It’s always a treat when a new GUGUG video appears on the net. They one of my favourite YouTube acts, so I’ve decided to dedicate this week to them. Starting off with an interview with Gus.
How do you pronounce GUGUG and where did the name come from?
The name comes from my name. When I was setting up my youtube account I put in “Gus” which was taken (d’uh), then “GusGus” which my pal Duglas BMX from the Greorgy Girl video calls me that but then that was taken too, so I tried Gugug cos I didn’t really care by that point to be honest. So according to this story I guess it must be pronounced Gugug as in “uh huh” although to be honest it is never really spoken out loud. I should have said something more esoteric like “it’s the most fundamental human sound – the gu-gug of a baby’s first goo-goo”, or “its derived from an ancient Polynesian chant” or “gu-gu-gug’ is the sound of chugging away on a cheapo ukulele with old strings”
What’s your pre-GUGUG musical history?
Fin and I started mucking about musically when we were mere striplings of lads (well I was, Fin was always a big bastard). I used to record us playing bass and drums on one cassette player then Id record us playing along to the recording and I’d add some guitar or a borrowed Casio and we’d both sing. We wrote our first songs that way probably at the rate of about 2 a night. Eventually these musical fumblings developed into a band called Rubber Yahoo. We played fast, rough and noisy songs of our own composition – we were hardly aware of what a cover was at point let alone actually play one. Our “philosophy” if you could call it that, was, that everything must be “off-the cuff” so we wrote songs on the spot, and stuck absolutely with the original spark of an idea; consequently our songs were pretty odd. Still we seemed to be fairly popular in the Glasgow area at the time.
We went on to play in a few rock n roll bands and ska bands. We were in Wray Gunn and the Rockets, and to our eternal amusement went on tour supporting Shakin’ Stevens. I also started playing in a great pub-rock / rhythm and blues band “The Spooks’ with Davie (harmonica king) and eventually joined George’s band The Kaisers. I continued to play drums with Davie and his bands and we had a great laugh playing all over Scotland; At one point we got “blessed” by Lee Perry and had George Melly sing a few songs with us… however, The Kaisers was something else: Already fairly established, so I kind of jumped on the rolling train and immediately went on tour in Europe and the States. The Kaisers were an amazing live experience both for the audience and for us, the band. The last gig I played in with The Kaisers was in New York in 2001. After that I played more with Davie and kind of slowed down the playing in bands as work took over.
One night I was round at Davie’s and he usually has an old guitar or something to show me, but this time it was a Mahalo ukulele that he’d just bought “off the cuff’ as it were, and I thought “not really into those folky things” thinking it was like mandolin or something. But after playing it for a few minutes I thought Ok its better than I though it would be – in fact its quite good. I bought one probably the next day. Fin bought one a few months later.
You seem to have an extensive ukulele collection. Which are your favourites?
Once I’d got the ukulele bug I started buying random £15 ukes from ebay: non brand or Harmony-type with the plastic fretboard, but I don’t have them anymore cos I ve lent them all out.
My favourite ukuleles are the plastic ones. The reason for this is that I keep getting outbid on the really nice old Koa ones and vintage wooden ones on Ebay – so I opt for what I think, is the most interesting option – the mass-produced 50s plastic ones. I’ve got a few now – all from America. Specifically, I like my TV Pal; Flamingo; Lisa; Mauna Loa. Ive got about 2 of each ( I can never get my hands on a decent unwarped Islander) Ive also got a Singing Treholipee, but I broke it pretty quickly.
There was talk of you recording an album. How’s that coming along?
That’s coming on slowly. Not because Ive been labouring over it, but because I’m constantly forgetting to do it. I will do it one day soon I promise that’s all I can say. Its in the pipeline; its work in progress; its err coming along
What makes a song perfect for a ukulele cover?
Well I wouldn’t know the answer to that one, except that some bloke out of the Ukulele Orchestra of GB said “you can tell a good song if it can be played on a ukulele” or something resembling that. I suppose that’s true. I usually just try to see how a song feels on the ukulele when I play it – ie are the chords easy enough? Some songs I try are crap by the way – but hopefully you don’t get to hear them.
When it comes to the solo GUGUG multitrack stuff; then the perfect ukulele cover is one that I really want to play, like Guns of Navarone, Phoenix City, or the Joe 90 theme tune. I have to really want to cos it takes a little bit of time and effort. At the moment Ive stopped doing these as at the moment I don’t have the equipment that I need for the Gugug “Overdub” sound. As for the Gus and Fin stuff: Fin comes round to mine one evening and we just do one “off the cuff’. Usually I have half worked out a song; or we both know it a bit – but not always.
What plans are there for the future of GUGUG?
None. Maybe an instructional book “The Gugug Ukulele Method” because everyday I get asked for chords, advice on technique and what ukulele to buy. Maybe I’ll start a monthly magazine “What Ukulele?” (not that I know anything) Oh – and we’re playing at the Belgian Ukulele Festival I think in 2009. That’s it. Oh, yeah and the CD.