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Best Bits of Get Plucky with the Ukulele

Best Bits of Get Plucky with the Ukulele

Get Plucky with the Ukulele is the new book by Will Grove-White off of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and his own group Will Grove-White & the Others.

As you would expect of someone who started playing the ukulele when it was ignored and deeply unfashionable in the 80s, Will has an obvious deep love of the ukulele. And that’s reflected in this book’s wealth of uke knowledge, anecdotes and photos collected over decades of playing.

The book does a full sweep of the ukulele. The first half covers the history of the ukulele and notable ukulele players (those famous for ukulele, famous for their music and famous for other reasons). And the second half delves into how to play the ukulele. The writing is witty, informative and opinionated. I heartily recommend picking up a copy.

Will was kind enough to send me one and here are a few of my favourite bits to whet your appetite.

Laura Dukes, Rabbit Muse and Charlie Burse

Great to see these three getting some attention. It’s a crime that all Rabbit Muse‘s music is all still out of print.

Usually I’m the sort of pedant referred to in the book who points out that a tenor guitar isn’t a ukulele. But that Charlie Burse clip is so great I’m willing to overlook it.

The Ukulele Built in a POW Camp

For sheer bloody minded ukulele fanaticism in the face of misery and torture, Second World War veteran Thomas Boardman has to take the first prize.

There are a bunch of profiles of musicians and other famous folks who play the ukulele packed with interesting detail and anecdotes. But my favourites are the less well known like Greenwich Village ukulele painter Bobby Edwards.

The most impressive is the story of Thomas Boardman who managed to build himself a ukulele from whatever bits of wood, metal and wire he could scavenge as a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp in World War II. If you ever find yourself in the Manchester Imperial War Museum search it out.

America Takes Hawaii (And it’s Ukulele)

It came as no surprise that when in 1893 a group of European and US businessmen (with some gentle support from a group of US marines overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy…

Too many histories of the ukulele gloss over the machinations behind the uke’s first big push into popularity. So it’s good to it being pointed out that the ukulele was used by the businessmen who stole Hawaii from the Hawaiians to drive tourism to the island and fill their pockets.

Aside: After this good work it’s a bit of shame that he includes a couple of illustrations of the ‘topless Hawaiian hula girl in a grass skirt and lei’ variety.

Part of the strategy of these businessmen was to use songs and images to present a Hawaii packed with pliant, nubile women. And those songs and images are, unfortunately, still part of ukulele culture. With the huge contribution that Hawaiian women have made to the ukulele world it’s time to cut that bullshit out.

This is a criticism of the ukulele world in general rather than the book in particular. The writing in the book is very strong on the contribution of Hawaiians and women in general to the ukulele. And I think it provides the framework for understanding why these images are part of ukulele culture.

If this sort of thing is your bag I wrote a whole thing about music and cultural appropriation.

Agatha Christie Murder Solved by Uke

You caught her round the throat with it and strangled her… And you put another string on the ukelele – but it was the wrong string, that’s why you were so stupid.

*Spoilers for the 80 year old short story The Bird with the Broken Wing.* It gives me great pleasure that a character would be undone by their lack of uke knowledge.

The book also has the real-life murderous tale of Frederick Galloway ‘The Ukulele Slayer’.

Playing in a Ukulele-Only Group

Even though you’re all playing the same instrument, you don’t all have to play the same thing.

This is the bit I was really looking forward to. The only other people as well qualified to write about this are also in the UOGB. And with the number of people who are part of ukulele groups there’s no shortage of need for help on this.

Unfortunately, there’s just half a page on this. But it’s a good half page. And I’m still holding out hope of a full book on the subject from one or more members of the UOGB.

Links

Buy on Amazon UK
Buy on Amazon US
More on WillGroveWhite.com

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4 Comments

  1. Jotegr/Luke October 23rd, 2014 2:39 am

    The guy who put the wrong string on was actually just switching to low-G. He’s innocent, I swear!

  2. Woodshed October 23rd, 2014 7:43 am

    Jotegr/Luke: Well, that’s a crime even worse than murder.

  3. Ron Hale October 23rd, 2014 7:55 pm

    I’m the sort of pedant, Al, who says it’s high time
    to change the name of the concert uke. Extremely
    confusing.

    Is there a concert sax? No, there’s an alto sax.
    Where in the bloody hell did the concert uke get its name?

    Ask Will for us.

    Soprano, concert, tenor, baritone. Which one doesn’t belong?

    (The smart-arse will say the baritone doesn’t belong. But, not I.)

    The tenor guitar is really an odd man out. The guitar world doesn’t care about it. The ukulele world doesn’t care about it.

    Maybe when the uke really starts to pall on folks, and it will, the tenor guitar finally will see its day.

    It needs a Jake. A “Gently Weeps.” But, so does the bari.

    Are you suggesting an end to songs from
    the Territorial days in the Islands? Or, just the
    images?

    The songs will never die. And, the best of them were written by people from Hawaii.

    I lived on Oahu at the tail-end of the pre-statehood days and those are the songs
    I heard. I think, anyway.

    The images are another matter. These are mostly
    historical and usually presented as such in books such as Will’s.

    Yes, they’re usually presented as glamorous and exotic with none of the darker context you bring up. No doubt, these sorts of images are still being
    used to lure people to Paradise.

    But, they are burnt into people’s brains. You see them on ukes. And, not just cheap souvenirs.

    High-end custom ukuleles feature them. Tattoos for instruments, garish as hell.

    I believe the general opinion, though, is that these things are just harmless fun.

    No desire to raise hackles, but the ukulele has moved beyond Hawaii these days. And, it’s been moving in this direction for a while.

    Time for Will and others to recognize this, if he and they do not. Take Jake out of the equation and the uke world of today can seem to barely necessarily touch Hawaii at all.

    And, even Jake seems generic rather than specifically Hawaiian in uke impact.

    Things might change a little bit if Will’s band were to introduce themselves as the ‘Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

    Didn’t you string your first uke wrong? Had there been a murder…

    Well, arranging cannot be learned along with those first simple chords. Not every musician can arrange.

    I’d like to see some high-end ukers, proficient
    in improvisation, get together for some ‘free- ukulele’ ala free-jazz.

    Then, see what happens.

    Same instrument, but most definitely not playing the same thing.

    This spirit of experimentation seems weaker today that back in the, for example, ‘Rock That Uke’
    day.

  4. Woodshed October 24th, 2014 1:09 pm

    Ron: I’d say concert was the only one that makes sense since it’s a reference to size rather than range. Here’s how I’d name them:

    soprano => baby ukulele.
    concert => boudoir ukulele.
    tenor => concert ukulele.
    baritone => the humungoid.

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