Thursday, 31 May 2012

A new Ukulele Hero, with Jazzy Ukulele - Glen Rose

Busy day, quickie post - you'll see I've joined the Top 100 Ukulele Sites; did it a few days ago - have been staggered to see us climbing up to number 28 today - amazing! I think it's down to the great videos of my ukulele heroes! But going down the list of websites there, I came across Jazzy Ukulele, by Glen Rose. A new hero for me.

He's a jazz man. You know, all my life, jazz has been one of the few genres of music that I declared I didn't like - but I do love those jazz chords... the quirks inside the chord that take them out of the normal triad.... and the way a progression of jazz chords creates tension and then resolves it. Music is such a weird thing, the way it affects you...

Glen has a couple of fantastic free videos on his homepage. I watched them both and would recommend... I learned a lot. He uses a low G string - go on, read his page!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Summerhouse Practice List

Days like this you want to bottle and keep. The best early summer weather; cloudless blue skies, a suspicion of a breeze, the air soft and warm...

LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) decided to do just that this morning - bottle it - and went off in search on elderflowers to make elderflower cordial. But he returned disappointed; it's just a bit early. In the hedgerows the elder blossoms are only just starting to come out, but the May blossom with its heavy, heady, intoxicating scent is flaunting itself everywhere. In the garden, the cherry blossom has gone but the azaleas, rhododendrons and the few alliums are at their best, and the grass is the greenest and lushest that it will be all year.

We've waited for two miserable months for this - but it's here. It's nearly June, and like in Carousel, it'll be bustin' out all over.

And at last I've opened the doors to my summerhouse.

A gift from LSH, my summerhouse has been my joy for the last two summers. I treated the outside, stained the inside, laid flooring, made curtains and drapes, bought souvenirs from trips to hang on the walls, and bought little tables and easy chairs. It's a haven at the bottom of the garden. I sit out of the heat when it's hot, and out of the wind when it's breezy.

And now - yes, I've been playing my ukulele in there.

Yesterday I promised myself half an hour - but it stretched to over an hour. I went straight through my practice file - then back again in reverse. Today; half an hour's playing... a glass of wine... and a snooze. Oh bliss!

So here's my practice file; the ukulele music I love, that challenges me just enough.

My Practice List

Wildwood Flower - practising to perfect; bluegrass, Ken Middleton's tab.
Finlandia - ukulelemike Mike Lynch's arrangement
Cherry Blossoms - Mike Lynch
Here Comes The Sun - Richard G's Ukulele Songbook
Mister Sandman
Til There Was You - Meredith Wilson
Just the Way You Look - Jerome Kern
Sunny Afternoon - The Kinks
My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes - Richard G's Ukulele Songbook
I Can't Give You Anything but Love - Jimmy McHugh & Dorothy Fields
Where or When - Rodgers & Hart
I'll See You in my Dreams

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Today, a day in May...

In my neck of the woods...

Unbroken strong sunshine will bring another very warm May day, particularly around Worcestershire and Herefordshire. A strong and gusty easterly wind will bring very dry air to the region and will temper the heat somewhat.

Remaining dry and warm with clear skies throughout. Easterly winds will start gusty, but will ease gradually through the night."

Today - I woke at 4.10am to birdsong coming through all the open windows. By 6.00am it had risen to a cacophany and I gave up any idea of further sleep and got up to make tea. Out on our south-facing patio the air was full of the sound of birds, all shouting their heads off. Sky as blue as blue can be...

We have a redwood tree at the bottom of the garden; tall and graceful, beautifully shaped... and at the top a little bird was trilling away so loudly - I couldn't identify it - but as a child I used to play with a little bird whistler toy, a little blue plastic bird on a log, with a mouthpiece - you fill it up with water and blow. And this bird sounded just like that. I doubt that it was a nightingale - but I thought - maybe.

And just now, (it's noon) The neighbours are out in the gardens, making the most of the warmth and sun before it gets just too hot. Heaven must be like this.

What we're missing today - Chipping Campden Morris Ring meeting. We would have been there for sure today, if we didn't have another import date this evening. I love men's Morris. LSH was/is a morris dancer - though he doesn't get much chance these days. A meeting of the Morris Ring is an incredible experience - massed morris in an open space, bells, fiddles, handkerchiefs waving, sticks clashing - England at its visual and aural best.

I love the music of the morris - music for the fiddle and melodeon, pipe and tabor, but not, I think, for the ukulele.

So this afternoon, for one sublime half-hour, I shall disappear into my summerhouse, (glorified garden shed), open the doors wide, sit down comfortably, and play my ukulele.

"I'm Sure of Everything But You" on Ukulele - John Bianchi

John is definitely on a roll. I had to post this one; his performance is simply sublime.

These songs from the 20's and 30's have a poignancy all their own, I find... and this song is particularly poignant. There is something of post-war heart-ache and dark days of the depression, whilst at the same time there's a dogged, rueful cheeriness about it. It hits the spot for me! John's delivery is, to my mind, masterful.

John writes "Here's a sentimental tune from 1932 that was a big hit - largely forgotten now. Everybody recorded it, from Annette Hanshaw to Nick Lucas - and May Singhi Breen had a hit with her husband Peter De Rose. This played on my Ohana CKP-70, which is a truly great instrument for the price!"

Enjoy...the perfect relaxation for a sultry summer day...

Friday, 25 May 2012

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa.....

I didn't do Latin at school, but I know what this means.

My fault.

I dun wrong.

I'm (just a little bit) in the dog-house.

I bought a new ukulele...

And didn't tell LSH...

I meant to, but the time wasn't quite right...

You know how it is.

If you're into ukuleles, I'm sure you do...

But I should have told him before he caught me trying to stuff it under my desk.

I don't REALLY suffer from UAS - (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome)

After all, I only had one uke - and one banjo-uke...

But I wanted to try a soprano...

So I bought a little sky-blue Mahalo. Only £20...

But I shoulda come clean.

Coulda woulda shoulda.

I shouldn't hide things from my husband...

Mea Culpa.

Where's that hair shirt.....

But it is a sweet little uke. And with Aquilas on it, it plays just fine - for me - for now. I've christened it "Rhapsody"

While I save for that tenor...

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Summertime, and the Livin' is Easy..... with ukulelemike

At last, summer has arrived in the UK - wall to wall sunshine today, coast to coast, temperatures 24 - 26 degrees everywhere, just about.... and it's gorgeous. I turned to my uke in October last year, to get me happily through the plunge of the sun into winter - I'm just a spring and summer person - and apart from some lovely and unseasonably warm weather in March, it has been downright chilly, damp and miserable. But now - gorgeous. The leaves are all beautifully fresh and green, the birds are chasing each other about, utterly "twitterpated" (Bambi - remember?) and at last this morning I was coaxed away from my ukulele for an hour or so to give the garden some much-needed attention before it actually got too hot!

And - "Porgy and Bess" is coming to Birmingham in a couple of weeks, courtesy of Cape Town Opera. LSH and I are big Gershwin fans, and we've just bought our tickets; can't wait!

The song "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess is such a wonderful song - I looked for a ukulele version - and came up with this from one of my ukulele heroes, Mike Lynch. Click here for much more information on the song and a tutorial with chords.

Mike Lynch - you are wonderful!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Two conversations and a big surprise - and a new uke-mate!

Last night was rehearsal night at our amateur operatic society. We've recently finished a show - my last on stage, as I've said on here before. But we have begun rehearsing for a concert in September - a first for us, and the singing is fun, different songs and arrangements from what we usually do. Afterwards it was down to the pub as usual for a bit of social. I was chatting to one of our main principals, a lady of huge vocal and acting versatility... and a rather direct way with talk. Somehow the subject got on to my uke and banjolele - not things that usually come into the conversation with this circle of mates, but at the party on Saturday I'd led a sing-along with my ukes and LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) must have mentioned it. It's funny how a question can take you totally by surprise and unnerve you somewhat - like "How good ARE you?"

Straight away I came back with "Not very..." which is interesting because a thought that came straight into my mind at that point was that how "good" you are is completely relative - relative to how well others play. Compared to any of my ukulele heroes featured in this blog, I am total crap, of course. Never will be half as good as any of them. But compared to a real beginner who's just learning the first few chords, I know I've come a long way over the last six months. Still don't know what I should have said... think I'll ask the good folks on Ukulele Underground Forum...... they'll have some smart answers for sure!

I think the word "ukulele" must have filtered through to one of the groups of men from the society who were standing nearer the door as we were leaving. Another of our principals - a very nice young feller with a lovely tenor voice - told me that he has a pet uke and banjolele! I thought he was joshing with me, but no - it's true, he has indeed... so at last I find there is another uke freak in my social circle! It makes me feel quite excited, I don't know why....

Perhaps I could persuade him to do a video......? :D

Sunday, 20 May 2012

"Somebody's Lonely" on Prince Wong's Ukulele

Here's one of my ukulele heroes, John Bianchi, giving his own highly accomplished take of "Somebody's Lonely" on his ebay bargain Martin Style 2 soprano uke, believed to have belonged to Prince Wong.

I've listened to this four times already, it just blows me away... the tune is a new one to me - it's so pretty, so catchy, and so beautifully played by John. I'm going to be really studying this video for playing tips! "Somebody's Lonely" was written by Benny Davis and Joe Gold in 1926 and it sounds wonderful on this little vintage Martin ukulele.

John's own blog, "The Ukaholic", is always full of interesting pics and well-written information on the ukulele and banjolele. Look here for lots more on his Prince Wong Martin Style 2.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Happy Birthday Huw - A Party with DIY Music - Simply Wonderful!

Have just returned with LSH (Long-Suffering Husband)from a great holiday in the Italian Lakes. Without my ukulele. Definitely suffered from finger-itch. But only a day left to prepare for ... playing for a sing-along at a party!

A close friend was celebrating a "landmark birthday". 70 years young. Now then, you have to understand - he and his family are - Welsh. Music and singing is in the blood. Every November the four of us, two couples, work on a bit of singing in four part harmony, ready to sing for a gathering at the regular Christmas party. We sing in English, for an English gathering. But as I said, these friends are Welsh, Welsh is their first language and any family gathering is seized upon as an opportunity for the family to sing, in harmony, in Welsh - and it always sounds wonderful.

So at lunchtime today there was the birthday celebration. Unknown to the "birthday boy" his wife had roped in family and friends to provide entertainment, largely musical, after the meal. Would I please play my ukulele and banjolele for a sing-song? Of course I would! Gnashing of finger-nails..... I LOVE to play - but the fingers do try to turn to thumbs under pressure. Yesterday - decide on the songs and prepare song sheets for the gathering.

Friends and family had gathered from far and near. North Wales, Bristol, London, Northumberland... and the first party piece was one of the grandsons, a ten year old, on his violin. And it was great! The William Tell theme... the room thundered with cheers and applause as he finished, and his little face shone.

There followed Welsh songs by the family - tunes familiar to many of us - Men of Harlech, All Through the Night - but the words not, of course. It was moving.

Then it was our turn, LSH and myself. Leaning on a Lamppost, a George Formby number, with my little Slingerland Maybelle making her first solo appearance in decades. (She's a well-preserved 20's banjolele). She seems so loud at home - but in a room full of people joining in the singing and a few murmuring children, I was struggling to hear her myself....but it went down well.

Then the English Sing-along, led my myself with banjolele and uke - Give Me Sunshine; great first song, lovely mood... Putting on the Style, successful. Then I took a risk. I knew it was a risk. Ghost Riders in the Sky. A cracking song, but the trouble is that no-one knows how long to hold on the long notes - and everyone does their own thing! A bit disastrous and not really to be recommended. I aborted it half-way through, but not before we'd enjoyed a Yippee-i-ay chorus! I thought it was time to quit but I'd given out song sheets and the cry went up for The Banana Boat Song.... Day-oh! That went down a storm. Well it was all great fun and everyone seemed to enjoy it - even my son, who had declared that no way would he sing, was caught joining in.

Another offering in Welsh - the Thomas family all singing something from "Under Milkwood" by Dylan Thomas - no relation. And Huw at the end, contributing a solo in his own lovely voice. Another close friend, by request, contributed a humorous monologue - in costume. Has to be seen to be believed. What a lovely party.

I can't help thinking that parties like this are a rarity in the modern age. It was a gem.

As the party began to wind up, one of the family, a young man of great musicality, admitted to me to being very curious about the ukulele - one minute to teach him the first three chords and he was playing. I just know he'll be the owner of a uke before next week is out!

Just a day in the life of a lady with a ukulele or two.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

"You're The Cream In My Coffee" with Eugene Ukulele

Here in the UK, days are still rather chilly but it's spring. Apple blossom time and all that. In Tasmania, home of "Eugene Ukulele" it's autumn... and Eugene has spiced up his delightful rendition of "You're the Cream in my Coffee" with the appropriate autumnal setting and colours, especially the little red soprano ukulele!

Another catchy song from the 1920's to become a standard, the music was written in 1928 by Ray Henderson, lyrics by Buddy G deSilva and Lew Brown. Eugene gives it his own special treatment! Guaranteed to bring a smile!


Monday, 7 May 2012

Didn't we Have a Luverly Time, the Day we Went to Desford!

In the heart of rural England, not far from Market Bosworth and the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, preparing to play in the Go Ukulele Crazy spot at "Desford Together". Everybody sing along, now! And at last the sun came out. Well, with all those cheerful little ukuleles, it would, wouldn't it!

In the final two numbers, the banjo-ukes are allowed to join in - (they're so loud, you know!) And my little 1920's Slingerland Maybelle comes out of retirement after.... decades! "Leaning on a Lamppost"

Well wasn't that fun! Take a bow, ladies and gents!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

What Happened when I put Uke Practice on my "To do" List

A few years back I'd been enthusiastically playing my ukulele for some weeks. I decided that it would be an awfully good idea and highly organized of me to schedule at least fifteen minutes daily ukulele practice, in order to make good progress.

Dear reader, I did a very foolish thing.

I wrote "fifteen minutes ukulele practice" at the top of my daily "to do" list.

Result? The uke sat on a shelf, unplayed, for two whole years.

You see, there is something of a rebel in me - and I'm daft enough even to rebel against myself. Things that have to be done will be put off until the last possible moment or, if possible, avoided altogether.

So now, I have learnt my lesson. My uke and banjolele are never scheduled - and you can guess the rest! ;)

Saturday, 5 May 2012

WORRIED MAN BLUES - Ken Middleton plays Clawhammer Ukulele

Here's one of my Ukulele Heroes, Ken Middleton, with his new video of Worried Man Blues on an Ohana ukulele. He's playing clawhammer style, a percussive way of playing fingerstyle originating from banjo playing in the Appalachians. Back in the 60's, Pete Seeger used it to great effect with the long neck 5 string banjo, which he invented. There are plenty of clawhammer banjo videos on Youtube - but here Ken shows the versatility of the wonderful ukulele once again!

Look here at for more on clawhammer ukulele, with some tips.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Bach Prelude from the First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, on Ukulele

Bach Prelude from the First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello

This is simply stunning. This well-known and well-loved prelude, written most likely betweem 1717 and 1723, is often heard on TV and radio, and consists mainly of arpeggiated chords. Beautifully arranged for ukulele by John Moen and played here by John himself on "Stella", his myrtle tenor uke by Mya-Moe, it is jaw-droppingly exquisite. I could just listen over and over again... and I do.

Bach, what a composer - and John Moen - boy, what a musician!

Read all about Bach's Cello Suites here.

And watch more of John Moen's ukulele videos as ukuthemighty. He does a fantastic version of "I Will Survive"... a great voice, too! Watch it and get to know John Moen a little better!

Another Ukulele Hero for me...!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Here's eugeneukulele - On The Sunny Side Of The Street

This song is such a bright, happy number - written in 1930 by Jimmy McHugh, with lyrics by Dorothy Fields, it's one of those songs that is embedded in my childhood memories, a standard often heard on the radio. At my tap class it's a warm-up number, always guaranteed to bring a smile to the rainiest day, along with the tapping feet.

I love this version by eugeneukulele. He's a wonderfully talented ukulele player from Tasmania. There will be more of him on here... on my own ukulele journey I'm coming across so many amazing and talented people. They inspire me, show what's possible and give me something to aim for - aiming for the moon, methinks; I'll never get to these exalted heights, but the fun is in the journey, after all.

I trotted along to my newly discovered ukulele group this afternoon. Nineteen ukers, practising away for Sunday's performance at a village fete in Leicestershire. All easy two, three and four chord songs - until the last, which caught me stumbling and staggering from one chord to the next - chord changes which I'm not used to at speed, from Em to F for example - awkward. But good to be doing something that was stretching me and showing up weaknesses - just as I was starting to get cocky about blithely changing chords by feel alone - that'll teach me!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

"Forgive me Dear, the Curtain Falls..."

Last week on stage performing in Die Fledermaus was huge fun and the music with full orchestra was, as always, fabulous - but when the curtain came down for the last time on Saturday night, that was the last one for me, I have decided, after about fifteen years. It has been a blast, but life moves on and I have other music with which to fill my leisure hours. Namely, the ukulele, of course. And tap-dancing - my only nod to regular exercise! So - yesterday - tap dance class, rehearsing for a demo in a local shopping centre later this month; tomorrow - ukulele group, rehearsing for a spot at a local fete on Sunday. Life is certainly a song - but from now on, without the tiaras!