Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A Song for My Dad.....Daddy Take Me Fishing

We were out in the countryside with friends one day a few years ago. I can't now remember where we'd been, but on the way home I realised that we would soon be passing close to a place I used to go to with my father when I was a child. Dad enjoyed fishing - coarse fishing, that is fishing for freshwater fish that are not game fish... roach, dace, tench, perch.... and he would take any chance to go fishing in the summer to lakes and particularly on the River Severn. I realised that day that we would be going past Atcham, a hamlet on the Severn... it had been one of Dad's favourite fishing spots, and I used to love to go along. I learned the names of the fish that he caught, but most of all I loved to just potter and play along the river bank, looking at the flowers, the dragonflies and the butterflies, enjoying the sun and the air and the country sounds.

I wanted to see it again - to see that riverbank by the old stone bridge, for the first time in fifty years. Long-Suffering-Husband and our friends waited for me in the local hostelry while I walked across the bridge and down to the riverside. I walked along the river bank, saw what had changed, what had stayed the same. It was a very profound and unsettling experience that I was not prepared for. Although the grass had grown very long on that riverside meadow, and the bushes at the edge of the bank were larger, seeming not to have been cut back recently, that riverbank and the views around it seemed at the same time to be unchanged, it was like being taken back in an instant to my childhood - it was as if, if I had turned round suddenly I could have seen my Dad sitting by the river, quietly watching his float, waiting for a bite. It actually literally took my breath away. When I rejoined the others I couldn't speak, could hardly breathe, and I admit the tears flowed. Dad was gone too young, in his fifties, a victim of cancer. When he died I was still in my teens.

How precious those simple days of childhood were.

Last autumn I started to write a song in tribute to Dad, and to those special times together. I left it unfinished until a couple of months ago, when I managed to complete it.

The plan for yesterday was to go to this month's meeting of the Stourbridge Branch of the GFS, the George Formby Society. The weather was gorgeous so we decided to take another trip to the Severn before going from there straight to the meeting. So we went to Arley, a real quiet beauty spot on the river between Bewdley and Bridgnorth, and another one of Dad's favoured fishing places. It was heavenly... no traffic noise, just the sound of splashing of the shallow waters over the stones in the river, breeze in the trees, birds calling, and the quiet chatter of some people fishing just the other side of some bushes on the riverbank. We sat there quietly, drinking in the tranquillity for about half an hour. I said to LHS, "I think I'll sing my fishing song at the meeting tonight...."

And I did. First time I've sung it for an audience - I think they liked it!

So here it is, my song for Dad... video'd just after I finished writing it.

Thanks for dropping in! Do drop in again!

(You might notice that this is on a new YouTube channel that I've started just for my own songs. There's only a few on there right now, I'll be adding more of my songs as time goes on....)

Monday, 10 July 2017

The joy of sound, the joy of silence

Beethoven's 7th Symphony. Have you ever listened to it? It's very dramatic, a stunning piece of work... Beethoven himself described it as "one of my best works".... but he wrote it in 1811-1812 at a time when he had become almost completely deaf. Makes you think, doesn't it... the composer could hear what he wanted in his mind, and was able to translate it onto a written score, although he could never hear it for real... certainly it brings home just how much we value our hearing. About a year ago I lost my sense of smell, which also severely affects the ability to taste. I do just count myself lucky that it wasn't my hearing or my sight that has gone AWOL! Playing and listening to music is so very important to me.

I also value silence... real silence. My (Long Suffering) Husband has to have noise around him most of the time. He will have music playing in his work room, a radio on in the kitchen, and the TV may well be on in the living room. I can live with this... well, most of the time! He also enjoys the radio on during the night, something I can't tolerate so he has to use earphones. His need for sound is different from mine. And sometimes when I'm home alone, like right now, I enjoy the peace of having no radio, no deliberate noise, just the silence, peace and quiet. But it's the yin and yang, the black and white, the contrast, the fulfilment of different needs at the time.

On a holiday to Tunisia some years ago, we went on a wonderful three day trip south to the Sahara. We saw some amazing sights on the road south... a Roman coliseum, (El Jem) oases, miles and miles and miles of olive plantations, and shimmering, endless multi-coloured salt flats... but the thing that probably made the greatest impression on me was the utter silence of the Saharan dunes. I remember sitting there at the top of a dune, the other trippers around me, and each one of us was in total awe as we gazed at the landscape of the dunes, and listened to the sound of silence.

No sound. nothing, not at all... no traffic in the distance, no birds... not even, that day, a breath of wind.

And no one spoke, for several minutes. It would have been a sort of desecration.

The introduction of sound into silence, and vice versa, is a hugely important and effective part of musical composition and performance. Dynamics, variety in the volume of the music, is directly related to this, and it's something that I know I don't pay enough attention to as a player. But today I vow that I will, in future.

So that's my thought for the day. Sound and silence. Now I'm going to make myself a coffee before LSH comes home and switches on the radio! Silence is sometimes golden. Just sometimes... but I do recommend Beethoven's 7th if you've never heard it! To think that we can hear it, where he never could...

Thanks for joining me for a few minutes. I appreciate it. I won't be gone too long....

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Fingerpicking with Manitoba Hal!

Hal Brolund, AKA Manitoba Hal is another one of my favourite players. Fantastic bluesman, a golden voice and a unique way with a ukulele. If you've never seen and heard him play live, you are really missing something! He has just recorded this great tutorial on fingerpicking... so I thought I would share it here. I'm a huge fan of this man! Watch and learn, watch and learn!

Brilliant, eh?

Thanks for dropping in. This was a very short post - I wanted to catch the publish time...

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Taimane Gardner in Digbeth, Birmingham, England, 2016

I first saw Taimane perform when she topped the bill At the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain (UFGB) in 2014. She was amazing. She brought the house down. I blog-posted it here... so when I learned that Taimane was coming to my city to perform as part of her first tour of the UK, I was determined to see her again. The venue was small, the experience was intimate, and once again, she blew everyone away with her talent and unique style of performance. Even LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) was very impressed, and glad that I'd made him come along, because he hadn't seen her before.

Taimane is from the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Visit her website here!

Her tour was organised by Ukulele Events. See more exciting things to come up here!

As for me, this was just one of the exciting ukafrolics from last year that I never got round to posting in good time, but it's here for you now and I hope you enjoy the video! I shot it on my ancient iPhone 4 and am actually very pleased with how it turned out.

Til next time, thanks for dropping in!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Phil Doleman, great uke teacher - sends me home buzzing and inspired...

"Life for a Lady with a Ukulele or Two..." (subtitle of this blog) inexplicably just seems to get busier - time is always full. It seems I used to have more of it to fit everything in ... perhaps it's just me getting older, which I certainly am, and can't complain about that, as the alternative is - not acceptable at the moment! But blogging is taking a hit, for sure. It isn't for want of something to write about, there's plenty. I'm playing uke just as much, I think, still flitting around from on song to another, one skill to another, one genre of music to another, one aspect of the uke and music to another ... and I still don't care. I know I'm making progress. And the credit for that goes to my uke teacher, Phil. Phil Doleman.

I've been going to Phil for personal lessons for more than two years now. I don't go every week or even every fortnight; I fit a lesson in every few weeks as is convenient for both of us, and it's just great. A highlight of my week. I always come away having learned lots, often with my brain hurting - I'm always having to say, "hold on, let me write that down, I'll never remember that when I get home..." and I always come away at the end of a lesson inspired and buzzing. He's good, you see. Knows how to teach. He weighs up where you are pretty quickly and can see what you need to improve your playing and widen your musical understanding. And now that I've been going to him for so long I'm totally at ease playing with and for him, no nerves - that's just great too. He's easy to be comfortable with.

I had a lesson today. Having woken a little late after my first really good night's sleep in ages, I was rushing to get everything together for my lesson, only realising when I arrived at Phil's home that I'd forgotten my glasses! What a chump... no problem though. We spent the whole hour doing stuff that didn't need sheets to read, based on chord progressions that Phil knew I knew... playing songs in several different keys, making me work things out just outside my comfort zone... interesting jazzy alternatives for the chords, all over the fretboard... wonderful stuff that sounded just great.

Well, LSH and I will be seeing Phil with Ian Emmerson on Thursday evening, off up to Belper again to see them supporting Del Rey. Looking forward to that. If you haven't got a ticket - well, you're too late. Sold out.

Next day, Phil will be travelling to Dumfries to appear at the Ukulele Festival of Scotland. A lot of my favourite performers will be there, but I'm afraid I will not. It clashes with the summer convention of the George Formby Society in Blackpool, and LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) and I are delighted to be going to that, as we always do. Can't do everything, can't be everywhere! We will both be meeting up with friends we can now call old friends, I'll be helping to organise the Sunday afternoon concert, and might - just might - take a turn on stage.

So it's still all go. I promised to write about something I did in April - and I will. Honestly!

Thanks for dropping in, I really appreciate it - do come again! I'll try not to leave it too long before I write again!

Photo of Phil Doleman by Ed Sprake for GNUF

Saturday, 20 May 2017

My Beltona resonator uke arrived!

My Beltona arrived a few weeks ago, finished exactly to my requirements and it is every bit as gorgeous as I knew it would be!

I have wanted one of these since I saw Del Rey play one at the GNUF (Grand Northern Ukulele Festival) in Huddersfield in 2014. Beautiful sound. I had toyed with cheaper resonator ukes in the past and had not liked them at all, but this.... was a revelation. And so I lusted after one. But quality like this does not come cheap. I saved - and waited. Til now!

These ukuleles command a lot of respect among folk who know about resonators. Built by Steve Evans to the highest standards.... everything about mine is faultless. Beautifully finished, and perfect intonation.

For more general information and a great review of one of these instruments, I would refer you enthusiastically to Barry Maz's review on the blog Got A Ukulele. It's a superb review - there is nothing there for me to argue with and I will not try to reinvent the wheel!

So I'll keep this little write-up brief, and you can look at that review for more general info.

I chose a concert size in the original double-bout shape - no cutaway.

I asked for side dots as well as fret markers. Barry had remarked that there were none on the tenor one that he reviewed - but ordering one, you have only to ask! Steve builds these to order!

I chose planetary tuners - they are geared 4:1 I believe, and don't stick out at the side, as geared tuners do - planetary tuners look more like friction tuners - but the gearing is enough to make tuning quicker and less fiddly than friction tuners. I thought the extra expense was worth it.

My uke has a new headstock shape! An elegant sort of tulip shape, and I really like it. It looks good with stick-out-the-side geared tuners if that is your choice, and of course it's lovely with friction or planetary tuners that stick out of the back.

My choices were all about colour - Beltona fingerboards are made of rosewood and I asked for the fingerboard and headstock to be simply as dark as he could do it. As for the body of the uke, I wanted a mean, bluesy look in graphity shades with a sunburst. Steve sent me some photos of previous builds and I was able to point him in the right direction.... I'm thrilled with the result! This ukulele gleams and looks silvery pale at one glance - turn it slightly and it turns dark and moody. Perfect! It looks like a mean machine - as I think resonators should look! My photos of this uke are not really very good - taken with a smart phone past its best. Note to self - must do better!

Choosing strings, I checked out youtube video reviews and noted that D'Addario Pro Arte strings came highly recommended for resonators. Steve said the same when I talked to him about it, so I happily settled for those. To me, they feel really good under the fingers, and being black, they look good on this uke too!

I love to hear a resonator uke finger-picked with picks... Phil Doleman plays this way and so does Percy Copley, I've been having a try. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I find it less tricky than clawhammer! I'll get there! Meanwhile, video.... without fingerpicks!

Thanks for dropping in! I should post more often I know - I don't know where the time goes, it just goes faster and faster!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Life has been hectic, but.... coming up...

Yes, life has indeed been rather hectic these last few weeks, and I'll be telling you why very soon... also, I'll be telling you about and showing you my two - yes two! - ukuleles! Aren't I a lucky lady, yes I am!

So please watch this space, I shall be reporting on recent events ASAP!

Wherever you are in your day, have a great one!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Alan Southworth

I was so sad to hear a few days ago that one of our most highly-esteemed members of the George Formby Society has died. Alan Southworth has been a member for many, many years, and I looked forward to seeing him at every convention since LSH and I joined the society five years ago.

I shall always remember him as a very kind man, and a knowledgeable one on George Formby, on banjo-ukuleles and all aspects of playing them, as well as a being a joy to listen to when he went onstage to perform; his banjo-uke solos were expertly played with great style and finesse; he was a real George Formby man who has made great contributions to the society in many ways. The place will not be the same without him and he will be missed by all.

Read Peter Pollard's tribute to him on GFS pages here...

Here's Alan on the left, with his great friend, Billy Uke Scott in 2002.

And here's Alan with a rendition of "My Plus Fours" from 2011.

Thanks to Peter Pollard and the GFS for the video and photo.

LSH and I extend deepest and sincere condolences to Alan's wife, Hilda and his family. Alan was a truly lovely man.

Thanks for dropping in... I have been missing. I'm working on that.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Percy Copley at The White Swan, Hebden Bridge!

I haven't posted for a while. Been busy. Life just gets busier, somehow! But the ukulele is always to hand, and the days are few and far between when I can't fit in a few minutes playing. As well as playing I love to listen to good players, good performers. At GNUF last year, one of the performers to really impress me was Percy Copley. I loved his folky-bluesy finger-picking style. He'll be at GNUF again this year, (5th-7th May) but unfortunately I will not - so when I found that we were free on Saturday, the day he would be playing at The White Swan in Hebden Bridge, I held my breath and suggested to LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) that we hop up north to Hebden Bridge, (a fair way from we are!) stay the night, and enjoy the concert! To my delight he said ok! So in a shake of a lamb's tail the case was packed, a hotel room booked and we were away. It's wonderful to do things on the spur of the moment sometimes.

Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire has changed a lot since the last time we passed through it - that was many, many years ago. More than thirty. It's prettier than it was, it's vibrant, and it has suffered. The Boxing Day floods of 2015 brought havoc and misery to the town. The floods were bad and the link will take you to a page where you can explore photos and articles about why it happened... but businesses and homeowners alike suffered as the roads and buildings went under water. The last business to reopen was the The White Swan... the landlady Liz doing an awful lot of the clearing up herself, getting by with a little help from her friends.

Now Mary Agnes Krell, the main organiser of GNUF, lives in Hebden Bridge with her partner the ukulele builder Rob Collins. (tinguitar) They were not flooded out but being big-hearted folks they were there helping everyone else to sort out the mess. And although on the whole, the town is recovering and getting back on its feet, Liz and The White Swan could still do with a bit more help, a few more folks through the doors... so Mary got hold of Percy Copley and organised a free concert at the pub, for the sole purpose of getting more punters through the doors buying ale! I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty wonderful. Mary knows how to do these things and is very, very good at it! I don't throw these words around a lot - but Mary Agnes Krell really is AWESOME! A good head for doing things and a great heart for doing them for the right people. As I sat listening to Mary speak, and saw Liz the landlady, and realised what the night was really all about, I was very moved. It was very special.

The concert was good. Very good. Percy did a uke workshop to start off with. It wasn't easy, I could see that; various levels of experience among the uke players there, and a lot of noise from the folk enjoying themselves at the bar! But Percy battled on manfully with astonishing good humour and everyone enjoyed it, I could tell from the faces!

The concert was opened by a very talented local youngster of just fourteen, Isaac Hughes-Dennis, who writes his own (very good) and amusing songs, and has a big smile and a very engaging way with an audience. So very entertaining! How is it that these youngsters don't seem to have a single nerve in their bodies! He is definitely a name to watch.

Percy did two half-hour sets, the first being all ukulele, the second being tenor guitar and mandolin. The uke and tenor guitar were loaned to him by Rob Collins, and they sounded great.

The fact that we made a two and a quarter hour journey and paid for a hotel room overnight tells you how much I wanted to hear Percy sing and play. I knew how good he was, and on Saturday I enjoyed every minute. So did LSH. If you are a regular reader you'll know that my LSH doesn't play and has to take my word for it if I tell him that someone is worth the effort of going to see them! No, he was not disappointed. Percy sang and played a wide range of songs and we were both entranced for the whole evening.

Percy will be at GNUF again this year - get a ticket before they are all gone! And check out his website here
to see, buy and get a listen to his CDs. I have both... you need these, you really do!

Thanks for dropping in, I appreciate it. I'll try to post again before too long! I do have plenty to tell - just not a lot of time to tell it! I'll work on that!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

My next uke is on order - a Beltona resonator!

Now then, I really, really do not suffer from UAS - so-called Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome - I have not had a new ukulele since February last year, (DJ Morgan mini-pineapple).... that's nearly a year and that's good going for a ukulele enthusiast! And certainly, when it comes to wooden ukes I am more than satisfied with the ones I have, since I reckon my DJ Morgan ukes are as good as you can get and I love them. AND I can walk past a music shop window with simply a passing glance at ukuleles now, born of mild curiosity rather than acquisitive desire! But ever since I saw Del Rey perform at GNUF (Grand Northern Ukulele Festival)with a Beltona reso in 2014 and I played it in the uke bazaar afterwards, I confess I have lusted after a Beltona resonator. The sound bears no resemblance to any of the cheaper, mass-produced resos that I have tried - and didn't like!

Beltonas do not come cheap. But they're neither as expensive nor as heavy as a National Resophonic, the traditional metal reso uke that many players pay homage to. They are not built of metal, though earlier ones were. The body is moulded from glass-reinforced resin with a lightweight aluminium coverplate and the cone is their own, purpose-built. It's especially nice, speaking as a "Brit" that Beltonas are craftsman-built here in England!

For a great review and more info on Beltonas, see Got A Ukulele here...

It's taken me a while to scrape the cash together for this uke, and it's also taken me more than a while to broach the subject with LSH - (Long-Suffering-Husband) and persuade him that I really do NEED this! Any ukulele enthusiast will know what I'm talking about and sympathise here! But at last I have spoken to Steve Evans at Beltona and the wheels are now in motion. Of course I have to wait a couple of months for what I want, but I don't mind, I've waited for well over two years and I can wait a little longer, though the excitement is mounting!

For an interesting discussion on resonator ukuleles, see this thread on the Ukulele Underground Forum. On the first page there, you'll also see a YouTube video of the great Del Rey playing a resonator uke.

So, watch this space! Meanwhile, I need to practice those finger-picking skills! Oh yes indeed I do....

Thanks for dropping in, please call again and be assured of your welcome!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Caroline Stewart does the George Formby Society proud on the radio! She's just a star!

Caroline Stewart and I became friends when we met during the "thrash" at my first George Formby Convention, and her second. Since then we've become great friends, and she has gone from strength to strength with her ukuleles, her lovely voice, and with the George Formby Society itself, where she became chairman two years ago.

On Wednesday 4th January (today as I write, but you probably won't see this until tomorrow) she went on the radio, Zetland fm, to talk about how she began playing ukulele, how she extended to banjo-uke, joined the society, and to talk about George. She's a great ambassador for the GFS. She sings and plays too - a bit of Formby, with a cracking solo (I'm so jealous!) and a little something more contemporary!

See and listen for yourself... here's a link to Caroline's page on the GFS website, where you'll see a link to the 20 minute interview!

Thanks for dropping in, I'll have some more news very soon! And please could you give that Toucan a click and give us a rating, if you would be so kind - I'd really appreciate that!

See you again soon!