Saturday, 31 March 2012

James Hill - Hand Over My Heart

I only discovered James Hill the other day. He's from Nova Scotia. Seems to be pretty good........! Another Ukulele Hero, without a doubt.

New Song.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Paul's Custom Uke

Here begins a tale of one man's case of UAS - Ukulele Aquisition Syndrome, or to give it its Latin name, needus ukuleleus. UAS is very, very common among the ukulele-playing community. A collection of five to ten ukuleles in various sizes and woods is not at all uncommon......Paul is a mate on the wonderful Ukulele Underground Forum. He begins his tale thus:

"If there is such a thing as the UAS (ukulele aquisition syndrome) bug, the little blighter bit me twice! I started of with a lovely little Lanikai soprano and fell head over heels in love with the ukulele! Chords were a little easier than the guitar, which I played for 25 years leading up to this, the sweet honey tones simply had me captivated. Then, my better half announced that she had ordered me an 'Oscar Schmidt' concert for valentines! Oh how I love her...Ah...The first thing I did was change the strings to a set of low G Aquila Nylguts. The sound was just beautiful and very different to my Lanikai. Then I heard people talking about solid wood ukuleles and how amazing they sounded and there my next mission began. A few weeks ago I bought myself an Ohana Tenor, all solid mahogany with a cutaway and she is a stunner! So warm and mellow, with sustain for weeks! I also recently commissioned a luthier to build me something rather special. Here are the first pictures; the actual woods which will make up my custom treasure!

Western red cedar - top

Macassar ebony - sides and bottom

Watch this space! Paul"

Reports from Paul to follow from time to time, as the build progresses!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A New Ukulele Hero - Roger - Roger Williams, Luthier

"Luthier" isn't a word that comes normally into conversation. It wasn't even in my vocabulary until very recently - but I now know that a luthier is a person who builds and repairs stringed instruments.

Roger Williams does NOT build ukuleles; he builds guitars, beautiful ones, commissioned and played by professional artists in their field; classical, flamenco, acoustic and baroque... and he tends and repairs them, as well as supplying and fitting pick-up systems to acoustic guitars. And he does refretting and fret-dressing.

Little banjo-ukuleles are not his usual bread-and butter. But the wonderful man has fixed mine up.

My little bird's eye maple, 90 year-old beauty made by Slingerland needed a bit of professional attention. When she arrived, she looked pretty darned good for an instrument built in the 1920's - but I couldn't tune her up because of a slipping friction tuner. I fixed it - but the action was too high, and the frets were chewing up one of the strings. Johnny Foodstamp suggested that it was time for some professional intervention, and the search was on. I found Roger. He agreed that my little darlin' was indeed a beauty, looking so good that she could have passed for five years old, and agreed to level and reshape the frets. He filed down the slots in the nut to lower the action, and perfected the bridge. He put the head on the neck perfectly straight and tightened up the bolts on the tension hooks. And now I can play her.

What a hero - when you see him at work in his workshop, building a beautiful guitar, you will know how privileged I feel that he did this for me and my little banjo-ukulele. Thank you Roger!

Please watch the video of Roger at work, building one of his wonderful guitars.

Note - this was originally posted two days ago, but in editing the post today to embed the video, rather than linking it, I've managed to muck up the order and it has come out as another new post.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Johnny Foodstamp - A Banjolele Player among the Nashville Guitarists

JOHNNY FOODSTAMP - "I'll Take the Rest" - Douglas Corner - In the Round

Since the late 50's the guitar has reigned supreme..... and I love to hear a guitar, whether it's being played superbly by someone who has mastered their art, or strummed by an amateur for a sing-song. But - many would agree with me that there's something about the sound of a ukulele that touches parts that the guitar cannot reach... and the same can be said of the banjo-uke. In an earlier post I told how I first experienced that all those years ago at the Jug O'Punch.

What that unnamed hero was doing in the late 60's at the Jug, Johnny Foodstamp is doing now at Douglas Corner, a premier Nashville folk club - showcasing the banjo-ukulele George Formby-style to a folk audience - and wowing them. Here Johnny is singing a song he wrote himself, just the day before. The guitarists sitting either side of him on-stage look a little skeptical at the beginning - but end up rather impressed!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

"Joe Brown Hails Ukulele Revival"

Joe Brown (Ukulele Hero number One - see earlier post) has announced that he's working on a new ukulele album. Looks like his number in the concert for George (Harrison) was a turning point in his career - it was certainly a turning point for me......

See him talking about the ukulele to BBC news reporter here.

Friday, 23 March 2012

A Banjo-Ukulele Hero who will Have to Remain Nameless

Alas, he will have to remain nameless because I can't remember his name; let's face it, dear reader, it was a long time ago...

Picture, if you can, the Birmingham city centre of the late 60's... the icons we associate with the the 60's were all to the fore at that time - mini-skirts, mod hair-styles, dark eye-make-up, spiky eyelashes, very pale lipstick, Twiggy, the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks, the Small Faces; I embraced them all - and something else, which was also in full swing; the folk revival.

In Birmingham, the hub of the folk revival was the folk club called the Jug O'Punch, in Digbeth, run by Ian Campbell of the Ian Campbell Folk Group. Every week, for many, many months I was there, about fourth row back, soaking up the best folk music in the biggest, most atmospheric folk club around.... and saw, live, as well as my favourite Ian Campbell group, guest artists like Jean Ritchie from the Appalachians, who autographed for me the album of hers that I won in the raffle, (still got it!) Ralph McTell, who was tasting success with his song, "Streets of London," the Dubliners, the Chieftains, the Spinners, Joni Mitchell.... and a little local middle-aged chap in a waistcoat who would come out from time to time and sock it us with his banjo-ukulele, Formby-style. The song that always comes to mind, because we all joined in the chorus, was "Auntie Maggie's Homemade Remedy." It always brought the house down. The banjo-uke was totally uncool, even then, but he was welcomed onto the floor, and the audience loved him. He sang other numbers, I'm sure, but "Auntie Maggie's Remedy" is the one that sticks in the memory. And since then I've always had a sneaking regard for the utter skill and virtuosity of good Formby-style banjolele players.

I hope he sometimes takes centre stage in whichever celestial halls he now frequents - and I wish I could remember his name. I hold up my half pint of ale in salute.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

My third ukulele hero - Johnny - Johnny Foodstamp

"Get that wound string off there right now, Missy!"

It all started when I discovered that the lovely set of Aquila new nylgut strings that I'd put on my "new" vintage - no - antique - 1920's Slingerland banjolele were looking sick. Or at least, the wound C string was - and because of "issues" with the little baby that I was still trying to fix, I'd actually hardly played it. Notches all the way up it, tiny bits of wire sticking out and almost broken through in one place. Not for the first time, shock horror! I don't really know why, but the strings that Aquila supply especially for the banjo-uke have a wound third string - nylgut, with fine wire wound around it. But there was something definitely amiss, apparently with the frets. Slipping friction tuner - I'd fixed that. Action much too high at the nut - well, I was working on it. All with advice and instruction from heroes and friends on the wonderful Ukulele Underground Forum. But now the frets.

Well, they looked fine to me - but perhaps they were a little bit rough - and a bit tarnished. "Help! What to do?" goes out the plaintive call to the UU forum once again. And once again, I'm furnished with all the information I need. Well, I'm all geared up with wire wool, Brasso, masking tape for the fingerboard.... when the advice comes over, "Get that wound string off there right now, missy! Go with some fluorocarbon strings....they sound great on a banjo-uke!" Now this advice comes from one of my ukulele heroes, Johnny Foodstamp, who hails from Nashville, Tennessee, and plays a real badass banjo-ukulele Formby-style with added attitude, for audiences all over the state, and beyond. And he has one like mine... an antique Slingerland.

Next, he sends the advice "It sounds like they need more then a cleaning. My frets are sort of sharp on my old Slingy too. Any luthier should be able to fix that and usually uke repair is pretty cheap because they are so small."

So - I have managed to find a luthier in my area, a lovely man who has taken her in and agreed to do the necessary. By the end of next week, I should have her back, spruced up and ready for some serious strumming, tripling and split-stroking... well, some serious practice, anyway.

And as for the recommended fluorocarbon strings, they are on order and I'm going to try them out.

I wonder whether I'll ever be able to play like this - click here for Johnny Foodstamp playing some real mean banjo-ukulele on a Slingerland like mine.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Tango'd by a Tanglewood

If I keep taking deep breaths and panting, perhaps it'll go away, I don't NEED another ukulele. My little Samich Indonesian-built Greg Bennett UK50 is a sweetie.... lovely intonation, a warm pleasing sound, especially since I put Aquila "new nylgut" strings on. Low action... why would I want another wooden uke?

I've been to slow to realise that guitars, ukuleles and banjos produce different sorts and qualities of sound "timbres" - watching a concert, I'd be mystified, why a guitarist had two or three different instruments on stage with him - "What's wrong with just one?" I'd think. George Harrison always had his Gretsch, Paul McCartney his Hofner bass.....but now I know. A whole new world of sound has opened up to me, and I realise a Stratocaster does not sound like - well - anything else. And if a musician wants a particular guitar sound, they have a guitar to suit.

I have come to realise that all ukuleles do not sound the same... yes, dear reader, I was slow there. Of course, until recently I had only ever played the one - and I have no complaints about it, it's a great little ukulele, I know that for the price, it's particularly good quality. The trouble is, I went into a music shop a few months ago and picked up a couple of ukes - and heard a difference. So now I have an itch - to get a ukulele that's better. That's prettier, with a sound that's somehow superior.

So the research has started. Trip number one to a music shop, to explore the wonderful world of ukulele.

I think I played every concert and tenor size in the shop, and played them against my own ukulele, to compare. I had a blast. I'll return to that.

Now I'm not looking for a top-of-the-range ukulele - just the next step up, within a limited budget. The thing is I think I have been Tango'd...... in the UK there was a TV advert a few years ago for Tango, a fizzy, soft orange drink - so fizzy and full of flavour, (allegedly), that when you tasted it you got zapped - or "Tango'd" - and the bright orange bursts exploded all over the screen.

Well, there was a Tanglewood concert ukulele in their exotic wood range, in "mango" - or, according to the Tanglewood website, lacewood. And it is very bright - not actually what I had in mind - quite "orange" with a very unusual pattern in the grain. But the sound is beautiful. I find that the very bright sound of a spruce-top ukulele does not appeal; my little Greg Bennett is mahogany, with a voice at the opposite end of the spectrum to spruce - warm and full. I don't have the technical vocabulary to accurately describe the difference in the sound of the Tanglewood lacewood to my UK50 mahogany; I can only say that it is better - hence the higher price tag. (Still very moderate.) Perhaps it's that the Tanglewood has more definition and a more bell-like voice - rather like the difference between a bel-canto tenor, like Paverotti and any other tenor singer.

But it is beautiful, and I have the itch to possess it.

Here it is - the Tanglewood TU7 XM Lacewood concert ukulele

Deep breaths girl - and the itch will go away.

Monday, 19 March 2012

My second Ukulele Hero - Mike - Mike Lynch

When I hear music, one of the things that will always stop me in my tracks is interesting chords. While pootling around on my ukulele, trying to figure out the chords for a particular song, I've discovered that, try as I might, sometimes the right chord just can't be found. And I've realised that when that's the case, it's because the chords are not the straightforward major, minor or 7th chords - they're something else. I'm not going to get technical here - I'm not capable of getting too technical about it - but those elusive interesting chords are often associated with jazz. My appreciation of jazz is rather limited - but I drool over those interesting chords. When you're reading the chords for a song, they're the ones with "aug", (augmented), "dim" (diminished) or "sus"(suspended) after them - or a number like 6, 9 or 13.

Yesterday I showcased Mike Lynch's arrangement of "Blue Skies" by Irving Berlin. The jazz chords in it are A aug (A+) and Bbm6. Delicious! There's no doubt in my mind that Mike is one of the best and most inspirational teachers of Ukulele on the net, and I would wholeheartedly recommend his videos on Youtube.

If you like those interesting jazzy chords, just watch ukulelemike's first jazz chords video for the ukulele. I can't fault his MO. His love of the ukulele, of the music, and of teaching it just shine through. A ukulele hero. Hail Mike! I wish you Blue skies.

To watch ukulelemike's first video on jazz chords for the ukulele, click here. He also goes by the name MusicTeacher2010.


The Old Songs Are the Best!

Song for the Day Blue Skies, by Irving Berlin

To me, Lennon and McCartney were, as a song-writing duo, the best thing since sliced bread. But the "sliced bread" were the great song-writers who came before.... George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Rogers and Hammerstein, Rogers and Hart... to name the best known - best known to me, anyway! What fabulous songs they all wrote. As I write, the sky is indeed blue this sunny spring morning, pick your uke up and strum along with me!

Here's my song for the day, arranged for the ukulele by ukulelemike, Mike Lynch.

Blue Skies, written in 1926 by Irving Berlin

(Click song for the day to go straight to ukulelemike's website, and download the pdf. If you like the song, you'll be strummin' away in no time! The chords are easy.........

Sunday, 18 March 2012

My Slingerland

Ok, so here's my banjo-ukulele, a grand old lady from the 1920's, built to last in Chicago. She's a Slingerland, with a 7 inch pot and 16 tension hooks, made of bird's eye maple with a maple fretboard. The resonator is solid bird's eye maple, not ply - the beautiful figuring in the wood goes through to the back. She has an original Waverley tailpiece, and came with an original maple bridge - which I took off and put away. The tuners are original - and PRETTY!

Well....... Ain't She Sweet?

Friday, 16 March 2012

Oh the Guilt......

Two weeks ago, or thereabouts, I bought a banjolele. I'd never liked them, but suddenly I did; the more I saw and the more I heard, I realised I had to have one to make the range of ukulele music that I wanted to make - and then the research started.... what sort should I buy? It soon became clear that a new model would simply not do - for the sound I wanted, it just had to be vintage. So what sort? Oh, Lord - the models from banjo-uke heaven fetched prices to match - in fact, whatever I ended up having, I was going to have to raise some extra cash....... plans, plans, ....

A couple of months of scouring the internet followed. I saw a couple of "possibles" on a website - but on inquiry, they'd already gone. "Get a Slingerland, they're great for a beginners," was typical advice that followed these disappointments.

Then one day, a beauty appeared on ebay. The advice "Don't buy on ebay!" was ringing in my ears - fears of monstrosities with warped necks and all manner of other expensive or insoluble problems - but scrutiny of the photos seemed to show that this was almost immaculate - a vintage Slingerland in bird's eye maple, from the 20's or 30's. With some of the cash now in the bank from selling my favourite evening dress and a now unloved flute, I set myself a limit and bid. Oh, how I wanted that banjolele, I just knew it had my name on it......and - yes, I got it! And two weeks later, it arrived at my door from the States, after a long journey and a little stay in Customs.......

So why the guilt? I'm sitting upstairs at my computer, and I can hear my poor, neglected husband wandering in and out of the kitchen, getting himself a drink - because I am no company at all.......I'm not playing this new baby; it's not that...I'm trying to find out how to make it playable - because beautiful though it is, it's just not quite right.... little glitchy things that need real attention before it will play in tune. And the waves of guilt wash over me. Ah me. Spring is here, the sun comes out, the garden calls - and I turn a deaf ear.... I have painting to finish in the kitchen...... ironing - growing into a mountain - but I dare not put this to one side, because I know that if I do, it will sit abandoned until the autumn. Now you know why I call my husband LSH - Long-Suffering Husband. It was the same when I was researching my Family History - I say I am focused - he calls it something else. So now you know. Totally "Uked".

Til next time.... Go play your Ukulele! :D

Thursday, 15 March 2012

I'll See You in my Dreams

So, this is the ukulele chord arrangement that I did for I'll See You in my Dreams, when I first got my ukulele. It's in the key of C, whereas the "proper" version is in F - and if you're not an accomplished player, it's easier!

I didn't do the intro, lovely as it is, because I wasn't familiar with it, but it would be better if the intro was included. I must sort it!

I’ll See You in my Dreams

(Vamp C and Am for intro)

I’ll [F] see you in my [Fm] dreams

[C] Hold you in my [A] dreams [A7]

[A] Someone took you out of my arms

[F] Still I’ll feel the [G7] thrill of you charms

[F] Lips that once were [Fm] mine

[C] Tender eyes that [A] shine [A7]

[C#dim] They will [A7] light my [Am] way to night [Fm]

I’ll [F] see you [Fm] in [G7] my [C] Dreams [Cmaj7]

# This file is the author's own work and represents their interpretation of the #
# song. You may only use this file for private study, scholarship, or research. #

I'd love to see this improved, with some augmented and sustained chords - if anyone can play with it and improve it while keeping the chord fingerings in the "easy" bracket, please feel free, and let me know, with your comments! :D

Have a happy ukulele day!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

My first Ukulele Hero - Joe - Joe Brown

Without Joe Brown I would still be ukulele - less, which would have been a very sad thing indeed. But we were watching TV and I saw him play, and sing "I'll see you in my Dreams" in the memorial concert for George Harrison in the Albert Hall. See the Youtube. Oh, what magic! That beautiful, old song, written in 1924 by Isham Jones, lyrics by Gus Khan - there's something in the lilt of that melody that so fits those words, so poignant - and the light, gentle tones of the ukulele just fitted it like a glove. And so fitting, for the occasion, for George. I was blown away, I swear something inside turned over and inside out..... and I'd just got to have one. "I want one!" I declared to my long-suffering husband, who has seen me fiddle with various instruments but never master any of them except the recorder that I learned to play at primary school. "I can get to grips with one of those - I swear I can..... four strings - the chords look easier than a guitar....and I love that sound...."

For my next birthday, a surprise..... my ukulele, from LSH (said Long-Suffering Husband) and anyone who plays one will know what happened next - two or three chords learned, and you're playing! In less than a week I was playing a number of sing-along songs - including my own version of "I'll See You in my Dreams" - chords worked out by ear from the piano. The "proper" version is still beyond me, some very tricky chords there - but I do enjoy playing my own.

It follows.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The men who are to blame.......

Alas, they are all men, those who are to blame for the state of Ukafrolic that my life has become - no women as it happens - and I shall name them; not to blame, but to salute! And here they are...... Joe, George, John, Jim, Jake and..... Mike. My ukulele heroes, to date. Read about them, one by one, from next time!