This year’s Winter NAMM (the big music instrument trade show) had plenty of new ukuleles to gawp at:
– The uke that’s really lubed my wallet-slit this year is the 2016 Kanile’a Platinum. I’m guessing it’s going to be over $3,000 so I’m just going to let my dreams be dreams.
– Scooped cutaways seem to be the new hotness this year. As well as Kanile’a, aNueNue has the Super Lani, Kala has a new scalloped series and Rebel have the new Livingston tenor. (Also hot: comfort edges.)
– Blackbird have long been experimenting with materials used in their instruments. The latest is the most unusual yet: the Ekoa ukulele made from linen. You can find out more in this factory tour video.
– At the goofy end of the spectrum are Ayers’ Zodiac ukuleles.
– And this year’s wackiest idea goes to Bugsgear for this thing that has a speaker in the soundhole so you can play along with a backing track.
I’m making this a dual tribute to Bowie and Mick Ronson. Ronson was Bowie’s guitarist for his greatest string of albums between 1970 and ’74. He was the perfect foil for Bowie providing a hard-hitting rock edge to Bowie’s artsy-fartsyness.
As well as being massively underrated as a guitarist, Ronson doesn’t get his due as an arranger either. He created epic string arrangements for Bowie songs like Life on Mars and Starman but perhaps his most iconic arrangement was for Lou Reed’s Perfect Day (on which he also played piano).
Mott the Hoople – All the Young Dudes
The Jean Genie
Ashes to Ashes
The Man Who Sold the World
Here’s the preliminary list of 2016 ukulele festivals. If you know a festival that needs adding send me a message or leave a comment on this post with the details.
USA and Canada
Allegheny Ukulele Soiree
Location: The Laurel Lodge, Altoona, PA
Date: April 15 to 17, 2016
Performers: Gerald Ross, Paul Hemmings, Skye Zentz, Colin Coleman and Mim.
Ashokan Uke Fest
Location: Conservation Hall, Ashokan Center
Date: May 27 to 30, 2016
Performers: Victoria Vox, Paul Hemmings, Gerald Ross, Del Rey.
Blackwater Ukulele Festival
Location: Cypress Gardens
Date: September 18, 2016
Performers: Nathan Miller, The Charleston Hot Shots, The V-Tones of Charleston
Location: Swallow Hill Music
Date: May 12 to 14, 2016
Performers: Leftover Cuties, Victor & Penny, Victoria Vox, Danielle Ate The Sandwich, Lil’ Rev, Stuart Fuchs.
Great Minnesota Uke Gathering
Location: El Rancho Mañana Campground near Richmond, Minnesota
Date: June 3 to 5, 2016
Performers: Lil’ Rev
Menucha Ukulele Band Camp
Location: Menucha Retreat and Conference Center in Corbett, Oregon
Date: March 28 to April 1, 2016
Mighty Uke Day 6
Date: May 13 to 15, 2016
Mini Uke Day
Location: Trinity House Theatre, 38840 W. 6 Mile Road, Livonia, MI
Date: November 5, 2016
Palm Strings Ukulele Festival
Location: Hilton Palm Springs
Date: February 25 to 27, 2016
Performers: Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel, Victor & Penny, Aaron & Nicole Keim, Dani Joy.
Port Townsend Ukulele Festival
Location: Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend, Washington
Date: September 28 to October 2, 2016
Reno Ukulele Festival
Location: Nugget Resort, Sparks Nevada
Date: April 14 to 17, 2016
Performers: Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel, Abe Lagrimas, Jr., Del Rey
Rocky Mountain UkeFest
Location: Durango, Colorado
Date: July 7 to 9, 2016
Performers: The Leftover Cuties
South Florida Ukulele Fest
Location: ArtServe, 1350 E Sunrise Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304
Date: March 18 to 20, 2016
Tampa Bay Ukulele Getaway
Location: Sirata Hotel, St. Petersburg, Florida
Date: November 4 to 6, 2016
Tunes in the Dunes
Location: Lincoln City Cultural Center, 540 NW U.S. 101, Lincoln City, OR 97367
Date: September 16-18, 2016
Performers: Lono, Jim D’Ville, Craig Chee & Sarah Maisel, Aaron & Nicole Keim.
Location: Interlochen Center for the Arts, 4000 Highway M-137, Interlochen, MI 49643
Date: October 1, 2016
Ukulele Festival of Northern California
Location: Chabot College Performing Arts, Center, 25555 Hesperian Boulevard, Hayward, CA
Date: April 24, 2016
Location: Bend, Oregon
Date: July 15 to 17, 2016
Performers: Ben Bonham, Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel, Jim D’Ville, Cinda Johnson, Aaron and Nicole Keim.
Utah Ukelele Festival
Location: Willow Park 450w 700s in Logan, Utah
Date: August 6, 2016
West Coast Ukulele Retreat
Location: 800 Asilomar Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, United States
Date: May 4 to 8, 2016
Location: Midland Free Methodist Church, 5821 Eastman Ave, Midland, MI 48640
Date: March 11 to 12, 2016
Performers: Todd Baio, SUGAR
Great Waikoloa Ukulele Festival
Location: Kings’ Shops and Queens’ MarketPlace, Waikoloa Beach Resort
Date: March 5, 2016
Location: Pu’u O Hoku Ranch & Halawa Valley, Molokai, Hawaii
Date: May 27 to 31, 2016
Location: Kapiolani Park, Waikiki, Oahu
Date: July 17, 2016
Ukulele Picnic in Hawaii 2016
Location: Kaka’ako Makai Gateway Park
Date: February 14, 2016
United Kingdom and Ireland
Cornwall Ukulele Festival
Location: The Mill, Branwells Mill, Penzance, TR18 2LQ
Date: February 7, 2016
Performers: Phil Doleman, Dancing Flea Orchestra of West Cornwall
Grand Northern Ukulele Festival 2016
Location: The Lawrence Batley Theatre, Queen’s Square, Queen Street, Huddersfield, HD1 2SP
Date: May 27 to 29, 2016
Performers: The Quiet American, Danielle Ate The Sandwich, Trinity Vogue, Yan Yalego.
Great Southern Ukulele Festival – GSUF
Location: The Kings Theatre, Portsmouth, UK
Date: October 15, 2016
Hoylake Summer Strum
Location: Hoylake Rugby Club, Carham Rd, Hoylake, Wirral CH47 4FF
Date: July 8 to 10, 2016
Performers: Wirral Ukulele Orchestra
Isle of Wight Ukulele Festival
Location: Medina Theatre, Fairlee Road, Newport, Isle of Wight, PO30 2DX
Date: July 22 to 24, 2016
Performers: Sara Spade and the Noisy Boys, Dead Mans Uke, Mersey Belles, Ukulelezaza, EdwardAlice, Andy Eastwood, Krabbers, Chonkinfeckle, Peter Moss
Lincoln Ukulele Festival
Location: Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, UK
Date: April 10, 2016
Performers: Mike Krabbers, La Bella Band
Rye Ukulele Festival 2016
Location: Cinque Ports Pub, Rye
Date: July 3, 2016
Uke East 2016
UNICEF 2016 – Ukulele Festival
Location: Berkhamsted Civic Centre
Date: February 27, 2016
Ukulele Festival of Great Britain
Location: Cheltenham Town Hall,Imperial Square, Cheltenham GL50 1QA
Date: June 17 to 19, 2016
Ukulele Festival of Scotland
Location: Easterbrook Hall, The Crichton, Bankend Road, Dumfries DG1 4TA
Date: 6-8 May 2016
Performers: James Hill, Zoe Bestel, Krabbers, Ukulollo, Manitoba Hal, Zahra Lowzley, Mother Ukers.
Ukulele Festival of Wales
Location: Gower Heritage Centre, Parkmill SA3 2EH
Date: June 24 to 26, 2016
Performers: Flea Bitten Boy, Pete Moss, Michael Adcock, The Ukulele Uff & Lonesome Dave Trio
Winchester Ukulele Festival
Location: Winchester Rugby Football Club, North Walls Park, Hillier Way, Winchester SO23 7SU
Date: June 4, 2016
Performers: Manitoba Hal, Phil Doleman, Les Poupées Gonflées, Zoe Bestel, The Hedge Inspectors, Liam Capper-Starr
None yet. Send me a message if there’s one I should add.
Czech Ukulele Festival
Location: Ún?tice (Prague-West District), Czech Republic
Date: July 29 to 31, 2016
Australia and New Zealand
Blue Mountains Ukulele Festival
Location: Carrington Hotel, 15-47 Katoomba Street, Katoomba NSW
Date: February 12 to 14, 2016
Folk Redlands Ukulele Convention
Location: Capalaba Indigiscapes Centre, Rynnymede Rd Capalaba QLD
Date: August 20 to 21, 2016
Lauder Ukulele Festival
Location: Lauder Green, Lauder, Omakau (Central Otago, NZ)
Date: February 6 to 8, 2016
Location: Newcastle Jockey Club, Newcastle Racecourse, Broadmeadow
Date: October 21 to 23, 2016
Sunshine Coast Ukulele Festival
Location: Kenilworth Showgrounds and Township
Date: April 14 to 17, 2016
Bowie played a huge part in my musical development. Back in my school days, the first band I was ever in was basically a Ziggy-and-before Bowie tribute band. I learnt a whole bunch of fancy chords from Life on Mars. And there are many, many chords in it (just one chord short of the record-holding So Long and Thanks for All the Fish).
The song is a real masterclass in using chords. So many of the chord changes involve changing just one or two notes (something I’ve done my best to preserve for the uke version). That’s particularly true of my favourite section of the tune: the pre-chorus. It creates a huge build up of tension by having rising chromatic notes (on the C-string then the E-string) against a fixed background.
For the chords in the pre-chorus (one other) I’ve suggested chords that only use three strings to make things a bit easier. I do that by bringing my thumb around the neck and use it to mute the g-string (an X above a string on the chord diagram means it’s muted).
– A selection of classical ukulele tab books for solo and ensemble ukulele. You can buy them in physical form or get the PDF version on a pay-what-you-want basis.
– Apple has released a free iOS app Music Memos. It’s a nice app for making a quick recording of any musical ideas you have. As well as being able to do some basic editing, add notes and the option to automatically add (slightly cheesy) bass and drums, it’ll attempt to work out the chords you’re playing. In my experience it does a reasonable job with major and minor ukulele chords but it does have a bit of trouble with 7 chords.
– Helen Arney extends Tom Lehrer’s chemical element song with the new elements.
– Full show of some great musicians playing timples, ukuleles, cavaquinhos and other uke-adjacent instruments (via @HermanVDC).
– I Rettiloni.
– Squeeze do a bit of lyric changing to heckle David Cameron on The Andrew Marr Show. He must be getting used to ukulele heckling by now.
When I got my first ukulele, I was completely clueless. This was in those dark, long forgotten days before the internet had been discovered. I didn’t even realise that the strings weren’t supposed to go thickest to thinnest and restrung it.
But you can save yourself from the social disgrace I experienced. I’ve put together a free mini-ebook covering the basics that every first time uke owner needs to know. Here’s what it contains:
Five Things to Know
Five Chords to Learn
Five Patterns to Strum
Five Songs to Play
Five Websites to Visit
Five Things to Get Free
Five Things to Buy
Five Videos to Watch
Five YouTube Channels to Subscribe to
You can download it free by clicking here:
And get playing by following the beginner ukulele lessons.
If you’re not new to ukulele but know someone who is feel free to pass it along. It has a Creative Commons license so distribute it as you wish.
Merry Christmas, Chanukah Sameach, Happy Holidays, Io Saturnalia and Happy Holidays! (If you’re into that kind of thing.)
That’s it from me for this year (other than the ebook for new ukers). I’ll be back at the end of January 2016 (year of the unnecessarily difficult F7 chord).