Reasons Not to Play George Formby Songs

A couple of weeks ago the BBC aired Frank Skinner’s documentary about George Formby. You watch the full documentary on YouTube and it’s well worth it. I enjoyed it and learned a fair bit too.

In the clip at the top, Frank visits Karauke in London to find out why modern ukers don’t play Formby songs. And it’s certainly true that most of the ‘new wave’ don’t play Formby songs. So I thought I’d go into some of the reasons why I think they don’t.

1) The Songs are Outdated

Comedy songs tend not to age too well and Formby’s songs haven’t aged well at all. What you could and couldn’t say then is very different what you can and can’t say now.

Now you can be as sexually suggestive as you like in a song so the sexual innuendo doesn’t really work. Whereas some of George’s songs lack the cultural sensitivity you’d expect today. It’s clear from the documentary that George wasn’t racist, but right thinking people today aren’t comfortable singing lines like, “If you’ve got a chink in your window/You’ll have another one at your door,” with a wink and a grin.

2) We’re Sick of George Formby Already

If Formby is under-appreciated, he certainly isn’t under-acknowledged.

It’s impossible to find an article in the UK press about – or even mentioning – the ukulele that doesn’t drop the F-bomb at one point (usually the first paragraph). There’s no getting away from it no matter how far removed the music is from Formby. Take this piece on Eddie Vedder and this one on Amanda Palmer.

And then there’s the stream of requests for When I’m Cleaning Windows that ukulele players get.

All of which get very tiring and pushes away all but the most ardent Formbyites.

3) He Wasn’t That Great A Player

This is the argument Frank puts forward in the clip: that some Formby solos are great. And they are. George did one thing and he perfected it. He played rip-roaring solos packed with split strokes. But there’s not a lot of emotional range in Formby’s playing.

His solos are a lot of fun and no doubt challenging but that’s not enough for him to stack up against the truly great musicians that have played the ukulele.

4) Imitating Him Is Missing the Point

The great thing about Formby is that he was one of a kind. The Formby fans love him for his unique and individual playing and singing style. Which is why they try to be exactly like him.

I think one of the reasons Formby songs sound so outdated is that they’ve never developed. No one has reinvented Formby songs and made them sound new. Or brought out hidden depths in them. They’re always sung in exactly the same way they’ve always been done.

Examining the minutiae of solo and trying to recreate it is interesting and worthwhile. But at some point you have to break away from that and do things in your own unique way if you’re going to make music worth listening to.

The natural heirs to George Formby aren’t the impersonators but, comic actors and singers of sexually suggestive ukulele songs, Garfunkel and Oates.

So if you don’t play George Formby songs, why not? And if you do, why? Leave a comment.

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66 Comments

  1. Kyle Frazer November 9th, 2011 6:39 pm

    I’ve heard a story which I didn’t experience first hand, so heaven know’s if it’s true or not, but someone played a Formby song on their uke in a reggae style and was stopped by the MC of the event because it wasn’t like the original. That’s absolutely absurd.

    I like George Formby; I think his music is wonderful to listen to and his influence is unbelievable. So many times people have spoken of him when they see me with the uke, even though I don’t play any of his songs.

    What saddens me a little bit is when I play a few folk songs, and someone will say afterwards “well, I didn’t know THAT could be played on a ukulele”. It;s almost as if there’s a section of society somewhere that thinks the ukulele is incapable of having any song other than GF on it.

    Of course, what makes me happy is that by playing folk and other stuff, it wakes everyone up a little. I still maintain the banjolele was made for reggae.

  2. winkles November 9th, 2011 6:54 pm

    When I took up the uke, I knew full well that I’d get requests for our George, so I searched around until I found a fairly easy version of ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’ in C on the now mostly defunct Ukulazy blog, just so I could get it out the way.

    I actually became a bit of a Formby fan in the process, but there’s little chance I’ll ever master the split stroke. What’s more, if I were ever to buy a banjolele, there’s every chance my wife would insert it somewhere uncomfortable.

    As for his innuendo being tame by modern standards, you’re mostly right, but ‘Swimming With The Women’ is filth.

  3. Josh Gordon November 9th, 2011 8:57 pm

    Winkles and I are married to similar women; a banjolele in my house would be the cause of innovative use of instruments.

    Formby isn’t particularly funny. That’s the main problem. And his songs aren’t particularly musically interesting. Perhaps I’m biased, as an American, but I’ll take an interesting-and-often-funny musician like Cliff Edwards any day. Of course, I’m biased, being on the left side of the Atlantic.

  4. Mark November 9th, 2011 10:39 pm

    I feel we live in a modern world that takes itself FAR too seriously , georges songs may seem very outdated and politically incorrect ,but in their time gave people some sort of escapism from the hard realities of everyday life. In some ways i admire the innocence of a bygone era, and some of the words although quite simplistic, feel far more heart felt than much of the dross of modern times, this is coming from a die hard punk rocker. I’d urge anyone to look deeper than stereotyping regarding formby and indeed those who try to play like him, there is also the opinoin that the new wave of ukulele players are just second hand, wannabe guitar players without the ability,,,

  5. Ron Hale November 10th, 2011 12:08 am

    Karauke – the New Wave? As if. Young people are the real New Wave. Tweens. Teens. Rufus and company are mere dots on the tip of the ukulele iceberg. And silly dots at that.

    Sexual innuendo doesn’t work, ‘eh? Hasn’t hurt the popularity of First Wave stuff. In fact, the
    ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ stuff makes for a refreshing change from the blatant junk we get nowadays.

    It’s creative, it’s fun. It can be incredibly witty. It makes you smile, laugh, feel good. Not feel dirty. And in need of a good shower.

    I’d be wary of right-thinking people, Al. If you don’t think just like they do they feel no compunction about walking all over you. Shutting you up. Shouting you down. We have a heapin’ helpin’ of them over here. And you’re welcome to them.

    I’d venture to suggest that George’s uke music will live on long after Eddie’s and Mandy’s are forgotten. And “Windows” will still be alive and kicking long after “Tasmania” is pushing up daisies. What do you think?

    Steven Sproat, in his bit with Frank, calls George a great rhythm player. Tricky to compare George with someone like Roy Smeck. George’s uking was always in the service of the song.

    John Lennon said people underestimated him as a guitarist. But he said he could really move a band. Don’t underestimate George. He served his songs as well as they could be served. Put them across better than anyone else could.

    Yes, Frank is fixated on speed and flash. As are a lot of people vis a vis our celebrated ukers. But George, at heart, is not about flash. He’s about everything turning out well. And the uke helps us reach that happy ending.

    As with Eddie and Mandy, G&O will be dead and buried soon enough while George’s little stick of Blackpool rock will always rise to the occasion.

  6. RobNY November 10th, 2011 2:33 am

    I enjoy Formby. Although I wouldn’t sit and listen to an album by him, I love the clips on YouTube. Growing up watching old Abbott and Costello and the Bowery Boys movies gave me the same kind of felling watching Formby clips. Had I grown up in the UK I’m sure I would of loved Formby movies. As far as his playing, I have tried to get some of his strumming down at times. As shitty as I play it,I find it enjoyable to play the syncopated split stroke. It’s a groove you get into,feels real good. I agree with you on the Garfunkel and Oates comparison. Disagree with the” cultural sensitivity you’d expect today”. BULLSHIT! I don’t expect it.I’m fucking sick of it! Everybody should fucking lighten up already. Bunch of pussies we’ve all turned into.

  7. Tim from Radio Clash November 10th, 2011 6:52 am

    to paraphrase an old meme:

    LEAVE GEORGE FORMBY ALONE!

    He’s great, his songs are filthy, he was a socialist and went and played post-revolutionary Russia. Got banned by the Beeb for being too filthy (Little Ukelele in my right hand…) His songs are classics. And still really funny, unless you think end of the pier music hall humour is too good for you? It’s my legacy, being Lancashire born, and by golly I’ll support it!

    I LOVE the Great British Uke Orchestra’s russian-esque cover of Leaning on a Lamppost, I think new styles like that are great and reveal a) it’s a great pop song that still works and sounds like kids today and b) people will still listen if you update it and don’t just copy.

  8. Tim from Radio Clash November 10th, 2011 6:57 am

    Oh and if this is true from the Wikipedias:

    “In 1946 Beryl and George toured South Africa shortly before formal racial apartheid was introduced, where they refused to play racially-segregated venues. According to Formby’s biographer, when George was cheered by a black audience after embracing a small black girl who had presented his wife with a box of chocolates, National Party leader Daniel François Malan (who later introduced apartheid) phoned to complain; Beryl replied “Why don’t you piss off you horrible little man?”.”

    I love him even more ;-)

  9. Ukulele Bartt Warburton November 10th, 2011 7:14 am

    First time I played in England, I planned on doing a few Formbys. I was greeted at a venue by a couple of guys wearing “No Formby” t-shirts, so I quietly stuffed the idea. But when I got back to America, I played the songs and everyone adored them. When I played in New Zealand, everyone sang along and loved it. Haven’t done any Formby since then, but I’m wondering how it might go over in Thailand in March?

  10. andy aird November 10th, 2011 9:09 am

    George formby is a British legend and I for one will be playing his songs I got my uke in august and thought it was mandatory to learn his songs… Just like any budding rock guitarist will learn sweet child of mine….
    Regards

  11. Trevor Connors November 10th, 2011 9:43 am

    I assume the Formby article was intended to be deliberately provocative and accordingly pitched wide of the mark in most respects.

    Firstly, Formby’s music was never intended as ‘high art’ it was popular entertainment ‘feel good’ at a time when ‘feel good’ was required.

    Songs outdated – sure some are but many aren’t. Understanding the background to particular tunes e.g. “You don’t need a license for that” (written post WW2 when every day UK life was wildly over regulated) gives its relevance and targeting.

    The old chestnut “Formby wasn’t that great a player” (the biggest sour grapes on the planet). Get it right, Formby was an uneducated, un-tutored genius on the instrument.

    “There’s not a lot of emotional range in Formby’s playing” … look buster we’re talking about banjo ukes not Stradivarius violins and cellos !!

    Of course ther’s a lot more to ukulele music than Formby but he was great player/entertainer and deserves to be celebrated. Play Formby tunes when the mood takes, enjoy them and ‘feel good’ !!

    Trevor

  12. jcmcgee November 10th, 2011 12:12 pm

    I remember when the “Gently Weeps” video came out and hearing the
    “Jake is the Hendrix Of The Uke” quote.
    I had to gently remind my Hawaiian friends that Hendrix was simply
    “The George Forby of the guitar”.

    No disrespect to Jake, EVERYONE who has met him says he’s lovely…but I just find his style of music really really dull and lacking any real emotion.
    I’d love to see him live though.

    There was one rather sweet Forby song I remember from a film about him taking over running a lingerie factory…can anyone help with the name, I think it, may have been called:
    “You are everything to me”?
    Would love to learn it.

    I suppose he had that
    “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”
    thing with his music…I would love to find some footage of him just sitting playing for himself (Ohh err misses..in your end-o!!!)
    This will probably sound wanky (!) but I’ve lost count of times I’ve been sat playing quietly after shows and folk have said “wow, never realised you could play like that!”….it’s just “playing like that” makes for dull lifeless performances….I would bet money that George had some beautiful tunes he just never played out….If we get sick of being asked for “windows”, think how he must have felt?
    But like a true pro, he just smiled and gave the people what they wanted.

  13. Claudio November 10th, 2011 12:58 pm

    Love the way Al’s not afraid to stir the hornet’s nest!

    You have performances like Smeck’s, Ike’s, Jake playing in Central Park, James Hill playing anything, Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer playing chap hop, UOGB, Re-entrants playing rock in a pub, Julia Nunes doing something crazy on youtube, Isreal playing Somewhere over the rainbow or White sandy beach, Eddie Kamae playing E Ku’u Morning Dew and tonnes of other stuff based on Blues, Folk, Rock, Classical, Dance etc…..

    Surely you can be forgiven for not liking any one of these? The problem is that when non-uke people mention uke acts to me, they mention Formby 95% of the time and UOGB 5% of the time. I can happily watch a Formby film and marvel at his strumming but in terms of what I want to watch and follow in the uke world Formby features maybe 5% or less. So that’s I’ve had enough Formby.

    In the US there’s a documentary about Jake that might already be out – I’ve only see promotional youtube clips so far. I expect Al to stir it up again for that! :-)

  14. Ambient Doughnut November 10th, 2011 1:48 pm

    Well, they’re fair arguments but personally I DO play Formby songs (although for the record I don’t think he wrote a note/word of them). They may not be the most musically complex but then on the other hand they’re a lot more involved than your typical 3 chord rock song. They may not fit with todays socio-political climate especially well but that’s part of the charm. Well for me anyway.

  15. Jimmy November 10th, 2011 5:10 pm

    I just don’t think he’s very good is all. I don’t like his songs.

  16. Ian Emmerson November 10th, 2011 5:23 pm

    Now I’m feeling a bit guilty about the ‘No Fromby’ shirt I had made. Sorry Bartt, it was only a joke. :0)

  17. Ron and Jeanne November 10th, 2011 6:42 pm

    We had only ever heard the Formby name before, never heard him play. Really enjoyed watching the documentary. Then we listened to a few more of his songs on YT. “Washing Windows” reminded us of Victoria Vox’s “Peeping Tomette”. How’s that for an updated version.

  18. MusicMonsterW November 10th, 2011 7:25 pm

    Our local ukulele circle used to play a lot of George Formby songs. A lot of the members still enjoy it. I don’t anymore and I don’t attend the circle anymore.

    When I was new to the uke, I soaked up all of it. I loved the Formby stuff, well most of it. But, after a while, you realize that there’s very little emotional range there.

    The ukulele can be used for so many things, it felt extremely restrictive to play Formby songs. I have gotten away from them completely. Now that’ I’m teaching though, I don’t doubt that at some point, some student will want to learn one of these. So, I may go back to looking at the odd one. Being Asian myself, I’ll probably avoid the ones that mention chinks.

  19. Claudio November 10th, 2011 9:39 pm

    Is Jimmy still alive or has been attacked by the Lancs massive?

  20. sleepbox November 10th, 2011 10:13 pm

    A few words from me for what it’s worth…
    George’s songs are outdated. No two ways about this. Lest we forget, it was 70 years ago. Just think back to the nineties and how many musical offerings are embarrassing by today’s standards.

    As for innuendo, anything that works on two levels shows more intellect than obscenities that work on one (very low) level only. There’s a time and place for a potty mouth and that probably not British cinema in the 30′s and 40′s.

    Sure we’ll encounter mentions of George from time to time. Not sure if this proves the lasting impact that Formby has made on the British public or shows how little an impression the ukulele ‘revolution’ has REALLY made in recent years.
    The lazy name dropping by the British press is certainly no help but what else can we expect from that quarter? Only today Freddie Starr featured in the papers and can you guess which rodent and in what context was mentioned?
    I wonder if Tiny Tim always gets a mention in the US?

    George perfected a style of playing that people still wish to emulate, some from a love of his music and others from the sheer challenge involved in cracking one of his solos. This really shouldn’t worry us. Not as much as the absolute certainty that if we go to a British pub that advertises live music on a Friday night we’ll be subjected to slavish cover versions and no original music.

    A lot of the current crop of technically advanced ukulele players I find totally soulless. ‘Kooky’ girls in over size glasses and floaty dresses singing about facebook etc I find irritating. Young ukulele wielding men in hats and weskits wearing earnest expressions and All Saints clothing in Spitalfields are ten a penny. Adoring fans worshipping at the feet of a tone deaf attention seeker, cack handedly playing an out of tune ukulele on some steps somewhere bewilder me.

    I play ukulele. Not very well but it gives me great pleasure. I finger pick medieval lute music, I’ll play some Bowie or Pink Floyd (A CRIME!we could all cry) and I also like to spend some time playing split stroke style on a banjo ukulele.

    I enjoy it. My two nieces (9 and 12) play ukulele and will play any style of music or any new tricks I show them with immense enthusiasm. My Mum plays ukulele. I won’t divulge her age.
    They don’t want to be in any sort of ukulele based gangs and nor should you.

    Play what you want and enjoy it.

    The only really important point I have raised is why stairs become steps when they are outside and vice versa.

  21. thegentlesurprise November 10th, 2011 11:09 pm

    IMO, it’s hard to carry off the Formby stuff for a few reasons:
    First off, the datedness of the songs, which has been pretty well covered here. Songs about the milkman, air raid wardens, etc. are cultural artifacts and playing them out almost necessitates introducing them as such. Plus the racial stuff…oy. OY.
    Second, effective delivery of the songs is really hard to pull off because most of us aren’t George Formby. He had a whole schtick built around his personality, the wink and the smile and the aw-shucks thing going which is pretty hard to insert into a set if you have other material and styles going on, or if you’re not in the sort of vaudeville/showcase setting he performed in. The other part of his schtick was a focused effort on material relating to the common man, specifically a midcentury British common man, which none of us are anymore.
    Tertiarily, I’d argue that his stuff is hard! Taken as a body of work there’s a whole lot of sameyness down to the fact that he did sequels to his own songs( and just try listen to a collection sometime without bailing by track five). But he did have a technical prowess that you have to admit took some work to achieve. Getting that split-stroke to work on the fly requires a sustained effort of learning and practice (or it did in my case, anyway), and most of these “New Wave” ukers just aren’t gonna put the time in, nor do they really want to. The places you can apply that split-stroke are pretty limited.
    I haven’t seen the documentary, but everything points to the fact that it wasn’t any one of these elements that made the man beloved, it was the combination, and absent any of them the material just doesn’t really come off.

  22. Ukulele Bartt Warburton November 11th, 2011 12:19 am

    Ian -

    I was talking about some other guys; I never saw your shirt!

  23. jcmcgee November 11th, 2011 12:55 am

    “Tertiarily”….eh, I don’t think that means what you think it means?

  24. Tim Baker November 11th, 2011 1:34 am

    Hmm…outdated? There are tunes that are still rocking after 100+ years – Happy Birthday sorta being one, in part – and plenty of 1920s-40s songs that are brilliant and still performed today (from Underneath the Arches to Stormy Weather…Ali Baba’s Camel – Hello Bonzos fans that was a Noel Gay song -so was The Sun Has Got His Hat On, etc). I guess it’s how you reinterpret them, as UOGB did…but it sounds like some people are sniffy about them too. *sigh*

    Really Uke people this is your history (not mine as a listener and Uke lover but not player)…use it/mash it/remix it – there’s always a way to re-see and reframe the past, nothing is too dated…unless your imagination is dated?

  25. Ukulele Kris November 11th, 2011 2:11 am

    Ok, so

    “I think one of the reasons Formby songs sound so outdated is that they’ve never developed. No one has reinvented Formby songs and made them sound new. Or brought out hidden depths in them. They’re always sung in exactly the same way they’ve always been done.”

    Hmm, so I recorded this well over a year ago (so please excuse the poor playing, recording and singing… all of these have been improved since)

    http://www.box.net/files#/files/0/f/151009011/1/f_1124824165

    Yeah, nobody, in the history of EVER has done a Fromby song in a different way. At all. Yeah? Ever?

  26. claudio November 11th, 2011 8:24 am

    Kris do you have it uploaded anywhere where without signup or login?

    cheers.

  27. RobNY November 11th, 2011 1:24 pm

    Sleepbox Tiny Tim does get mentioned in the US quite often.

  28. thegentlesurprise November 11th, 2011 3:20 pm

    jcmcgee: I suppose I was trying to be too clever.

  29. Ukulele Kris November 12th, 2011 12:09 am

    Claudio, I gave the wrong link, as I’m a silly dot… here is the correct one

    http://www.box.net/shared/400ob7ps4r5uh9hyvakb

  30. Fae November 12th, 2011 5:24 am

    I love George Formby and when I lived in the UK was a member of The George Formby Society. We used to meet once a month and it was always a fun night.
    Personally, I have always enjoyed a good double entendre and still find his songs amusing. Perhaps not hysterically funny by todays standards but how much from that time would be now?

  31. Martijn November 13th, 2011 9:12 am

    I do think you are a little harsh on George Formby, as you probably intended. I do agree with nearly all reactions thus far, that GF still has his value and attractions in today’s ukulele universe. Do not underestimate his popularity abroad, as here in Holland, too, and yes, the first thing my mum said to me when I got my first uke was: can you play “Cleaning Windows”? And she used the funny voice too, yes. Formby was a star in his day, and rightly so. Of course, his work shows the signs of his times, but is that not always so? And is that not part of its attraction, even? Is Charles Chaplin outdated? Laurel an Hardy? Are we whimpering about the “lack of emotional depth” in Cliff Richard’s songs? Well, then. It is simply darn difficult to master the GF style of playing, I haven’t succeeded so far and perhaps I never will. But it is interesting and fun enough to try.

    I really loved the documentary, by the way (and, incidentally, one of the funniest bits, I thought, is where Frank tries to discover if some of the innuendo is, indeed, innuendo – or if it is just him. See that still works?).

    Great post, this one, Al!

  32. Scott November 13th, 2011 5:19 pm

    In my experience playing at Disneyworld, I always took great pleasure when one of our guests from the U.K. would mumble something about “Cleanin’ Windows” or “Leaning on a Lampost” and I was able to accommodate by singing a few bars and breaking out my split stroke roll. I loved the surprised look on their faces when it became evident I actually knew who George Formby was. George Formby exposed me to the banjo uke and his classic triple stroke and split stroke rolls. Both of these have added a dimension to my playing that I think helps to differentiate ukulele playing from guitar playing. I also like writing cheesy silly songs, and his are certainly cheesy and silly. Though his music is not something I would sit down and listen to for extended periods, I have an immense respect for his style and the place he holds in ukulele history. I say, keep at least one Formby song in your repertoire. It’s silly, nostalgic, pays homage to those who came before you, and shows you know a little something more about the ukulele than “that one Train song.”

  33. zymeck November 16th, 2011 10:15 pm

    I can take him or leave him tbh.

    At least his ukulele was in tune most of the time ;)

  34. SteveSongwriter November 17th, 2011 8:00 pm

    I’m a professional songwriter, and I have come across this as part or research into a song I’m writing.

    So far I’ve read almost every lyric I can find, and I can say after reading seven or eight songs, I was under the impression that lyrically, to be honest, it was pretty rubbish. Nearly every song seemed to be identical in structure.

    Having read I don’t know how many, I’m now just impressed. To write any of these songs with the charm they have isn’t easy. To write that many is impressive, even taking into consideration the sequels.

    It is this obvious charm that makes me find the association with Garfunkel and Oates a bit like saying Frankie Boyle is the natural heir to Ronnie Barker.

    Yes, his work is ‘samey’, but go to every Beatles tribute and work out how much coverage you get from the 275 songs they wrote. Not much I imagine. Likewise, there are probably two or three songs in the Formby back catalogue worth covering.

    Some of them aren’t worth covering for exactly the reason made by TheGentleSurprise, that without Formby delivery, it’s not necessarily going to work. Some of the jokes, ample as they are, are going to be weak without George Formby’s delivery.

    On the subject of racism though, that it no excuse not to play a song if it is good. The state song for Kentucky was “My Old Kentucky Home”, by Stephen Foster. It was played instrumentally at the Derby for years (I believe), before some visiting Japanese students sang it to the Kentucky General Assembly. A revised version now takes its place…Good songs can be fixed. (I think this song was in Formby’s American Medley to futher underline this point)

    For everything I have to say though, Sleepbox probably came closer to the truth. Play what you want and enjoy it.

  35. neil November 19th, 2011 3:28 pm

    not a big fan of the chap but it annoys me that you can not mention the ukulele without someone mentioning mr Formby.the reveiw of the Eddie Vedder album in Classic Rock Magazine mentioned mr Formby not because the songs where of a Formby nature but because they where played the ukulele.

  36. John B November 21st, 2011 10:18 pm

    I’m an American, and I completely disagree about Formby not being funny and the music not working today. It’s often true that comedy doesn’t age well, but if you pick the right Formby song – Little Ukulele, Snapshot Album, Grandad’s Flanellette Nightshirt, you can really get laughs with it. I get laughs all the time with his music, and it’s not just my playing that’s funny. ;)

    They New York City audiences I play in front of often haven’t heard the songs before, so there’s a surprising freshness to them. I love playing his music and in his style, and they seem to like it a lot, so I get asked back. Great.

    That said, I play ONE Formby song whenever I play a set, whether its a 30 minute set or a 10 minute set. As a performer, you’ve got to know what the audience is about. If I went to a Formby Society meeting, I would expect to hear a lot of George. BUT, playing in front of an audience elsewhere, I’ll play a lot of different things, ranging from an original piece, to a classic instrumental, to a jazz standard or a latin number (fun on a banjo uke), and then I’d end with a very showbizzy Formby number.

    I know what I can get away with, and 6 Formby songs in a row isn’t it. :)

  37. UkePunk November 22nd, 2011 4:05 pm

    I love Formby and was brought up on him but like most other ukers get slightly irritated when people make reference to him when Im gigging.
    Have to say I found Skinners programme really interesting.
    Also have to agree for a change with Jimmy (McGee)
    No disrespect to Jake S or anyone else who is obviously far more technically gifted than I could ever hope to be but that stuff just bores the pants off me as does most guitar solos, Hendrix included.
    They are just not my ‘bag’ man

  38. John B November 22nd, 2011 6:34 pm

    Uke Punk. Kudos to you and Jimmy McGee for speaking the ‘solo’ heresy. Solos longer than a chorus bore me, too. Hendrix was GREAT, but one song and I’m good for about two years before I hear him again.

    Seriously, though, I will never be as good as Jake, but likewise, I will never enjoy trying to play that way. I plod along on my own stuff and even my Formby songs aren’t supposed to be copies – I’d never quite get there, anyway. I’d rather be an OK me than another abysmally bad copy of anyone else.

  39. Chris L November 25th, 2011 2:43 pm

    I know that in the States, almost everyone over 40 who finds out I play uke asks, “OH! Like Tiny Tim?” Meanwhile everyone under 30 knows Tiny Tim as the guy who does that one song they heard on Spongebob Square Pants and OH GOD IS THAT WHAT HE REALLY LOOKS LIKE?

    That’s why novelty acts from the last century aren’t given the recognition they really deserve from the new wave ukers, talented though they may be. There’s no crossover recognition from the varying generations unless they’re uke or music nerds. And no one who plays it wants the uke to return to the novelty act ghetto.

  40. Josh November 29th, 2011 8:31 pm

    I don’t play Formby songs because you don’t ever put the chords up. If you had “When I’m Cleaning Windows” then I’d learn it just for when people request it. There are no other reliable and user friendly ukulele chord websites that I have found available in the uk since ukulele-tabs was banned here. I’m poifectly happy with this site though! It’s ahhhmayzin.

  41. claudio November 30th, 2011 8:19 am

    Josh
    why not use a regular chord site like Chordie? To look at Uke Tabs just go through a proxy like hidemyass.

  42. natty November 30th, 2011 8:03 pm

    Well that’s all very interesting… Here’s my angle. I had never heard of the new wave ukers til they cropped up in a Formby documentary! lol
    Natural selection will decide…..

  43. Phantomgilly December 15th, 2011 10:34 pm

    One minuet your website says not to play George Formby Songs but then it also says that When I’m Cleaning Windows is a song that should be learned by every uke player, so I am confused should I learn it or not???? George Formby is one of the true musical legends of all time, millions of people have listened to his music and have one way or another been affected by him. If you ask anyone about the ukulele 9 out of 10 people will say George Formby. So as long as a ukulele will be in existance so will the legendary GEORGE FORMBY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  44. wally artgent February 17th, 2012 6:53 pm

    I was delighted to find such cogent comments on any web site. I’m used to reading, “your a rasict pig. JB RUUULLLLES!!!” Anyway, I got a ukulele for Christmas and have become obsessed. I had never heard of George Formby before (I’m from the USA) but read about him in “Ukulele for Dummies”. Yes, some of his songs are dated, but I love the sly innuendo and his face is relentlessly amusing. I just can’t stop smiling when I listen to him…which I consider to be akin to a super power.
    As to Ambient Doughnut;s comment that he doesn’t believe GF wrote his songs – who did? Christopher Marlowe? The Earl of Oxford?

  45. Simon M April 17th, 2012 11:43 pm

    Like many who have already commented here I feel George is a massive hero, legend and clearly a genius. “Don’t play George” or “Do play George”? ‘course you play George! He was the reason George Harrison picked up a uke and went on to become who he became, so that’s always been good enough for me. Plus I love the movies…

    One day I will have a banjolele and my wife doesn’t care either way.

    Peace & Love…

  46. John B April 18th, 2012 3:34 am

    Your wife doesn’t care either way because you don’t have one. Trust me. After the first couple of years, the novelty wore off for the missus…

    I’m talking about the novelty of the banjo uke, of course.

  47. Simon M April 18th, 2012 3:44 am

    Err, sorry John B, I do have a wife and she won’t care either way, you trust me…

  48. John B April 18th, 2012 3:49 am

    :D Yer lucky. :) I’m consigned to the soundproofness of the car when split stroking.

  49. LoneGrenadier July 24th, 2012 7:31 pm

    I’m sick of all this ‘cultural’ and ‘ethnic’ crap, you can’t say anything without it being racist. To suggest formby as racist is an insult to his memory

  50. Woodshed July 24th, 2012 8:32 pm

    LoneGrenadier: Let me quote the one time the word “racist” has been used on this page before you: “It’s clear from the documentary that George wasn’t racist”. It’s a very different thing to say that some of his lyrics aren’t acceptable today.

  51. Caroline Robson July 31st, 2012 1:37 pm

    Utter rubbish. Why do so called modern ukulele players think they have to feel ashamed because of the Formby connection? He played a darn site more than a split stroke.
    Too many heads up own backsides on this site.

  52. William deveney September 2nd, 2012 4:32 pm

    I think people who were born after the second world grew up with george,we loved him we were only kids and didn’t realise the sexual innuendo in his songs.

  53. sgt pepper September 17th, 2012 10:34 pm

    “winkles November 9th, 2011 6:54 pm ” you said
    “….Swimming with the Women …..was ‘filth’”

    here’s the lyrics – were you joking WINKLES ??

    [Lyrics edited out. You can read them here.]

  54. Almost a Genious November 4th, 2012 3:41 am

    I think there are many silly comments here. I am not a G. Formby expert but it simply seems to me that he was an entertainer, comedian, actor, etc. and musician came much further down his priority list.

    His songs or maybe more accurately “little ditty’s” are part of the history of the times they were written and if performed they should probably be couched in that context.

    I can understand that some might get tired of his recordings…they are a little repetitive in form but he did write so many and if you talk to any truly dedicated song writer/ singer it is very hard and tiring to write original hits one after another. My suggestion is to pick your favorites and create a single CD or Playlist and forget most of the rest of his portfolio.

    Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery but if you do it wrong it is the biggest insult and yawn. So the point is , paraphrasing Mike Bloomfield…If You Love These Ditty’s, Play ‘Em As You Please.

  55. mark November 14th, 2012 1:02 pm

    I agree with whoever said that saying Formby “wasn’t that good a player” is massive sour grapes. He was incredible. and this whole article tries too hard to be controversial and stir up a debate.

    like it or not he was a superb player, and not everyone HAS to owe a debt to him or anything like that, ( not everyone who plays the uke plays like him) but god guys grow up.

  56. John Hubbard November 18th, 2012 7:19 pm

    Ive got a good reason not to play George Forby songs and that is I cant. This takes into consideration that Im loving the uke after years of the guitar and I can just about get my head and hands around most uke arrangements albeit with a lot of work. This must say something about his style or my limitations . I will say that its not going to shatter my world for the reasons others have given but continues to be a challenge
    John H

  57. Peter Keane December 10th, 2012 6:12 pm

    I left my home town of Wigan 32 years ago but the Wigan accent and the wit of those people still cracks me up when I visit. George Formby may have had a privileged up bringing that may be presumed by many but he was tuned into the sharp wit of industrial Lancashire and even when he was being portrayed as a fool, it was George who was getting the last word in.

  58. john Radford December 23rd, 2012 1:47 pm

    Ukelele Kris,

    Hi Kris.. wierd i thought,, george does it best,, no offence mate,,,, john

  59. john Radford December 23rd, 2012 2:04 pm

    Well,i just listened to george playing & singing ,
    “our sargent major

    great playing, nice personality, do not deride him
    he was a great personality, & a wonderful uke player

    it brought a smile to my face, & a few chuckle,s

    John

  60. Dean Lawson March 25th, 2013 9:54 pm

    Playing ukulele and not playing Formby, is like playing reggae and not playing Bob Marley. it’s just absurd.

  61. Martin March 27th, 2013 5:40 pm

    Hello there,

    My 2 cents here is that arguments for and against Formbys legacy are all subjective and a matter of personal opinion, luckilly no-ones forcing anyone to listen to or play anything.

    And given no-one’s pointed, the whole double-entendre thing is even in use as the name of this website ‘Uke-Hunt’.

  62. Jim Munro May 27th, 2013 10:39 pm

    It was brought up in Warrington and used to see George passing through on the way to Blackpool in his chauffeur driven Rolls. He was very entertaining and certainly make us northeners laugh at ourselves, but here in Santa Cruz, California we have Uke songbooks with 600 songs, none of which are Formby songs. It would be fun to play his stuff sometimes…..

  63. Horse Badorties January 20th, 2014 7:37 am

    All Formby all the time. A chap named Johnny Depp is planning to play Formby in a feature film about his life and music. So if you’re sick of Formby now, wait till Depp play When I’m Cleabning Windows on the Tonight Show in about a year. Be warned.

  64. MarmiteFan March 8th, 2014 10:27 am

    You can breathe again – the Johnny Depp movie thing is just an urban myth!

    I’m not a huge fan of Formby, I’m more of a Tessie O’Shea girl myself. But I still go along to the local George Formby Society meetings, I still laugh at the saucy lyrics and I still marvel at the amazing strumming techniques and glean tips and wrinkles from the old boys that play them.

    Maybe the pressure is off me a little bit – after all, I’m female and clearly can’t do the Formby voice and I’m not from the north of England so imitating the accent would sound wrong. However, I can still get pulled up for not playing a chord a certain way, or skipping a split stroke or two.

    To some people George Formby is the God Of Ukulele, and nothing less than a perfect facsimile is good enough. Well, that’s ok because impersonation is the highest form of flattery. But I wouldn’t dream of being scathing about them for their lack of individuality – if that’s what they want to do then good for them.

    For me, it’s all about delighting in watching people doing something they really enjoy, and learning more of the skills involved in getting the most out of this versatile little instrument.

    You could argue that every ukester has to have at least one Hawaiian song under their belt; I guess the same applies to Formby. As a classical guitarist I was always asked to play John Denver, so it’s swings and roundabouts!

  65. Woodshed March 8th, 2014 10:45 am

    MarmiteFan: Thanks! I should have known not to believe anything the Daily Star says.

  66. JohnWillie March 14th, 2014 7:24 pm

    +1 MarmiteFan. In 30 years I have never been without my Uke, even when I was not well and the trials of life threw its inevitabilities at me, my UB2 always allowed my life and those around me, to have a brighter outlook. I never shun away from playing our George and I’m always asked to, “bring the banjo,” when attending weddings and get togethers…

    Guess it was very similar for our soldiers back in the day. George just took the edge off of the uncertainty of war and probably more important, made the combatant look at life in the same lighthearted sort of way. The Mr Wu’s and Hindoo Men in Georges day and his lyrics, made for cheeky songs that really never went any further than a giggle. But that was 70 years ago. Times have changed now and if George was doing his stuff today, it would be in the same vane. I reckon our current day politicians/public affairs would feature in a lot of his lyrics.

    On a side note. According to Ted Formby, George and Beryl wrote a lot of the lyrics for the songs, the music was contracted out to various musicians of the time, but the overall tunes were adapted from George and Beryl on the fly so that they could be written. A lot of this can be seen in Georges notes, given to the Society when Ted died. Beryl always made sure that Georges name appeared on the music sheet also, that way royalties would be paid. This was normal practice back then and is still exercised today. No? Take a closer look at X Factor or any indie songwriter for that matter. Nothing wrong with it, its only business.

    Great thread and some great comments and comparisons. I love everything about the Uke/Banjolele. When I feel down, it never ceases to cheer me up. I have three ukes, a Gibson UB2, a Keech (tenor) and a small cheap Kala (soprano) that I love. As well as Georges songs, I also play 20′s, – 60′s tunes and never tire of the various sounds that can be rendered with a little practice.

    “Goodnight Little Fella, Goodnight” – Thank You George…

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