Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Krabbers Talks About Songwriting!

Mike Krabbers is a ukulele player who is deservedly highly acclaimed as a songwriter. If you've never heard his songs, listen to this one, and then you'll know why.

Mike, you’ve written a lot of really good songs… did you write songs before you played ukulele?

"Yes I did, I have been making up songs and poems for as long as I can remember.
My dad used to play a ukulele when I was very young and I used to muck about with that, I also had a Bontempi Reed organ which I used to play a lot."

When did you write your first song?

"I can't remember, thinking back I did make up a song whilst jamming with some friends in my dads garage called “White Mouse” but don't ask how it went!" I did write a few songs in the eighties for my various musical ventures, but then got into writing poems, some of which have become ukulele songs."

About how many songs have you written, would you say?

"Not sure, but I have started putting them on the Onsong app on my ipad and I have just over a hundred so far."

I described how I write a song - what is your usual creative process, if you have such a thing as a “usual” one? Do you start with finding a chord sequence? Your chord progressions are very interesting….
"It changes all the time, It could be a sound or a rhythm, it could be an accidental strum which sounds good, it's hard to say, most of my songs start as poems, then I muck around with chords after."

Do your words and melody come together, or does one of those come first then you find the other to fit?

"Phrases come first, then the rhyme, then a four line poem normally, or I get a good phrase and repeat it a lot, it saves on ink!"

Do you ever get song ideas in the middle of the night? If so, what do you do?

"No I don't, but I do have a dream book where I write down stuff that happens to me, I have very weird dreams!"

Has playing ukulele been an important factor in your songwriting? If so, how has it helped?

"Yes, due to it always being there, it's easy to have with you, to pick up and play."

How do you preserve your songs?

"I record them, write them down."

At what point do you decide that a song is finished? I find that once I have my lyrics, melody and chords and can play it in a way that “will suffice, the best I can currently do with it” then I’m done. But often I think I should probably craft the thing further in various ways.

I never know when a song is finished, they change a lot. One of my first MySpace songs in the days before YouTube was “I got u 2 thank” a happy country style song in C, which I used to play live in my band Six Miles Away, is now a better song in Em and spelt properly, so they change all the time.
I guess you could think them finished once you have uploaded them or pressed a CD, but for me they can keep changing. “Preowned” for instance on my CD “Secondhand Backpack” was still just an idea when we recorded it in the studio, the version on the CD was the first time I had played it, it changed almost immediately after. “Best Friend At My Side” has never changed, neither has “Leave A Light On For Me” but they are story songs, so that's probably why."

Is there one song that you think is possibly your best and favourite among the songs you’ve written?

"At the moment I think my best song so far is “Peace of Rock” but favourites are When You Come to Say Goodbye and “Candles”

One thing I would say is write or record every idea as they disappear very quickly if left hanging."

Mike, thanks so much for that!

Mike has performed at uke festivals GNUF and GSUF and will be performing, leading massed jams and hosting open mics at the Ukulele Festival of Scotland in early May... visit www.ukulelefestivalofscotland.co.uk to book your tickets! At GNUF in Huddersfield later in May he will be performing in the duo "The Hedge Inspectors" with his wife Caroline.

If you can't get to a uke festival in the UK, you can catch Mike and Caroline in their podcast, unplugthewood

He can also be found on itunes!

Thanks for dropping in! I really mean that... come back soon!

Monday, 18 January 2016

Patsy Monteleone sings Hush a Bye

Hush A Bye, also known as "All The Pretty Little Horses"

As soon as I began to watch this video by Patsy Monteleone I knew I had to drop everything and blog it immediately. He sings this old lullaby with such sensitivity, and his finger-picking on the banjo-uke just blows me away on this! So beautifully done! And the banjo-uke as instrument of choice is simply inspired! It all falls "just right" on the ears...

The origin of this song is not fully known. Read all about here on Wikipedia.

Watch it here on Youtube

Just a quickie, see! Sometimes I just have to drop everything and do it, a very quick blog post to share something I think is stupendous! Thank you Patsy, for this!

As for me, I know I really want to study that finger-picking pattern!

Thanks for joining me on here for this! Coming up... it's Krabbers!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Songwriting - to me it's like trying to catch a fairy...

Catching a fairy - I nearly caught one yesterday but I let it go - I woke up at about 5.00 am, and there was a flash of a fairy's wing, a short musical phrase formed in my head... I clung to it, words came to it... the "fairy" was becoming tangible...I allowed myself to wake up a little and developed the song - I know I had it about a third written, being happy that it was original, it was "my" song... and remember thinking "I need to capture this on paper before I go back to sleep..." but I failed to do that. Next thing I knew, it was 7.30, I had slept again and the song had gone forever. I could not remember the tiniest bit. The fairy had flown. Folk who have flashes of nocturnal inspiration will be quite familiar with this scenario - the inspiration that dissolves with sleep.

The number of songs that I have finished writing and committed to video has risen from "a few" to "several" now... and they have all come the same way, not necessarily having their birth in the middle of the night or early in the morning... though actually, that does apply to most. So I thought I would share my own creative process.

I have often seen the advice to would-be songwriters, "play around with a chord sequence until you like it, experiment with a melodic line over it, then add lyrics"... and I know that many people use this method with success. As yet, that doesn't seem to suit me. I can only speak of my personal experience... when I have tried this, I haven't enjoyed it and it seems alien to me. Also, I find it difficult to begin to add words to a melody that's already formed. During the waking day, If I want to write a song, I do need to be in the mood, need to have that "magic cloak" on me... actually this comes to me most easily when I'm feeling very thoughtful and contemplative, generally. Living in my head. It may be a few words that someone said, a phrase that makes me think... and that sets me off. If I see a flash of that fairy wing I need to capture it right away... sometimes I grab my mobile(cell) phone and sing it into the "record" facility for later; if I can grab the minutes to develop it right away it's the notebook and pencil approach - but that bit of melody line must be preserved somehow... I might scribble out a quick five lines of stave and write it down, or write the pitch as tonic sol-fah - (d r m f s l t d) (doh ray me fah soh lah te doh)... and the rhythm in shorthand. I know I'm lucky to be able to do this - learned it years ago. The fact is, it has to be recorded somehow or it's forgotten. I have kept the song notebook and pencil by my bed for months now... and have been known to put the bedside light on at 5.30 am and start to scribble! The songs that have worked the best have been the ones where I know what I want to say in the lyrics... the most personal ones. If I've nothing to say, I have no real urge to write a song. I think that's why the "chord sequence" first has not worked worked for me yet. It's always the first words of the lyrics along with the first notes of the song that come first - and I build the song from there. When I've got enough of it down on paper to be a verse or chorus, I might sit down with the uke and start to put the chords in. I know how I want it to sound and I fiddle about with chords til I find the ones I want. This is where the ukulele scores for me - although I've played piano by ear to a small degree since I was in my teens, I could not have done this in my "before the ukulele" days. My keyboard skills and knowledge of chords structures simply didn't stretch that far. The uke is a godsend to songwriters!

What made me decide to start writing songs? Two things...

One, I decided a couple of years ago that I ought to be able to do it, therefore I should try... as a child of ten and eleven my favourite occupation was writing poems. I filled notebooks with them. Playing with rhyme is fully established in my brain from childhood. As for writing melody, it was an essential component of what used to be GCE "O" level Music back in the 1960's... which I did - always been a music lover. In fact in those days, for this exam at 16, we were taught to harmonise, on paper, a short melody for a choir to sing in 4 part harmony, SATB, (soprano, alto tenor and bass)... the syllabus for that exam is the basis of my musical knowledge. Similarly, we would be be given a few bars of the bass line, and have to write a melody over it. I don't know at which point in musical education this is learned in Britain these days. I wasn't that good at those things, it wasn't easy... but it was musical knowledge and experience, and priceless in its way. I did pass the exam though! At teacher training college I chose music as my main subject and again, there was some composition to do. No songwriting, however! But I love music, love language, enjoy being creative with both - and decided that I should at least TRY to put the two together and write some songs. I've left it late in life... but it's at this time in my life that having the time to do this presents itself. And time won't wait...

Oh yes the other thing? Briefly, seeing that other players on the Ukulele Underground Forum habitually write songs. I thought, "yes, perhaps I can do this, too..."

There is personal satisfaction to be had in completing a song, uke chords added... how much satisfaction depends entirely on my own perception of its quality... I don't like to feel that a line is clumsy, and I don't like the feeling that I've written a line of melody that in fact might be from a melody I've heard somewhere before. This is the aspect of songwriting that causes me some angst... but there you go, you can only do your best. I think my greatest thrill is in writing just one line of lyric that I'm particularly pleased with - a "golden line"... if I can write a couple of golden lines in a song, then I feel as if I've caught a particularly pretty fairy... perhaps even a green one - but that's another story!

There's a page with links to my songs.

Thanks for dropping in, thanks for reading! Perhaps you write songs, too - how do you go about it? Message me!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

New Uke Day for Caroline Stewart! And we got to do a duet..

Regular readers will know what a fan I am of DJ Morgan Ukuleles. What's more, I take them places, people see them, play them, recognise them for the fine instruments that they are and very soon, they have one, too - or even two, too! So yesterday, my pal Caroline made the trip down to the Midlands from her home in North Yorkshire to pick up her own beautiful new DJ Morgan soprano.

Here it is...
Made of solid American Walnut, it sings like - it sings like every Morgan uke sings. Beautiful tone, and it's loud. The headstock features Dave's new signature design of three sets of twin thin lines, set art deco style... they look wonderful. And on this uke he has crafted a wooden rosette.

Here it is next next to my DJ Morgan soprano, my Sprucey Lucy! They make a fine pair!

Caroline stayed over with us and it was great to have an evening to play ukes, sing together and natter - so we did this video and posted it on the Ukulele Underground Seasons of the Ukulele...

That was such fun - and a rare treat to do, as we don't live near to each other at all. The video is very raw - recorded simply in front of my PC with the webcam, it's not edited in any way and I think the two ukes overpowered the microphone somewhat. But we had such fun doing it! I hope it's not too long til the next time! I'll see Caroline again at the next George Formby Convention, in Blackpool at the end of February... she'll be performing, as will a lot more highly talented players, especially of George Formby songs! Why not come along? Now, there's something to look forward to at the end of winter!

Thanks for dropping in! I'll be back soon, don't go too far away now!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

My New Year Song for 2016 - It's 10.00 am At Hill And Midnight In Hawaii

On the 1st of January last year I posted a new year song I had written for my husband. Well, this time of year seems to be the time that I find it easiest to write - and yesterday I wrote a new year song for the friends who made us so welcome in Hawaii back in May.
So this is for Greg Wilson, and his good friend, my good friend, who would rather remain incognito! Here it is.... My goodness, I do wish I could sing it rather better. However, it came from the heart. I hope you like it.

(Played on my DJ Morgan spruce and maple soprano. When Barry Maz of Gotaukulele blog last mentioned one of these, he called it "sublime".)

There you go. As always, I feel and fear that the melody has come from somewhere else. If you know where, please do tell!

Thanks for dropping in... I'm enjoying writing my songs and I have one or two more to share with you. I've also got used to the way of working on them that seems to work for me - and I'll be telling you about that shortly, too. Thanks for your interest - I really do appreciate your company on here!