sort out the mess. And although on the whole, the town is recovering and getting back on its feet, Liz and The White Swan could still do with a bit more help, a few more folks through the doors... so Mary got hold of Percy Copley and organised a free concert at the pub, for the sole purpose of getting more punters through the doors buying ale! I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty wonderful. Mary knows how to do these things and is very, very good at it! I don't throw these words around a lot - but Mary Agnes Krell really is AWESOME! A good head for doing things and a great heart for doing them for the right people. As I sat listening to Mary speak, and saw Liz the landlady, and realised what the night was really all about, I was very moved. It was very special.

The concert was good. Very good. Percy did a uke workshop to start off with. It wasn't easy, I could see that; various levels of experience among the uke players there, and a lot of noise from the folk enjoying themselves at the bar! But Percy battled on manfully with astonishing good humour and everyone enjoyed it, I could tell from the faces!

The concert was opened by a very talented local youngster of just fourteen, Isaac Hughes-Dennis, who writes his own (very good) and amusing songs, and has a big smile and a very engaging way with an audience. So very entertaining! How is it that these youngsters don't seem to have a single nerve in their bodies! He is definitely a name to watch.

Percy did two half-hour sets, the first being all ukulele, the second being tenor guitar and mandolin. The uke and tenor guitar were loaned to him by Rob Collins, and they sounded great.

The fact that we made a two and a quarter hour journey and paid for a hotel room overnight tells you how much I wanted to hear Percy sing and play. I knew how good he was, and on Saturday I enjoyed every minute. So did LSH. If you are a regular reader you'll know that my LSH doesn't play and has to take my word for it if I tell him that someone is worth the effort of going to see them! No, he was not disappointed. Percy sang and played a wide range of songs and we were both entranced for the whole evening.

Percy will be at GNUF again this year - get a ticket before they are all gone! And check out his website here
to see, buy and get a listen to his CDs. I have both... you need these, you really do!

Thanks for dropping in, I appreciate it. I'll try to post again before too long! I do have plenty to tell - just not a lot of time to tell it! I'll work on that!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

My next uke is on order - a Beltona resonator!

Now then, I really, really do not suffer from UAS - so-called Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome - I have not had a new ukulele since February last year, (DJ Morgan mini-pineapple).... that's nearly a year and that's good going for a ukulele enthusiast! And certainly, when it comes to wooden ukes I am more than satisfied with the ones I have, since I reckon my DJ Morgan ukes are as good as you can get and I love them. AND I can walk past a music shop window with simply a passing glance at ukuleles now, born of mild curiosity rather than acquisitive desire! But ever since I saw Del Rey perform at GNUF (Grand Northern Ukulele Festival)with a Beltona reso in 2014 and I played it in the uke bazaar afterwards, I confess I have lusted after a Beltona resonator. The sound bears no resemblance to any of the cheaper, mass-produced resos that I have tried - and didn't like!

Beltonas do not come cheap. But they're neither as expensive nor as heavy as a National Resophonic, the traditional metal reso uke that many players pay homage to. They are not built of metal, though earlier ones were. The body is moulded from glass-reinforced resin with a lightweight aluminium coverplate and the cone is their own, purpose-built. It's especially nice, speaking as a "Brit" that Beltonas are craftsman-built here in England!

For a great review and more info on Beltonas, see Got A Ukulele here...

It's taken me a while to scrape the cash together for this uke, and it's also taken me more than a while to broach the subject with LSH - (Long-Suffering-Husband) and persuade him that I really do NEED this! Any ukulele enthusiast will know what I'm talking about and sympathise here! But at last I have spoken to Steve Evans at Beltona and the wheels are now in motion. Of course I have to wait a couple of months for what I want, but I don't mind, I've waited for well over two years and I can wait a little longer, though the excitement is mounting!

For an interesting discussion on resonator ukuleles, see this thread on the Ukulele Underground Forum. On the first page there, you'll also see a YouTube video of the great Del Rey playing a resonator uke.

So, watch this space! Meanwhile, I need to practice those finger-picking skills! Oh yes indeed I do....

Thanks for dropping in, please call again and be assured of your welcome!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Caroline Stewart does the George Formby Society proud on the radio! She's just a star!

Caroline Stewart and I became friends when we met during the "thrash" at my first George Formby Convention, and her second. Since then we've become great friends, and she has gone from strength to strength with her ukuleles, her lovely voice, and with the George Formby Society itself, where she became chairman two years ago.

On Wednesday 4th January (today as I write, but you probably won't see this until tomorrow) she went on the radio, Zetland fm, to talk about how she began playing ukulele, how she extended to banjo-uke, joined the society, and to talk about George. She's a great ambassador for the GFS. She sings and plays too - a bit of Formby, with a cracking solo (I'm so jealous!) and a little something more contemporary!

See and listen for yourself... here's a link to Caroline's page on the GFS website, where you'll see a link to the 20 minute interview!

Thanks for dropping in, I'll have some more news very soon! And please could you give that Toucan a click and give us a rating, if you would be so kind - I'd really appreciate that!

See you again soon!

Friday, 30 December 2016

Christmas blessings of a rather special Ukafrolic kind! Seasonistas do covers of my original carol!

December made me pick myself up by the bootstraps, it always does. Busy, busy. No time to be sad or to dwell on sad things.

Christmas week with our grown-up children - totally delightful! So many blessings to count, fully mindful that many are not so lucky.

Ukulele gifts - oh yes! A "proper" metronome, as requested, from LSH, and earrings like musical notes; a funny ukulele mug among the gifts from our daughter, I should post photos but I'm not THAT organised at the moment!

And there was another very special gift that just kept growing - in the days leading up to Christmas I had a message from one of my friends among the Seasonistas of the Ukulele Underground Forum - Linda, "lelouden", wanted to video a cover of the carol I wrote two years ago, "Tread Softly To The Stable"... for Season 253 of the Ukulele. I was thrilled that someone liked it enough to want to cover it... Linda sings and plays beautifully and does the most gorgeous videos; I couldn't wait to watch it. I hadn't had time to take part that week myself, and when I checked the Season playlist I was astounded and bowled over to find that Linda had not been the first to do my song! It was Steve in York (Steve Phillips) who had done it first. And altogether, over these last few days, six Seasonistas have covered my carol!

To think that so many like it enough to do this made me feel quite dizzy! It's quite a compliment and very humbling. And I have to say it's a lovely feeling! Brian in Australia (pabrizzer) has done three beautiful videos of it now, all different, though he seems to make a point of always wearing the same shirt and hat to do it! One in 2014 when I first wrote it, one last year and again last week. How much I appreciate his support for that song I do hope he knows!

Well - a version from Steve in the English north-west, from Linda in the west of the USA; Linda on the eastern seaboard of USA; Alan in Texas, USA; (two versions!) Brian in Australia and Wim in Holland! Please forgive me for raving but I am, as we say here, "chuffed to death!" Yes that's a great thing to be! How kind and generous they all are to share this!

One thought that kept going through my mind was that I'd never done a video of it myself that I was happy with. The 2014 one was rushed, hurried, done on Christmas Eve waiting for the family to arrive, and I forgot that I'd written a fourth verse. I thought it high time that I did it again, my best effort for now. So last night I did that. I've made a ">playlist of the different performances of it, my new one is at the top. It's really interesting to listen to the different versions because no two are the same; everyone brings their own interpretation and puts something of themselves into it, and the melody varies slightly as well. My friend Alan Thornton ("decaturcomp") in Atlanta did a beautiful version two years ago and of course I have included that!

As the year draws to a close, this is a brilliant way to end the year for me. Heartfelt thanks to my friends in the Seasons of the Ukulele, and wishing them and all of you a happy, healthy and Ukafrolicking 2017!

Thanks everyone for dropping in, this time and all times - and see you next year!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Stourbridge Branch of the George Formby Society celebrates 25 years!

The nearest branch of the George Formby Society to where we live is the Stourbridge Branch. We attend the meetings, held every third Tuesday of the month, when we can, which isn't really nearly as often as we would like. But like all the society meetings, it's a place you can be assured of a warm welcome. It was so on Tuesday evening, 20th December.

It was a very special meeting - not only was it the Christmas meeting, but they were celebrating something rather special - 25 years since Malcolm Palmer had begun the branch! And Malcolm, now turned 80, has been running it with devotion and commitment ever since. Very special, that. The membership were determined to mark the occasion in style. The atmosphere was superb, full of warmth and affection, both for Malcolm and for all those so generous in so many ways, who made it such a special occasion to remember. Malcolm was presented with a lovely glass commemorative clock and a specially designed magazine featuring Malcolm himself in specially crafted images on every page, and more gifts besides! Well-deserved and a delight to witness!

Let us not forget the music! So many members turned up to play and watch that people could only do one song at first. Being the George Formby Society, most people did perform a George Formby song. There was a great selection. I did one as well, one I have only learned recently. I did "Smile All The Time" and remembered it ok, though I think I lost my way a little towards the end of the banjo-uke solo. Never mind, I thought, I'm among friends! Some of us were able to do another song later on, and I did the evergreen wartime song "We'll Meet Again" - a lovely one for everyone to join in singing, and they did! I do enjoy the join-in songs the most! In the photo, just by my strumming hand you can see seated at the keyboard the Stourbridge Branch's greatest star member - Musical Director of the whole George Formby Society, the massively talented Matthew J Richards, who plays keyboard to accompany everyone at Stourbridge and at every national GFS convention at Blackpool. Matthew is simply one of the very most musical people I know, and the most musically considerate, generous and supportive accompanist. He ably accompanies anyone on stage, even when someone loses the rhythm, he manages to stay with them and support them. All the players know this and appreciate it hugely!

I was delighted that Gabriela La Foley was able to call in and give a song, (I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate) even though she had already fitted in a busy day travelling from gig to gig! She's always a star turn, and the most vivacious and charming person you could ever wish to meet! You can just pick her out at the back of the pic here, where all the ladies were playing jingle bells to accompany the song on stage, played and sung by Lynn and Leigh Raybould and friend! (Oooh dear I don't know her name, sorry about that!) I'm there at the back too, next to Gabi; forever at the back, being tall!

I'm indebted to Chris Richards for the photos. There are more on the Stourbridge Branch website!
Well, under pressure time-wise or not, I just had to share this with you. And if I can find some time tomorrow, Christmas Eve, I'll share something else.

In case I don't make it, (the family are coming! Hooray!) I wish you all now a very Happy Christmas, with huge helpings of Peace and Joy! Thanks for finding time to pop in. Please come again!

Friday, 16 December 2016

The Kiwaya KTS-4 has gone, gone to a good home.... but why?

It's gone. The Kiwaya KTS-4 that I bought and was so thrilled with when I bought it four years ago. I posted about it here in August 2012. Yes, it's a wonderful, superb ukulele - but I wasn't playing it. Why? because I have another superb soprano uke that I love even more and have played all the time since I bought it 18 months ago - My D J Morgan long neck soprano in spruce and bird's eye maple. "Sprucey Lucy". Every now and then I would get the Kiwaya out, marvel at its satin mahogany beauty and its wonderful sound - then put it away and reach for my craftsman-built D J Morgan. Being a spruce top, the sound is different from mahogany, it's champagne rather than cognac - but the volume, the tone, the sustain and the intonation are every bit as good, and I just love it even more. Gorgeous thing.

A friend at the GFS convention in November asked me if I still had the Kiwaya; he had played it some time ago and thought it wonderful - which it is! He asked if I would give him first refusal if I decided to sell it. Of course I would. I went home, got the Kiwaya out, marvelled at its satin mahogany beauty and its wonderful sound - and reached for Sprucey Lucy. I made a decision. Within a few days the Kiwaya was in my friend's hands, and fine hands they are, too - it has gone to a very good home! No point in keeping a lovely uke if it's not played. And now it will be played and enjoyed as it should be.

So My D J Morgan spruce-top soprano uke is still my instrument of first choice. I pick it up and the feel and the sound are just perfect. Everyone who has seen and played it who knows anything at all about the build of ukuleles thinks it superb - and since I bought it, I can pass a shop with ukes in the window, and not give more than a passing glance - I even went to Hawaii last year and was not tempted by the first-class K brands to be had there. You just can't say better than that!

I hope to post again before Christmas. Meanwhile, thanks for dropping in! Very much appreciated... now I'm going to fetch the Christmas tree in!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

I've been missing, haven't I.... here's why.

I can't believe it's so long since I've posted. Two and a half months... well, it has been an eventful two and a half months. And it's definitely time I wrote something on here!

The day I last posted, LSH and I jetted off for a dose of Mediterranean sunshine before winter set in, so that was over a week that I wasn't around. Little Blue Uke accompanied me to a beautiful Greek island, where the ambience around the hotel was so peaceful that I didn't DARE play my uke outdoors! Seriously! But I did play it, in the privacy of our room; there's nothing quite like playing a uke to help you relax and divert the mind away from troublesome trends of thought.

Once back home I peeked in at the Ukulele Underground Forum from time to time, and in the Seasons of the Ukulele contest at Halloween the theme was songs about candy - think trick or treat! Here's my original song that I wrote for that, "Come and Share Candy Kisses"

I hope you like it!

Just a few days after I wrote that song, we had a bereavement. My only brother lost a long battle for his life. Although he had been very, very sick for a long time, and the end was expected, it still came very hard. I haven't felt any real enthusiasm for doing anything since then, and that includes playing ukulele, I have to confess; for the first time in years it's been just too easy to leave my ukes alone. And this blog, I'm afraid. But I know this loss of appetite for life is a normal part of grief and loss, and I know it will get better with time. Indeed, the fact that I'm sitting here writing this now is a step forward.

The November convention of the George Formby Society took place just two weeks after we lost my brother. I was still feeling very raw - but we went, and because of the fantastic people there, I enjoyed it, it did me good. And I was busy. Together with my good pal Kate Howard, I was a concert organiser for the Sunday afternoon. That was a first for me! Although that was less than a month ago, it feels that it was rather longer than that and the weekend seemed to go by in a bit of a blur. I think life gets like that when your mind is reeling from unpleasant events. What I really remember is the warmth of the people around me. That counts for an awful lot when you're hurting. Did I take photos? I can't remember. Possibly not. But I will scrounge some and put them here for you just as soon as I can.

And because I prefer to write blog posts that are not over-long, I'll leave it at that for now.

And I will try to post again before too long!

Perhaps next time I'll tell you some news about my Kiwaya KTS-4! Yes, that's what I'll do. Watch this space!

And... edit - here's a link to the November report of the George Formby Society convention! With Gill Walley's lovely photos - just find the link on the page and click on it!

Thanks for dropping in, seriously. I appreciate it!