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One Small Uke For (a) Man…

The fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing continues with widescale television documentaries and interesting online articles.  I recall being disappointed when told I was too young to stay up & watch the live event  – I was four at the time!

Two items that struck me most today were interview snippets from the two surviving crew members: Michael Collins spoke of being along in the Command Module and Buzz Aldrin was wistful at the death of Neil Armstrong meaning the three of them would not stand together at this month’s celebrations.

Neil Armstrong Playing A Ukulele Whilst Quarantined After Returning From The Moon (Michael Kohan Photography)Neil Armstrong Playing A Ukulele Whilst Quarantined After Returning From The Moon (Michael Kohan Photography)

Here’s an eleven-year old Asia’s Got Talent contestant, Feng E, playing his arrangement of David Bowie’s Space Oddity:

 

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Ukulele Festival of Scotland 2019 – Day 2

Saturday morning saw me up early to grab the bus to the Festival site in time for the first workshops of the day. Arriving with tons of time to spare, I wandered round the Marketplace in the Gilchrist Room of Easterbrook Hall, packed with stallholders selling ukes, straps, books, T-shirts, raffle tickets & more.

I spotted Colin Tribe, who is a very prolific poster of chord melody tunes on YouTube & writes the syllabuses for ukulele grade examinations. I’d previously bought a set of his arrangements & his Uniquelele book, so we had a nice chat & he showed me some better fingerings for some of his music, kindly giving me an updated copy of Spanish Flea to try out & a uke-shaped keyring.

I also said hello to Matt Warnes, who runs World of Ukes & would be performing later in The League of Ukulele Gentlemen. He gave me a spare copy of UKE Magazine to pass round PLUC members who’ve not read it before (& is arranging for uke club discounts on his merchandise – let me know if you’d like details). I’ve been to a couple of the events he organises before – including seeing Taimane Gardner in Birmingham & a Big Boat On The Mersey weekend, which culminated in us playing our ukes at the Cavern Club!

Then off to the first of three workshops I was attending today: An Introduction To Chord Melody Solos, with Stuart Butterworth. I was interested to see how this would be run, as Stuart had led a mass session on the final afternoon of last year’s UFoS & teaches many different groups in Dumfries & Galloway. He gave us extracts of his new book & took us through the chords, tabs & sheet music. There were useful summary sheets of the various chord voicings used as a way of helping people familiarise themselves with the fingerings before playing.

The second workshop was Richard Durrant‘s Ukulele Circuit Training One. He’s a classically trained guitarist who was introduced to the ukulele by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s George Hinchliffe when they both were at the Royal College of Music – George gave him a uke tuned in fifths (ie like a violin) & he was soon enjoying playing that & the more usual reentrant-tuned one.

His workshop was very different & useful: at the outset explaining how vital it is to cultivate a good neutral posture with relaxed & efficient hand positions; giving us a two-finger strumming pattern (‘strumming with one finger is like being a drummer with only one stick’); and getting us to play rhythms & sequences that suddenly turned into other well-known tunes.  These techniques were designed to improve your playing & help advance you as a musician by guiding you towards effective ways of focused personal practicing.

There was then just under an hour for lunch before the afternoon concert. Folk eyed me eating my packed meal enviously as the queues for the eateries were massive with so many people rushing to use them simultaneously. One of the advantages of being in a self-catering flat, as I had grabbed plenty of interesting vegan goodies from M&S & Morrisons when I arrived on Thurs afternoon, so I could make decent meals & take snacks with me instead of risking nothing being suitable for me at the venue.

 

A Few of My Photos From Saturday’s Shows

The afternoon concert was nearly four hours long & packed with an interesting selection of acts. The compere, Paulus, did an excellent job throughout, as he had last year:

  • Local uke band, A Touch of Purple – led by the kilt-wearing Stuart Butterworth (who had been warned several times last year that he was revealing a little too much with his wide-kneed posture – & slightly disconcerting for me, sat in the front row!). I don’t know if their choice of playing Come Together was a hint! These were the best of his students.
  • Ukulele Simon, who had won one of last year’s competitions. He played several numbers, including Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
  • The Ukulele Evangelists – completely crackers, as this YouTube of Kung Fu Fighting shows.
  • League of Ukulele Gentlemen – a familiar trio to these events, here playing Blue Eyes.
  • Stables – the one on the left on my photo is a local Lewisham lad from Forest Hill & they sang a song about the Horniman Gardens, Dandelions & Daisies.
  • Peter Moss, a regular at every uke festival, celebrating fifty years of performing.  As ever, he gave us a selection from his wide repertoire, including Roy Smeck’s Rockin’ The Uke, Georgia On My Mind & the last movement from the William Tell Overture (the tune he used to win a competition at the age of twelve).
  • The Naked Waiters – back by popular demand after their UK debut here last year. I Wanna Be Your Butterfree is one of their originals.

No rest after the gig as it was straight into another workshop! Sandwiches were included (& somehow I ended up with two – possibly because someone else had eaten mine last year!). This was Circuit Training Two, with Richard Durrant again.  A little recap of some of the introductory principles, then off into another selection of interesting & deceptively tricky strengthening & dexterity exercises that aim to improve your accuracy, articulation & other areas of playing. More of that is covered in his online Ukulele Launch Pad course.

After the workshop, I was surprised to see folk were already queuing to gain entry to the main concert hall, over an hour before the doors were due to open for the Gala Concert from the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. So I joined the throng & swapped uking tales with people until we were let in. Being on my own I still managed to get fairly near the front, with a good view.

Eight UOGB members were performing & it was a full gig, with interval. as expected, it was all very slick, tightly choreographed & enjoyable, with a mix of familiar numbers & others I didn’t know they covered. It was nice to see Dave Suich in full performance mode! They got a standing ovation at the end.  What a way to finish the day! I grabbed a taxi back to town whilst others jammed long into the night…

Here they are doing Highway to Hell:

 

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Ukulele Festival of Scotland 2019 – Day 1

As some of you might remember, I went to the UFoS at Dumfries last year & said it was the best-organised uke festival I’d attended, so was excited to make my second trip there over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

It was glorious weather, which showed off the fine landscaped Crichton Estate grounds at their best. Founded by Elizabeth Crichton in the 1830s, the buildings were originally built as a forward-thinking psychiatric hospital (which included gardens, arts & music therapy & a farm that the patients could work in) and it’s now a university campus, with Easterbrook Hall conference centre and Holiday Inn hotel.

The Festival was sold out, with around 740 participants, a large Purple Army of volunteers and over one hundred performers. As before, on arrival early Friday afternoon, people were being checked in efficiently & issued with wristbands, UFoS Songbooks & Programmes plus a very handy single-sheet at-a-glance schedule. Most of the organisation was done by Linda Butterworth, who does an amazing job, along with her husband, Stuart Butterworth, who leads and teaches many of the local ukulele groups.

In addition to those staying at the Holiday Inn, many people had brought their motor homes, which were parked along two of the roads, & a number of others were camping in the grounds.  I was in an Airbnb in Dumfries town centre – above a whisky & wine merchants with the strapline ‘The Drambusters‘ – &, as I’m teetotal, their stock was safe with me!

Attendees were arriving from all over the UK, Europe and even further afield, all carrying at least one ukulele. Some folk had already travelled to nearby Caerlaverock Castle, a moated triangular fortress about seven miles from Dumfries, for an open air strumalong, the first event of the Festival. But it was all about to get into full swing.

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Some of my photos from the first day of the Festival

After checking through the documentation, I sauntered to Crichton Memorial Church for the first workshop I’d booked – Harmony Singing, with The Naked Waiters (who were neither naked, nor waiters!). They come from Utah & premiered at last year’s UFoS. They sing close, tight harmonies, so I knew this would be an interesting session. They demoed a few of their songs,  took us through their arrangement of Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours  (in simple terms, you can play the chords of the tune, split into four groups & each group sing the notes that occur on a specific string to create four-part harmony) and gave us other tips on how they work out their arrangements.

I then strolled round the site & relaxed for a while in one of the Jamming Tents at the rear of the hotel (the other was totally full). There were mats, cushions & solar-powered lanterns to make them comfy.

After an evening buffet had been served in the bar, amongst other options, there was a Jam With The Stars strumalong from the eighty-two tune Festival Songbook, led in turn by different performers.  It was so packed, folding chairs & music stands had to be brought in from elsewhere to fit everyone in the room.

Later on, I left the jamming & walked across to the Candlelit Concert, back in the Crichton Church. There were candles lining the pathway into the entrance & every arched window had several more flickering at the bottom. More were arranged on the stage behind the performers.  The gig included Astraluna, Mike Haysom & Zoe Bestel. It was all very spectacular & atmospheric.

Mike’s performance is below & the others from the evening are linked above (all on his YouTube Channel).

Jeanette

 

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Happy Birthday JS Bach

It’s  composer Johann Sebastian Bach‘s 334th birthday today. He’s known for his prodigious output of Baroque music, including many important works such as his Brandenburg Concertos, Goldberg VariationsSt Matthew Passion and the monumental The Well -Tempered Clavier, which was written using the adoption of the Western musical system we now use call ‘equal temperament‘ (ie what we use on our ukuleles, with adjacent notes all being split into equal steps) and contains twenty-four preludes and fugues in every major and minor key. (For example, here’s the one in C major.)

To celebrate his important legacy, today’s fun interactive Google Doodle lets you compose a short melody, which is then played back with complete Bach style four-part harmony added for you. Have a little play & practice writing some music! You can even change the key signature, note duration, tempo, add accidentals (sharps, flats & naturals) and download your creation as a MIDI file.

Bonus points if you can guess the PLUC tune reimagined in Bach harmonies below!

JS Bach Google Doodle

JS Bach Google Doodle 21/03/19

 

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Twelve Days Of Ukemas – Day One

Happy Christmas to everyone who reads this blog!

At this time of year you might like to consider supporting others who use their ukulele-playing to help or give pleasure to others.

I’m always keen to promote Laurie Kallevig & the excellent work she does in travelling out to places like Mumbai & Kolkata every year, where she teaches ukulele to young survivors of human trafficking with her Survivor Girl Ukulele Band Project. They are currently seeking donations to fund the 2018 – 19 project – either directly or by downloading the Kickstarter CD that was made recently.

If that’s not your thing, why not support one of the many uke sites who work hard to provide excellent free songsheets or YouTube tutorials by giving them a tip or buying some of their e-books or other merchandise?

And if you want a little fingerstyle workout for today, here’s Helmut Bickel, who has over two hundred lessons on his YouTube channel.  Here is his rendition of Wham’s Last Christmas (tutorial: part one & part two):

 

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December 2018 Club Nights

Please note the following arrangements for our club nights around Christmas:

Tue 11 Dec & Tue 18 Dec – We’re at the Lewis Club, as usual.

Tue 25 Dec Xmas Day – BREAK.

Tue 1 Jan New Year’s Day – BREAK.

We return to the Lewis Club on Tue 8 Jan 2019. New members welcome. Check out our annotated map & transport information.

At the beginning of the year we posted about Steve Phillips, who has been playing a song a day on his uke to raise money for Solar Aid, which funds providing safe lighting for people in Africa. He’s been doing really well, covering a great variety of tunes. If you’ve not yet got around to donating, it’d be great if you could spare a couple of pounds.  In return, as a thank you, at the end of the year he will send copies of all the arrangements he’s used.

Here he is playing Rock ‘n’ Roll Winter by Wizzard:

 

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Bright Idea!

In a nice variation on the ‘playing a different tune on the ukulele every day for the whole year’, Steve Phillips has decided to use it to raise awareness & collect donations for SolarAid. This charity sends low-cost solar lights to families without electricity in remote areas of Africa (such as regions of Malawi, Uganda & Zambia), so that they can use free renewable energy, instead of relying on dangerous & inefficient home-made kerosene lamps, which are expensive to run.

Steve will be recording & posting a new song daily throughout 2018 & I’m sure will appreciate some ideas for sun & light-related numbers! He’s already done Bring Me Sunshine & Mr Blue Sky.

A donation of around £4 can get a lamp to a family. And donors leaving their email address will get the chance to have all 365 uke arrangements at the end of the year.

Here’s a cheery Johnny Cash number to enjoy, I Hardly Ever Sing Beer Drinking Songs:

 

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