Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015, a Ukafrolicking year, to be sure

You know, looking back over the past year, I can't believe what a fantastic year it has been. I feel so blessed. We have been lucky in 2015 - no major mishaps, new illnesses or traumas, ... so many blessings to count. We're still standing. Good times with good friends, and lots of music.

The Ukafrolics of 2015 were many and varied, and my wonderful Long-Suffering-Husband was there for most of them, hopefully not suffering TOO much, although he doesn't play (determinedly stuck at being able to play only one chord - well, two if you count C6!) George Formby Society Conventions in Blackpool, all four of them; a trip to the Isle of Man with the GFS to celebrate 80 years since George's film "No Limit", which was filmed there; the odd visit to a regional meeting in Stourbridge (our nearest)
and one to the Yorkshire Ukulele Circle in Mirfield in the frozen north in January... and he sent me off without him to the uke festivals GNUF in Huddersfield in May, and UFGB in Cheltenham in June, to be entertained, learn from workshops and have fun with ukulele friends. Added to that we had holidays in Madeira, Hawaii and Majorca - Little Blue Uke came with me everywhere. I've posted here all about those, too...

This was the year that I decided that to make significant and structured progress, I needed professional input... and began lessons with Phil Doleman. This is to be highly recommended! Phil's a great teacher and I really look forward to my lessons, always coming home with new stuff to practice!

New ukes - I've had three; a solid electric VOX which is fun to use, and two beautiful instruments made by luthier Dave Morgan of DJ Morgan Ukuleles. Since I've had those, I can walk past a shop window full of ukes - seriously, I can! I have no cravings for others. My Morgan ukes are real beauties.

I've talked about all these things in posts over the year - but there's one photo I haven't shared before.

Leamington Ukulele Festival in July - everyone singing from the song book - and the wonderfully gifted Matthew J Richards fretting his vintage Martin while my Martin, LSH, strummed it and sang his head off also... oh, that was such fun - what lovely people! Photo thanks to Chris Richards.

As I write, 2016 is fast approaching, the bells will soon be ringing out in my corner of the world. Wherever your little corner is, I hope it's safe, dry, warm and comfortable and that you've got a loved one and a ukulele near to hand. Happy New year, everyone, and wishing you good health - thanks for dropping in!

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

John Pak - great ukulele playing, a lovely voice, and great videos!

Here is one of my favourite players, singers and makers of video..... it's John Pak! AKA paxukulele on Youtube! Just take a few minutes to enjoy some snippets of golden oldies, beautifully performed in John's 2014/2015 ukulele review - and then give him a sub, if you haven't already! The snippets in this review are all from John's videos of the last couple of years. If you don't find them totally inspirational I'll eat my hat...

And watch for his gorgeous baby granddaughter Lulu! What a little beauty, and such a delicious moment, the tiny babe in her Grandad's arms!

John was born in Hawaii and has been playing ukulele since he was 12 years old. He now lives in Japan, and making videos for Youtube is his main hobby. He tells me that he finds the editing software "Garageband" very useful... I've heard this a lot. It's a total mystery to me!

Thanks for dropping in - don't go too far away now, will you...

Friday, 18 December 2015

Rachel E Manke with Just What We Want!

Talking about writing original songs on ukulele, here's one just written by Rachel E Manke, one of my favourite ukulele artistes! A three chord song - always a treat to learn and play - I IV V7... (or here, G, C, D7)

I love the sentiment there - if anyone understands just what matters in this life, Rachel does! And she knows how to put it over - with confidence and great style! Search the tag cloud at the bottom for more posts on Rachel... she's the bees' knees....

Thanks for dropping in... do come back now...

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

This made me cry today - I feel so honoured!

December, as always, has been hectic, and will continue to be so right up to Christmas. It’s always the same; in October I start to get the miseries because summer has gone and we are into the long, dark fall into winter; November sees me cleaning windows and glass to try and make them sparkle and lighting candles to try to displace the murk - and I start to do small Christmassy tasks like buying cards, then December arrives and all is chaos – just too busy to be the slightest bit grumpy. And much activity has been uke or music-related. I don’t really know where to start, to tell you all about it!

I know…. One lovely thing was that in November LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) and I went to see the wonderful folk-rock band Steeleye Span in concert. Maddy Prior, my personal goddess of song was front of house afterwards, and as Maddy remembers everyone who has ever been to her singing workshops at Stones Barn in the Scottish borders, she greeted me warmly, and - wait for it - I told her how pleased I was to see her playing a ukulele in one the band’s numbers! This is new, this really new! Maddy said that, yes, the uke is just great for song-writing…

Well, I discovered that myself, about eighteen months ago, when I was inspired by my friend’s daughter’s beautiful wedding in Scotland, and wrote a song about it. My next attempts were for a competition on the Ukulele Underground, “Write a Christmas song…” I wrote two songs, a novelty song about snowmen and a carol. I was thrilled to bits when the carol won – what a Christmas present! The lovely man in Australia who hosted the competition did his own video of my carol, a version I really love – he does it so much better than I do… there’s a link to it on the page “My own songs”.

And that brings me to the thing that has made my day, that moved me and made me weep this morning. I had a message on my own video of the carol, “Tread Softly To The Stable”, a kind soul saying he liked it and would use it with his uke group next year – and that he had seen it because of the version posted by “pabrizzer” on the Ukulele Underground today… now, it was pabrizzer in Australia who held that competition and chose my carol, and he has indeed recorded another version of it accompanied by beautiful cello and a lovely vocal by members of his family, which I’m sharing here. I feel so honoured and moved by this and it made me cry. So I have to, just have to, share it with you…..

You know, I would never have written this song if it were not for the ukulele... the reasons for this will make a good subject for more posts!

Thank you for dropping in, thanks for reading, thanks for watching, I appreciate your company. Please come back, I'll be here soon.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Little Blue Ukulele on holiday... giving uke lessons!

When I take a break somewhere peaceful for a week or two, I always.... ALWAYS... take the Little Blue Uke. When flying, it goes in a small rucksack these days as hand luggage, and when we're there, I can pick it up and have a strum whenever I want.

Now, don't get me wrong... I'm not a particularly extroverted person, I'm not the life and soul of the party, I'm more comfortable in small groups than large ones, and I don't imagine that everybody around me can't wait to get an earful of ukulele music... so in the main, I disappear to our room and play there, or maybe out on the balcony - as long as there's no-one out on the adjoining ones. And if I think there's a chance that someone CAN hear, I try to "play nicely" so as not to annoy.

Well, when we were chatting to our holiday rep, Leanne, at the beginning of the holiday, the uke did somehow come into the conversation - don't ask me how. And somehow or another, she expressed interest, and I said I'd be happy to give her some lessons. You know, these are the sort of things that usually just float into the ether and disappear - but actually, it didn't... I gave Leanne about three lessons in all, and after the first one she came down with the nails on her fretting hand trimmed right down, good as gold - it was then that I knew she meant business and was really keen to learn! What's more she got the first three chords (C, G7 and F) down really quickly! Oh, I was so proud!

Leanne has come back home to the UK now, here she is and sure enough, she has bought her first uke. I can't wait to hear how she's getting on with it. It's a very nice feeling, to have "got somebody going" with this wonderful little instrument that can bring such joy... I do hope it brings her the pleasure that my ukes have brought me.

Oh, and by the way - LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) and I were in the hotel corridor on our way to the room one day when a chap stopped me and asked if it was me that played ukulele on the balcony - a little warily, I said yes, that's me... and he said he was in the next room and how LOVELY it was to listen to... well, wasn't that nice?

I do hope he meant it!

Thanks for dropping in... I've had another little patch of song-writing inspiration, these last few days. I'll tell you about it soon. Don't go too far away, now! It's lovely to see you on my pages!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

One of the great Christmas songs - "The Christmas Song" - Gerald Ross

If you're reading this blog, thanks... I've been doing it for nearly four years now and I'll just recap what it's all about.

For a start, my blog is not "the best"... I have no claims for it. All I do is attempt to tell my own ukulele story, a journey of simple pleasure and forever trying to be a better player. I share the performances I love, and share the word about players whose music I particularly enjoy, and skilful luthiers. If you're here with me, welcome and I thank you for reading!

There are players whose work I have shared many, many times - you can check them out on the tag cloud at the foot of the page. I surprise myself to find that I haven't featured Gerald Ross in solo capacity before, because I love what he does, and have been watching his videos for ages!

Written by Robert Wells, Mel Tormé, 1946
(Watch on Youtube here....)

I love this rendition for the pure musicality of the performance. So gentle and rhythmically interesting, with such a light touch, this is such a joy to listen to, I have to just keep on listening! I'm pretty sure the uke is reentrant tuned, high G. I love the way Gerald has blended luscious resonant phrases with light, almost pizzicato picking, and all those entrancing little runs that make the music skip along lightly. There is so much to learn about beautiful playing from watching and listening to this! I think this will be my favourite Christmas ukulele performance this year! I only wish I could follow the chords Gerald is actually playing!

For Gerald Ross Discography, click here!

Thanks for dropping in... do call again!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Matthew J Richards plays Imagine

A beautiful rendition by Matthew J Richards of one of the best songs ever written, in my opinion.

A fitting song for today, written by John Lennon....please listen and enjoy it, and think on the words - I'm sure you know them.

That's it. I can't be cheerful today. Tomorrow I will try to be - that's a promise.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

A lovely collaboration - "Father and Son," by Ken Middleton and Alex Holmes

It's a little while since I've featured one of Ken's videos on here. With videos I tend to leap in and promptly share ones that grab me - they have to grab me, and this did. Such a poignant song, written Cat Stevens back in the 70's - the age-old mis-match of the generations between a parent's vision of happiness and stability for their child and the child's own vision of the world. Beautifully played and duetted at a distance here with Alex Holmes as "son". I love this. Hope you do, too. Thanks for dropping in...

Watch it on Youtube here

Next time - on our last holiday abroad I had some interesting ukafrolics! I'll tell you all about it. Also coming up - a milestone in my ukulele journey! Just have to share this one!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Resonator uke - why? Here's why - Del Rey...

Ever since I saw Del Rey play at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival 2014 I've rather hankered after a resonator ukulele.. and longed to play like her. That finger-picking is phenomenal. The uke was made by R E Phillips in the USA. No further info on that maker, sorry!

No other words necessary, methinks, just watch, listen and enjoy... watch this on YouTube here...

I don't know what the tune is, but I'm guessing the genre is delta blues. Perhaps someone can enlighten me further?

Just a quickie, had to share this - thanks for dropping by!

To learn more about Del Rey, check out her website here! It's all there, I won't try to reinvent the wheel!

Friday, 6 November 2015

You Can't Get Enough of That Stuff - Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson!

I can't get enough of this stuff, that's for sure! Phil Doleman here on Argapa soprano resonator

Originally recorded by The Hokum Boys in 1929, this is an example of "hokum" in early blues. Wikipedia gives some info on this stuff "hokum" - I had to look it up... but what you can't help but notice is that for blues - it isn't miserable! In fact it's quite jolly. I like that. So do plenty of other people, I think - Phil cheers everyone up with these upbeat and jolly blues numbers. As for me, I'm enthused to find out more - and I want to be able to play it! There is a chance of that - Phil has been my uke teacher for some months now, and a fine one he is, too. What's more, it's great to see him playing with his great friend Ian Emmerson.

I mentioned Ian yesterday... Phil and Ian used to work together as a uke duo "The Re-entrants", playing "anything from Motorhead to Lady Gaga"... I saw them at the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain in Cheltenham in 2012 and thought them pretty fantastic, but sadly, shortly after that, they decided that they had come to the end of that particular road. Ian played the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival 2015 solo... read what they said about him here! Very amusing.... peevish reluctance to leave the house, ha-ha....

Well, in his house, he's been jamming with Phil and they've been having a great time dishing up lots of these really early blues numbers for our delectation. Catch up with them here! -

And catch Ian's latest album of his own songs here!
Full of contemplative, dry humour!

Thanks for dropping in... I've still a lot more catching up to do so don't go too far - but right now I need to do my practice for my next lesson with Phil...

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

"Sprucey Lucy" - DJ Morgan soprano in spruce and maple. No more searching.

When people ask me how many ukes I have, I confess I cringe a little, because the fact is I have quite a few now. Many, many people have more - many more! But to the non-player it sounds a lot, and non-players do not understand the need. It comes down to exploration of different sound, getting the sounds that you want, and buying better quality instruments as time goes on. When you are not satisfied with the ukes you have, you have to go into every music shop you see, just to see if your ideal uke is in there, waiting for you. There is something very satisfying to come to realise that you no longer feel the need to do that, because the instruments you have are - just what you want. Nailed it.

Yes, I'm there. When it comes to wooden ukes, I am satisfied. What do I have? Well, the title of this post gives it away, doesn't it... In April I posted here about my solid mahogany concert made by luthier Dave Morgan (DJ Morgan Ukuleles). Rosie. I'm not generally one for naming my ukes, but as my latest was promptly dubbed Sprucey Lucy, That one had to have a name too. I was, and still am, thrilled with Rosie... but I wanted a spruce-top soprano. When Dave told me he was building some high-spec ukes in bird's eye maple with spruce tops, well... I knew I was a goner.

I couldn't wait to get my hands on one - as soon as Dave had got this uke finished and photographed I knew it had to be mine - I saw it, played it and snapped it up. It plays like a dream and it's loud. And it's beautiful. When I bought Rosie from him just a few months back I loved the subtle inlaid stripes on the headstock - well, Dave has refined the stripes in his signature headstock design into art deco curves now, and on this uke and its sister concert, the stripes are fashioned into three sets of parallel black lines, the two outer sets curving away - so classy, and they complement the ebony fingerboard and the black binding beautifully.

Dave Morgan is quite a perfectionist. He is a full-time luthier from Dudley in the English Midlands. The Black Country. His ukes are impeccably built, light, and sound amazing. Folk who know a great uke when they see and hear one are snapping them up. Barry Maz of Got A Ukulele blog had one to review a couple of months ago. Barry pulls no punches with his reviews - but he was highly impressed with Dave's build Read it here...

The fabulous Ian Emmerson has one. You know Ian Emmerson.... and he just told me... "I had to have it as soon as I tried it. He's an absolutely top-notch builder, it's my favourite uke, and it would be totally unsurprising if I ended up with another of his before too long." How's that for an endorsement?

Paul Culkin, a lovely player and singer/songwriter played my Rosie - and promptly ordered two ukes from Dave. He has them now, a concert and a baritone, and he is highly delighted with them.

Take a look on Dave's website, DJ Morgan Ukuleles to see more of his work and to see Paul playing one of his own songs on his new Morgan uke!

As for me, I play my DJ Morgan ukes all the time. I should put a video up shouldn't I... but it's late. I'll do one soon. At least you know all about Sprucey Lucy now.

Thanks for dropping by!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

So many Ukafrolics - So where do I start? The new uke earrings....

Dear readers, so many ukafrolics have passed under the bridge since I last posted - and there were quite a few through the summer that never got a mention, for lack of time... shame on me - but as autumn has well and truly landed and the call of the garden is growing fainter, I'm making a start on catching up. And first up are my beautiful new uke earrings, the second of all the blessings I have counted today!
First up, I drove to Derbyshire for my uke lesson with Phil Doleman. I look forward to that so much, I always come home full of enthusiasm and lots to practise... (hence less time to blog.... sorry!)Feet up, cup of coffee, doze off ... I'm inclined to do that, like a baby with a tummy full of warn drink... and next, I opened my post. A little packet - fretboard earrings! From my friend the luthier Dave Morgan, who made them. They are rather gorgeous! I love drop earrings, I wear them all the time - and these are just perfect for a uke lover like me. Rosewood, with frets and an abalone dot... a little mysterious to the uninitiated, but instantly recognisable to a uke player! And so nice to wear something craftsman-made! I love Dave's ukes, I now have two... I bought a mahogany concert (solid mahogany, naturally) earlier in the year - March, I think it was... I told you about that - and in July I bought another, a beautiful soprano with spruce top and bird's eye maple back and sides.

It's time I told you all about "Sprucey Lucy" isn't it... tomorrow then! It's a date!

Oh - and the third blessing? LSH made my dinner. I am well and truly blessed.

If you want to buy Dave's earrings from him, you can contact him on facebook! Look for this profile picture! Christmas is coming...

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Jake Shimabukuru Live in Liverpool - (2)

I posted yesterday about my latest Ukafrolic - preparing to go to Jake's first concert of his first UK tour in Liverpool on Tuesday. Before that I posted the interview that I was so privileged to be given by Jake for this blog. So there I was at St George's Hall, as excited as any teenager about to see their favourite pop star!

I was lined up to assist with selling merchandise for Jake's team... Jake's new CD "Travels" and Jake teeshirts. As such, I was also privileged to have Green Room access. Mary (Mary Agnes Krell, tour organiser for Grand Northern Events) and I went up there to check that everything was ready for Jake and his team to arrive, and very soon afterwards in they came.

I was so conscious that here were people about to put on a first full concert in a strange venue in a foreign country... tension? Nerves? Certainly not from the performers! So relaxed, so warm and friendly! And so solicitous... would I like some orange juice, asked Jake... what, me? You're considering ME? But yes, he was! I was very touched - what a nice young man - and I just didn't want to be in the way!

Jake signed the little blue uke for the Cavern Club Hall of Fame. Then Mary and I set up the table to sell CD's and tee-shirts and I waited there, poised, for folks to arrive. Business was brisk... I was delighted to see Peter Moss and Andy Eastwood, brilliant uke players themselves, both in the highest echelons of British ukery, and both of whom I've featured on here several times... Tim Smithies of Dead Man's Uke appeared at my shoulder, and of course, In Liverpool, the Mersey Belles! I think the most excited of all the musicians there was Michael Adcock, who has to be one of Jake's most fervent fans.

I was honoured to have a couple of quiet minutes with Jake in the Green Room before the show... how wonderful - he signed my Little White Uke on the headstock and I could not believe how laid back he is, less than 15 minutes before playing - his genuine warmth was an absolute joy to be around.

The concert was in the Concert Room. What a fabulous room for Jake's first performance here... it is staggeringly beautiful. Charles Dickens gave many readings on that stage as he considered it the perfect venue! Do follow the link for a full description!

Jake came on stage to tumultuous applause, accompanied by his bass player Nolan, and the two of them gave us a full ninety minutes of wonderful music! If anyone entered that room unsure of whether they would like Jake's performance, any doubts were soon dispelled. He held that audience totally mesmerised. Every piece was different in mood, and different in the array of picking and strumming skills - how often I heard gasps at the sounds Jake so expertly teased out of that beautiful custom Kamaka... and Jake and Nolan were the perfect stage partnership - Nolan accompanied Jake's playing with consummate skill and sensitivity - it was clear that they love playing together. What a joy!

I can understand why Jake is often called the "Jimi Hendrix of the ukelele"... they used to say that Hendrix and his guitar were "as one" when he played... his musicality was such that he was on a different plane when he played... and this was how Jake came across to me as I watched and listened. He oozes musicality. I said to him after the show, "Jake, you don't play music - you ARE music..."

There were two standing ovations! Lordy, Lordy....

Directly after the concert I rushed down to man the stall again and it was manic... everyone wanted a CD, everyone wanted a teeshirt... not surprising. Then Jake came out to do a meet and greet... and everyone went home totally bowled over by this young man. I shall never forget Michael Adcock's face... still transported, half an hour after the show ended! What a shame my camera was still in the Green Room! Thank you. Mary and Rob, for bringing this to fruition.

Jake in England.

Then next morning, Jake was on the BBC, national TV. I watched the interview from my hotel room and smiled broadly. What a Ukafrolic I had had - a day never to be forgotten!

As I write, Jake is appearing in London, a sell-out.... but you can still catch him in Leeds or Bath!

photos courtesy of Rob Collins,

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Jake Shimabukuru live in Liverpool - first concert in the UK! I wuz there.... (1)

Ukafrolic - my fun, made-up word to describe fun times around ukuleles... to be sure I have been fortunate this year alone to have had very many memorable ukafrolics - some of which I have not found the time to tell you about yet, unfortunately - but surely last night's was rather - nay, exceedingly special! And I'm wasting no time in telling you about this one!

Perhaps you read the interview that Hawaiian ukulele super-star Jake Shimabukuru so graciously gave me in my last post. I had initially thought that I wouldn't be able to go to any of the four concerts that Jake is giving in England this week... family commitments and then the GFS convention in Blackpool at the weekend... but when a player as highly regarded as Jake is coming to the country for a first tour - how can you pass up the opportunity to see them? So I juggled things around a little, resolved to squash more things into less time, and bought my tickets for the first concert, Liverpool St George's Hall. Concert ticket, train ticket. Long-Suffering-Husband had his own commitments so with his blessing I would go alone. Could not wait.

The tour is being organised by Mary Agnes Krell of Grand Northern Events - organisers of the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival. Now there's a woman in a million. She has vision, belief and firm principles. The vision and belief to want to bring Jake here, to know that the ticket-buying ukulele community would want to see him and that the tour should be successful, and the principle that it should be a not-for-profit undertaking. Anyone can see the inherent risks...

I so wanted this tour to be a success - for Jake, and for Mary, so ably supported by her man, luthier Rob Collins ( I asked if there was anything I could do to help... next day, Mary asked me if I would help Jake's tour manager on the merchandise stall as he was totally unfamiliar with our currency. Yes, of course I would.

Jake is a huge Beatles fan... the team arrived on Monday, predictably jet-lagged and very tired by the long-haul flights - but off they went to do the Beatles tour of Liverpool... the Beatles Museum, the houses where the Famous Four grew up, the song-spots, (Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane) and the Cavern. Jake was delighted to play on the Cavern stage... after all, it was the George Harrison number "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that rocketed him to public recognition in the famous Youtube video that went viral.

I got a last minute request as I prepared to leave home yesterday morning to catch the train ... would I find a few minutes that day to pop into a music shop and buy an inexpensive uke for Jake to sign, as the Cavern Hall of Fame would gladly display it? No problem. A few hours later I was with Mary, walking through Liverpool to the venue, St George's Hall, armed with a little blue uke for the Cavern, and my own little white uke to ask Jake to sign. I knew I was in for a fantastic evening - and I was not disappointed!

It's getting late... I'll dying to tell you all about it... but will have to finish off tomorrow! Now don't go away... promise? So much to tell!

photo courtesy of Rob Collins,

If you missed Liverpool you can catch Jake at Leeds or in Bath... maybe even in London as a few seats have been released... tour details here... If you're not sure that Jake is your thing... believe me, he will be! If you're in the UK, GET THERE!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Up-to-the-minute Interview with Jake Shimabukuro

I told you I had something special, dear readers... an interview for Life's A Ukafrolic blog with the fabulously talented Jake Shimabukuro, sometimes dubbed the "Hendrix of the Ukulele"... well, here it is. just ahead of his very first tour here in England!

I feel quite honoured to do this! What a pleasure...

"Aloha Jake! Thanks for doing this interview for my blog readers! I'm so looking forward to seeing you live in concert in Liverpool next Tuesday! So here we go! Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin!

I know you began playing at the age of four - how old were you when you realised that the ukulele wasreally important in your life?"

Jake - I realized how important music was to me after my parents' divorce. Playing the ukulele helped me through that part of my life.

"Music is certainly a great friend and comfort when life gets tough. Who were your most influential teachers?"

Jake - The most influential were people very close to me - like my parents, brother, grandmother and grandfather. However, I was also very inspired by famous stars like Bruce Lee, Michael Jordan and The Beatles.

"It's great that your first concert will be in Liverpool, home of the Famous Four! Who or what do you think has been the greatest influence on your own current playing style?"

Jake - Bruce Lee was probably my biggest influence. I he taught me that art is just a form of human expression. The better you can understand yourself and accept who you are, the better you can honestly express who you are. He was a gifted martial artist, but his philosophy could be applied to anything.

"Roy Smeck said that he always practised his instruments for five hours a day – how much time would you say that you put in to uke playing on a day-to-day basis?"

Jake - It varied from day to day. It was sort of like watching television for me. Sometimes I'd get into it and play for 5-6 hours straight. Other times, I'd play for an hour or two, put it down for a bit, then later pick it up again for another hour or two. It was never practice, I just loved to play.

"Do you think your style is still evolving? If so, in what direction?"

Jake - I hope that my style will continue to evolve. As I experience new things throughout my life, I hope to grow and mature emotionally which will directly affect the way I approach creating music.

"Which piece in your musical repertoire are you most proud of?"

Jake - I am most proud of my traditional Hawaiian repertoire because it represents my place of birth and my love for Hawaii. Hawaiian culture is absolutely beautiful and I hope to raise my children to have a great appreciation for Hawaiian music.

"I hope we'll hear some of your Hawaiian repertoire on the tour! What do you play when you just want to play for your own pleasure?"

Jake - I love to make up silly songs about nothing. I once wrote a song about being a kung fu movie star who would have to fight to keep all the crazy female fans away. I was 6 when I wrote that.

"That's funny! Interesting that you started writing so young! As a player and composer, how important do you think it is to know some music theory?"

Jake - I don't think it is necessary at all. It's like cooking. You don't have to go to culinary school to cook. But if you want to work at a five star French restaurant, you need proper extensive training. Music is the same way. Just depends on how far you personally want to understand every aspect of your art.

"Some players here in England (myself included!) play the banjo-uke as well as wooden uke – George Formby was a very popular entertainer on wooden uke and especially banjo-uke from the 1930’s onwards and there is a thriving society that keeps his name and music alive – have you heard any of his music, and if so, what do you think of it?"

Jake - I think he was a great ambassador of the instrument. I'm a big fan of his artistry and personality. He was a gifted entertainer that touched millions of people around the world.

"If you hadn’t become a full-time musician, what career would you have taken up?"

Jake - Maybe I would've been a fisherman.

"Well, that would have been very different, for sure!

Thanks a lot, Jake for doing this interview for me, for Life’s A Ukafrolic Blog! As for me – what a pleasure! I just know you'll have a really successful tour, and I hope you enjoy your stay in our country! My husband and I visited Hawaii in May, and were made extremely welcome - I'm sure you'll find the same here!"


I hope you enjoyed that! Whooo, what a Ukafrolic! Don't go too far away, now - lots to report...

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

At last - Jake Shimabukuro tour in England - 5 days to go!

I keep whining that I don't get time to blog much. Then I feel guilty about whining because actually I'm often busy doing fantastic stuff, like hanging out with friends, playing ukulele somewhere, or listening to fantastically talented people playing their ukuleles... and right now I'm getting very excited because in just five days, on Tuesday 15th September, I'm going to Liverpool to see the virtuoso player that blows everybody's minds, Jake Shimabukuro, in the St George's Hall, Liverpool.

Jake is the young Hawaiian who came to the public notice for this stunning ukulele performance of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". Fourteen million views of this impromptu performance over the last nine years have helped to propel Jake to the highest echelons of "ukery" and have deservedly earned him the adoration of uke fans everywhere.

It seemed too much to ask for, that he should come here to do a tour in his own right, but coming here he most certainly is, arranged by Grand Northern Events. The London show is sold out. But you can still get to see Jake in Liverpool, Leeds or Bath!

LIVERPOOL – St George’s Hall – 15th September

LONDON – Kings Place – 17th September (SOLD OUT)

LEEDS – Town Hall – 18th September

BATH – The Forum – 19th September

I have it on good authority that Jake does a really memorable live show... well, I'm ticking the days off to Tuesday, I just can't wait. Got my train tickets, got my interview questions.... yes, dear readers, I am honoured to be interviewing Jake for Life's A Ukafrolic blog! So... you won't go too far away, will you....?

Thanks for dropping in... I have plenty more Ukafrolics to tell you about!

PS... Pssssst.... shhh but a little bird just told me that Jake will be on BBC breakfast TV on Wednesday 16th September.... don't tell anyone I told you though.... ;)

Monday, 31 August 2015

Johnny Key at the June GFS Convention 2015 - George Formby Medleys

Here are two great Formby Medleys from Johnny Key at the June GFS Convention 2015.

Johnny is a Londoner but is a firm favourite at the Blackpool conventions; he has great stage presence and a lovely way with a song - he's a real uke enthusiast, whether Formby on the banjolele or any other genre of music you fancy on wooden uke - and he's there with help and advice if you want it! A lovely chap. I thought I'd posted this ages ago, but I find I hadn't - so here it is. Better late than never!

The next convention is only a few weeks away! 19th September! It's going to be 40's themed... time to get those vintage clothes out!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Other Duties As Assigned - Rachel Manke talks about her first album!

I've been a fan of Rachel Manke ever since I first dropped across a Youtube video that she had done - I posted it here, at the end of March. It's clear that Rachel had quite a following, and at last she has a CD, "Other Duties As Assigned", out just a few days ago. It's wonderful. It's full of the sort of 20's and 30's music I like, as well as a taste of something different to give a bit of extra spice, but - she has made these songs very much her own...

I asked Rachel to tell me her uke story - and this is what she said.

"I've been playing uke since 1999. Always thought it'd be fun to try. The personal joke was that Y2K would make us all nomads and a portable instrument might be a good thing to have post apocalypse.

I bought a $25 Hilo at the local store. Plastic fretboard, Hawaii decal, etc. Along with it I picked up one of Jumpin' Jim's early books and a Roy Smeck method book. Not long after I met up with a group not far away (this is in Rhode Island at the time) who gathered every month or so for beer, pretzels and ukes. This was at the home of Dave Wasser and Sue Abbotson who were among the founders of the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum, which ran Uke Expos in the late 90's early 00's. It was a much smaller uke world then.

Through all that I met Joel Eckhaus (student of Roy Smeck) at one of these expos and I discovered the sort of uke playing that I wanted to do. At the time I was living about 4 hours south of where Joel was. He'd offered to have me come up for a lesson and I wasn't sure about driving 4 hours for a lesson. Thing is, the weekend of this festival was Sept 2001...days before Sept 11th. That fateful Tuesday I found myself going over the tunes from Joel's workshops over and over again. So, I phoned him up for a seemed like a good idea now.

Itturned out that Joel and I are on a similar wavelength, I picked up the Roy Smeck style through an Eckhaus filter very well. We had about 3 lessons all said and done. Joel is the father of my right hand!

Other than that my learning has been a whole lot of watching and listening to other people. Not just uke players. Eventually just about everything I see ends up in some little note here and there. I can't say enough of how important it is to just expose yourself to other players and different styles (even if it's not your thing).

Now, all that happened and then I stopped paying attention for a few years. I worked for a number of years after college and then went off to grad school. That's when this current uke boom just exploded. Now, I'm reconnecting with all my old friends and making lots of new ones.

These days I've found my own voice and a bit of my own style. And I am having a blast finding new (to me) songs and different ways to make music and entertain. I'm playing festivals again and just this June I had the great honor of playing on a national radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. Can't get more fun than that!"

Of the CD, she said this....

I had a wonderful Kickstarter campaign that let lots of people be involved in the project. My friend Steven Strauss played a wonderful upright bass on it, from afar! I got to play some standards, some lost treasures, some parodies that I wrote and even one song written by a dear friend. My little cousin did the artwork for the album ( It's been so much fun putting it all together, all the little details and now sharing it!

For Rachel's take on old standards like I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Sweet Sue, Some of These Days, a bit of doo-wop, and parodies like "Has Anybody Seen My Mom" get a taste of her CD on the link above, or from Amazon, here....

Thanks for dropping in! So much to tell you, and life has been so busy.... but I just had to jump on here and tell you about Rachel's CD... get it! Go on... get it!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Jake Shimabukuro to visit the UK!

Yes it's true, dear readers, it's true... Jake Shimabukuro is coming here... to play Liverpool, London, Leeds and Bath in September.... organised by the team at Grand Northern Events, (the team behind the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival and the Grand Southern Ukulele Festival), this will be Jake's very first visit here!

Read all about it here... tickets on sale now for three of the four venues... but better be quick, I'm thinking!

Now isn't that a great way to start the weekend!

Here's Jake playing "Over the Rainbow"

Thanks for dropping in... don't go too far away, now!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

From John Pearson of Solwayer Guitars... a different kind of Uke Bass!

It's amazing, the things you see and the people you meet at a uke festival! GNUF 2015, Huddersfield, May just gone... in the hotel bar late one night, I heard a bass being played during a jam, and I noticed that the bass, although uke-bass sized, was nothing like the U basses I'd seen before... it had the look of a bass guitar (a rather beautiful bass guitar) and appeared to have conventional electric guitar strings. MUCH thinner strings than U basses usually have. And so I met John Pearson, builder at Solwayer Guitars, a small design/manufacturing business, based in northern Cumbria here in England. And he told me that he built this beautiful and great-sounding uke bass himself.

John told me that his mini-EB0 bass, is a (roughly) three-quarter size model of the original bass made by a well-known American guitar manufacturer, "no names, no pack drill". It's in constant use, he explains...

He went on... "I built the bass in late 2012 after joining the Carlisle Ukulele Club. I’ve played both guitar and bass in a variety of bands over a number of years – I play by ear and I think my memory must be very visual as I rely a lot on shapes to learn parts. So, although the first instrument I ever played as a kid was an orange plastic ‘autographed’ Beatles ukulele (if only I still had it), as an adult I had real trouble ‘unlearning’ my guitar chords and relearning uke chords – for me, it’s guaranteed to confuse, with the same string intervals as on the top 4 strings of a standard-tuned guitar but with a different tuning – so my ‘D’ shape is a ‘G’ on a uke – too much for me to get to grips with!

I’ve been a guitar builder (semi-professional) since 2007. I trained originally as a designer craftsman in the 1980s but have earned a living ‘away from the tools’ for quite some time. After a few months playing in the club I thought, you know, what the club needs is a bit of bass thumping away in the background. I’ve always loved the look of the Gibson EB0 or EB3 bass, so the two things, my constant struggle with those uke chords, and my love of the EB0 bass came together and the mini-EB0 was born.

It’s entirely handbuilt (apart from the pickup, the tuning heads, and the bridge saddles). The body is from a single piece of mahogany shaped and carved by hand based closely on a vintage EB0 bass. The neck is made from 4 pieces of mahogany – the main part of the neck from 2 pieces laminated side by side, and the headstock likewise. The headstock face is from a piece of black vulcanised fibre board, the same stuff Gibson uses, and the fingerboard is rosewood with mother of pearl dot markers.
The neck bolts into the body – strictly speaking it should be a set neck glued into the body to be faithful to the original, but a bolt on neck is easier to make and I wanted to have the ability to adjust the neck angle if necessary – you can’t do that with a set neck. Also, if the neck ever got damaged or broken (it can happen, believe me!) I could make a replacement without having to trash the lacquer finish on the body to get the old neck off. Also, at this size, the ‘set neck versus bolt-on neck’ debate about what delivers most sustain or resonance is irrelevant – it makes no tangible difference on a 22” scale length bass!

The bridge plate is handmade from a piece of aluminium ‘L’ section – I had to make it myself to get the right string spacing – and it uses chrome bridge saddles from a Fender Stratocaster type bridge. The bass strings through the body.

The body and neck are both finished in cherry red nitrocellulose lacquer as per the original, which has been flatted and hand polished to a high gloss – although as the photos probably show this has dulled a bit as the bass gets regularly handled and played. The lacquer is also getting some crazing in it which gives it a nice authentic vintage feel.

I spent quite a bit of time experimenting with different bass strings to achieve the standard EADG bass tuning I wanted. I now use the bottom 4 strings from a set of 6 strings intended for a Fender Bass VI. These are thinner gauge than the thinnest conventional bass strings I could find and they work really well, although the string tension at such a short scale is quite low and the bass needs to be played in a certain way to keep things sounding properly in tune. Otherwise it works just like a conventional electric bass – the wound strings induce a current in the pickup (a hot-wound humbucker) and the bass has normal volume and tone controls and a jack lead output to carry the signal to an amplifier. For such a small instrument, this thing really shakes the walls!

I use the bass with Carlisle Ukulele Club at regular Sunday sessions and in the gigs that we do. I also play it with a Band called Slaves of Venus – we play covers of all that was best between about 1977-1982 (my era of music!), or as someone said to me the other night ‘tunes you love played on small guitars – what’s not to like?’ We’re starting to build a bit of a following now – have a look on facebook for the latest.

The bass has also been seen in action at a few uke events including N’Ukefest 2014, the Omega Uke Express 2014 and at GNUF 2015. I’m all booked up for Omega Music’s Morkelele weekend in July this year and also for their Uke Express 2015 in November.

In the not too distant future, I’m intending to have more time to devote to building uke basses and to think about taking some orders if anyone’s interested – but bear in mind these are unique handmade instruments and don’t come cheap. I’d be more than happy to be contacted if anyone has any questions. See here on solwayer guitars for contact details –

I desperately need to tidy and update this website but at least it gives some idea of what I’ve been up to with guitar and bass building over the last 8 years or so."

Thanks to John Pearson for that! That bass is a real beauty isn't it! Something different, and it's good to see someone strive and succeed in bringing their vision to reality... I hope you enjoyed reading all about it as much as I did; that instrument is a real head-turner!

Thanks for dropping in... come again soon!

Monday, 6 July 2015

3 String Cigar-box Uke building workshop at GNUF 2015...

Just one of the great things about a ukulele festival is the workshops. At the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival (GNUF) in Huddersfield a few weeks ago, I put together a 3 string "cigar-box" uke in a workshop by Rob Collins of These things fascinate me, especially when I hear someone who can play one.

Here's Emerson Rogers playing his - he certainly knew what to do with it! The slide is simply a small piece of copper tubing.
I was really impressed with the way Rob had prepared this workshop. It was an hour in length - no time to do detailed building instruction or to drill holes etc... but enough time to do an assembly job on the kit provided.
It's the sort of project that will benefit from a bit of finishing off - a sanding and coat of varnish of some sort. And the box (not a cigar box actually but it does the trick) would look good decorated. And then to get some music out of it..... it will wait til the winter months.
Rob was very innovative with the nut and bridge for this little "uke"...
As you caan see, the nut is a bolt - yes, the nut is a bolt! (Groan...) and the threads make good slots for the strings to fit into!
The bridge appears to be a bolt with the end cut off - the threads hold the strings in place. Very neat.
You'll notice that there's no sound hole - Rob explained that with a large enough sound hole, the top would be weakened and would need bracing - as a ukulele has. So there we go, we all had a neat and practical first foray into basic uke building! It was great fun, and everyone got their three string cigar box finished in the time. "f" holes would be cool though... I wonder....

Speaking of "cool"... this ranks pretty high on the list... In May we were fortunate to be able to visit the Kamaka factory in Honolulu, for the tour given by Mr Fred Kamaka himself - and here he is, showing me the museum-piece cigar-box uke made by Sam Kamaka... what a wonderful experience that was - and that's simply beautiful!

Well, I've got my porch, got my cigar box uke, all I need now is an injection of blues-ology to get me going! I live in hope.....

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee - Sarah talks about their new sound

Come Back Home (GNUF Tour Version)

Sarah and Craig put this video together when they got back home to America to share their memories of the folks at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival (GNUF) held in Huddersfield, England in May. It is a joy... (I was very surprised and thrilled to see my own face pop up there with Sarah...)

They are a very special couple, as anyone who has met them or seen them perform together on stage will tell you. Off-stage they both have a genuine warmth, which embraces anyone they meet - that certain something that makes you feel as if just at that moment you are the most important person in the world to them... and their on-stage chemistry makes their performance something quite exceptional - every time.

When I first heard Sarah play, at UFGB two years ago, her style was jazz standards, but she and Craig have now worked on developing their own sound, as you can hear in the video and on their first full length album together, just released, "Scene 1: Take 1".

This is what Sarah told me...

"When Craig and I first started working together- we really just played our own styles, and backed each other up. I played low G and he played High G. Eventually we started to want more from our playing- especially if we did not have a bass player or guitarist with us. Two ukes, even with the high G and low G didn’t’ give us the depth of sound we were looking for.

For our CD “With Love”- Craig decided to play Baritone ‘Ukulele for a song or two. This gave us the depth we were looking for, but we still weren’t 100% happy with the Baritone sound. We had already begun working with GHS Strings (USA) on creating custom string sets. After working with the Baritone Uke, he asked them about creating a set for the uke that would be Baritone tuning, but re-entrant (meaning the top string is a high note). AND he wanted this set to fit a TENOR ‘Ukulele. The main reason for wanting the tenor uke scale was ease of travel- it is much easier to travel on planes with a tenor uke, than with the baritone. The Re-entrant tuning was important because he still wanted to play it like an ‘ukulele, utilizing that top string. Though this tuning is not new (Lyle Ritz and Benny Chong have both used it), for some reason it never gained popularity. After months of trial and error, we figured out the set and the uke became a new instrument again! Craig could not stop playing it and became re-inspired. We started doing harmonizing picking, along with our harmonizing vocals and we realized we had such a large sound for two people and two ukes.

It has been a fun and wonderful experience and we are very happy with the direction we are headed. When we perform together, we do switch instruments frequently. It’s actually very refreshing for us, as performers, to have a change of pace during the show. You would think it’s difficult to wrap your head around, but it really isn’t! All of the chord shapes are the same- but you’ll be thinking in a different key. MEANING- If I am playing a standard tuned uke in the key of C, Craig will be playing the Bari-Tenor tuned uke in the key of F. Once you get used to thinking of songs in numbers- like , the 1 chord, or the 4 chord, it is actually very easy to switch turnings."

Fascinating stuff! Thanks for that, Sarah!

And just in case you didn't know, Sarah and Craig are indeed a couple and will be marrying in Hawaii in September!

Watch this video on youtube

And - if you want to read more about Craig and Sarah, there's a great article and interview here on Rock at Night...

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Phil Doleman - he's Doctor Jazz!

Aren't I lucky - here is Phil Doleman, and for the last few months, he's been my uke teacher. This song is currently my favourite; it's on Phil's CD "Phil Doleman Old Is The New New" and if I've played it once over the last few days I've played it twenty times. I love this stuff - this is great playing - and I want to play like this.

I searched for the chords online and haven't found them, so I've worked them out by ear... these are the basic chords anyway, if they are any fancier, I'll find out soon! You'll see that Phil is playing up the dusty end of the neck - of course.... but to play and sing along, the chords at the bottom end that we all know and love will suffice!

Doctor Jazz
By Joe “King” Oliver and Walter Melrose 1926

[C] Hello central [G7] give me doctor [C] jazz [G7]
[C] He's got what I [G7] need, I'll say he [C] has [C7]
[F] When the world goes wrong and [C] I've got the [A7] blues
[D7] He's the guy who makes me put on [G7] both my dancin' shoes

[C] The more I get, the [G7] more I want it [C] seems [C7]
[F] I see doctor jazz in all my [E7] dreams
When [A7] I'm in trouble bounds are mixed
[D7] He's the guy who gets me fixed
[C] Hello central [G7] give me doctor [C] jazz

Enjoy - if you need perking up, Doctor Jazz will do the trick!

Want the record? Get it here...

And if you want to catch Phil live at a uke festival, he'll be in Dublin in August for the Ukulele Hooley 2015... as will Andy Eastwood, Del Rey, and George Elmes! Also the wonderful Dead Man's Uke, Ken Middleton, Ukulele Uff and Lonesome Dave Trio and the Mersey Belles! Wow, I wish I was going.....

Friday, 26 June 2015

UFGB - If anyone asks you , "Why ukulele?" ... show them this....

And that, dear readers, is my quote of the day.... by Emerson Rogers, his response to watching this video. I know exactly what he means. Michael Adcock jamming with the lads from "Shine" (whom I mentioned with high praise in my last post) at the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain (UFGB) 2015.

Shine are from Barcelona. Fabulous band, hugely skilled and stylish, they knocked everyone out on the main stage the day after this video was shot. Michael Adcock is from Ludlow and at just 16 is beginning to make a name for himself on the ukulele scene. To see them all enjoying the festival spirit and jamming informally together is just a joy. Established musicians encouraging and jamming with talented up-and-comers - (who actually do deserve this experience, I think, with all the hard work, practice and hours they have put in... how can anyone believe that this stuff is EASY?)... the generosity of spirit and the spontaneity seen here... when people ask "Why ukulele?" ... surely this is the answer!

And did you see Ukulele Bartt joining in there? Yay! Wonderful stuff!

See Michael this weekend in Wigan! Uke@Crooke, run by Wigan Ukulele Club. He will be performing tomorrow evening, Saturday 27th June, just before the bill-topper Phil Doleman! And he'll be giving a workshop in the morning! How's that - wonderful, I say!

If you're not able to do that, well see him here at GNUF Huddersfield in May here!

Thanks for dropping in! Catch you again soon...

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

UFGB Cheltenham 2015... second post with a few pics!

Workshops. How can you attend a festival where the best players in the world are giving lessons, and not partake? That's my view, anyway. I usually take two workshops, but this year my attitude has been simply to take as many as I could afford.

So, UFGB in Cheltenham this last weekend...

Any workshop offered by James Hill is a must - he is ukulele "god" as far as I'm concerned, and such a great teacher to boot. Teaching objectives carefully broken down into a step by step progression toward achievement. It was like a dance.... he guided us effortlessly through filling in the melody gaps between given chords to working out the melody line in another song for ourselves. He guided us along, then armed with the know-how and the confidence, we made it on our own. Satisfaction guaranteed! What a great feeling!

And he signed my Little White Uke...

As did Herb Ohta Jnr! Who, if he didn't actually remember us meeting at the Kamaka factory in Honolulu last month, at least graciously pretended he did! Another lovely man... the prize to be taken away from Herb's workshop, straight after James's, was a catalogue of the finger-picking patterns taught to him by his father, Herb Ohta... it was a joy. Those magic numbers on the page, (thank goodness I did have a pen...) telling you which strings to pick with which fingers and in which order - and hearing how they sound, worked into the music. The thing now is to practice them, get them under the fingers and into the brain. Definitely worth making the effort... for as Herb told us - if you can bring yourself some magic into your music, it's a wonderful thing... if you can bring some magic into your music for others to hear, that's the best of all!

We left those workshops, Caroline and I, feeling like cats who had got the cream. Having got the cream, we headed for the beer. And the concerts.

It was impossible to see absolutely every artist. You have to have refreshment... but we saw most. The line-up was pretty impressive. In the afternoon we saw Ben Rouse, Zoe Bestel and Herb Ohta Jnr before taking a break in search of something hearty. They all showcased their own individual style, and were stupendous. Then the evening concert was everything we'd hoped it would be. The first act was at 6.00 and we missed it. You have to eat. We found seats but changed them eventually as the people in front of us were quite a nuisance with their big ipads stuck up to video, and phones glaring lights up under your nose. What a relief it was to find seats where the folk around us were content to sit quietly and watch the show! Much more civilised... there, my little rant off my chest...

We saw Tobias Elof from Denmark playing wonderful Scandinavian folk instrumentals; "Shine", a trio from Barcelona playing swing music from the 30's, Ukulele Bartt, hugely entertaining; Ryo Natayama, a brilliant young player from Japan; The Hot Potato Syncopators, who put on the most polished and comedic set that had people in stitches; and of course the massively accomplished James Hill with his wife Anne Janelle on cello. Surely a line-up that takes some beating.

I have to have a special mention for Shine. Here in the UK you can't count on a standing ovation. It takes a really special performance to get everyone off their behinds. I tell you, when these fellas finished, people leaped to their feet in their appreciation. They were just so darned GOOD! Flying fingers, oodles of style, massive enthusiasm for their music - which was of the best that the swing era produced. The folk rushed out to buy copies of their CD... I know, I was one... those CD's fairly flew off the table!

That just left the Big Busk and the afternoon back at the Norwood Arms for socialising and the open mic. So here are a few pics! I'm always too busy enjoying myself to trouble with too many photos... then afterwards I regret not taking more!

Dead Man's Uke - (the coolest duo around!) and Yours Truly

Benjamyn Rees

Caroline and myself stealing a pic with Bartt!

My favourite pic of the lot! Stealing a pic of Bartt stealing a pic..

Cootching up close for a pic with Dave Morgan of DJ Morgan Ukuleles - The Uke on the table!

with my great pal Caroline Stewart...

Michael Adcock with
Ken Middleton

and Michael on stage at the Norwood Arms!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Caroline Stewart at Ukulele Festival of Great Britain 2015

The theme of this year’s Ukulele Festival of Great Britain – “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Clearly, there would be fairies. Look, I’m girlie, I like fairies, I’ve got a lovely pair of black fairy wings that I wore on a charity “Fairy Walk” one midsummer’s night… but this year I was accompanied by Caroline – and Caroline’s strictly a no-nonsense girl who would promptly have disowned me had I gone adorned in wings, ivy and flowers…. so I made the sacrifice and stuck to my Ukulele Freak tee-shirt – and on the Friday night get-together at the pub, the Norwood Arms, we held our breath and went wearing “Formby Style Rules” tees complete with George Formby photo that LSH (Long-Suffering Husband) had had printed for us. Sporting those teeshirts felt like going to a meeting for vegetarians with a placard saying “EAT MORE MEAT”. Seriously. George Formby, his banjolele and his music are viewed with varying degrees of disdain by a sizeable proportion of the ukulele-playing community in Britain. But not all, dear readers, not all. And as card-carrying members of the GFS (George Formby Society) (actually, Caroline is the Chairman, no less…) we felt compelled to fly the Formby flag.

The teeshirts raised some smiles. I think they were friendly… and in that great waiting-room for ladies, the Ladies loo, a great place for chatting while you wait your turn, a conversation with one lady revealed a great love of the Formby style… and my teeshirt was by that time concealed by my sweater, so it wasn’t prompted by that! Anyway, that evening in the pub beer garden, we gave the friendly types at our table renditions of a few Formby favourites… Window Cleaner, Blackpool Rock, Grandad’s Flannelette Nightshirt. And we felt better.

The festival was stupendous. I love it, love it, love it. The workshops, the bazaar, the concerts, yes and the Big Busk…. I’ll come back to post on all that.

For now, switch to Sunday afternoon. Back at the Norwood Arms. Open mic, strictly one song each. So Caroline went up. “Are there any fans of George Formby out there?” Oh yes, there were… they bellowed their approval. So Caroline gave them “Baby” – a song she sings and plays so very beautifully. Here it is. Played on a 1920’s Gibson soprano strung with Living Water Strings.

Went down well, didn't it! It turned out nice again.

(As ever, I missed that introduction, switching the camera on…. Pfffft!)

Saturday, 13 June 2015

A bonus at the June Convention of the GFS - Andy Eastwood pops in!

I subtitle this blog "Life for a Lady with a Ukulele or Two".... and I have to say, life is good. Counting my blessings daily. So much going on, ukulele-wise that I can't keep up with myself when it comes to blogging. Like the cow's tail, I'm all behind... and need to catch up smartish, as the UFGB (Ukulele Festival of Great Britain) takes place agin in Cheltenham at the weekend... and here I am, still reeling fromm the fun at the last George Formby Convention!

A great thrill was the surprise appearance of Andy Eastwood. Of the professional musicians to have started out as a young GFS member, Andy is the one who has achieved the most success. He is a superb musician, and wows audiences with performances on violin and wooden uke as well as his George Formby songs and banjolele instrumentals.

One of the songs he gasve us was Wunga Bunga Boo, 1938.

And as my camera had given up the ghost the last time he came, I made sure I got a photo with him this time! Shame I didn't have the Little White Uke with me.... Andy's a must for signing that!
Andy's a busy man... currently on tour with "We'll Meet Again", you can catch him here before the tour ends!

RUNCORN The Brindley
SKEGNESS Embassy Theatre
DERBY Guildhall Theatre
BLACKPOOL Viva Showbar
LYTHAM Lowther Pavilion
LINCOLN Lincoln Showground

If you haven't seen it, it's a great show - and if you have, (I have...) you'll want to see it again!

Thanks for dropping in... I'm trying to catch up, honestly I am...

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

George Elmes - Stardust

George Elmes from Dublin, "Stardust" written by Hoagy Carmichael, 1927. One of my favourite instrumentals of all time, played by one of my very favoutite players... I love Artie Shaw's clarinet solo in this piece, but to hear it played here so beautifully by George is such a joy. What more needs to be said about this? We need to see this man on the main stage at a ukefest here in England soon. When is it going to happen?

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Paul Culkin at the GFS June Convention - "My Little Skateboard"

I have so many ukulele goings-on in my life right now that I really am hard-pressed to write about them! After all, somewhere in-between, a little housework does have to be done, people have to be visited... LSH is doing his bit, he feeds me (shouts up the stairs when I'm working "Nosebag!" Reference to feeding a horse, you understand - as long as I get sustenance I'm not too fussy, though I'd draw the line at a bag of oats and a carrot...) and has been laying extra turf to narrow the flower beds so there isn't so much weeding to be done in the garden. Today I rushed in from going to see a sick relative and spent an hour chopping down the undergrowth... but it really isn't enough. Half an hour just now on serious uke practice for my lesson next week... and I'm determined to get a blog post in. So where do I start. Because a weekend at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival 2015 (May) has already been followed up by a weekend in Blackpool for the June convention of the George Formby Society.

The convention first, then. It was pretty fantastic, as usual. Never fails to please. Two solid days of music and good company in a great atmosphere. I enjoy watching everyone on stage, hate to miss a performance. The younger members, mostly still in their teens, just keep getting better and better and after only a few years playing they are all without exception among the finest Formby players in the Society. I'm thinking of Lewis Clifton, (also the society archivist and doing a fabulous job on displays), Stewart Lowther, Bradley Clarke, Angus Lamont, Francesca Davies and little James Bassett who's a well-seasoned performer at only eleven. Another young performer, Joe Thomas made his first appearance in Blackpool at just 15 years old and wowed everyone with his well-honed skills and Formby repertoire. They are amazing. We oldies still trying to acquire the skills all mutter "why do we bother..." but we still do because it's just such good fun.

As for me, I ventured on stage twice and did two numbers each time. Two songs including a Formby number (that's the Rools) and on the Sunday evening, two instrumentals. I risked Mr Sandman. Heaven knows, I've been practising it long enough... and at last I'm as confident as I'll ever be about that nasty fast chord change up the neck. And I did the Marcy Marxer version of 12th Street Rag that I posted on here (tuition video) quite some time ago. I think I got away with it. Then I get home and ask myself "Did I REALLY get up there and do that? Twice? However did I have the nerve?" But you know, it's such a lovely atmosphere and if you can play a bit you are encouraged to take your courage in both hands and just do it, get up there and give 'em a song. It feels natural to have a go. Everyone is so supportive. The thing is to learn your stuff, and everyone tries. Formby songs are not that easy to learn, (unless you're 13!)... the verses and choruses often don't conform to a pattern and you have to know where the solo fits in - but that's all part of the challenge. And that's why it feels good when you've done it.

Photo above (thanks to Gill Walley) - actually that was at the March convention, where I just tackled "Blackpool Rock" - and managed to miss out part of the solo! Oh well, it all helps to keep the band on their toes! They are brilliant - they never let a performer down, they manage to follow anyone, however dodgy their sense of timing. That's called musicality - and generosity of spirit. The GFS has it in spades. And that's why you go there once and you're hooked.

Here's Paul Culkin - enjoy!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Masters of their art, each signature on my Little White Uke! Who's there so far?

My Little Blue Uke (sky-blue Mahalo, taken everywhere) has a Little White counterpart - the one I won (so proud!) in a songwriting competition hosted by one of the Seasonistas on the Ukulele Undergound Forum last Christmas. I generally keep it as my D uke and it comes out occasionally.

Just before I left home for GNUF (Grand Northern Ukulele Festival)on Friday, I had a brainwave... so many of my ukulele heroes would be there... why not ask them all to sign it? And I did!

Almost all of the signatures on here belong to players featured on this blog more than once.

What they all have in common is that I love their music and they are indeed masters of their art. And all are quite different.

I regret that I didn't catch Zoe Bestel to sign it. She just gets better and better. Her voice is ethereal and her delivery will break your heart. She is featured on this blog more than once, as a singer who plays ukulele and writes much of her own material.

The work of both Mike Hind and Ben Rouse is pretty new to me. But Mike Hind (AKA Uncle Elvis) just owned the stage during his set - he did indeed hold the audience in the palm of his hand ... and Ben Rouse supporting him on bass (as he supported others, as well as doing a great set in his own right on uke) was phenomenal, he tore the place up. Such nice fellas, too, both of them. So they are there, kindly gracing my Little White Uke with their signatures.

So who of my known favourites have you spotted? Well... there's Phil Doleman; (music from the 20's and 30's - a great musician and performer - and teacher!) Manitoba Hal, blues uker extraordinaire; Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee, jazz standards and original songs, (soon to be married.... wonderful...) Aaron Keim, (The Quiet American) - all-style fingerpickin and all-round super-duper musician; Peter Moss, long-time virtuoso player on wooden uke and banjo-uke, Mike Warren, exemplary Formby player who plays a mean wooden uke too... young Michael Adcock, who is fast making a name for himself on the uke scene, and last but not least, Mike Hind and Ben Rouse.

I have room for a few more.

I know who I want on that uke. Superb musicians and entertainers all. And there's a space on my wall where it will hang for a while and inspire me to...

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! That's the only way to go, folks... the only way to go.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Hawaii and a great uke festival (GNUF)... what more could a ukulele girl ask for?

Did I tell you I was going away for the holiday of a lifetime?

Across two ponds to finish up on a rock in Hawaii?

Sure I did! And we got back last Tuesday after five days on the loose in Honolulu and then a cruise round the islands, finishing up sailing across the North Pacific to Vancouver for a flight home to England and a few days jet-lag. And a ukulele festival. Ukafrolics galore, dear readers, ukafrolics galore! The festival was GNUF - the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival, held in Huddersfield 23rd and 24th May. It was fantastic. I've just read Barry Maz's comprehensive account of it in Got A Ukulele blog... and if you want to read all about it I suggest you hot-foot it over there because as always, it's very thorough, and very detailed. I'll be saying a few things about it over the next few days. For now, here's David Morgan (DJ Morgan Ukuleles) with the beautiful uke he made that became MINE a few weeks ago (yes I did tell you all about it...) enjoying the buzz and the music in the pre-festival get-together in the Head of Steam pub on Friday!

What a lovely fella he is!

And here's one from Hawaii....

Where is this and who are the two lovely fellas here? That's Yours Truly in the middle, of course, proudly sporting my Ukulele Underground teeshirt... answers please in the comments! You'll have to sign in to Google... and sorry but there are no prizes! I just want to know you're there, and on the ball, ukulele-wise!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

She's the Most! video collaboration by Phil Doleman and Todd Baio

She's the Most - written by Murray Berlin... what a great collaboration this is! Lovely old song, great vocal by Todd... and you should know, dear readers, that's Phil Doleman on the small screen at the back - my new uke teacher! (Instrumental break, including the slide guitar - lovely stuff!)

Of course I shouldn't be blogging... I'm preparing for some fun-packed, ukulele-packed weeks ahead... a week or so around Hawaii, no less, and after that the uke festivals come fast and furious. My little blue travel uke is poised... I'll be telling you all about it, just as soon as I can....

Monday, 20 April 2015

Mike Warren, Leaning on a Lamppost...Ukulele Fever 2014

Mike Warren, one of the best exponents of the George Formby style of banjo-ukulele playing, playing at the concert "Ukulele Fever 2014" last October. George Formby's songs are often played with a backing band or backing track, but Mike plays unaccompanied here; it's a lovely performance of "Leaning on a Lamppost" and shows off his Formby-style expertise beautifully.

What is "Formby-style"? in a George Formby song, the song part (sung) is sung to a pared-back, simple accompaniment on ukulele, where the singing and the lyrics are the important bit - then comes a uke solo, usually banjo-uke, full of syncopated, tricky strumming techniques such as the split-stroke, which take ages to learn to do, especially at speed and in time, unless you're under 16......! (The GFS has many talented teenagers who play the style with great aplomb!)

It warms my heart to see George's music played at a ukulele event. Too many fans of the wooden uke in the UK disparage George and his music, which saddens me enormously, especially when it's done on stage. George Formby was a much-loved artist during the 1930's and 40's with his saucy songs full of inuendo, some of which were banned by the BBC! Not this song, though, which was written by Noel Gay and was first performed in the George Formby film "Feather Your Nest". It has become perhaps the most popular of all the songs George performed and a little lamppost is emblem and badge of the George Formby Society. George and his wife Beryl worked extensively during the Second World War for the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), and entertained civilians and troops, and by 1946 it was estimated that he had performed in front of three million service personnel.

If you want to learn to play Formby-style, visit Mike Warren's website...

And please - don't knock George. He's a Ukulele Hero!

Thanks for dropping in!

Friday, 17 April 2015

What - Widecombe Fair on Ukulele? Oh YES!

But this is NOT the song that you may have learned all those years ago - oh no!

As a child, one of my prize possessions was "The News Chronicle Songbook" - a book full of all manner of songs, which had belonged to my grandmother.
It was the only sheet music in the house, and I used it to play my recorder. I thought it a treasure trove, and discovered all sorts of songs which I would never have come across otherwise... sea shanties and old folk songs, spirituals, hymns and carols... it's still among my treasures now, and if it seemed battered then now it's even more so.
One of the songs I learned and loved was "Widdicombe Fair".. Widecombe-in-the-Moor is a village in Dartmoor National Park in Devon, and the song tells of Old Uncle Tom Cobley and All.... a tale of woe ... Dartmoor is NOT a place one would wish to get lost. If you don't know the old song, hear it here..

Anyway... as I told you last time, I have been hosting Season of the Ukulele, number 164, on the Ukulele Underground Forum. As my theme, I chose "All the Fun of the Fair"... and one of the "Seasonistas" found..... this video. I think it's a spine-tingling performance of this song by "Phil" of the Yorkshire Dales..... Here's his own page.... PhilzMusic

The song was written by Steve Knightley of the English folk duo Show of Hands, and is a reworking of the title and the theme of the old song. It includes the names of the characters and even Tom Pierce and his grey mare - but you never heard this tale before. I love it.... and had to share.

See Steve Knightley perform his song live with his South American cuatro here

Thanks for dropping in! Coming up - some of the songs from my "All the Fun of the Fair" week. Don't go too far away, now!