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?