Thursday, 20 December 2012

December trips along....

December is tripping along nicely, like a merry dance... it began with a few days away in the sun in the eastern Mediterranean, and continued with the usual flurry and frenzy of preparations for Christmas. Cards to write, presents to buy, and rehearsals for the "turns" we always do to contribute to the after-dinner entertainment at the regular mid-December Christmas function/party.

I do love to sing, but can't claim to have any talent for it - When sorting out with the two friends (the Welsh contingent - can't stop 'em singing...) who was going to sing the melody line in a particular carol, I said, "well I can sing top F..." and our friend (male - a woman wouldn't have said it - ) replied - "yes but it's a matter of whether you should....." 'Nuff said.

So we rehearsed our ancient carols in good company, and on my own I shut myself away with my Formby split-strokes. And as I've already told you, LHS and I performed "When I'm Cleaning Windows", him singing, me playing, complete with (basic) split-stroke solo done by the skin of my teeth, fueled by a very modest amount of alcohol. I have to say, the feeling of success is intoxicating enough - the "practice, practice, practice" mantra is so right - no gain without time and concentration.

Meanwhile, old friends to meet up with and sing with - In Birmingham's iconic old Town Hall, we sang carols to the beautiful organ that Mendelssohn played at the first recital in 1837. The Town Hall was full, the organ sounded fantastic, and the three of us sang our hearts out like we used to in the school choir, all those years ago.

Add to that mix the experience of performing as part of a choir on stage with Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band, again at Birmingham Town Hall, on Monday night - totally unforgettable.

December brings the Frankfurt German Christmas Market to Birmingham, and it seems to get bigger and better every year - the stalls almost circle the Town Hall, go all round Millennium Square and all the way down New atmospheric... on a Saturday it's heaving, and quite impossible, but any other day it's a great way to spend an afternoon, browsing and sampling the Gluhwein, mulled cider and all manner of treats to eat.

And so December trips on, and the shortest day is nearly here. Here at home the tree is up and decorated, and the fairy lights are up - even in the kitchen - and yesterday I managed to find an hour to go and strum and sing with the uke group. All Christmas songs - lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Nearly there...

Thanks for looking in.....

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Eugene Ukulele now has his own website!

Oh yes, good news; one of my favourite uke players now has his own website. If you have enjoyed Eugene Ukulele's videos on this blog, on Youtube or anywhere else, get yourself over there and have a look.

The tag-cloud at the bottom of the page will take you to a few videos if you haven't seen any. Just look for eugeneukulele.

His website is called eugene's old-time ukulele and it really is great! I won't tell you any more - just get over there and take a look!

What's more - eugene (Jon) is one of the nicest folk around.

Here's one of his original songs, which you see over there... I love this!

Friday, 14 December 2012


Meanwhile, if I hadn't been out partying and playing my banjolele on Wednesday evening, I might have been here, playing Christmas songs with Joanna Stevenson and one of her uke groups. This time they were enjoying a few minutes of fame on the radio!

Jo runs Go Ukulele Crazy; she and her husband John do no less than eleven different weekly classes at various locations in the region - now there's keen for you. The uke is certainly a little bug that bites deep! There are occasional banjo-uke sessions, too - I'll get to one of those, one day - the calendar just hasn't allowed it so far.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Playing "Window Cleaner" - Did It!

Yes, I did it - I didn't sing it, mind - I would have felt particularly silly singing the greatest Peeping Tom song of all time, as a female of senior years - but it was great fun to contribute to the general entertainment, and I'd given myself a good talking-to before we went out - as well as re-reading Caroline Robson's advice on stage-fright. (September post) And do you know what - I got through that split-stroke solo... it was very basic, but it was there. A bit rough, but it was there. I let LSH make the introductory jokes, all at my expense of course - kept smiling! And I just kept on smiling, and did it!

I slid out of the room to get my uke ready during the stand-up bingo. (That's a great after dinner game - everyone buys a bingo ticket, everyone stands as the numbers are called out, but they sit down as soon as one of their numbers is called. Last person standing is the winner.) I checked the tuning and started to go through the solo for a warm-up - but the game was over so fast, even before I'd finished - no time to think and get nervous, we were on!

It is good to play for a friendly home crowd, but having someone alongside to share the load and the attention was a big help to me - (fortunately, Long-Suffering-Husband actually enjoys performing, but doesn't play,) and it does help to know that everyone wants to enjoy themselves and wants you to do well. I know those chords so well, it was only the solo that I was unsure of getting through - but yes, it was a good day after all, the atmosphere was great, and with a following wind behind me and a G&T inside me, I did it. It does feel like a bit of an achievement, though I know it's only a start, as Formby-type solos go. Something to build on. And LSH said it was the best I'd done it.... funny, that....

On 24th November, I told you how Jonathan Richards had helped me to get my head round Formby soloing, and promised to let you know how I got on with it - well, this is how I got on! So, thanks to Jonathan, (GFS Convention November) and to Caroline Robson for the support and general good advice! What lovely people.....

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Split-stroke with a metronome? You've got to be kidding!

Yes, I followed my Beloved's advice; I set a speed for the metronome and began to play along..... fine until - the banjo-uke solo. Play syncopation with a tick-tock on the beat? No way, absolutely no way. I was all over the place. May the Lord help me if helpful, encouraging folk start to clap along with us tonight... I will be finished, without a doubt. Please don't let them clap along...

And another thing - can't play with a bandaged finger - if the blood flows, then the blood flows, so be it. It's sharp fret-ends - catch them at the side of your nail and you draw blood...

At least the carols should go well - we're doing a couple of carols in four part harmony with two friends. The Boar's Head Carol and the Sans Day Carol - just the choruses in harmony... not too difficult, you can hide your voice among the others, and it goes down well.

As for the split-stroke solo - LSH came in this morning while I was practising - a little bit faster - "That sounds better," he said - praise indeed. But will the stage-fright and lack of opportunity for a quick warm-up just wreck the brain-hand coordination... probably, yes. But I'll be in good company, won't I - if Frank Skinner can come unstuck with it...

And I've tightened the vellum again - just a little turn on each nut, missing two out all the way round until I'd done them all. It does sound better -

Oh well, nearly there...

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

How's my split-stroke? Well, my finger's bleeding....

Thanks to one kind young man name of Johnathan Richards, I can now see how the Formby syncopated split-stroke fits into the structure of the chords for a solo... and on a good day with a following wind, I can just about get through a very basic solo passage for Cleaning Windows... but I can't believe I've really got the gall to be standing up doing it in front of an audience tomorrow night. Well. I won't be singing it, that's one thing - LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) will be doing the honours there... and the 60-strong audience are not paying, so I've no shame - it's a DIY entertainment after a Christmas dinner - all friends and friends-of-friends, and fairly forgiving (thank goodness) after a good meal and a few glasses of wine - but these last few days, after returning from a holiday in the sun doing nothing but read books and lounge about, it's been a frenzy of Christmas preparations and banjo-uke practice. Hence no time for blogging... LSH is full of advice, which I endure with gritted teeth; (he doesn't play...) "Practice with a metronome..." "They only want to hear the solo..." "Can't you give it a bit more welly...!" Grrrrr... just get your words right, Darling....

With luck, by the time it's our turn, they'll all be past caring - which will be just as well, because there simply won't be a following wind...

Why aren't I doing something easier? Now that's a very good question. Perhaps because my Beloved thinks it's only worth playing a banjo-uke if you do the split-strokes and triples... it certainly would be much easier to give 'em Five Foot Two ....

So - I'll let you know how it goes... keep your fingers crossed for me!

Below, you'll find Johnathan's brother Matthew and his wonderful tuition video on the split-stroke. He recommends doing Madame Moscovitch for starters..... Shoulda. I really shoulda......

Here's Matthew J Richards with his demonstration of the Formby Split Stroke

Superb tuition video, this....

Saturday, 24 November 2012

So what turned me on to the ukulele? It was this....

So what turned me on to the ukulele? I know I've told you before, but I've just watched the video again, and I have to show you was this....

Joe Brown playing a soprano uke, "I'll See You in My Dreams" at the memorial concert at the Albert Hall for George Harrison - such a moving and bitter-sweet rendition of this lovely old song - and the performance that quickened my heart and made me say - "That's gorgeous - I want one of those - I think I can get to grips with that - "

Well, my lovely husband bought me one, and yes, I am getting to grips with the ukulele, I think - stuck at "advanced beginner" maybe, but getting there, a strum at a time...

It's the November Convention of the GFS - and here come the Judge!

Last weekend we braved the busy motorway all the way to Blackpool once more- for the November Convention of the George Formby Society. "What is the attraction?" you may ask! Well - watch this video, (thanks to Caroline) and you'll get an idea! Judge Henry and friends - yes, I do believe he really IS a judge - they were well into their piece on the last evening, after the band had gone home and the wonderful stand-ins had picked up the traces. Actually, you'll notice that this little combo were using their backing track to this medley. If you'd like to see the whole twelve minutes of madness, see Peter Pollard's video of Judge Henry and his gang, Alan Kershaw, Mac McGee and Tom Fletcher here!

Judge Henry mentions struggling with his split-stroke... the fast, syncopated, rhythmic strumming that characterizes a Formby-style solo in the instrumental break in the middle of a song. I know how he feels. It's one thing being able to do the strum - however slowly - but playing it in time with a song, to be able to "solo" with it is something else again. BUT - after reaching the height of frustration with it at the weekend, I can at last report a little progress! The GFS members are so kind and helpful... and I have Jonathan Richards to thank for the help he gave me on Sunday to start to get it together - so kind, what a lovely family... I'm concentrating now on the "window cleaner" solo - it's actually one of the easier songs to play - I think the way ahead is to practise getting the split-stroke into the right places in the solo, as fast as is manageable, then work at putting "frills" on it.

I'll let you know how I get on!

Meanwhile - my uke-mate Caroline goes down a storm when she goes on stage in Blackpool. This time she gave us a bit of Tom Jones, (with Kala pocket-uke) and Kirsty MacColl... (with Ohana tenor-necked soprano) a cracking number that and really well done! See here....

And - see here for more pics and news on the November GFS Convention.

(Psst - that woman with Caroline - is Yours Truly... what did I do to get my mug-shot in there?)

And if you're tempted to get a taste of the warmth and fun of a GFS Convention, all the information you need for the 2013 meetings is here.

Coming up - after a few days enforced blog-silence - a couple of the youngest GFS members, Lewis Clifton and Tommy Bland, two of the nicest (and very talented) young lads you could wish to meet - if you can't wait, look them up on Youtube!

Thanks for looking in!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Bye Bye Blues chord melody - getting it sorted

Matthew J Richards is a superb banjolele player, the Musical Director of the George Formby Society.... and a lovely young feller.

On 21st an 22nd August this year I posted his two superb Youtube video tutorials on playing the 1930 jazz standard Bye Bye Blues chord melody style - that is, playing the chords whilst picking out the melody in between. It's a great style of playing, especially if you're not blessed with a great singing voice - you do the song as an instrumental instead.

I determined to learn it.

Well - the first two lines are pretty easy. The end is very easy, being related to the beginning - BUT - the middle two lines are a bit more challenging. It helps, to have the chords used in the song there in front to you, because in the middle every note is different.

So - I wrote the chords down and yesterday I made it my target to get those middle two lines learnt. Here are the chords - I've starred the tricky lines.

I've recommended this piece to a couple of people, who both love it and are working on it. As for me - I worked hard on it (those two lines) yesterday. Those two lines are still slowing me down, but I'm getting there.

Thanks Matthew for a first-class tutorial piece on ukulele chord melody!

F F Db7

F F D7

G7 G7 Am7 (all open strings)

(*) F F Am Dm

(*) C7 C7 C7 C

F F Db7

F F D7

G7 G7 Am7

F Db7 F

News - backing tracks to George Formby songs by Matthew J Richards are now available here from the George Formby Society shop.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Mermaid Song , "Siren" by Ganga Karmokar

Here it is - the song, the Three Mermaids instrumental, now with words, written by Ganga Karmoka, and inspired by a Moore Bettah uke, crafted by the luthier Chuck Moore in Hawaii - a uke with mermaids swimming down the fingerboard... for pics and more info, see the post I did on Ganga's instrumental, a few days ago.

In Greek mythology, the sirens were three sea nymphs who lured sailors to their deaths on the rocks. To me, Ganga's singing in this song is so evocative of that...

How I wish I had a half-decent voice...

Oh - and in this video Ganga is playing her new (new to her) Moore Bettah tenor.

We have some first-class luthiers of the ukulele in the UK also... watch this space!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


You just don't expect to hear, on the radio, unannounced and out of the blue, a song accompanied by nothing but a single ukelele - but the other morning that's exactly what I heard... the radio was on as usual, to cheer me through my housework, and it stopped me dead in my tracks with an armful of washing. The sound is unmistakeable and quite arresting.

The song was "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea". I investigated further and found that this 1930's song was sung and played on the uke by George Harrison in the late 1980's. I came across a Youtube clip of George singing it on Jools Holland's late night show, accompanied by Jools on piano and Joe Brown on guitar, among others... watch it here! Fantastic....

Song 1932,music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Ted Koehler.

Here's ukulelemike, Mike Lynch, with his tutorial on it.

My favourite song of the moment... thanks to ukulelemike for a great arrangement. You can also find an arrangement on Al Wood's Uke Hunt.....

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Happy Halloween! Here comes Johnny! - JOHNNY FOODSTAMP - "She's Got Two of Everything"

Johnny Foodstamp is one of a rare kind - a George Formby fan and banjolele player from America - Nashville, to be precise. And his favourite song is "She's Got Two of Everything". He's certainly done a great job with the Halloween make-up - a great job of the instrumental solo was never in question.

And I drool over that 20's Gibson UB2...

The 2012 November convention in Blackpool is not far away - 17th-18th November.

Unfortunately, Johnny will not be there...

BUT - just wait til June.....oh, yes.....

Find the lyrics to "She's Got Two of Everything" here.

From the 1945 Film "I Didn't Do It"

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Three Mermaids - original instrumental by Ganga Karmokar

For me, visually, there are two kinds of beautiful ukulele. One kind is where the beauty all comes from the wood and the way it has been worked and crafted, and the other is where the luthier has used artistry to decorate the instrument with beautiful inlays of patterns or other images. In this second category, Chuck Moore's ukuleles are a joy to behold. Chuck Moore operates as Moore Bettah Ukuleles of Big Island, Hawaii, and if you want so spend some time drooling over "uke porn" get over to his site and take a look. A good, long look. In the ukulele world, the artistry of Chuck Moore is legendary.

On his For Sale page, you'll find The Three Mermaids tenor ukulele. Here are just two of the pictures of it.

This is what Chuck writes about it.

"This all koa ukulele was challenging yet immensely satisfying to build. Living so close to nature in this beautiful Hawaiian environment was naturally very influential in my choice of whimsical designs depicting two mermaids frolicking in the sea and one dreamingly relaxing in a banana moon. I use AAA Big Island curly koa for the body and ebony elsewhere including the fretboard and headstock veneer. Paua abalone is used unashamedly throughout, adorning the entire front and back of the instrument. The seahorse on the end graft was an afterthought that occurred to me only after I sprayed the first couple of coats of lacquer. The mermaids are made up of composite stone and 10,000 year old fossil mammoth ivory. After the ukulele was finish sanded, I scrimshawed the details in the bodies, remembering the art form I was involved in years ago. Other inlay materials include gold mother of pearl, abalone shell and fossil walrus ivory."

It's not really any surprise that this particular ukulele proved inspirational for one player, Ganga Karmokar. I was knocked out by her instrumental - watch her video to hear what she had to say about it. For me, her music conjured up the mermaid and the sea, just the way it was meant to - and put me in mind of the music of the French composer, Claude Debussy. Writing in the early 20th century, his work was inspired by the painters of the impressionist movement, and his music, full of light and air, was full of a similar imagery. Think of "Clair de Lune" (Moonlight) for example. In fact, the first piece in his first collection of "Images" was "Reflets dans L'Eau" (reflections in the water.) In my college days I lapped this stuff up.

Ganga's composition not only conjures up the sea, but has an eerie, mystical feeling to it that brings those mermaids to life. Please watch, listen and enjoy!

And if you liked that, just wait awhile, and I will post her other version of this, the version that is a song with words. It changes the mood again, and Ganga's voice is that of a siren, luring with her ethereal and bell-like voice the sailors of old to their fate on the rocks....

NEWS 6th November - Ganga is thrilled to have taken delivery today of a new (to her) Moore Bettah tenor uke - and has done a new video of The Three Mermaids....

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Improved Aquila Red Series strings, low G

The Aquila Red Series of strings, for example a low G for ukulele, has raised a lot of interest but as followers of Ukulele Underground Forum will know, some players have experienced problems with them, e.g. strings snapping.

Aquila responded to the feedback very quickly and worked on improving the Red Series, and there have already been favourable responses from folk on the Forum.

I haven't tried the new improved strings yet, but Andrew Kitakis of Hawaii Music Supply has just written a detailed review of the new improved strings and you can read it in full on his blog here.

Andrew also talks about fluorocarbon low Gs, and here's a reminder that Living Water Strings, a brand of excellent quality fluorocarbon strings sold by Ken Middleton, now include sets of strings with low G.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

"Every Now And Again" it's Eugene Ukulele

Please enjoy this lovely original song, written and performed here by "Eugene Ukukele" (eugeneukulele on the UU Forum)...

Some people have just got it - and he's just got it, no doubt....

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Success with Cherry Blossoms instrumental in the Season of Mists...

These autumn mornings, I can't look out of bedroom window without recalling the first few lines of Keats' Ode to Autumn, so painstakingly learned at school all those years ago...

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;"

They are surely fitting lines for this day, this Sunday... we live at the top of a hill - not a big hill, but a hill nonetheless, and on these autumn days the cloud can be so low as to hang just above the ground and obscure the usual view across the roofs and trees. Quite a pleasant view normally, although there are no thatch-eaves to be seen! AT 11.20 this morning the sun was trying hard to burn that mist off - and now, half an hour later it has partially succeeded, revealing the tall trees behind the houses that back onto ours - but beyond that all remains obscured by the mist. And I notice that overnight, the leaves on our flowering cherry tree have finally begun to turn gold.

They are actually very late this year, some trees in neighbouring gardens are glowing red already, but I put the steadfast October greenness of ours down to the heavy rain we have had all summer - the wettest summer in the UK since records began in the 1700s.

The descent into autumn and winter always has the effect of making me feel quite melancholy - a bright, sunny day can be depended upon to lift my mood dramatically, but I adore the spring and look forward to seeing the cherry blossom tree swathed in white once more.

And talking of Cherry Blossom, I spent an evening last week working hard to finish learning Mike Lynch's Cherry Blossoms fingerstyle instrumental solo - and I finally nailed it. One of my short-term targets that I set a while back. Late, but I nailed it. My other targets, sadly, are not going so well, as I remain a butterfly, flitting about from piece to piece, skill to skill, making slow progress across too-wide a path. Ah me. BUT - You know what? I'm still having so much FUN!

(Psst - I'll let you see how I got on with it - on the "Summerhouse Practice List" page there's a link - don't tell anyone I told you though......!)

Thursday, 18 October 2012

AUTUMN LEAVES for the ukulele: tutorial by ukulelemike - Mike Lynch

This lovely French song (Les Feuilles Mortes) was written in 1945; music by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by the poet Jacques Prevert. It was given lyrics in English by Johnny Mercer in 1947, and has been recorded countless times, becoming a jazz standard.

The autumn is now really setting in here in the UK, and so I feel compelled to add this beautiful song to my current practice list. It's funny, but I only feel like attempting it in the autumn! So I reckon I've got about five weeks to nail it. Hmmm. Unfortunately I won't be practising it in the summerhouse - too chilly now by far, even though the days when the sun shines brightly and the skies are blue, it can look tempting.....

Find lots more information about the song here, including information about the structure and the chord progression.

Thanks to ukulelemike, Mike Lynch for another great tutorial.....

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Butterflies by Zoë Bestel - The Star Folk Club, Glasgow

"Be yourself and live your dreams!" This excellent advice is the mantra of a young up-and-coming singer/songwriter called Zoë Bestel, from the north of England. I watched this video of her live performance of her song "Butterflies" in Glasgow, and knew I just had to share it with you. It's hard to believe that Zoë is still only fourteen! With her beautiful voice and her gift for songwriting, she should go far - read more about her and see more videos on her own blog here.

She's impressive..... isn't she!

Good luck Zoë!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

A Ukafrolic with a difference - the London Philharmonic Skiffle Orchestra .... and Debbie!

I just knew it was going to be amazing - I'd seen the Youtube videos of these fellas - and I was not disappointed. Seriously great musicians - and a seriously funny act.
Joanna Stevenson, the leader of the uke group that I go to (Go Ukulele Crazy) had organised this concert for the group and their friends, and I had snaffled virtually the last tickets, hearing about it late... the London Philharmonic Skiffle Orchestra - with audience participation by the ukers. A Ukafrolic with a difference, and a village hall sell-out.

They - the LPSO - were simply fantastic. Wherever you are, if you get a chance to go and see them, DO... they are crazy, very funny, and great musicians, all... and they even played a uke, oh yes... as well as some of the craziest instruments I've ever seen. After all, you don't see someone play a saw with a violin bow that often - or a sousaphone, or a knee-trumpet - or a watering can! The list is endless, as is the list of mad costumes they throw on and off during the course of their act - I found myself in awe of the stage management they must do before a show to ensure all their crazy props and costumes are to hand - the sheer pace of the act takes your breath away. And they had worked in some uke participation - I swear there were a hundred ukes in that room - a ukafrolic never to be forgotten!

I have to say - LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) - was really made to suffer on this occasion - for better or worse, our party of four had secured seats right at the front - and LSH made the mistake of making eye contact with one of the band. He was hauled up to "help out" ... and dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, a grass skirt, a silly hat and given a banana to shake..... oh dear. At least they didn't give him two coconuts to wear on his chest... idea for the next "victim", chaps? And he took it all in good part, cheerfully playing the role of rabbit caught in the headlights.

Another uker mate, Debbie, was sitting at the next table - and this is what happened to her!

Great sense of rhythm, Deb! Thanks do Debbie's partner for the video! Now LSH knows how to play his washboard! Two spoons, that's all you need! (Nah - thimbles - you just got to have thimbles!

Verdict on the evening - my friend Carol declared that it was the best night out she'd had in years.

'Nuff said. How are you going to top that one, Joanna? Thanks for organising a Ukafrolic that could be untoppable!

The Aquila String Harvest

If you like Aquila strings, or even if you don't like Aquila strings - A bit of fun to cheer you if you have that Sunday Night feeling because it's Monday tomorrow! An Italian autumnal idyll...

Reblogged from Uke Hunt... great blog, that....

Saturday, 13 October 2012

From the GFS September Meeting it's Peter Pollard

Still on the banjo-uke theme... "Hitting the High Spots Now" and "Our Sergeant Major"

This was... no, I'll use Peter's words..

"It's late Sunday evening, the band has gone home so its just backing tracks, but there is nothing like getting on the stage at the GFS convention and doing a couple of numbers. What an experience - you should join us and try it!"

Happy memories - I was at that meeting in September, accompanied by LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) and this video just encapsulates the great atmosphere that's always there at the GFS Conventions in Blackpool; all are made welcome, and it's just wall-to-wall song and smiles.

Songs - "Hitting the High Spots Now" from the film "Trouble Brewing", 1939 and
"Our Sergeant Major" from "It's In the Air" 1938

Next one - 17th and 18th November. We'll be there....

Thanks to Peter for letting me share his videos to this blog - and more to come!

Coming up.... the young folk who are making a name for themselves there with their banjo-uke talents! Worth waiting for, believe me!

Thanks for dropping in!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

So.... the Dallas D... that's mine, all mine!

My lovely little Slingerland banjo-uke now has a brother... and he is very handsome. There is a certain art deco beauty about this banjolele; the shiny black binding around the edges of the resonator, the bird's eye maple wood, the arrow-shaped holes in the shiny chromework around the quote from Dennis Taylor's web pages,

"A special concert model, it has a birds eye maple neck, body and resonator with inlaid edges and a highly polished finish. The fingerboard is ebony and has sixteen drawn wire frets and pearl position dots. It has an eight inch flush rim, an extra heavy bezel with twelve sunk pull down rods tensioned by removing the resonator to gain access to the tensioning nuts. It is fitted with a metal tone ring and tone plate and has an extension tailpiece and sleeve guard. All the metal parts are chromium plated....."

I stroke it and drool over it like a miser over his stash of gold... I had coveted this banjolele ever since I first laid eyes on it in my local music shop. having identified it correctly as a Dallas D, I knew I wanted it - but it needed some minor work to the fingerboard and frets. The days went by, then weeks and still it wasn't done. I plagued the shop with phone calls... "No, we haven't had it back yet...we'll tell you when it's in..."

And then - it was back. My car tyres left rubber on the road as I scorched off to see it again... such a lovely looking thing, all bird's eye maple and chrome, with the original maple bridge, and the case... AND the tone ring and all the fixings intact under the resonator...

And then - it was mine! LSH was resigned... after all, better to buy a uke that was seen and heard, than an ebay purchase that could turn out to be disastrous... and yes, when I got it home - he agreed, it was lovely. British-built craftsmanship... you just can't argue with that...

And it sounds - great!

More on the Dallas banjo-ukes here on the late great Dennis Taylor's web-pages.

JOHNNY FOODSTAMP - With My Little Ukulele in my Hand - George Formby

Johnny Foodstamp of Nashville certainly knows how to put a different spin on a George Formby number.... and.... (shhhhhh......) STOP PRESS.....I do believe..... he's going to be there at GFS Convention in Blackpool next June! I don't think Blackpool will quite know what's hit it.... and as for myself, well, I can't wait!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

John Bianchi, "It Had To Be You" - Alternate Side of the Street Video

A truly wonderful version by John Bianchi of the 1924 song by Isham Jones (music) and Gus Kahn (lyrics). I just adore what John does with these old songs.... here he has done a really great chord melody on his Ohana Vita-Uke; it's a musical education just watching how he picks that melody out of those jazzy chords.....and once again, his voice is just perfect for these old songs.

Look here for the low-down on the lyrics to this song - they are all about being in love with a less-than-perfect and domineering partner... quite a change from the idea of the beloved as a faultless angel.

Also by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn - I'll See You in My Dreams.

(Published for educational purposes, all rights reserved.)

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Coming up - The Dallas D that just seemed to have my name on it....

I can report that I am now the proud owner of a Dallas D banjo-uke. Now you may be thinking that I am getting a bad dose of UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome), bit no, I protest and deny it absolutely!

However, the tale must be told. This banjolele sort of had my name on it, from Day One - which was quite some months ago. I can't wait to tell you about it - but it will have to wait a day or two, as other musical activities (concert tonight) and a house and garden craving attention just have to come first....

Watch this space....

Monday, 24 September 2012

Update - the Tenor Banjo....

Three weeks ago I suddenly and without warning came across and bought a used tenor banjo - as I reported here. After a few trials and tribulations with strings, bridge, resonator... as of today it is now fully functional and I can even pick out a tune! I've put Irish Tenor strings on it, tuned GDAE like a violin and mandolin, and plan to learn a jig or reel or two.

Barney McKenna is the godfather of Irish Tenor Banjo playing - just thought I'd mention it...

I've even found a site that does free tabs - things are looking up!

No, I'm not abandoning the uke... but when that tenor banjo appeared at an affordable price - like the price of a pair of shoes... how could I possibly not snap it up?

Just reporting.....

I do love the sound of a banjo.....

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Worried Man Blues - chords

On 5th May I posted Ken Middleton's video of his great version of Worried Man blues, played clawhammer style - it's an old roots music favourite, and an easy one to practise playing by ear - just three chords with a C7 as a passing chord to pass from C to F - (using C7 to move from C to F is very common, and just one of the things in music that I've learned from playing ukulele) .

It (C) takes a worried man to sing a worried song,
(C7) It (F) takes a worried man to sing a worried (C)song,
It (C) takes a worried man to sing a worried song,
I'm worried (G) now but I won't be worried (C) long.

For full lyrics, (Woody Guthrie) visit here

You could use Am on "song" in the third line - I think it sounds OK - but it isn't part of a true blues progression. Anyone please correct me if I'm wrong!

Just a note on the use of G - there are so many songs where the main chords are C, F and G7 - but this is C, F and G.... the G7 chord just sounds wrong here. Try both and you'll see. If you can't hear the difference, don't worry. As you play more and your musical ear gets more discriminatory, you will eventually hear the difference.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Caroline Robson performs Leaning on a Lamppost - and talks about stage fright

I didn't see Caroline's first performance at the September meeting of the George Formby Society; I was tucked up in my own little pit at home, feeling sorry for myself. She had an attack of stage fright. You'd hardly know; she dealt with it so well... but for the benefit of anyone who loves to share their music but suffers form this, she talks about it.....

"The weekend of September 15th and 16th saw me attend my third consecutive George Formby Society Convention at Blackpool. I've been a member of he GFS for less than a year but made a lifetimes worth of friends. One of those is Lesley Fowkes, the author of your regular Life's a Ukafrolic blog posts. We met in June and became firm friends straight away. The uke connection does that. Anyway, this weekend we had planned at the very last minute to perform a song together on stage but due in part to Lesley being ill and her having touch of stage fright we put it off until next time. Lesley had arrived too late to see my debacle of a performance on Saturday afternoon otherwise she would've run a mile when I suggested a duet! Stage fright appears to be one of my areas of expertise. I could teach her a thing or two!

I first performed at the GFS in June on the Sunday night when there are fewer people about and its a lot more relaxed. First time ever behind a microphone and my throat closed up, voice went, my legs shook but I just about pulled it off. However, I struggle to watch the YouTube video of it. The singing is so strained.

I couldn't understand it. I am normally so calm. Even when the world is falling around my ears I stay cool. Well, I look like I'm cool even if inside I'm terrified. Remember that bit for later.

So despite the terrifying experience I vowed to try again in September.

I learned two Formby songs. Correction. I thought I'd learned them. I got up on stage on Saturday afternoon in front of a packed room (400+ people) and proceeded to forget all the chords to Leaning on a Lampost and then play a completely different solo to that played by the backing band. As if this wasn't bad enough, I then had to carry on and do a second song when all I wanted to do was run away. The only bit of the second one I remember is singing the same line twice!

It was horrible. I was so disappointed. I felt like you used to feel after an exam that you knew you'd done really badly in. I'd put in so much work then on the day I messed it up.

I know it happens to the best of them. I'm not alone.
Now there is always something to be learned from any performance, no matter how bad it is.

Here are my pearls of wisdom learned from painful experience.

Before you get up on stage...

1 Learn the song. Then learn it some more. Learn it so you can sing it the all way through while you are concentrating on something else. Same goes for the chords.

2 Try to stay calm - my best performance followed me chattering away maniacally to a friend just before going on stage. I was still nervous but not terrified. It's a fine line.

No matter what happens when you get up on stage you must do two things.

1 Keep going. Never stop.

2 Keep smiling. I have discovered that the audience will warm to a winning smile. If you look nervous the audience will get nervous too. When the legs turn to jelly force a smile or crack a joke. Most audiences want you to do well. None more so than the GFS audience.


1 Accept compliments graciously (I'm not good at this) and seek honest feedback from those with more experience whose opinion you respect.

2 Learn and move on. Don't beat yourself up.

During the weekend, a couple of people told me I have very good stage presence. This performing lark is all new to me and I didn't know what it was so I looked it up. I think it basically means when you get on stage the audience like you, warm to you and forgive you for your human mistakes.

So I'll be working on the words, the chords and the stage presence!
Finally, remember that you never get better by not doing something. After my terrible experience on Saturday I got back up on Sunday night and did just fine. A few mistakes but that winning smile got me off the hook.....I think!

Til next time....Caroline"

Thanks to Caroline and also to Peter Pollard for sharing the video!

Post Script...2015
Caroline is now Caroline Stewart, and is now Chairman of the George Formby Society! Those GFS folks know a good thing when they see it!

Friday, 21 September 2012

The September GFS Meeting - well, we got there in the end...

The George Formby Society (GFS) weekend in Blackpool ... we did make it - eventually.

On Friday night the revenge of something or someone had me out of bed for most of the night, holed up in the smallest room in the house, doubled up, puking.... that's all the detail you need folks, it was not nice. But on Saturday when we should have been enjoying the music and the incomparable atmosphere in the Imperial Hotel, I was sleeping, exhausted - the whole day.
And to add insult to injury, the wasted hotel booking for that night was, of course, forfeit.

But Sunday morning I felt better, and fit for the journey up the motorway to Blackpool, "The Last Resort".

Caroline had been there all along, of course. My uke/banjo-uke kindred spirit, we met at the June meeting... last Friday we had suddenly planned by email, to go for a duet in one of the free-and-easy concerts... Lili Marlene. In harmony. But firing on only two cylinders, as it were, I'd got decidedly cold feet. And Caroline had had a nasty attack of stage fright on the Saturday. So we both decided to attend the mic class on Sunday afternoon for the "Up-and-comers" - very useful experience for anyone who has never sung into a mic before. Well, I sang Lili Marlene, doing strums on my little Slingerland... I got through it, just. Then we tried a verse together, in harmony - totally unrehearsed. Not too bad. A small and gentle audience in a small, cosy room - but an audience, nonetheless.

What is it that happens between brain and fingers when you're nervous? They say goodbye to each other, that's what. It has always been one of my weak points, in music - any sort of performance - nerves. And why is it that it just doesn't seem to affect the youngsters?

Take Eric, for example. A young lad of seven, with a beautiful head of long wavy hair that any pre-Raphaelite beauty would have been proud of, a cherubic face and a banjolele almost bigger than himself. He sat down at the mic with his uke and played and sang "What a Wonderful World", faultlessly, fearlessly... and there are lots of quick chord changes in that - and at the end we even had the gravelly Satchmo "Oh yeah...." and a mischievous grin - we'll be hearing more of Eric, I have no doubt.....he was a Star.

But the reason they have no fear at the mic is because they haven't learned fear in this context. They know they can do the performance, and they know it will be rapturously received... a confidence that you just lose as you get older. They are not thinking "What if they all think "who does she think she is..." Which is precisely what I think, and why I begin to turn to jelly from my finger-ends.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Til There Was You, with ukulelemike, Mike Lynch

I find myself very pressed for time at the moment, with so much I want to tell and post to the blog and no time to do it - but as this is one of my all-time favourite songs, it was a must to share, without delay.

Please enjoy, Til There Was You.... by Meredith Wilson.

Posted for educational purposes, all rights reserved.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Ukulele Quote of the Day....

"The ukulele is a portal that only very happy people pass through."

I don't know who said it first... someone said is second at the Nappa Valley Wine Country Ukulele Festival...

And yeah, I'll go with that. After all, it's impossible to play the ukulele and be a miserable git at the same time.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Matthew J Richards - Banjo Ukulele Comparison NO 2

Tomorrow we'll be headed up to Blackpool once more for the September Convention of the George Formby Society... and we'll be listening once again to all those great old vintage banjo-ukes, that just have a great sound all their own.

It's really interesting to hear them compared side by side, and that is what Matthew has done here. These are at the top end of the quality/desirability stakes.

Fancy a Ludwig? So do I.... in your dreams!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

And Under The Blasted Oak - here's Johnny Foodstamp, with George Formby Nashville-style!

I just love his style - and that Gibson... and it's such a shame that this weekend Johnny will be in Nashville and John Bianchi, (another big George Formby and banjolele man) will be in Manhattan... not at the next meeting of the George Formby Society in Blackpool, this Saturday... oh, how they would love them both up there.....

For my part, I have just learnt "When I'm Cleaning Windows" - God, who'd have thought it....but not the solo - of course. Far too hard for the likes of me.

But I can do the split-stroke and the triple now. And tuned up to D, with GFS nylon strings on, my little Slingerland is sounding quite nice...

Oh Yes.

Must go and titivate my genuine 40's hat....

"Out of Nowhere", here's John Bianchi...

All John Bianchi's videos are good, but every now and then he does one that just blows me away... and this is such. John plays so well, but he also has a great voice, and a voice that's so well suited to these old songs... this one, girls, will just make you melt! Having had to gather myself up from a small melted heap on the floor, I can guarantee it!

Here he is, straight from a street in Manhattan! He writes...

Here's a version of "Out of Nowhere" played in my Saturn this morning on 11th street and University Place in Manhattan - an alternate side of the street parking day. Written in 1931 by Johnny Green (music) and Edward Heyman (lyrics), it became Bing Crosby's #1 selling hit for many years. OK, I'm trying not to sound like Bing here, but his ghost keeps creeping into my vocal, hopefully not in a bad way.

Played on a 1960s Martin Style 0 standard uke, I'm reminded that the chords in this song were borrowed/stolen by Alexander Courage for the theme song of a certain 1960's classic sci-fi series. See if, upon listening, you can possibly guess which one... ;)

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Basic clawhammer ukulele secrets - Tim Keough

After watching yesterday's video post of Tim playing "Ain't No Grave" clawhammer uke, if you're anything like me, you'll be wanting to know just how that playing style is achieved... well, it just so happens that Tim has made an excellent tuition video on beginning clawhammer, and here it is.

Tim (ukuleletim) has a great website, "ukulelesecrets"

He writes -

"The idea is to learn how to play well in a short period of time. Like a badass.

I share secrets that make you sound good.

You still have to practice… but it will take years off your learning curve."

That sounds good to me!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Ain't No Grave, gospel clawhammer ukulele - Tim Keough

If this isn't real badass ukulele clawhammer, well I don't know what is....please enjoy the playing of ukuleletim, Tim Keough

More on Tim Keough and on clawhammer uke later... I promise!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The trouble with me is, I'm such a butterfly....

LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) often says it, and I know to my chagrin that he's nailed it.
For example - yesterday I changed the strings on my lovely new (new to me) solid wood Kiwaya soprano ukulele. Then I spent an hour with a file full of tabs (music) from Wilfried Welti... thanks to Barry Maz of Got a Ukulele blog, where I pounced on them the other day without hesitation. (If you're a player, you must check them out, they're really good.)


Pay no attention whatsoever to the fact that a couple of weeks ago I set myself particular targets on the uke.... and these tabs have nothing to do with them...


All the while, waiting for new banjo strings to drop through the letterbox, as I can't do anything with my new (new to me) tenor banjo til it has new strings on.

Well, the banjo strings have just arrived, and that is the next must-do task.


Pardon me, did you just mention ironing, or the weeds in the garden?....

Also -


I have had my eye on the Tate and Lyle Golden Syrup tin for a week or two - I used the last of it on my porridge this morning, and whipped the clean tin away to a hiding place in case I want it for the NEXT BIG PROJECT - I want to build a one string diddley bow before Christmas.

A diddley-what! I hear you exclaim....

Well, if you can't wait until I tell you, look here....

Isn't that just amazing?


Diddley bows are traditionally home-made... I'm determined to make one, even though my technical projects are often less than successful.

But, that Tate & Lyle tin just might come in handy...

Meanwhile, I really must take myself in hand... my new mantra, as of yesterday, is - housework and essentials all morning, my ukulele and banjolele in the afternoons....oh, and the banjo...


seems reasonable enough to me...


Red Admiral Butterfly in our garden, photo courtesy of LSH with his super-duper camera

Monday, 3 September 2012

What am I going to do with a tenor banjo? I could always string it like a uke - like Valery Sauvage!

The Entertainer by Scott Joplin - on tenor banjo.

The very talented ukulele and banjolele player Valery Sauvage, known as "ukeval", from France has replaced the metal strings on this vintage tenor banjo with nylon; extra-long Aquila new nylgut strings - and strung and tuned it like a baritone ukulele! So there's a third way of stringing a tenor banjo! It sounds pretty good, too - and definitely something I'll experiment with.

It was Valery's videos that first acquainted me with the music and playing of Roy Smeck. More about "Wizard of the Strings" Roy Smeck another time - but check out ukeval's channel for more great music... he's a fine musician!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

It's Caroline - Leaning on a Lamppost!

I asked my banjolele friend Caroline Robson, whom I met at the last GFS convention, to let me study her version of Leaning on a Lamppost - she's so much better than me, I can't keep up with this... she tells me that the solo doesn't have all the right chords in it, but I think this is pretty darned impressive - and fast! Don't you? I think it'll be a very long time before you see my version! But I'm working on this.....and that Gibson UB2 is lovely.......

Thanks for letting me post this, Caroline! I know it will be enjoyed!

Friday, 31 August 2012

What am I Doing with this Tenor Banjo?

Yes, you read it right - a tenor banjo. It has been a really weird couple of days - I'll tell you about yesterday next time - but suddenly I find myself the owner of this rather large big brother to my banjolele!

As ever, it's Himself that's to blame really... LSH - he came in at lunchtime saying he'd seen a second-hand banjo in a shop for £50 - four strings...."That's a tenor" said I..."That's a good price for a banjo......"

Now, I've never had or played a banjo, but I've always had a soft spot for them; I love to hear one played well - the late great Barney McKenna of the Dubliners was a fantastic player of Irish tenor banjo. So - it was irresistible - by tea-time, it was mine. £60, not £50... but an okay price to have a banjo to have a go at - and all I knew about them was that they have four metal strings, and different tuning from the ukulele.

Now I'm a little wiser. The first discovery on Google was that I've paid the same price for this used instrument as I would have paid for a new one! It's a Swift - £60. Amazing. That just can't be right. But what the heck, I can sell it on if I don't like playing it, and hopefully not lose more than a few pounds. It's obviously a very basic banjo. That's fine. I only want to explore....

Next - tuning. Easily found by internet search; standard tuning, CGDA. Irish tuning, GDAE. So I think to myself - I'll tune it up to standard tuning til I know what I'm about... TWANG! Goes the second string..... so I start to loosen the others off again - and TWANG goes another. Now I only have two strings left on it.

This is a rapid learning curve.... I search online for new banjo strings - and learn that different gauge strings are used for standard tuning than for Irish - not surprising really, as Irish tuning is a whole fourth (four notes) lower than standard. Then it came to me - the banjo must have been fitted with strings designed for Irish tuning - and trying to pull them up five notes higher broke them straight away! So now I have to wait for some more to arrive in the post.

It's just as well - after all, I've got my handsome new Kiwaya soprano to play!

Meanwhile - it's not ukulele - but here's Barney.

I'm so glad we saw the Dubliners on their tour last year, before Barney shuffled off this mortal coil.... RIP Barney McKenna

It's the last day of summer, but......"Yes Sir, That's My Baby" - from Eugene Ukulele

Another stunning performance by one of my favourite ukulele players! Played on a custom Bruko curly maple soprano ukulele.

Popular standard written in 1925; music Walter Donaldson, lyrics Gus Kahn. Those two wrote wrote some wonderful songs that have lasted nearly 90 years...Another one is "My Baby Just Cares for Me"... see some more songs with lyrics by Gus Kahn here.

And for this wonderful morning, the last day of summer, when at 10.00 a.m in my garden the sky and the air were so beautiful it just took my breath away..... this video is just perfect.

The song has basic chords and a common chord progression - it's what Eugene does with them that's so, so skilful... the finger-picking between the chords and the "add-ons".... that performance is brilliant in my book, and it's one I'm going to study!

Thanks for sharing, Eugene! And a wonderful morning to you down under, too! Down there, spring must be in the air! Aaah.....

Thursday, 30 August 2012

A new Kiwaya KTS-4 Soprano for a very happy bunny

So much excitement - it seems a long time since I had a little fantasize about what my ideal soprano ukulele would be like, and I dismissed any ideas of owning a custom-built uke as quickly as I had dreamed about one. Why people have them is a whole subject for discussion in itself - suffice it to say, I'm not in the market. I'm still a learner and was brought up not to be extravagant. But I did decide that I wanted a soprano for a traditional sound, and that I wanted a good one - for quality of build, precise intonation and a beautiful finish, in solid wood.

When it came to factory-built ukes, there were three contenders, and I wanted to see them and play them. Whilst in London, I dragged poor LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) off to a ukulele shop - yes, a music shop selling just ukuleles, and advertising the Kiwaya and the Bruko on their website - but no chance, they don't seem to actually stock them. I did spend a happy hour in there playing all the other solid wood ukes though, while LSH spent an equally happy hour in the excellent pub across the road, where the draft bitter was apparently excellent - but I was particularly interested in the Kiwaya KTS-4; I posted Ken Middleton'e reviews of the Kiwaya (made in Japan) and the Bruko #6 (made in Germany) on here, and low and behold, a few days later a used Kiwaya KTS-4 (solid mahogany, no laminates) came up on ebay uk! What a coincidence is that!

I watched that baby and drooled over it all week - LHS doesn't really get why anyone should want more than one wooden uke. And I like a peaceful life. But as the final minutes ticked away I got very twitchy... and he noticed. Doesn't miss a thing - not after forty years. So I told him about it. He must have been feeling particularly mellow - because he replied "You'd better get up the stairs to your computer then!"

"What - to bid for it?"

"Yes if you like!"

Did I need telling twice? I do love that man of mine...the minutes ticked away while I fiddled about getting to the page... now what should my maximum bid be......?

Well - I got it! And yesterday it arrived. It's fitted with Aquila strings, which I plan to change very quickly, so I'm not going to talk much about the sound except to say that yes, the intonation does seem to be spot on, just as it should be, and when you pluck the strings, you can feel the whole body vibrate. The body is built of very thin wood - which, in a ukulele, is a good thing, as long as the internal bracing is adequate.

I just love the look and feel of this uke - it surpasses expectations. The satin finish on it just glows. The tuners are good quality friction tuners and the neck is nice and thin. Rosewood fingerboard, of course. And it is SO light - I'm going to weigh it and compare the weight with my little Mahalo soprano - just to see the difference.

So - that's my soprano story. I'm very happy with my concert uke, and I love this - and I can't really get into tenors at all..... so I'm a happy bunny. A very happy bunny......

Plan - put Living Water Strings on it. Aquilas are very loud, and I want to try the Living Water - because they are just beautiful on my Tanglewood concert uke.

Then - put a Living Water low G string on the Tanglewood to try it out. A low G set-up is great for the jazzy numbers...busy day tomorrow....

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Announcing The Ukulele Cowboy Society's Music Video....

And now for something rather different - how could I not share this!

Some video, huh? Uke playing with attitude..... I love it!

For more on the Ukulele Cowboy Society, see here.....

All rights reserved, I do not own this song or any part of it...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Coming up - New Uke Day!

Yes indeed, big news to report... a new uke will be arriving in the post in a few days time!

More later... got to get back to the garden before it rains again - filled two big bags with garden rubbish yesterday, a bit more this morning before the heavens opened ... I'm feeling SO virtuous! And SO excited about the new ukulele that's coming! I hope it will live up to expectations.....

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Sunday in late summer, and the summerhouse beckons...

Late August equals late summer in the UK. Next month it will be early autumn in my book. My calendar book runs like this - September, October, November, that's autumn; December, January, February, winter; March, April, May, spring; June, July, August, summer. And summer will soon be no more.

It's Sunday morning and ten minutes ago at 11 a.m., our south-facing patio had a distinct feel of early autumn about it, the sky under thin cloud, the air just warm, the breeze carrying a hint of the cooler weather to come, the light definitely autumnal. Earlier this morning, LSH (Long-Suffering Husband) had declared on the phone to an aunt in another part of the country that autumn had arrived in the West Midlands. It's in the light, in the air...

The birds know it - three weeks ago in Brecon, South Wales, we had sat in a garden, the sun cracking the flags, watching the swifts zooming around above us in screaming parties - it was about 8th August, and it's a fact that by the 12th August, the last swifts have left our shores, headed south back to their winter quarters in Africa. In the next few weeks, the swallows will be following them. At least, we returned from Brecon with a prize - the old washboard. LSH will soon be playing it, when we have tracked down a supply of thimbles for his fingers.

Now, though, the sun has broken through, the patio is immediately too hot and I have retreated to my favourite place in the garden - my summerhouse. Airy, shady, sheltered, peaceful, private... where I can have fresh air and gaze upon the garden. Today it is gazing back at me reproachfully. This year I have neglected it, hardly done a thing. Four weeks of solid rain in April and a further six weeks of solid rain in June/July have much to do with it - the rest, I must admit, is down to my ukulele. The weeds and dead rose-heads stare at me sullenly - that is how I see them. It's guilt.

Last year, the roses and I fought a gallant battle together against the fungal disease "rust", but this year the roses have had to fend for themselves - I haven't even fed them.

It's no use, I'll have to get the old scourge and hair shirt out again...

On second thoughts, the garden fork, secateurs and fish, blood and bonemeal would be far more practical...

After I've run through my "Summerhouse Practice List" or new set of uke targets, that is...

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Today's musical ventures....

Today's great musical acquisition - a kazoo. Or rather, his 'n hers kazoos - got LSH one as well. Now we can do kazoo duets. It'll go with the old washboard we came across in Brecon the other week.... I spotted it, he grabbed it and laid claim to it... handed over the £12 asking price and tucked it under his arm with smug self-satisfaction....."Keep your filthy hands off it - that's mine!" was the loving remark as we left the shop. We talk to each other like that - that's forty years of marriage for you.

Also today - I've restrung my Slingerland banjo-uke again. I'd got some fluorocarbon strings on it, and had tried to tune it up to D tuning, but I could tell the strings didn't like it - sure enough, the 1st string broke. So I've gone for nylon strings this time, after recommendations from Johnny Foodstamp and others in the George Formby Society. They arrived today, I've put them on and they have gone up to D tuning without a grumble - so I think I'll be happy with those. Full marks and many thanks to the obliging folk who run the GFS shop online.

Been playing the banjo-uke and kazoo together... now that's what I call fun!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

"Bye Bye Blues" - Melody Style Tutorial, Parts 1 and 2 by Matthew James Richards

For months now, I have been watching and listening to good ukulele players playing songs and tunes in a style that plays the chords, but also picks out the melody - and wanting - no, yearning to be able to do it. The other day I was thrilled to discover that one of my ukulele heroes, Matthew J Richards, has done two tutorial videos on Bye Bye Blues as an introduction to playing this way. Matthew uses basic chords in this arrangement, and shows how to pick out the melody with the thumb, strumming the chords in the spaces between the notes. Watch the videos, you'll see what I mean. Matthew is a superb teacher. Following these videos has really helped me to begin to understand just how this technique of playing melody-style is done...

The song is the 1930 jazz standard "Bye Bye Blues" - the same song that I featured yesterday in a chord tutorial by that other great uke teacher, Mike Lynch. The arrangement is completely different, and I love both - Matthew's for the melody-style arrangement, and Mike Lynch's for the jazzy chords!

Now watch Part 2 to see how to play this Melody Style....

Matthew is a fine musician and a very nice person, I can attest. Piano tuner, entertainer, a stalwart of the George Formby Society (GFS) along with the rest of the Richards family, his banjo-uke playing is simply a joy, and he also plays keyboard with the band to accompany other players at the GFS Conventions in Blackpool. I'll be posting more of his videos. Read more about him here.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

"Bye Bye Blues" - Ukulele lesson tutorial by ukulelemike, Mike Lynch

I've been looking at the popular jazz standard "Bye Bye Blues", written by Fred Hamm, Dave Bennett, Bert Lown, and Chauncey Gray and published in 1930. More on the song here.

This lovely version, by ukulelemike, Mike Lynch, has quite a jazzy sound because of the chords chosen... lots of 7ths and minor 7ths. Mike puts the chords up on the video, which is really helpful when you're trying to follow it...

For ease, here they are in order

A - F7 - Em - F#7 - B7 - E7 - A - Cdim7 - Bm7 - E7

Next time .... another great version of Bye Bye Blues, a couple of tutorial videos by Matthew Richards for playing Bye Bye Blues melody-style, using basic chords. You can take your pick!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Roly Poly and Wildwood Flower, ukulele duet

So, folks, something to cheer and energise, this Monday morning - Tim Keough (ukuleletim) and Jim Beasley having a blast... you can almost see the smoke coming off those strings! This just has to lighten the heart...

"Wildwood Flower" is probably my favourite bluegrass piece and you'll hear a great version tucked in the middle of Roly Poly - a new one on me. Look out for the clawhammer passage....

Tim says "An old Bob Wills favorite paired with a popular old time American song arranged for ukulele duet. Jim Beasley on right, Tim Keough on left. We have a little too much fun in one part so I just spliced to the end to spare discomfort to audience and player."

Tim's website is where Tim tells "how to play ukulele like a badass" and has lots of articles on playing campanella style.


Now down to some serious Monday Morning stuff....

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

New short-term targets for playing my uke...

Right - my progress on the uke seems to have stalled for lack of focus. These targets need firming up - but roughly, this is what I think I need to do over the next four weeks....

Learn the notes for the ukulele fingerboard thoroughly up to the first five frets. Further if possible. (C tuning)

Learn chords in the 2nd position for the most common chords.

Practice chord changes to/from Em

Finish learning "Cherry Blossoms" (Mike Lynch piece)

Start learning a new chord solo - "Going Home" (Mike Lynch arrangement)

Start learning a new fingerpicking piece - bluegrass

Practice playing by ear

Learn the chords to one of my favourite songs, so I don't always have to find the sheet - eg "Til There Was You"

(Banjo-uke - sort something specific out)

More than enough there..... that'll do!

Good intentions - I'm so good at those...

I think I want a Kiwaya KTS-4 Soprano Ukulele - here's a review by Ken Middleton

The soprano sized Uke has grown on me greatly - I like the sound, and I like the fact that if I see a chord fingering that goes from fret three to fret ten, I can reach it! I was horrified to find such a chord in the tab for Music Box Waltz, by Roy Smeck. It's reachable on a concert uke, but barely - I've got long fingers - I don't know whether people reach stretches like this on a tenor... but that's another story.

Anyway, I really fancy one of these, the Kiwaya KTS4, or even the KTS5 with more frets, although that one is considerably more pricey. The laminate version, the KS1, has great reviews, but I would love a solid wood instrument, one with a thin enough top to give it the volume and sound that I want. In my dreams, I reckon.

But, I'm hoping, this weekend, to get to a shop that sells these ukes and try them out - the Japanese Kiwaya KS1, the KS4 as above, and a Bruko, a German-made uke which also has gained a great following. I'm expecting the sound to be very different, from what folk have said - it'll be interesting! And there are many more factors to take into account when playing a ukulele; the necks can vary in thickness, some being thinner than usual, and some being thicker; so can the width at the nut (where the strings go through slots at the top before they attach to the tuning pegs). These things can make a lot of difference to personal comfort and preference, and it's one good reason to try to get hands on and play before buying, rather that buying unseen online. The other reason of course is the sound.

I can't finish without a word for Ken Middleton's review. This one is from 2008 and is as thorough and well-considered as ever.

Whoops - I've actually just this minute found a review from Ken where he compares the Bruko 6 to the Kiwaya! It's here....

Thanks, Ken for the music, for the reviews, for the tabs, for the strings.... you are the man.

I planned to do something completely different this morning - this is my trouble, you see..... lah-di-dah.......

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Grinding to a halt, ukulele-wise

Suddenly, ukulele-wise, I feel that I am wading thigh-deep in water with the current against me - and it's because I've suddenly lost direction and focus.

The reason is clear; I'm faffing about too much on the internet. I'm reading the Forum (Ukulele Underground Forum) and watching Youtube uke videos instead of playing and practising. Silly, silly...

So I know what I need to do....

Set limits on internet time; play more ukulele.

Set targets again - particular pieces to work on and learn - for me, that works.


You've read it before and here it is again.... the only way to get better is.....

practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice
practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice
practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice
practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice
practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice

Meanwhile, someone has to wash up, do a bit of housework.

In the doldrums....

Better get on with it.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A GENTLE WAVE - Ukulele Improvisation by Ken Middleton

Just the thing for a peaceful Sunday - tranquility, a calm sea and beautiful sounds from a ukulele. I've already listened to this three times - the usual, when I have really enjoyed a piece of music.

Ken Middleton is a dab-hand at improvisation. I wish I could do it - I know that I could, if I knew my way round the uke fret-board - and there's only one answer to that - work at it.

You have to know your way round the ukulele the way that you know your way round your own house - blindfold. To know where everything is. On the ukulele, that means every note, every chord, every progression, every movement by step up and down an scale, every leap to the note you want... and it means work, concentration and application, and exercising your memory. If you rely completely on chord charts and tabs, you never learn to master the instrument, because you don't know it intimately enough - it's like knowing something only second-hand, somehow.

You also need to know something about structure - structure of a musical piece. If you play, you know that most pieces are played in one key - and the most common key for the uke is the key of C - because that's the easiest key to play in for the ukulele. But a piece of music also has a musical form or shape - and a very common and basic one is AABA.

"Whaaat?" Don't panic. Think of a song - better still, look here, at how music works. I don't believe in reinventing the wheel - this chap explains it very well..... AABA song structure is actually very, very familiar to all of us!

For more detail look at 32 bar form.

AABA is just for starters, but it's a very good start, and enough to keep you going and thinking for a while.

So, knowing a bit about structure in music helps when you want to improvise. Is it essential? Well, it certainly gives you a framework, which you can build on.

Trying to remember how to play pieces without the papers in front of you is a great starter - keep the music nearby to go to when you're stuck, but remember, memorising the musical pathways is a great learning pathway to knowing your instrument. And anyway, it's so much nicer to be able to pick up your uke and just play it, instead of always having to have the music up in front of you.

So - if you want to be able to improvise, know your instrument. I resolve to get to know mine. And start looking at how pieces of music are structured. It's really interesting!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

World's Smallest Playable Ukulele? Will Grove-White demonstrates....

The soprano ukulele is a small instrument, it goes without saying. New players often buy a soprano and find it tricky to get their fingers round the chord shapes on the fingerboard. They think that it's going to be a permanent problem to them, and swiftly move on to one of the larger sizes, a concert or a tenor. But in truth, these fingering problems are pretty soon overcome with practice, and people who have thought the soprano to be a no-go area for them do find that when they return to that size, they can play it much more easily, after lots of practice with a larger fingerboard.

The soprano is the traditional size for the uke, and the late great Roy Smeck, "Wizard of the Strings" and arguably the best player ever, never played any other size, even though he did not possess slim fingers. Experienced players agree, it just takes time to get your fingers accustomed to the small fretboard.

Following a discussion on this very subject on the Ukulele Underground Forum, I saw this video, by Will Grove-White, one of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

Will writes:

"I have recently acquired this wonderful microscopic ukulele. I think it's meant to be a desk ornament or perhaps a fridge magnet. It is only just possible to play it. It is a miniature Tangi Ukulele. Thanks very much to Mike and pfrogner. If this tickles your fancy, you may like to hear more of my music at"

Well, it did tickle my fancy, and I followed the link, to read more. It just so happens that Will has a new CD out, called "Small Fry". Just click for the page.... you can listen to the new album there, and buy it if you like it! I liked it, and will be buying.

He writes: "It's a collection of my own tunes, played by a pocket orchestra. I used a menagerie of small-scale instruments for the recording of this album, from the Piccolo Trombone to the Sopranino Ukulele, so the listener is able to delight in both musical and dimensional scales. So why not put the album on your compact hi-fi, sit back in a tiny armchair, eat a mini-roll, and forget that you might want a bigger house."

I'm lucky enough to have seen the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain live, at the Albert Hall in London. It was the proms concert in 2009 where the audience were invited to bring their ukes along and join in - and I did. What a fabulous Ukafrolic that was!

And another story.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Bach Bouree from BWV 1006: John King ukulele

I discovered the late great John King a little while ago. If you like his style of playing, it's called "campanella" and it derives from campanology, or bell-ringing. I have it on good authority that John King adapted this style of playing for the ukulele, in as much as that the bell-like sound of each note is made by playing successive notes of a melody on different strings, so that each note can ring out into the next note, like a bell.

Al Wood of the great uke blog "Uke Hunt" has just done a new a superb blog post on campanella, with a great explanation and tabs. (2nd Aug 2012)

This link should put you straight on to it. Wonderful stuff.

Thanks, Woodshed!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Learning ukulele Kindle bargain

I love a bargain, and a bargain on my Kindle is irresistible. So as soon as Barry Maz of Got a Ukulele announced yesterday that his excellent book "Complete Ukulele Omnibus" was available on Kindle for a give-away price of £2.61 for a short time - yes, that's right, £2.61 - I had to snap it up. It's all there, get over to Got a Ukulele and don't let it get away!


Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Living Water Strings - now Low G strings too! From Ken Middleton

If you like good fluorocarbon strings on your ukulele, and you use a low G string, you'll be pleased to hear Living Water Strings are now available from Ken Middleton with a low G option in concert and tenor sizes.

I am trying out the concert size and am thrilled with how it sounds and blends with the full set. Like the other Living Water Strings, there is a very pleasing crystalline ring to these strings - I will be writing in greater detail shortly - watch this space!

Meet Michelle Carter and "The infinite melancholy of the urban horse" original song

"The infinite melancholy of the urban horse"

I have great admiration for anyone who can write their own songs - and play them. Well, meet Michelle Carter, of Yorkshire. She got a ukulele for her 30th birthday and has fallen in love with playing - and song-writing.

She writes "I've just been messing about with writing songs to try and make my husband laugh.... I'm currently writing up my PhD so playing the ukulele is a brilliant way to engage a different part of my brain when I've just lost the plot looking at statistics all day, it's also an excellent way to procrastinate when I can't be bothered to write anything!"

A girl after my own heart, there, then!

She says that this song was inspired by a story in the Yorkshire Evening Post (online) about a horse that was found living in a terraced house in Armley in Leeds. "Not to be confused with other horse related songs such as "wild horses", "crazy horses" and "my lovely horse"."

Michelle has posted three of her songs on Youtube. There is something in her style and way with words that reminds me of Victoria Wood and of Jake Thackray..... remember him? The great American songwriter, too - Tom Lehrer. Listen to her songs, and see what you think.....

I asked Michelle how she went about writing her songs. This is what she said:

"I have no idea how I wrote the songs to be honest usually just strumming and messing around. So with urban horse, I’d had the idea that this could be an amusing concept and then I started strumming some chords that sounded good together and the lyrics came after that. I had an idea for a new song the other day and wrote some notes but I found it impossible to write anything without strumming the chords first. The song about washing up came after my husband James and I were watching Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals and he turned to me completely seriously and said “I bet he doesn’t do his own washing up” and it just really made me laugh, because he looked like he was really troubled by that thought. So for me it goes idea, chords and then lyrics last."

Other songs by Michelle Carter "Washing Up" and "By the Time I'm Thirty"

Good luck, Michelle, with your Phd.... but also, and especially with your songs.

Whatever else you do - keep 'em comin'!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

"It's a Grand and Healthy Life" on Banjo Uke - John Bianchi

As the Olympic Games begin in London after a truly amazing opening ceremony last night, this George Formby number just has to be the best song for today! A Grand and Healthy Life, indeed...very sporty, a little saucy, and as ever, John Bianchi pulls it off with his own brand of New York panache, making those split-strokes look totally effortless - even sitting in his car in 100 degrees of heat...

Here are the words:


Some chaps like a game of tennis, some like boating on the sea.
Some are fond of cricket or a ball they want to kick it
But there's only one sport that appeals to me.

I love to hike, that's what I like, Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life.
I tramp a mile, then sit a while
A bumblebee there in the grass comes and stings me on my elbow.
Down comes the rain and I get wet through,
I can’t blow my nose because it's already blue
I catch a chill, and feel so ill. Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life.

I love to hike, that's what I like, Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life.
While tramping back, the night was black,
My girl tripped into a ditch I said, "you are a clumsy bounder."
She shouted help! I thought I'd begin
Pulling her out but she kept pulling me in
The ditch was high, we drank it dry, Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life.

I love to hike that's what I like, Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life.
My girl and me, sat neath a tree
A great big blackbird with its claws came and tore off my girl's jumper
When she got home she heard mother shout
You haven't come home the same as when you went out
She hung her head and blushing said, Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life

(all rights reserved)

Go and enjoy those Games now...

Or.... take a look at John Bianchi's excellent blog, The Ukaholic ...

Friday, 27 July 2012

My Slingerland - a tinker-toy indeed

The other day I declared my intention to bite the bullet and do some adjustments to my lovely 1920's Slingerland banjo-uke. It had been sitting on a shelf staring morosely at me, stringless and with the tension hooks all loosened off for at least a month - but I did it, I removed the resonator and then the calf-skin vellum to inspect it - and have now put it all back together. Phew - not too bad at all. It really is a beauty, if a humble one, compared to the later Dallas's and the Ludwigs!

The screws inside the head all needed tightening - but I have done it - I don't know whether they're too tight, but it's done - the vellum has gone back on, in exactly the same place, and I've tightened the 16 tension hooks back up, a little at a time, working evenly back and forth around the head. It wasn't too onerous after all - it has been a few days now and it all looks and sounds ok. I scoured the internet for advice, and there is good information and advice to be had from highly respected banjo-uke people; John Croft, "the ukulele man"and the late great Dennis Taylor's website.

One thing about a Slingerland is that they are well-built, sturdy little instruments, always recommended to new players wanting a well-made vintage instrument at an affordable price. Well, I hope mine stands up to the tightening-up treatment that I've given it! New Mya-Moe fluorocarbon strings on it now, sounding very nice; they are still settling in and needing frequent retuning. In a few weeks I plan to try out the very popular GFS nylon strings...