The Bobby McGee’s are Great Britain’s premier ukulele group (and don’t the name of any orchestra suggest otherwise). Their music has been described as, “domestic violence with ukuleles,” and, “Dostoyevsky doing Lonnie Donegan.” I interrogated Jimmy (who, along with Eleanor,is the band’s singer/songwriter/ukulelist section) to find out more.
How did the Bobby McGees come into being?
The Bobby McGee’s came into being after I met El’ at a Libertines concert in Leicester. I was sad after watching my best friend marry an idiot and needed to do something to help make the world a beautiful place again…we formed the band that night, booked 3 gigs then decided we better write some songs…the name came from Bobby Gillespie & Alan McGee (who told me to “F@@K OFF!” after calling him on his drug habits…and then asking for a record deal….the emails are hilarious!)…and of course, the Kris Kristoferson song that my gran used to sing to us from the back of the car on long holiday drives…I think she would have hated our music, but it would have made my grandad smile!
What made you choose the ukulele?
Eleanor saw the band Herman Dune playing “funny guitars” and I bought her one for Valentines day… We both fell in love with them.
First chords I found were for “Anarchy In The UK” and “King Of The Swingers” and I knew that this was what I had been waiting 33 years to discover!
I have a MAHALO concert uke…I love it…I have a SHADOW pickup fitted in it which is great and AQUILA strings really do make a big difference….Eleanor plays what I believe is an old Slingerback banjo uke (looks just like one, but no makers marks on it!)…I had a lovely little old GRETSCH uke that I bought real cheap on ebay and repaired…but I ruined it when I slapped El’ on the ass with it during a recording session….I’d love a nice uke, but I’m determined to wait until someone offers to make one for me…so I’ll probably be playing MAHALO for the next 20 years!
Which ukulele players do you particularly admire?
Malcolm is a legend…a wonderfully honest guy and a great musician…he taught me everything I know…he has a great way of teaching, he just drops things into a conversation that spark my interest…”This is a diminished chord”…”This is a triplet”….then vanishes for six months while I work out my own way to play it!
We ran an fantastic open mic’ here in Brighton for 18 months THE UKULELE RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT SOCIETY (T.U.R.D.S. if you must!)…we gave prizes to all performers and had comment books for punters to scribble their thoughts in…imagine my joy one night last year when I discovered Malcolm had written “Wow…Jimmy has finally learned how to play his uke!”….TURDS will be back in July as soon as Eleanor has finished her finals…watch this space!
I also hugely admire George Formby (Malcolm will cuff my ears!)…I love the solos he plays…they are great, I’m just begining to work out what he’s doing…one day i will work out HOW he does it….I think he’s very underrated as a musician, but that often is the case for people who write “comical” songs ;-) There’s something very English about his playing that (even as a Scotsman!) I love…and anyway, just look at all the people he made happy, isn’t that the whole point?
Are the Bobby McGees characters or is that you?
That’s a secret!
The gig last month where I spat in the guys face and threatened to punch him for walking out, that was character….
Is it true you taught Emiliana Torrini to play the ukulele? That sounds like fun.
She asked me to…but we were both really busy and never seemed to be in the same town at the same time….I didn’t recognise her at first, I was at a gig watching a friends band and when she came and spoke to me I asked her to shut up till the gig was over….”do you know who that was?” everyone asked me, but to be honest, i think she wanted me for my beard more than my uke….I still have her number.
Is it possible to buy your stuff on anything but vinyl?
I have two solo albums: “68 Love Songs (and a poem about shagging)”….and “Love Song 101″….that’s 170 songs all together (but if I’m honest, only 165 of them are any good)…I am desperate for someone to release those on vinyl, if anyone wants a “sampler” write and I’ll send them one….I love listening back to them and hearing all the wee improvements in my playing or thinking “How did I do that?” as I try to remember what chords I was playing!
Radio One have promised to play all the songs from the first album…but I think it would get them closed down!
Eleanor also has 14 new songs to record after her finals, most of which I haven’t heard…her music is beautiful, her uke playing is everything that mine isn’t, but she can play any instrument (well, anything but flute and clarinet!)…she’s getting really into Klezmer rhythms and chords so it will be real interesting to hear her new stuff.
We get to play with Kimya Dawson at Ladyfest in London next month…We’ve followed her for years and played with her 4 or 5 times, but I think post JUNO, things will be different!
A big thanks to Jimmy for answering my questions. You can visit The Bobby McGee’s MySpace (you can always judge a band by their MySpace friends, theirs include Uke Hunt favourites MJ Hibbett, Kimya Dawson and The King Blues and personal favourites of mine The Duloks and Spinmaster Plantpot) and buy their EP S’Amuser Com Des Fous on vinyl at Cherryade Records and the mp3s on iTunes.