Saturday, 23 February 2013

A Little White Uke... travelling around the world, arrives in Somerset, England

One of my very favourite websites and ukulele communities is the Ukulele Underground Forum. Based in Hawaii and a branch of the Ukulele Underground, it has a membership of thousands who discuss all things ukulele and share uke videos. Since joining about a year ago, I have been so impressed by the members' knowledge, eloquence, and readiness to help new players. One of the main rules is "Don't be a jerk".... and people rarely are.... the team of volunteer moderators are a superbly able bunch who keep the peace if someone is getting hot under the collar.

I'm also hugely impressed by the sheer talent of players on there. Coupled with the community spirit, a little project has begun, the brain-child of a forum member in Australia ("pabrizzer"). He has gathered together a number of forum members to send a little white ukulele on a journey around the world. The Little White Uke has left Australia, traveled to Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, and is now in Britain. "Filipinouker" in Somerset recorded this lovely video .... it features the national anthems of the UK, the Phillipines, and some beautiful playing, as well as great scenic shots.

I asked "filipinouker" how long she had been playing, and how she began her own journey with the ukulele. This is what she shared with me.

"I've been playing since May 2012...before then, I never thought much about ukuleles - I considered them to be toys!

My husband and I were in the Lake District on holiday, and it was wet wet wet for the whole week. One afternoon, I got fed up walking in the rain and sought warmth and shelter in a music shop. I pretended to be interested in the rows of ukuleles hanging on the wall (I really was NOT interested). To my shock horror, some of them cost hundreds and hundreds of pounds! That got me curious. Why would a silly little toy cost that much?!!! So I picked one up - one that cost £300, and with the help of a chord chart that was lying around and the encouragement of the shop assistant, I managed to strum a C chord, a G chord and an F chord. I was amazed by how beautiful it sounded!

Three hours later, after I had tried all the ukes :D - I walked away with what I could afford then: an £80 Kala-CEM (concert size, exotic mahogany top). I have, since then, sold it and bought an Ohana CK42R (solid sinker redwood top) and a Mainland all solid mahogany soprano. It is like a drug, uke playing!

Also, since then, I thank God for miserable rainy days because, often, they can lead to something good... in this case, it opened up for me the happy, sunny world of ukulele music!"

On facebook, there's a page called Little White Uke Around the World, where you can see more pics of the LWU on its travels.

I was slow on the uptake with this great little project... by the time I had caught up with what was afoot, it was too late to be a part of it. A little sad, there... there's only room for about 24 names on the uke - everyone participating is signing it... so numbers were limited by that.

From the UK, the LWU is traveling on to France, Finland, then to America. And from there, back home to "pabrizzer" in Oz.

Bon voyage, Little White Uke! Travel safely! :D

Monday, 18 February 2013

Mike Warren, Music Box Waltz and facebook group

I want you to meet Mike Warren. When I went to the George Formby meeting in Blackpool in September, I was chatting to a chap, talking split-strokes (of course) when he said - "You need to get on facebook and join Mike Warren's group... he's really helpful..." and eventually, I did. I'll be meeting him in the flesh in a week or two... but one thing I have heard, over and over, is just what sort of a genuine bloke he is. I'm really looking forward to meeting him - and he really does do great little tuition videos! - but read his story for yourself, here in his own words.... the bit that really resonates with me is where he tells about "the moment in my life I knew I had to learn to play a ukulele"... because I had a moment like that, watching Joe Brown.

"Here is where my Ukulele story starts. I went to firth park school at the age of 12. I was a little Sh*t back then, having being expelled from a boarding school on the isle of Wight. One day at school I went to an art class by a Mr Litherland. We got on quite well so I behaved in his class, (most of the time.) In the storeroom of the art class where they store paper, paints, pencils etc. was a ukulele. It had no strings or tuning pegs but I thought it looked quite sweet. I asked what it was, and he told me it was a Ukulele, and that he was going to learn to play it. I was cheeky and asked if I could have it. He said that if I behaved in his class for so many weeks, (can't remember how many now) I could have it. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got it, and it got put into a cupboard for years until I left school.

One night I was watching the TV and the Michael Parkinson show came on, and as a guest he had Peter Sellers. I liked him from the goon shows and films etc., so I decided to watch it. During that show out came a ukulele, and Peter played an old song on it. I instantly thought about my uke in the cupboard. Later on in the show he played again only this time he sang When I'm Cleaning Windows and did a solo.

That was the moment in my life I knew I had to learn to play a ukulele. I bought some tuning pegs and strings and a book and started learning. A year or so later I went into the shop where I always bought my strings from and started paying so much per week towards a ukulele banjo. I went into the shop and asked if I could have a go on it. The chap in the shop (funny enough was called George) said yes. I fumbled around a few chords and he said give it me, and then went into this song and did a GF style solo. My mouth fell open. I asked who sang the song and he said a chap called George Formby. I'd never heard of him. He then said I've got some records at home, If you come back tomorrow you can borrow them. So as the story goes, I borrowed them. I then recorded them onto an old reel to reel recorder that belonged to my grandad.

Months later I came across a book called The George Formby Complete, it's now got a lot thinner and it's called The George Formby Songbook. I bought it and my life-long George Formby passion started there, and the rest is history. I slowed down the tapes of George and figured out the strumming patterns by ear and used to play along note for note, or as near as damn it.

I had been playing for around three years and never met another uke player when I saw a documentary about George Formby and the George Formby Society were on it. I wrote to the BBC asking for details about the said Documentary and they wrote back with the name, address and telephone number of the then secretary of the society. I rang him up and got all the details and I joined. It cost me £2.60 for the years membership.

I went in March 1981 to my first GF meeting in Blackpool. I've never looked back since.

Over the years I've met some wonderful people and uke players. Some are dead and gone now (god bless em') Jack Jones, Dennis Taylor etc. Wonderful people that I have been privileged to have met.

It's now 2013 and come March I'll be off to Blackpool yet again to remember our George and meet some more fantastic people. I couldn't imagine life without the George Formby Society meetings. I now have a ukulele group on Facebook called Learn Ukulele Free which I started about 7 months ago and already there are nearly 700 members from all over the world. I love giving something back from my years of playing and the pleasure from it by helping other budding Ukulele players via this group.

Well folks that's my Ukulele story. I hope you liked it.

Happy Plonking!

Mike Warren."

Lovely story.... thanks Mike, for sharing it! And particularly, for me, for the "shake" video! :D

Friday, 15 February 2013

Ukulelehunt video of the year contest

Back in June (2012,) I posted a video of one of my very favourite performers, John Bianchi, performing a wonderfully un-PC song from the 20's called "The Dumber They Come, the Better I Like 'Em" - and it has now been nominated for the Ukulelehunt Video of the Year Award. Check it out, it's all here. But he needs your votes, folks! There are six videos in the shortlist, and they're all pretty good, in various ways. You can check them all out on the voting page of Ukehunt. As in the usual run of things, bands and trios have a advantage because they have more people to canvass support - but John B is a sole performer here, and he really needs your vote!

So - please get over there to Ukehunt and do the deed!

All Of Me - The Hot Tone Rhythm Boys featuring Jim 'Django' Gritt

At last - a band featuring the ukulele AND the great songs of the 20's and 30's - and the 40's. In the USA they have Janet Klein and the Parlor boys - and what do we have here? I'd been thinking that there was nothing like this in the UK, until I just stumbled across this one.

Before I write more I need some up-t-date info for you. So for now, just enjoy this great old jazz standard, All Of Me, written in 1931.....

Mmmmm - lovely!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Remco Houtman-Janssen, aka ukulelezaza

Shine ft Two on banjo-uke

Remco Houtman-Janssen from Belgium aka Ukulelezaza is one of the world's great ukulele players... if you've not had the pleasure of seeing or hearing him play, here is one of his Youtubes, featuring his Ludwig banjo-uke on this occasion, but on his channel there are many fantastic videos with his wooden ukes, where that one came from. See the tuition video for Mr Sandman below, for example... it's great!

Remco is running a weekend ukulele workshop at Gleanings Rural Centre, nr Minsterly, Shropshire UK on Sat 23rd / Sun 24th March 2013, and as I write there are still some places available to take part....

He will be performing a gig on the Saturday night at the Hope Village Hall at 8.00pm, a great opportunity to see him in an intimate venue - and there is real ale available! LSH will be wanting to go....

Should be a great weekend !!!

Interested? Contact Yvonne or John at Gleanings for tickets on 01743 891412 or email

The week before that, however, Remco will be at the March Convention of the George Formby Society, 16th/17th March at the Imperial Hotel, North Promenade, Blackpool. Some wooden uke players are fiercely anti the banjo-uke, and some banjolele players have little time for its wooden counterpart, once the banjolele bug has bitten - it's the fast and complex syncopation that does it - but Remco loves both, as do I, and is now one of my newest ukulele heroes...

Watch this space for more on ukulelezaza!

Mr. Sandman UKULELE TUTORIAL - ukulelezaza

Here is a great tutorial on a wonderfully achievable version of Mr Sandman, played chord melody style by Remco Houtman-Janssen, aka ukulelezaza. Remco has made the tab available - see the video on Youtube for details. I'm working on this, (just one of my butterfly flits.... I really should get focused...) and I really love it.

More on Remco to follow..... don't go too far away, now!

Monday, 11 February 2013

Counting off the days, but winter hasn't finished with us yet....

Spring can't come quickly enough for me and I am literally counting the days off now until March 1st. I know it isn't officially Spring then, but as far as I'm concerned, it is... the last heavy snowfalls left us with ten inches of lying snow in the garden; pretty, yes, but we're not really geared up to snow here in England - the weather can change so quickly because of our position on the edge of the European continental shelf that winter tyres and such are never a serious consideration. So we slither and slide about and bump and grumble, and some of us more or less hibernate. Like me. Last month LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) was laughing "Some women extol the virtues of a new dress - with my wife it's the virtues of a new snow shovel!" In the winter, it's true. Well the new snow shovel is getting its first outing this morning because the snow came again last night and we have two inches (that's 5cm) on the drive to clear.

The summerhouse and the flowering cherry tree look pretty with their covering of snow, don't you think? Pic taken this morning. When the weather gets warmer I can't wait to get out there with my ukulele. As I wrote the other day on the Summerhouse Practice List page: "The summerhouse has been a no-go zone since the last update, as it's still winter, and temperatures hover around freezing. But in the garden plants are coming up, buds are swelling and with the sun on it, the summerhouse is beginning to look inviting - as soon as warmer days arrive, I'll be out there.... can't wait....and then this list will need revising..."

And talking about practice, I'm emulating the butterflies again and flitting about between uke skills and genres of music...

With two trips booked to Blackpool to the George Formby Society convention, I'm trying to learn more Formby songs by heart - or the music, at least, so that I can join in the "thrash" without being visually glued to someone else's fingerboard to copy the chords.

Not to mention my Formby strums - split-stroke, shake and triples, and putting them all together....

I also keep returning to ukulelezaza's interpretation of Mr Sandman.... chord melody. Watch out for that coming up here...

And the jazz standards with those wonderful minor 7th and diminished chords - can't leave them alone....

Also I yearn to be able to play a more sophisticated fingerstyle as song accompaniments.

I can't ignore any of these things for long....but the snow shovel is beckoning and I must away. Tonight, my other passion - tap-dance. Oh, yes. Learning the dance to "42nd Street"... it's fast, it's fun and I love it.

Keep living til you die......thanks for dropping in, ukers....

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Jesse James on clawhammer uke - banjolele and wooden uke!

I adore listening to clawhammer style, be it banjo or ukulele, and I've posted a few videos on here of accomplished clawhammer players like Aaron Keim, Tim Keough and Ken Middleton. I know I'm unlikely ever to crack that skill, not least because it's so tricky that I just daren't go there at the moment, I've far too many other ukulele skills to hone. But I do love that clawhammer sound.

Here's a fine player from Aussie-land, who goes by the UU Forum pseudonym Bland Mango Patterson - and he has kindly allowed me to share a video he has just made, comparing the tune Jesse James played clawhammer style on banjo-uke, and on wooden uke. It's quite a delight.... which clawhammer do you prefer, banjo-uke or wooden? Have a listen and see if you can decide.... I can't. They both sound wonderful.

That's a fine player there - and he plays Formby style too, oh yes!

Thanks, Bland Mango. Must find out his real name..... :D

(Psst - it's Jason!)

Thanks for dropping in, folks.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Points for exciting? 10 out of 10, I'd say!

So what's so exciting? I hear you ask, all agog...... well I'll tell you. In the UK we have a great ukulele festival coming up in June - the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain, held in Cheltenham, June 21st-23rd..... and I am going! Woohoo!

Heading the line-up.... James Hill! And on banjo-uke, Andy Eastwood! See the website for more information.

My tickets are reserved, oh yes indeed....... but not only that, oh no.... the workshops came on sale the other day - and include two workshops by James Hill, two by Ken Middleton, (featured several times on this blog - see the tag cloud at the bottom of the page, to find posts featuring Ken....) one by Andy Eastwood (see Andy in Dublin here and one by Phil Doleman. And I have managed to get my places booked! James Hill's workshops are already sold out. They were obviously going to go very quickly...

You must have seen James Hill's interpretation of "Billie Jean".....

This festival is going to be an absolute blast. If you haven't secured your tickets, get on to it, do! And I'll see you there!...