Monday, 29 August 2016

My Milestones in Learning the Ukulele

Uke timeline and milestones

The thing about an enjoyable journey that never ends is that you can enjoy it for ever – or for at least as long as you are physically and mentally able to! After all, “It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive!”

And that’s the thing about learning to play ukulele – you’ll never, if you’re like me, going to “arrive” - be able to play as well as you want to. I want to be able to play really well – you name a good uke player, any one of the professionals, and I want to play as well as they do. I’m never going to get there. But my goodness, I’m enjoying the journey! Frustrations abound, but with the desire to improve and some perseverance, I do improve….. slowly. And I have good times and make good friends along the way.

So - more music, more skills and more people – all sorts of milestones, and a few important purchases!

Nov 2005
Saw Joe Brown play “I’ll See You In my Dreams” – begged for a ukulele for my birthday - and got one!

Dec 2005
Played for people at a party, very informal

Got the uke out now and then, while life was otherwise very busy … for a long time

July 2009
Played with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and 1000 other ukers at the Albert Hall, London, then … I put the uke on a shelf… for two years! The shelf should not have happened...

Oct 2011
Picked up a uke in a music shop - couldn’t remember any chords apart from "C" and resolved to seriously get to grips with my ukulele

Dec 2012
Played "Leaning On A Lamppost" at a Christmas party while LSH sang it - realised that the solos was out of the question, and became interested in Formby-style

Jan 2012
Started to try learn Formby style

Feb 2012
Bought first banjo-uke, a 1920’s Slingerland

Joined the Ukulele Underground Forum

Mar 2012
Started this blog Life’s A Ukafrolic

Apr 2012
Joined a local uke group

June 2012
Went to my first George Formby Society convention

Finally got the Slingerland playable - with a little advice from "a man who can"...

Bought my second wooden uke – a mid-range laminate

Jul 2012
Bought a webcam to record my efforts at singing and playing

Made first public Youtube video – an instrumental

Entered a video to the UU Seasons of the Ukulele for the first time - Season 23

Getting to work out songs with more complex progressions by ear, on uke

Aug 2012
Bought my first solid wooden uke, first good soprano – Kiwaya KTS-4

Nov 2012
Played uke and sang on stage with mics and backing band, for the first time. Duet ...George Formby Convention

Dec 2012
Learned my first passable Formby-style banjo-uke solo – the song affectionately known as "Window Cleaner" - and played it at a party

Mar 2013
Bought my best banjo-uke, vintage 1920’s Gibson UB2

Jun 2013
Attended my first ukulele festival – UFGB, Cheltenham

Attended my first uke workshops by highly skilled professionals

Played uke and sang solo on stage with mics and backing band, for the first time. (George Formby Convention)

Jul 2013
Learned some chords up the neck, and learned the instrumental Mr Sandman

Feb 2014
worked out my first chord melody by ear…. “Sway”

Mar 2014
Playing the instrumental Mr Sandman “cleanly”… nailed those pesky chord changes up the neck

June 2014
My entry in the Ukulele Underground Seasons of the Ukulele got a mention from the season’s host… oh I was thrilled!

I wrote my first song. For Seasons of the Ukulele. It’s on Youtube

Did an impromptu duet with a Seasonista I met at the big uke-fest in Cheltenham, UFGB…. Another nice “first”, this…

Dec 2014
Wrote two more songs for a Christmas song-writing competition hosted by one of the “Seasonista” community on the Ukulele Underground.
Won the competition with a carol that I wrote. I was so proud….

Feb 2015
After recognising that proper uke lessons from a really good player would be a very Good Thing – had my first lesson from Phil Doleman

Mar 2015
Bought my first craftsman - built ukulele, a mahogany concert, from uke-builder Dave Morgan (D J Morgan Ukuleles)

Apr 2015
Hosted a Season of the Ukulele on the UU for the first time

May 2015
Visited Hawaii! Spent time with friends made online and visited the Kamaka factory, Where Fred Kamaka showed us round on one of his wonderful tours and talks...

Jul 2015
Bought my second craftsman-built ukulele, spruce/maple soprano from Dave Morgan (D J Morgan Ukuleles)

Sept 2015
Was granted an interview with Jake Shimabukuru

Nov 2015
Helped out at Jake’s concert in Liverpool – (and met Jake!)

Apr 2016
Sang a blues song for the first time - one I wrote myself! A milestone, I think...

July 2016
Worked out the chords on uke to a more complicated song, then worked out another set of chords using chords up the neck keeping the melody on the 1st string.
I felt this was a real milestone…

So here I am, thus far - nearly eleven years after first being inspired to play ukulele and getting my first... and just coming up to five years of working determinedly and steadily at it. The milestones are fewer and further between now, as the skills get harder to achieve, but every bit as satisfying, if not more so. Most of these milestones were documented along the way on this blog....

Must go. Got to play my ukulele... thanks for dropping in!

Friday, 19 August 2016

Chord box and tablature self-inking stamps.... ooh, useful! A Very Nice Man, too! George Walker!

Have you ever felt the need to be able to write a chord neatly on a chord box, or to use lots of chord boxes on a songsheet or memo? I know I have. My uke teacher the wonderful Phil Doleman told me that you could get chord box stamps, the self-inking kind - so I decided to try and find some.

I searched online - and came up with a supplier here in the UK. His name is George Walker and sells his stamps under the name Pencraft. I emailed George with my order and the very next day, my stamps arrived. Lovely, friendly and personal service.

On the email were useful ukulele links... I asked George if he played the uke. Oh yes he does! So we had a fine old chat. Turns out we have lots of other things in common as well... George says his main instrument is the melodeon, and that he plays for a morris team. Well, well! LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) has a melodeon that he is learning to play, and used to dance the morris!

You see, you learn to play ukulele, and one way or another you find kindred spirits and make friends! I'm thrilled with my stamps, I know I'm going to use them a lot - I bought chord box stamps in two sizes, and a stamp for tablature!

Here you go... just click to see up close! Just drop George a line and he will fix you up with what you want! I see he does beautiful calligraphy, too...



Thanks for dropping in... it's amazing, the forms that Ukafrolics take, isn't it.... LSH and I are looking forward to meeting George in person soon, he doesn't live too far away - we can talk ukulele AND melodeon and morris to our hearts content!

Come back soon - I really do have so much to share with you - all I need is the time to tell it!









Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival - GNUF 2017 - dates announced!

I love GNUF.

It's so jam - packed with all sorts of exciting things going on...

It's so varied...

There are so many lovely people there...

The music is wonderful, as is the atmosphere...

And there's going to be a Fifth one!

Can you figure out the dates?

You'll spot artists from past GNUFs sharing the date here! Just click the pic!



In case you can't read them on your phone... put this one in your diary... The fifth GNUF will begin on the fifth day of the fifth month of 2017!

In Huddersfield...

The organisers will be releasing the line-up later on... but a little bird told me that the wonderfully talented and versatile Andy Eastwood will among them! Fabulous...

Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Wigan Boat Express - on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway?

Second day of the George Formby Society meeting in the North Yorkshire Moors, June 2016. First day enjoyed by all, ukulele and banjo-ukulele, Formby songs and non-Formby songs, friendship and music, smiles everywhere, birdsong and sheep just a step away outside Goathland Village Hall. Idyllic. The subject of my last post.

Second day - we met on the platform of Grosmont station, ready to catch a train just up the line to Goathland. A few songs on the platform, to the amusement of the other tourists, and at last the steam train came in. What wonderful beasts these old engines are, lovingly kept going by the devoted steam enthusiasts... when this one came in, it was promptly adorned with a new (temporary) headboard - name-plate - on the front of the engine.... WIGAN BOAT EXPRESS!

The Wigan Boat Express is one of George Formby's comic songs, dating to 1940. The running joke is that Wigan is a seaside town (it isn't) and that it has a pier - where, presumably one might board a ferry or even a ship - in fact, Wigan Pier is a wharf on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, redeveloped in the 1980's - but of his book, "The Road to Wigan Pier" George Orwell wrote "Well, I am afraid I must tell you that Wigan Pier doesn’t exist. I made a journey specially to see it in 1936, and I couldn’t find it. It did exist once, however, and to judge from the photographs it must have been about twenty feet long." A boat express was a train to take travelers to catch a ferry or a boat...

Well, we sang and played The Wigan Boat Express on the platform, alongside the newly-but- only-temporarily-named train... well, what a hoot! There followed a ride on the train - some of us just went to the next station, to Goathland, and from there we walked through the beautiful moorland countryside to a lovely old pub, the Birch Hall Inn, at Beck Hole. Good beer, good pies, wonderful sandwiches... and those of us who were still there well into the afternoon - we played.


Are we going to do it again next year? You bet we are....

Personal thanks here to Caroline Stewart, Chairman of the GFS, for organising every last detail....



Photos courtesy of Robert Rayner, Tony Jackson, Kate Howard, Caroline Stewart

Friday, 8 July 2016

A Ukafrolic in the North Yorkshire Moors with the George Formby Society!

It was the summer convention of the George Formby Society the other week. We never miss. Been going regularly for four years now, LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) and I. At first it was for the welcoming atmosphere and the music, but quickly we found that we also looked forward to meeting the new friends we'd made there. But this time we did have to miss it.... all packed up and ready to head north to Blackpool, we headed south instead, to be with our daughter, who had fallen awkwardly and broken her arm. The really important things do serve to divert the mind even from Ukafrolics! Glad to say, she's on the mend...

As luck would have it, an extra meeting had been arranged to take place a couple of weeks later in the beautiful North Yorkshire Moors... at Goathland, a village on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. All organised by GFS chairman, my very good friend Caroline Stewart. We rented a cottage for a couple of nights with friends and wow, what a weekend it was! It was all willing hands welcome, when we arrived to prepare the room at Goathland Village Hall... set up all the important things - microphones and sound system, chairs and tables for the audience, the bar, and the tea/coffee station. By the time we'd finished, folk had started to arrive with their instruments and friends and family. It was just grand, and the weather smiled on us too!

It seemed to me that everyone who had brought a uke or two got up on that stage and had a go... plenty of George Formby songs, but other great songs as well, and yes, I did get up there as well .... and to crown the day we had Gabriela La Foley and we had the GFS Musical Director, Matthew J Richards. First class entertainers, both! Everyone was wonderfully entertained from 2.00 in the afternoon til 10.00 at night, with a short break for pie and peas and the raffle. Kate had made some souvenir key rings specially for the event, and every one was sold ... all costs were covered by takings and the raffle, and there was even a surplus, which went straight to the charity for prostate cancer.

And as for the fun, that was just the Saturday! I'll tell you about the Sunday next time!

So here's a few pics...

Caroline Stewart, organiser and GFS Chairman, mans the sound system!


The LSH's.... Long-Suffering-but-very-supportive-Husbands... (mine, Caroline's and Kate's!) do a wonderful job of manning the bar!


Newly-weds Clarice and Mark Ramsden!


A George Formby Society meeting is never complete without a thrash!

Photo courtesy of Robert Rayner




Lovely pic of Pat and Trev singing the Marrow song! Oh, what a beauty!


Caroline Stewart and Peter Pollard


Clarice Ramsden
Photo courtesy of Robert Rayner


Gabriela da Foley
Photo courtesy of Robert Rayner

Kate Howard
Photo courtesy of Chris Richards


Geoff and Pat
Photo courtesy of Robert Rayner


Yours truly with my Gibson UB2
Photo courtesy of Chris Richards


Caroline Stewart with my DJ Morgan uke..
Photo courtesy of Chris Richards


John, Kate and Martin in the bar


Yours truly with one of Kate's lovely commemorative key rings!


Matt Richards leading a thrash playing his Ludwig banjo-uke


Of course there were more performers than I have pictured here - and I have tended to gather photos of my friends... more pics may well be added to this little collection in the next few weeks.

So this was the Saturday... but Sunday was a cart-load of fun, too! That'll be coming up - very soon. Regular readers will know that this is a very personal blog of a very personal ukulele journey, and I do hope you enjoy reading it. I try to document interesting points along the way, and share stuff I really like at the same time. As I said, very personal. So if you're reading this, thanks for dropping in and coming this far with me... right, back to practising Magic Ukulele Waltz!





Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Ben Rouse with Aldrine Guerrero and James Agg at UFGB

LSH is having the lads in tonight. This is becoming an annual tradition - himself and a few pals to chew the fat and make some noise away from the women. Last year he thought I'd be going out - I wasn't - so I shut myself away upstairs with my uke and amused herself quite satisfactorily, thank you, while gales of male laughter came up the stairs. Well, it would be no hardship to do it again tonight, but it turns out that the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are playing tonight in the next town. That'll do for me! I phoned a pal and we'll be there. The fellas can make as much noise as they like.

These days when I know the UOGB are going to be around, the first thing I think of is, "Will Ben be among them?" Ben Rouse. A really nice and highly talented young man I met for the first time at GNUF (Grand Northern Ukulele Festival) last year, although I had seen him perform before. Ben plays fantastic ukulele and I was pretty wowed at GNUF to see him doing a great job accompanying Mike Hind on double bass. So I was very pleased to see a few months ago that he now plays with the wonderful and very famous Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain!

I saw Ben most recently in Cheltenham at the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain. One of the headline acts was Aldrine Guerrero - my, what a player! (see also... Ukulele Underground) To keep this brief, what a wonderful surprise - on the Sunday afternoon open mic stage, who should appear but Aldrine, flanked as always by Aaron Nakamura but also by Ben and James Agg! Myrna and I hadn't been able to get a seat in the pub beer garden, so we were sitting on our coats on the grass right in front of the stage... how lucky... I was able to get some good video. Here it is, for your delectation!



Well, wasn't that something special!

See it on Youtube here...

There will be more on Ben and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain before too long.

Meanwhile, thanks for dropping in! Busy busy, off I go again...



Monday, 4 July 2016

I'll Get By - with LSH beside me...


I'll Get By
by Fred E Ahlert and Roy Turk, 1928

Times are just a little gloomy right now. Little tremors in the ground beneath the feet. Could be a lot worse, could be rather better... counting the blessings... and I found myself singing this song to myself this morning. "I'll get by, as long as I have you...." thinking of dear LSH of course, Long-Suffering-Husband, always supportive, always positive, always my rock for more than 40 years... "I'll get by" as long as he's there. So anyway, I thought I'd test myself and try to work out the chords by ear. I do this occasionally; I've done it since childhood to amuse myself on piano and recorder, and it's a great thing to try to do it on ukulele - I don't do it enough really. But the fact that I've worked this out with some parts as chord melody with chords up the neck (including some 9ths) is credit to the musician who was my teacher last year, and to whom I'm returning for a few more lessons - Phil Doleman. Highly recommended!

I’ll Get By (my version - if you're not keen, try Doctor Uke...)

C I’ll get by as long as E7* I Dm7 have Dm you,

C#dim Though Dm there be Dm9* rain Dm7* and G7sus4 dark G7 ness too

G7sus4 I’ll G7 not G7sus2 complain, G7 I’ll C see it C#dim through G7

C Though you may be far E7* away, Dm7 it’s Dm true A7 Dm

C#dim Say F what care D9* I, D7* dear,

C* I’ll get A9* by A7 as Dm long as Dm7 I G7 have C you


(C#dim G7)


• I use the chord shapes below …

Dm9 5557
Dm7 5555
E7 4445
D9 5657
D7 5655
C 5433
A9 0102


G7sus4 0213
G7sus2 0210

The suspended chords are just based on the G7 – here moving with the melody.

After I'd done this, I searched on line and found a version on Doctor Uke's pages. It's also in C, and a little different. Song number 640. He also has it in the key of A, which I haven't actually looked at yet.

Actually the key of C is a little low for singing here - for a woman, anyway. If I were to use this to sing with the uke I would use a uke in D tuning, or Eb... ie ADF#B or Bb Eb G C

Perhaps I'll do a video. But not today.

I'm still gathering photos to report on various Ukafrolics - keep the faith, I'll be back soon! And thanks again for dropping in!