Monday, 23 May 2016

Have I lost interest in the ukulele?

If you are one of the lovely people who follows my blog - and if you do you must be lovely! - you must be thinking that I have indeed lost interest. I haven't posted on here for more than two months, and this is unheard of! But no, let me assure you, my interest is as alive as ever, it's just that I have been awfully busy with other stuff. You know, life. And I don't find it easy to concentrate too hard on all sorts of things at once. The blog went right on the back-burner. Sorry about that. So this post is just to check in, and say yes, I'm still here, still playing, nothing has changed, and right now I'm looking forward to going to Huddersfield in a couple of days to go to the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival!

It's going to be great, it always is.

But now I'm off again... still busy... I'll try to get back to you pretty soon to tell you about all the wonderful ukey things I have been up to since I last posted. I promise....!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Michelle Nicole Rivera, Sunday Morning and Happy Birthday to this blog.....

I suddenly realised this morning that it's now four years since I started this blog. Four years.... so where am I now, uke-wise? As enthusiastic as ever, for a start. I own a lot more ukuleles, and there's still one that I lust after - a Beltona resonator. And I wouldn't say no to a Wendell Hall banjo-uke...

I do play a little better than I did four years ago... but then, I should, shouldn't I, if I practice - which I do. During the last twelve months I've enjoyed taking lessons from the festival favourite Phil Doleman - I've stopped now for a while - he's taught me so much that I need to work on it all before I try to absorb any more... but I'll be back in a few months. As for uke festivals and the like, I love them, and never miss the George Formby Conventions in Blackpool either, as I belong to that rather rare breed, a "foot-in-each-camp" uker. That is, wooden uke and the banjo-uke, especially played Formby-style.

Today, I'm on the last day of taking a turn at hosting the Ukulele Underground's Seasons of the Ukulele... we're on Season 212, and as I'm host, I get to choose the theme - the Season started on Mothering Sunday in the UK, so I chose "Play this one for your Mum"... and all week I've been busy keeping up with the entries, watching the videos and commenting on them. This is one of the entries, by a newcomer to the Seasons, and we all hope she'll be back to do more... Michelle Nicole Rivera. She blew everyone away with this cover of Sunday Morning... please enjoy! And Happy Birthday to Life's a Ukafrolic.... it still is, truly.. it still is!

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

A pink ukulele? You can't be serious! (1)

I'm currently the owner of a pink ukulele. It and I happened to be in the same place - it, unwanted and unloved, hanging on the wall in the reclamation depot attached to our local refuse tip, and I, on the way to the tip, (been watching "Hoarders"... nothing like it for making you want to de-clutter...) was there just for a browse. How could I possibly turn my back on it, an orphan uke - it hadn't even been taken to a charity shop... the price? Just a few pounds. I looked it over, tuned it by ear and had a strum. Nothing wrong with it, the tuners held and you could see it had not really been played - no finger marks on the fretboard at all, though the frets had the first signs of rust. Of course I didn't need it... in a shop, I would not have given it a second look, but it was an unloved orphan and I simply had to adopt it.

So the Little Pink Uke came home with me. I snipped the cheapo strings off, gave the frets a quick rub up (they shine nicely now) and restrung it with a spare set of Aquilas. And then the newly-loved little uke just had to have a name... Annie! Little Orphan Annie! No, I agree, not very original... but then, she won't mind and she won't come when I call her either!

How long she'll stay, I don't know... perhaps she'll become the summerhouse uke, ready to lend out to interested folk... but one thing I didn't really expect - this baby, this little pink Mahalo has perfect intonation - yes, you read that right, perfect intonation - every fret, all the way up the fretboard! No, you don't expect that with a Mahalo, or any cheap ukulele. It just goes to show - what people will throw away.

Round about the same time, I had cause to give some serious thought to the subject of little coloured ukes, and pink ones in particular.

Curious? I hope so! More of that next time. I do like my blog posts bite-sized - easier to write, quicker to read! I suspect that you do, too! Thanks for dropping in!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

John Bianchi original, "Going Back To My Dreams"

It's so long since John Bianchi posted a uke video that I really was afraid that perhaps he wasn't playing any more - too busy blowing his trumpet with a band! Well, clarinet and saxophone, actually! Multi-talented! So to see this video of John singing one of his original songs with his vintage Martin was a lovely and very welcome surprise. And it's a corker of a song! I enjoyed it so much, I watched it twice over right away.

Watch it here on Youtube....

John excels at the songs of the 20's, 30's and 40's, he plays these songs so well and his voice is perfectly suited - I've been posting his videos on here for as long as I've been writing this blog - very nearly four years! His playing, on banjo-uke as well as wooden uke, has been an inspiration to me from the word "go".

Now of course - this is an original song which takes its style from and pays great tribute to those old songs from way-back-when.... and you know what? I think it's every bit as good. It deserves to be played all over the place! I do believe he has a few more like this in the pipe-line - and I can't wait to hear them!

That band.... The Buck And A Quarter Quartet.... next time you're in New York!

("Genre: Traditional jazz and classic pop from the teens, 20s and 30s...and a few vintage-themed originals..")

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Meet my new baby - D J Morgan mini-pineapple uke - "Morganino"! in maple....

A new baby always brings joy, admiring smiles, cries of "How cute!" and "Oh what a pretty little thing!" and new ukulele babies are exactly the same... none more so than a pretty sopranino. So meet my new Pineapple baby - Polly!

I knew Dave Morgan (D J Morgan Ukuleles) was building some... and I am over the moon to be the proud owner of number MP12 001 - the prototype!

The scale length is exactly 295mm, and the total length is 450mm... a typical Martin-style 12 frets to the body soprano has a scale length of 350mm, total length 515mm.
Here she is next to her big sister Sprucey Lucy - (14 frets to the body, not 12.)

Visually I like a lot of things - Dave (Morgan) has the artist's eye for balance and style... the overall look is perfectly balanced; the pineapple shape is a pleasing one and it's echoed in the shape of the sound hole. The solid maple fretboard looks just right. It's interesting that maple turns to a rich honey colour over time, and this uke will do that.

This little uke is built of solid maple with a poplar neck and finished with a matte cellulose lacquer. She's not only really pretty, with the maple grain and the signature Morgan stripes on the headstock (green veneer, suggestive of pineapple leaves) but she sounds amazing!

In spite of the short scale length, she sounds just great in C tuning, but I've tuned her up to D tuning and she really sings! Listen for yourself.... I haven't tried tuning her up further to Eb yet, but I will...

This is what she sounds like in D!

The build quality is impeccable... and Dave makes everything himself except for the frets and the tuners. Simply - can't fault 'em....

So.... this is a prototype but Dave is going to be building more... he tells me he's aiming to use sustainable woods for this line of ukes and also to keep the price very affordable. So watch out... the Morganinos are on their way!

Thanks for dropping in, I really appreciate it... do come back now!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

World Ukulele Day? What is this?

Some things make me realise what an awkward cuss I can be.... for example... World Ukulele Day....? What is this? Why? I just don't get it. What is the point, can someone tell me please?

For more than four years, every day has been Ukulele Day for me... and it just so happens that yesterday, on World Ukulele Day... (says who?) I simply did NOT play a ukulele.

At all.

So there.

Thanks for dropping in, even if it was only to hear me having a grump. Stay and have a read of some back posts, you're very welcome!

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 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!