The London Uke Festival is shaping up to be a really fun event. So much so I’ve been tempted out of my lair and will emerge, blinking into the sunlight, myself. As much as I know so far: Joe Brown is going to sign three ukes for charity, Pete Howlett will be making a uke from scratch in one day, Will from UOGB will be there (whether that’s in his official capacity I don’t know).
The event will include a mass ukulele world record attempt with, hopefully, more than 500 people strumming Sloop John B. The event will raise money for Cancer Research UK. If you’d like to sponsor me, you can register your donation on my Justgiving page. And please do because I want to win at charities raise some money for a good cause.
To complete the Ukulele Recordings EP trilogy. On the first few listens I thought this was the weakest track on it. But it’s grown on me a great deal since.
Like the other tracks on the EP, it’s in D tuning. But it works fine playing the chords in C-tuning. Although I would advise playing the similar chord inversions to those you would play in D tuning. So D would be 2225, F#m would be 6654.
D U X (U)
The U in brackets is an up strum with the strings muted with your fretting hand.
There’s very little from the 1980s that I’m nostalgic for. The TV, fashion and music almost universally terrible. And the dominant format for music was the cassette. But my antipathy towards the cassette might be turned around by the uke-heavy tape label Lost Sound Tapes. I fired a few questions at LST honcho and uker Jon Manning to find out more.
Why set up a tape label?
I find tapes to be very accessible. They’re inexpensive to manufacture, they are much more durable than CDs + records, and cassette tape playback devices can be found for $2 – 10 at most thrift stores across the country. I sell Lost Sound Tapes cassettes for $3 + shipping and that includes a tape by James Rabbit that contains 86 minutes of music (two whole albums). My goal is to encourage people to release their own cassettes and show them that it is within their grasp as human beings. Every release has elements about them that are handmade: stamped construction covers, stamped or handwritten labels, sewn tape covers, etc.
There’s a high proportion of ukulele acts on the label, was that intentional or did it just turn out that way?
It wasn’t really intentional, it just turned out that my friends and I just happened to be playing ukulele. My father is originally from Hawaii and we always had ukuleles around the house but I didn’t start playing uke until 2004. I loved the fact that it only has 4 strings and how easy it is to hold.
You play the baritone yourself in Blanket Truth. What appeals to you about the bari?
Ah, the baritone ukulele is a brilliant instrument. It’s usually tuned DGBE, like a guitar, which makes it incredibly easy to play along with guitarists and bassists. It also means that the fingerings for baritone ukulele chords are the same as a guitar, so it’s a great instrument for musical beginners. If you can play baritone ukulele you can play a guitar. The baritone translates surprisingly well to rock music and I even play mine through a big muff distortion pedal often. It also happens to work out the best for my vocal range.
Tell us about the new ukulele compilation you’re putting together.
The ukulele compilation I’m currently working on is called “Ukulele, Mekulele, Wekulele”. It will be released by my label Lost Sound Tapes as a cassette tape. This is actually a sequel to the ukulele compilation entitled “Ukulele and So Can I” which contains 23 tracks of ukulele songs from uke novices and experts alike. “Ukulele and So Can I” features songs from Watercolor Paintings, Jordaan Mason, The Desks, and Tinyfolk, to name a few.
I’m taking open submissions for “Ukulele, Mekulele, Wekulele”. If you have a song that you would like to submit for consideration, please send a wav, aiff, or flac file to email@example.com via a service like mediafire.com or mail a cassette or CD to Lost Sound Tapes / PO Box 45586 / Seattle, WA 98145. I’ll choose the tracks that fit together the best and notify everyone. The deadline is August 31st, 2009. Our first ukulele compilation, “Ukulele and So Can I”, is currently out of print, but I plan on reissuing it alongside the new one. Send me your best or weirdest tracks, originality certainly helps! Don’t be afraid.
Which ukulele acts should we be paying close attention to?
WATERCOLOR PAINTINGS: They are a brother/sister duo who play baritone ukulele, soprano ukulele, and harp. Really unique folk songs in a pop song format, most of their songs are under two minutes. I’m releasing a split 7″ for them on Lost Sound Tapes for their two month long national tour this summer with iji. It’s the first LST vinyl release and we’re very excited about it. The record is available on June 30th, but you can listen to the whole thing online now. If you can’t wait to buy the split 7″ they also just released a 7″ called “With The Light On” on Yay! Records.
ANTARCTICA TAKES IT: Dylan is from Santa Cruz, CA and has pop sensibility like none other. Most of his recordings feature a full band, but you can often catch him playing live shows solo. I was fortunate enough to see him play on a rooftop in Bellingham, WA this past April while Blanket Truth was on a mini-tour with Antarctica Takes It and James Rabbit (with whom Dylan plays drums) and my mind was completely blown. Great voice and sweet sweet melodies. He has a new single called “C + F” and I highly suggest you check it out, there’s also a new album in the works.
BLANKET TRUTH: I have a new album coming out this year called “My Keyboard / My Ukulele”. Half of the songs will be featuring a Casio keyboard that my grandma handed down to me years ago and the other half of the songs will, of course, feature baritone ukulele. Expect songs about ghosts, animals, and washing the dishes. Lately, we’ve been playing as a 3-piece – baritone ukulele, vocal percussion (beatboxing), and bass. We also have a CD, our first full length, called “Indoor Camping” and you can get ahold of it through the Lost Sound Tapes store.
Apologies to the majority of you who have probably never heard this song before, but after mentioning it the other day I couldn’t resist writing it up.
One thing to look out for in this is the two different versions of the C chord. In the original there’s a strong bass-line move from C to D to E. So I’ve emphasized the E note in the second C chord. You can use the traditional C chord. But the C’ chord does make the transition to Ab easier.
It’s been four days and twenty hours since Peggy Sue got a mention on here. An oversight that must be rectified immediately.
Also this week is Fairport Convention (or what’s left of them) paying tribute to their ukulele heroes, Franny Deschanel’s best song yet, a bit of Justin Timberlake and plenty more. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s not often you see baritone Gibson ukuleles up for sale but here’s a rather handsome Gibson UB-1. Good to see they went with the guitar-style headstock rather than the more clunky ukulele headstock.
On the subject of lesser-seen baritones, here’s a baritone banjo ukulele.
Leolani have combined three of most hated design features into one hideous ukulele: dolphins, writing ‘Hawaii‘ on the instrument and the half-pinapple-half-not shape. It’s turning into a arms race between companies to see how many dolphins they can fit on a ukulele. Stop the madness before it kills us all.
When Sophie Madeleine gets as famous as she’s obviously going to be, I fully intend to take all the glory for discovering her. Seeing as how I get none of the credit (or blame if you’re so inclined) for discovering Julia Nunes.
I’ll try to resist the temptation to dork-out on the chord progression as much as I did for The Ukulele Song*. But there are plenty of moments worth looking at. Like the flamenco like D – Eb-5 in the intro. And the extensive use of the IVm chord (C minor rather than the more common C major). And when they do the IV-IVm (which is pretty standard) they put the chord change between phrases rather than in the middle of it (where it’s usually used by lesser songwriters such as The Beatles).
And then, of course, it’s the Jim’ll Fix It style ba-ba-baa chorus.
I wasn’t going to write a review of the Mahalo Flying V. My brother got me one for Christmas. It was a nice thought and he wasn’t to know it’s the WORST UKULELE IN THE WORLD.
The Good Stuff
The Look: It does look good. Even close up. The way the neck attaches to the body is a little inelegant, but nevertheless.
… erm… The intonation isn’t too bad for the price.
The Bad Stuff
The Sound: The sound is awful. Weak and flat.
Playability: It’s very hard to play without buzzes and scratches. The neck feels nasty. It’s almost impossible to find a comfortable strumming or picking position. Which brings me on to…
The Shape: The shape makes it impossible to hold and strum comfortably.
When you’re sitting down it’s hard to avoid getting spiked in the groin. Which isn’t an experience I enjoy (and anyone who tells you I do enjoy it and that I regularly pay for exactly that experience is lying).
The only way I’ve found to play it standing up is to stick my arm through the middle of the V. Which makes strumming tricky, picking impossible and you look like a divot.
If you are thinking of getting a Mahalo Flying V as your first ukulele please, please, please don’t. I can’t think of a worse ukulele to learn on. If you must have a ukulele that looks like a guitar, get a Mahalo Les Paul instead. They’re a much better instrument.
If you have a decent uke or two already, get one for the novelty value. But buy one of these while you’re at it.
For her latest album, Wax Works, Madame Pamita eschewed modern recording techniques like Auto-Tune, digital manipulation and, erm, electricity. Instead she sang and played down tin horns on to wax cylinders. Then, like the old-timey musicians of yore, released the album for digital download.