Saturday, 23 June 2012

Coming Up - Strings and things - Living Water and Aquila Red Series low G...

This is a post in rather a bigger hurry and less detail than I would like, because I'll soon be off to a fund-raising garden party in aid of the Toby Henderson Trust, Newcastle, thence on girlie few days to sunny Devon with the ladies of the WI - ukes in the bag for a sing-song, no worries!

But my head is also full of strings at the moment; uke strings, of course.

So please forgive the lack of detail and links this time.

Ken Middleton has now produced and is selling from his website his own new brand of fluorocarbon strings, "Living Water", made in England. Yesterday I replaced the Aquilas on my Tanglewood with my set and am starting to evaluate them. Too early for a full report, but first impressions are.....nice! good look, good feel, good sound, good value! Sorry but until I've finished Ukafrolicking around the West Country, that's all you're gonna get from me on this one at the moment.

Uke Hunt is one of my fave uke blogs, and Woodshed reports today that Aquila have now produced "Red Series Unwound Low G" strings. I have to get me some of those. I have already discovered that with a low G it's not easy to get a good sound, at least not on a concert uke. The first time I tried it, that low G was off again so fast - it was a guitar G string....

My current effort, on my Greg Bennett UK 50 is a thinner string, a d'addario C string. But as soon as it's fretted, it goes sharp. Not good. So I can't wait to get my hands on a string that has been developed for the purpose and I'll be ordering one or two when I get back.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

HE WAS A FRIEND OF MINE - Manitoba Hal, Ken Middleton & Gerald Ross

For the curious mind, of any age, life should be full of new experiences. A new experience for me over the last year or two has been watching Youtube videos... and I have recently discovered the "subscribe" button. So I now subscribe to Ken Middleton's channel. As many of you will know, Ken is a big ukulele man - there's wonderful playing by Ken on there, and he can sing - lucky devil.

This morning I noticed a video of Ken playing with friends, just a couple of weeks ago in Cheltenham, and one of them was Manitoba Hal Brolund. Having listened to Hal's latest album, Flirting with Mermaids, several times, I had to watch - and watch again - and then I just had to share it with you, it is superb.

Ken sings and plays an Ohana TK-35G, Hal is playing an Ohana TK-50G, and Gerald Ross is playing a Fender lap steel guitar. Wow. A fabulous blend of sounds, and Hal's inspired percussive additions to his strum lift the effect to another level. Must try to do that.....

If you want more where that came from, and to hear Manitoba Hal sing this time, watch Hal, Ken and ukulelezaza do Atlanta Moan - "wonderfully unrehearsed!" Go on, click it - I promise you, you'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Manitoba Hal goes Flirting with Mermaids - Review

Knowing that I like folky styles and have a bit of a leaning towards blues, a kind soul pointed me in the direction of Manitoba Hal, Hal Brolund. Boy, am I glad he did!

Of the ukulele, Hal says “People often think of the ukulele as a happy instrument and they're not wrong, but it is also capable of delivering the mojo that makes the blues so interesting”.

I've been listening to Hal's latest album, "Flirting with Mermaids" - and listening to it again - and again. This man, an accomplished guitarist, songwriter and ukulele player, has talent to be reckoned with. The album combines original songs with traditional blues songs and creates a musical journey of unexpected twists and turns of mood and style that just has to be repeated.

Hal says of this album "Imagine the blues meeting the Acadian shore in a seaside carnival of snake oil salesmen, tattooed women and mermaids! Carney's stealing the gate receipts share space with fast food vendors and various hucksters. There are all types here. The bluesmen, the lovers and the hungry.

Before you ask, yes this record was recorded with the ukulele in the main performance roles of every song save two. Every solo that you might think is an electric guitar is a ukulele, most of the organ sounds on this record are a ukulele. Heck even some of the percussion is performed on a ukulele. My goal was to create a record that was fun to listen to, that told a story and didn't require you to be a fan of ukulele to enjoy."

I had never heard Hal's music before, and the first track was a real delight, a whimsical and droll conjuring up of mermaids, with a folky fingerstyle ukulele.

The mood moves to folk-rock, with the ukulele played clawhammer style if I'm not much mistaken, then shifts to a very bluesy number. Another musical shift to cajun-style, and then to real heart-rending blues pleading in "Turn Out the Lights".

The blues standards are not neglected, and are given a first-class treatment - "Baby Please Don't Go" and later on, "16 Tons".

Right through to the end of the album, the dance rhythms of - Louisiana? - I'm guessing - are interspersed with Gospel sounds and then deep, deep blues - to end the album with "The Thrill is Gone", a no-holds-barred blues to wrench the soul and think yes, the thrill of this album is over - better play it again.

If you like folky styles, finger-picking, jumpin' cajun-style music and the bluesiest blues you ever heard - Manitoba Hal's your man.

Go Flirting with Mermaids!

PS 2nd July...

One of my fave ukulele blogs Got A Ukulele has just reviewed Flirting With Mermaids; each song in detail! If you like what you've read so far, read it here!

Monday, 18 June 2012

I Took My Harp To A Party ...

I heard this song, sung by Gracie Fields, a few times as a child, and now it has come back to haunt me. I have a few lines on the brain.

Perhaps it's because part of me is still steeped in northern (English) accents and culture, after my weekend away in Blackpool at the George Formby Society Convention; or perhaps it's just because I find myself busy preparing to take my ukulele, rather than a harp, to various parties over the next few weeks.

I wrote about Huw's party, where I'd been asked to lead a sing-song - a great success; except that Ghost Riders in the Sky came completely off the rails with indeterminate pauses ath the ends of lines, and I'll never do it again! The Banana Boat Song brought the house down. The next sing-along was at a slightly more sedate annual dinner, and I aired my party-piece Finlandia for the first time before the sing-along. Someone said that my little Greg Bennett concert uke sounded like a lute... nice.

A sing-along does seem to go down well. People appreciate the chance to sing the old loved songs together; they do sing, as long as have some words.... people don't get the chance to sing with others in every-day life, unless they are in a choir. And although the ukulele has become so popular, most people still have not come across one, or heard one played, except on old films.

And I have to prepare for three more song-songs, coming up over the next three weeks.

The thing is, different occasions and different groups of people need different songs, I find. A wedding calls for a different set of songs from - say - a group of WI ladies. You don't want anything plaintive at a wedding; at a wedding you need all up-beat happy songs, whereas at other gatherings people may enjoy a song list that includes a few songs with a bit of pathos. You get the idea. But compiling these selections is keeping me busy.

If you have a ukulele, do take it to a party - unlike Gracie with her harp, you'll soon be asked to play!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

One small victory - slipping friction tuner finally sorted

One small step for a seasoned ukulele player, one giant leap for yours truly - the slipping friction tuner (original, I believe) on my vintage 1920's Slingerland Maybelle banjo-uke is finally fixed, and I have done it myself...

I had already fixed it up to a point... after real problems with it when I first had the uke about three months ago, when it wouldn't hold at all, and then I couldn't even remove it from the headstock because it was stuck... but at that time with a little helpful advice and direction from my friends in the UU Forum, I got it out, stripped it down, put it back with a thin rubber washer - and it would hold in C tuning. But it wouldn't hold in D.

On advice at the weekend from a very seasoned player, (read my last posts about the GFS meeting) I went off yesterday in search of a more substantial washer, to put just below the button of the tuner, to lengthen it and give room for the screw to screw down a bit further.

The man in the local model train shop turned out his stock of little brass washers for me - but they were all too small - a bore of 2/8" is too small for the tuner to go through. Next to one of those great hardware shops - the sort that's independently owned by a little man who still stocks bits and bobs of all sorts, and an Aladdin's cave of plumbing and electrical parts...

He, too, was so helpful - fetched a drawer full of fibre washers - all far too big and all the same size - but he patiently ferreted around in the bottom of it, looking for tiny ones, and turned up a few possibles - and just one that looked perfect; smaller than my little finger-nail, made of leather, and just the size hole in the middle that meant it only just fitted, pushed on hard. What a hero! Perfect! And back at home, that worked perfectly. The tuner no longer slips, and holds the tuning so that I can tune in D if I want.

Here you can see the tuner with the washer, showing how it gives extra length for the screw at the top of the button to turn. The photo also shows one of the other tuners, which is fine.

One small success with one small job. The big job - big for me, at least - with the banjo-uke still looms large and rather scary.... and will probably have to wait a bit...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

I gaze at my Slingerland banjo-uke with slight trepidation...

More problems with that friction tuner - and adjustments to the vellum and tension hooks?.....aaaaaagh!

At the GFS meeting on the weekend, I realised I'd still got problems with my little 1920's Slingerland Maybelle when I found that I needed to tune it in D for the "Thrash". The Thrash is where anybody with a banjolele or uke can get up, join the peformers at the front, and simply join in as best they can, playing the songs. It's enormous fun - but you have to be tuned in D. Why tune in D? I'll come to that later.

So - as she was tuned in C, I tried to tighten the strings up to a whole tone higher. The C string wouldn't hold it. I went on the hunt for a helpful soul with a screwdriver to tighten the screw on the friction tuner. Someone had a Swiss Army knife, and Peter Nixon kindly used it to tighten the screw - thank you, gentlemen; success, it holds. Then to the E string tuner, the one I had such a problem with when I first had the uke about three months ago. I fixed it that time, well enough to hold the E note.... I stripped the tuner down and made some little thin rubber washers, and that worked, well enough to tune the instrument in C - but it will not hold a higher note at all, the added tension is just too strong. And the screw will not tighten any more.

Dennis Mitchell, the Chairman of the GFS, is such a kind man. He was next to me in the tea queue at break, and had noticed my little Slingerland in the Thrash. I told him about the problem tuning it in D. "Come on, let me have a look at it..."

So he looked her over and gave me a complete appraisal... I need to find some tiny washers to lengthen the tuner, to give the offending screw more room, so that it will tighten a little more - should be simple enough. Apparently a model shop is the place to get the right washers.

It's the rest of it that's frightening me...
My Slingerland is a model 18, with sixteen tension hooks. A few of the bolts holding the tension hooks to the body of the uke are not flush to the wood, and need tightening up. But I need to take the strings off and loosen off the vellum before I tighten them up. When I put the vellum back, apparently I need to get the metal rim round the top pushed further down than it is at present. Dennis thought it shouldn't hold too many terrors for me......! Which was rather reassuring, but - looking at it, I think that's not going to be easy - for me, a complete banjo-uke novice. Beacause I just don't think it's going to "go"... but it needs to be tackled, so when I've psyched myself up, I shall make a start.... cross your fingers for me!
Now then, where's me tool-kit......

Blackpool Tram , the George Formby OBE, Launch Day 9th June 2012

In Blackpool on Saturday 9th June 2012, during the June Convention of the GFS, (George Formby Society) a the Boat Tram 604 was "launched" with the name George Formby OBE, to honour the Blackpool area's greatest star. A party of the Formby fan banjo ukulele players turned out in spite of the foul weather to ride on the inaugural journey of the open-top tram and play their banjoleles in honour of George. What a stalwart crowd! The weather did not faze them. Gerry Mawdsley, President of the GFS speaks at the beginning, all togged up in waterproofs... and watch carefully - you'll see a large umbrella blown inside-out on the tram!

"With me Little Stick of Blackpool Rock......"

And with thanks to the tram enthusiast, "dalrigh" who also braved the atrocious weather to film this for posterity!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The GFS, June Convention 2012 - What a Serious Ukafrolic was That!

LSH (long-Suffering-Husband)and I returned yesterday from Blackpool. We've been up there for our first visit to a meeting of the GFS, the George Formby Society.

When we got to Blackpool on Friday, Blackpool had not got the red carpet out for us - gale force winds swept the country and the Blackpool Promenade, and the town was presented in her dowdiest clothes. Sadly, we saw there not a tree, a flower or a blade of grass to lift the spirits. On Saturday morning, to news that in Wales a thousand people near Aberystwyth had been evacuated from their homes and others awaited rescue from floods, we battled our way against the wind up the Prom to the Imperial Hotel, the traditional meeting place of the society.
From then on, it all changed. There early to get a good seat, we sat on the second row. Next to us sat a couple whose home for the last forty-five years has been in Australia. Back in Blighty for a visit to relatives, they had determined to take in a meeting of the GFS as John (Lee) is a uke and banjo-uke player.

John Lee entertains Australian style

He had brought his instruments with him all the way from Oz; they included an impressive cigar-box uke that he had made himself - I really regret not taking a photo of it.

The front row filled up, just in front of us. As the people there took their seats, they turned round and started to chat to all of us... how warm and friendly are ukulele people! We had read about how friendly the folk are at the GFS, and how it's just like one one big family, and it is absolutely true...

Four things that blew me away...

1. The friendliness and kindness of the people
2. The talent and skill of the performers
3. The vintage ukes and banjo-ukes I saw and even played a bit!
4. The Thrash! Where everyone pics up their ukes, comes to front and joins in! Just amazing!

I think the best way I can write about all this is to simply tell you the great things that impressed me and stuck in my mind.

The people...
The Richards family, whose warmth welcomed us from the start and made us feel as if we belonged.

Chris Richards with her Gibson Ukulele

The chairman, Dennis Mitchell, who, without being asked, took me on one side and took time in the break to look at my little Slingerland Maybelle, and tell me what to do with her to optimize her playing condition - I'll be coming back to that later. What a lovely man...

The President, Gerry Mawdsley, who took the tuition class on Sunday morning, full of tips for newbie players.... super stuff, all of it - including - the Formby split-stroke de-mystified! Something else I'll be coming back to!

Gerry also did compering. His one-liners are wonderful, what a sense of humour! The raffle - "Look, she's smiling - wait till you see what you've won!"

The backing trio of Matt Richards on keyboard, Tony Thornton on bass guitar and Dale Norman on drums, who played anything and everything, in any key, at a moment's notice for the performers...

Dickie Speake, who wrote "Riding on a Blackpool Tram", took over from Matt Richards on keyboard on Sunday evening and is the owner of the most engaging smile, which never seemed to leave his face! Here holding a very special vintage Abbott - or was it a Monarch? Now I know I should have written everything down.....

And one young woman standing next to me with her 1920's "Baby" Gibson banjo-uke in the first Thrash, who, when I muttered "God, my uke's gone right out of tune" turned and informed me that "They tune in D for the Thrash!" Ooops! We swapped names and there I found another friend, a kindred spirit...

I'll post again about the talent and the instruments. I like to do "bite-sized" posts and this one is getting to be quite a mouthful.

But if any of those lovely people find themselves reading this, I want to say "Thank you" for the best weekend LSH and I have had for a long time!

Celtic Fiddle Tune Medley - Ben Lyman

I'll be posting shortly on a real Ukafrolic of a weekend in Blackpool at the GFS - the George Formby Society. But as I was trying to catch up on posts I've missed on my subscribed threads on the Ukulele Underground Forum, I saw this video posted by Ben Lyman.

I've loved traditional folk music since I was introduced to it in my teens by a boyfriend back in 1967 - giving my age away again here! There is something deep and haunting about these old Celtic fiddle melodies, and Ben performs them beautifully here on his ukulele. I just had to share with you.

The tunes are
1. Banish Misfortune
2. Planxty Irwin
3. After the Battle of Aughrin
4. The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Thank you, Ben, for allowing me to share this on my blog; you play just beautifully - another inspiration for me!

I must practice, practice, practice......

Enjoy Yourself - It's Later Than You Think! Chords

I like this song, currently made popular by Jools Holland, and used by him as a sort of signature tune. As you get older... and I am! .... you realise the intrinsic truth of the lyrics! Music 1949 by Carl Sigman, lyrics by Herb Magidson , all rights reserved.

It's basically a 3 chord song, you can play it using your basic ukulele chords C, G7 and F.

(C) Enjoy yourself, it's later than you (G7) think,
Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the (C) pink,
The years go by, more quickly than a (F) wink.
Enjoy yourself, en (C) joy yourself, it's
(G7) later than you (C)think!

There are more words to this - if you like the song, you can find them easily enough - I just like the chorus!

Enjoy yourself - it's later than you think!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Coming up - the GFS, June Convention 2012

LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) and I have just returned from sunny Blackpool and the golden Mile - except that it wasn't at all sunny; the weather was foul, with rain and cold, high winds, and the golden mile and the sea itself were totally sludge-coloured. Blackpool itself is pretty sludge-coloured, and has little to commend it in my eyes - except that it hosts the George Formby Society Convention four times a year - a veritable mecca for Formby fans and banjo-ukers in general. We went to the June meeting, 9th and 10th June, as first-timers, hoping for a great weekend of entertainment - and were not disappointed. It surpassed all expectations.

After two days and evenings of solid entertainment and fun, with the friendliest people and great musical talent, I'm ever so slightly the worse for wear, in the nicest possible way - so hang about, and I'll tell you all about it, with pictures, tomorrow.

Coming up - A New Ukulele Hero - Manitoba Hal

As I write, I'm listening to an album recently released by Manitoba Hal, "Flirting with Mermaids". I love it, it's my kind of music, so maybe if you're following this blog, it's your kind of music, too.

When I've recovered from the excitement of my weekend away, I'll talking about it in more detail. Don't go too far away!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

"The Dumber They Come" on Banjo Ukulele - John Bianchi

First thing tomorrow morning, LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) and I are off to the seaside - to Blackpool, to be precise. I don't actually like Blackpool, and we haven't been for years, not since the children were small - so why are we going? We are going to the June meeting of the GFS - the George Formby Society, at the Imperial Hotel, and just like a little kid, I am SO excited!

The strumming skills displayed by John in the little number above, should show you just why I'm packing up my little 1920's Slingerland model 18 and going to join the other banjo-uke nuts for the weekend. Because I want to play like him.

John uses three Formby-type strums in this funny but naughty little song - (this is from 1920; remember - "the past is another country, they do things differently there".....) the split stroke, the fan and the triple. And thumb strums. Please, please, look at John's own blog, "The Ukaholic" read all about the song, the Gibson vintage banjolele he's playing, and be educated in the wonders of the banjo-uke, on earlier posts. It's a great blog and I've learned a helluva lot from it.

I learned a sneaking regard for skilled banjolele players when I was a weekly attendee at the best folk club in the midlands in the late 60's, the Jug O'Punch, in Digbeth, Birmingham. I've already done a post about the chap who used to take the floor from time to time and wow the earnest folkies with George Formby numbers on his banjo ukulele. "A hero who shall remain nameless" - because I can't remember his name. He was just an ordinary Joe who would happily do a spot, and show a hall full of young people who wanted to hear traditional folk and protest songs why George Formby had been such a great star.

Well, John Bianchi of New York, in my humble opinion, is no ordinary Joe. I have to nail my colours to the mast here; I am a fan. Boy, can he play. And he has a good voice. And he knows how to put a song across.

He should be A STAR!

Watch the video again -

I rest my case.

Now if you'll excuse me I have a little case to pack... "With my little ukulele in my hand", Blackpool here I come!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Tanglewood Cove Creek - I Finally Succumb to its Wiles!

Back in March - the 21st March, actually - I wrote how I'd been wowed by a Tanglewood ukulele in one of the local music shops. It was the Tanglewood TU7 XM Lacewood concert.

Well... more than two months later... it is mine.

I hadn't gone in the shop to buy it - on the contrary, I went in to buy the little Ashton union flag soprano uke as a gift for a friend. But the action at the nut of the little union jack uke was a bit high, and Mike the guitar techy who served me obligingly offered to file the slots down a bit.

That's when it got me. The Tanglewood. I wasn't even playing it.... after all, I'd decided to save for a nice solid wood tenor, most likely an Ashbury solid rose cherry... anyway, I was playing around while I waited on a very pretty solid koa Luna tenor with a pickup - £350 - more than I would, spend anyway... when I heard a lovely sound that jerked my head right up - and it was the Tanglewood Cove Creek I'd been so impressed with before. Bright but liquid, bell-like... and it has the long neck, 14 frets up to the body.

Then came the coup-de-grace - the offer of the sort of deal that's hard to refuse.... but I didn't give in without a fight. "Will you throw a gig-bag in with that?" Done.

So that's how I came to return home with my lovely Tanglewood Cove Creek "exotic" wood long neck concert uke. For a laminate ukulele, it really is lovely.

As for LSH...well, he really doesn't understand. Non-players don't; simple as that. But I'm happy with my little collection of ukuleles; I've put a low G on my original Greg Bennett so I can experiment with jazzy chords, as recommended by Glen Rose, as well as start trying to tackle John Moen's tab of the Bach Prelude for Cello piece - one bar at a time. My little blue Mahalo soprano is handy to leave lying around just anywhere, and hand over to interested friends... and as for my lovely 1920's Slingerland Maybelle banjo-uke - well.... she's going with me to Blackpool this weekend... to play with the George Formby fans at the meeting of the GFS!

If someone had told me six months ago that I'd be doing that, I'd have said they were mad...for my generation, for whom the Beatles and the Stones were nothing short of gods, George Formby was the antithesis of Cool... but watch this space, I'm going for it!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

"The Shearin's No' For You" - traditional Scottish folksong, Eugene Ukulele

I have loved traditional Scottish ballads and lullabies ever since my folk club days back in the late 60's. I rarely hear them now, and this one I have never heard before....but every now and then you hear a song that affects you so deeply that it actually catches your breath. This rendition of "The Shearin's No' For You" by "Eugene Ukulele" is so hauntingly beautiful that I watched and listened to it twice straight off, and woke up this morning with it on the brain. Just a gorgeous song - but it's Eugene's singing and playing that makes it so very moving. The baritone ukulele is a perfect choice - and it comes straight from the heart - you can tell.

Wow. Just Wow. This is why he is one of my Ukulele Heroes.......

Monday, 4 June 2012

So you're starting to play a ukulele? Three sets of chords to really get you going quickly!

I've seen some pretty good websites with great tips on how to start to learn to play a ukulele. Okay, an ukulele if you like. But having just given one as a gift to a complete beginner, I thought I'd share my views on learning to play with you.

You want to play because you want to play song accompaniments, for starters, yes? Ok.

Set of Chords 1 - C, G7, F

Learn just 2 chords and you'll be started. There are quite a few songs that you can play using just two chords!

I don't have the means to show you how to finger chords on this blog - there are plenty of websites where you can learn that, and one of my favourites is (ukulelemike) Mike Lynch's website, His first beginners' page with chord shapes is right here.

Another very good one is Here's the page for C, G7 and F

The key of C is the easiest key to play in to start off with, because the home chord C needs only one finger on one string on the fingerboard.

So learn the C chord, using your ring finger (3rd finger) in the space just before the third fret, bottom string (A string).

Then learn the chord G7.

Slide that ring finger down to just behind the second fret and put your first finger at the first fret, next string (E string); middle finger to the third fret, the next string (C string).

Practise playing those two chords and changing smoothly between them.
It all feels awkward and tricky at first but that soon goes with a bit of practice and you'll be away!

Now you can play "Dance the Night Away" and "Cockles and Mussels"!

Start with C, and your ear should tell you when C no longer sounds right, and you need to change to G7. And so on.

If you are of a certain age, you'll remember "The Banana Boat Song"; popular on the radio.
"Day-oh, day-oh! Daylight come and I wanna go home!"
Another 2 chord song, easy to sing and play using C and G7.

The next chord to learn is F.

From G7, leave your first finger in place and move your second finger over to the 2nd fret, top string. (G string).

Practise changing between these three chords; they belong together.

There are loads of songs you can do with just three chords! I'll make a list on another page.

So - the key of C, three chords - C (home chord) G7, F

C, G7, F

Set of Chords 2 - Am, Dm, C7

The 2nd set of chords to learn to enrich your playing and greatly increase your repertoire is

Am, Dm, C7

Adding these chords gives you some common chord progressions, which sound just great and are used in many songs.

One such chord progression is C, Am, F, G7 - repeat.

Also C, Am, Dm, G7

Practise changing through these progressions.

Set of Chords 3 - D7, E7, A7

Your 3rd set of chords to learn is D7 (both fingerings), E7, A7.

With these nine chords under your belt, you'll be well on your way.

In my next few posts, I'll list some songs, using 1st set, incorporating 2nd set, then incorporating 3rd sets of chords.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

A Union Flag Uke for the Jubilee Weekend

Scratching my head about what to buy for birthday present for a "diamond lady" celebrating a landmark 60th birthday this Diamond Jubilee weekend, I remembered seeing a little union flag soprano uke (made by Ashton) in my super local music shop. So I got it for her. It plays fine for a beginner - she doesn't play - yet. I spent much of yesterday putting together a booklet to get her going - a chord sheet, a few songs and a few tips to get her started. Can't wait to see whether she gets the bug! And a set of Aquila "new nylgut" strings on that uke will transform it...

"Dirty Old River, Must You Keep Rollin'....."

Friday it was the River Severn - today it was the Thames. Friday I was there, enjoying lovely summer weather; today I was not there by the Thames, I was glued to the TV watching it, the incredible River Pageant for the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen, Elizabeth II. And the lovely summer weather? Gone. Rained on her parade, sadly. But if you saw it - wasn't it magnificent!

So, Friday - LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) decided we needed a day out. I think he thought I needed to be prized away from my ukulele for a while. I suggested Bewdley, (Worcestershire), a favourite day-trip destination from both of our childhood days. It was remarkably quiet; not too many tourists - but the shops all had attractive displays themed on the Diamond Jubilee. After all, 60 years on the throne is not to be sneezed at. The river, prone to flooding as is the whole of the Severn, is very low just now. After stopping for a coffee, we drove on to Arley, just a mile or two up river. There's not much there; a small hamlet with a large riverside estate, it has a railway station on the Severn Valley Railway, and a pub. Maybe there's more than one pub - but on Friday we saw one. And they had been putting their bunting out in preparation for a weekend of celebrations. A beer and a sandwich there, and off for a walk along the river bank.

It was so beautiful along there.... no-one else about, and just the birdsong in our ears. We sat just taking it all in for about ten minutes - ten minutes of pure heaven, while the birds in the woods sang their hearts out, the bees buzzed, and the little dark blue dragonflies coursed up and down, hunting. My father loved that river and I have deep ancestral routes in that area. A feeling of belonging in that landscape.

Today, the Thames and the Queen's River Pageant. A thousand boats in procession to honour the Queen. Among the celebrities in attendance was Richard E Grant, who recited Wordsworth's lyrical ballad "On Westminster Bridge" .... "Earth hasn't anything to show more fair..." but as it spoke of a silent city in the early morning, it just didn't fit, somehow - not for me. The words that kept going through my head were those of Ray Davies, the lyrical balladeer of the Kinks, the famous London group of the 60's; "Waterloo Sunset", written about the River Thames at Waterloo Bridge in the heart of the city. "As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset, I am in paradise...."

So I am now going to sit and play it.

Richard G's Ukulele Songbook
is a darned useful site....