Author Archive | nick cody

Is it time to expand the sonic range with the ukulele?

I’m a massive fan of the ukulele as an instrument and especially as a songwriting tool and I set up the OUS platform a few years ago to bring together the best original ukulele musicians. The OUS FB page now has over 3100 members and on average we only approve one in 6 applications to join. One of the motivations for setting up OUS was that in my totally biased opinion a lot of what I saw and heard didn’t really inspire me. I admit that I am very picky about music and that probably comes from decades of playing and listening to some of the very best artists on planet earth.

One of the challenges for ukulele based artists is that the instrument itself has a specific sonic range. Yes, there are differences between soprano, concert, and baritone ukes, but even if we stretch beyond four strings there’s only so much of the same frequency that I can personally enjoy in one sitting! The instrument is a brilliant accompaniment for singers and artists like Eddie Vedder have really showcased how brilliant a ukulele set can be. I saw him perform his “Ukulele Songs” set in New York as well as the UK and it was a real masterclass in entertainment.

This is an exception of course and despite the superlatives bandied about online, few artists and songs are “awesome” or “transcendental” to my ears. Those superlatives should, in my opinion, be reserved for the very few exceptional performances and songs. When almost everything is described in this way, we run the danger of dumbing down music in an unhelpful manner.

One of the best ways to expand the sonic range of material is to include other instruments and by “other instruments” I don’t mean just more ukuleles! There’s definitely a place for group strum alongs, but some of the most interesting material in my very biased opinion is where the uke is combined with instruments that make for a far more interesting and sonically diverse mix. James Hill is a good example of this and some of the bands on the artist page here also show what can be done. My first band “The Small Change Diaries” are not a typical ukulele based band and you probably won’t find us on the “ukulele circuit” as that’s not really our audience. My new band “the Caravan of Dreams” is even less uke based although I still write primarily on the uke.

A friend of mine who attended a well-known uke festival this year commented that for him it all got a bit dull hearing one solo artist after another mostly paying cover versions of songs. “Its all as Britain’s Got Talent” he commented. I reminded him that the public love that show but agreed that also in my personal opinion it would be nice to raise the bar for sonic exploration. Here is a wonderful example of how good the uke can be when incorporated with other instruments



The Importance of caring about what you create

A few years ago I had the total pleasure of interviewing Bill Collings of Collings Guitars. Bill has now passed away but throughout the interview, he constantly talked about the need to care about what you create. I mentioned to him that in my travels across the globe I had played countless instruments from his company including all manner of acoustics and electrics. Every single one was superb in playability and sound. This is one of the reasons why Collings instruments are so highly regarded by musicians.

I have always had a policy of striving to create the best possible end result. Often this means being stretched a bit financially and spending more time in any creative work. I came across some almost unlistenable video on social media of some uke artists. The sound was so bad you couldn’t really make out what was being played. In this day and age, you don’t need cutting-edge equipment to create some really good music. Often it’s simply about having some interest in quality control so anyone watching/listening can see and hear what is going on.

Of course, everyone will have their own views on this subject and some folks become extremely defensive about this whole issue suggesting that there are only two options – super slick crafted videos and homemade efforts. Of course, this is more than a bit simplistic. Its totally possible to capture great sound and vision with really basic gear, if of course, you care about the end result.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview with Bill May 2016

As I was saying to Alex, (Bill’s right hand man who was kind enough to show us all around the facility at Collings)I’ve been all around the world, New York ,Japan and everywhere ,and I’ve never played any of your instruments which don’t sound great, and I can’t say that for any other builder.

Yeah well, that’s what we try to do, so we’re supposed to care!

The other day I heard from a dealer about electric guitars, that nobody cares about fit and finish in an electric guitar ,and I thought “you know, well I guess the world is done” I mean to say that if you don’t care about something like that , you’ve given up, you know?

Well I don’t think that is the universally accepted view

I hope not

Bill’s passing was a great loss to the music world and especially the ukulele world, where he made many superb instruments. I fully endorse his philosophy about caring and paying attention to the quality of what we produce. It requires more effort, but then why settle for anything less?


When the muse moves you

I remain fascinated by the songwriting process, which is one of the reasons why I set up the OUS platform. Next year we launch the Music for The Head and Heart platform which is much bigger than OUS. This also has an element that looks at the creation and delivery of original music, but is not confined to any individual instrument.

Recently I was getting ready for a rehearsal for “The Caravan of Dreams” ensemble, playing the wonderful Gregor Nowak guitarelle. I found a really simple haunting riff that really stuck in my head. With 20 minutes before other band members turning up I scribbled down a couple of verses. This was one of those moments where the first draft is great and there’s a whole stream of consciousness going on where I’m writing as fast as I can to get down the ideas.

Instead of rehearsing what I had planned, we launched into this new track, literally hot off the press. My violinist and double bass player created an intro harmonizing both instruments which sounded amazing. We ran through the track 3 times with Agi on vocals and harmony vocals and it sounds so good, I putting it to the top of the list for July’s recording date. This is the fastest piece of writing ever, even faster than “There’s only one of you” which is on the first Small Change Diaries album and a favorite track for many.

My experience is that its helpful to be in a particular state when creating new songs and crucially not to start editing too soon in the writing process. This is a strategy used by Walt Disney when he created his films and Disney still adopt this way of working today. When the muse turns up its truly a fascinating process and its in my experience being like a channel for something to appear. Sometimes once the song forms I think “Where on earth did that come from?”


Writing to a theme: Liverpool Acoustic 24 Hour Songwriting Challenge by Alison Benson

As part of the Across the Threshold Festival, Liverpool Acoustic and the festival team ran a 24-hour songwriting challenge.  It worked that a theme was released at 1 pm on the Friday and any songs entered into the challenge had to be submitted (title and words) within a 24 hour time period.  The songs would then be performed the following afternoon.  Only the first twenty songs submitted would be performed and judged.  I wrote a song, composed on the ukulele with voice, and performed it…and I won, which I was really pleased about.  Here are my thoughts about writing to a theme – I’m going to ignore the deadline element.  The theme given in the 24 Hour Songwriting Challenge was Across the Threshold.     

The first stage for me was to mind map everything I could about the theme itself.  I considered synonyms for threshold which led me down a path of doors, being carried over the threshold, which then led to thinking about marriage. I went back to the idea of thresholds and was reminded of the poem ‘Gate of the Year’ about stepping out into the unknown new year.  For a moment, my mind went to the idea of the Greek God Janus, with a face looking forwards and backwards – both sides of the threshold.  None of these ideas stuck, but there was real value for me in pondering the theme and what it meant, playing with words and ideas.  I turned on the TV to the news that Tom Daley was speaking for LGBT rights at the Commonwealth Games.

The second part was then to run with the idea and link it to the theme.  Daley was speaking as though this was an opportunity to bring change, to step across a barrier that had been constructed – to cross a threshold. 

Perhaps the first and second parts aren’t so different!  The third part was the words, which gave me a bit of an idea for a melody, as well.  I worked around the idea of identifying what the problem is that I want to address in the song (the situation of LGBT people) and what would be a better situation.  The chorus, I felt, needed to include something clear about the theme but aware that the threshold has not yet been crossed, I referred to being ‘at the threshold’.  It was at this stage that I reached for my ukulele.

The final part was working it all into a song, so tidying the lyrics so they fitted neatly into the melody, adding a chord structure (which was already in mind, underlying the melody) and deciding how it would be performed.    As soon as it took shape enough, I began to record it so I didn’t forget it as I picked out notes and harmonies.  The first performance was on the guitar, although all subsequent performances have been on the ukulele. I’m still not sure which sounds best.

Something that was fascinating about the challenge was hearing the various ideas people had regarding the theme…there were no two songs the same.  I’d recommend choosing a theme or idea with friends and then going away, writing songs and sharing them with each other because you never what great ideas you’ll hear and how it develops your songwriting. 

If you’d like to hear the song Here we stand you can listen to it here:

Or if you want to hear the guitar version, it’s here:

I’d be interested to hear which you prefer!

Alison Benson






Writing Lyrics for original songs

As well as running the OUS platform, I am in two bands “The Small Change Diaries” and more recently “Nick Cody and The Caravan of Dreams” To date I have written 35 original songs, 25 with The Small Change Diaries and 10 with The Caravan of Dreams.

I remain fascinated by the writing process and my favorite artists all paid great attention to the lyrical content of their songs. When I hear music these days, I always think to myself “Would I be happy having written that?” Often lyrically much of what I hear would only be the first draft. I confess to being a fan of dark and often sad songs that talk about human relationships and behaviors. My favorite albums include “Blood on the Tracks” “Hejira” and “Nebraska” I’m also a big Richard Thompson fan, so my tastes are not exactly mainstream cheery music!

Often songs will be inspired by people I meet and or observations of human behavior. With The Small Change Diaries, examples include “Hey Rona”, “We’ll draw you out” and “Birdman” In all these instances I found that the best way to write was to allow ideas to simply flow and later wonder about editing. Often I’ll have notes scribbled on random bits of paper, and if I have one to hand, one of my moleskin diaries. I then transfer everything to my laptop and always back everything up in two locations for safety purposes. Sometimes I feel that songs are just nagging to get written and to be recorded. I always feel a huge psychological relief once a song is recorded, mixed and mastered. It’s as if the plan has finally landed!

I am lucky to be working with some amazing musicians and these folks often bring new ideas to the song’s arrangements. The first Caravan of Dreams album is much darker than anything I have done with The Small Change Diaries and I’m really pleased with what we have to date. All the songs are written on the ukulele, but the material is not all based around the ukulele. Its far more diverse and I am using a really diverse range of musicians. Some of the progress of the new album is detailed on for those interested

The BIG project that will launch in 2019 will be much more extensive than OUS and will be of great interest to those who have a great love of music.



OUS Misconceptions and inspirations

I created the OUS platform two and a half years ago to see who was out there creating original music based around ukuleles. Personally, I have never been a fan of the stereotypical comedy image of ukulele and my idea of hell is artists playing endless cover versions of Bowie, The Cure, and The Smiths. I, however, appreciate that I may be in a minority considering the enthusiasm that such material receives online where all too often such attempts are described as “awesome” and “brilliant” Personally I reserve such superlatives for people I consider to be truly excellent artists including Bob Dylan (on a good day), Neil Young and Glen Hansard.

The Original OUS statement

The front page of the site has always contained the following public statement

“Let me also be 100% clear, I love cover versions, especially when they are done with a twist, bringing new perspectives to the song with different interpretations, and of course traditional and folk songs which are no longer associated with an individual but live in their own right. However, I love it far more when songwriters create original material. This site is a platform for original ukulele-based songs and is unique in that it brings together ukulele artists from all over the globe. This site is not run for any commercial interests and there’s no paid advertising here. This removes any favoritism and commercial bias, so this platform is only to promote the love of original music.”

Despite this clear statement, almost three years on I still receive the “You hate covers” nonsense comments. In a social media era it seems that this “us or them” mindset is increasingly common and of course supremely daft. The reality is that there have been many superb cover versions from artists, but there have also been many very average attempts. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but without original songwriting, there would be no cover versions. I realize I have unintentionally stirred up a lot of the old ukulele guard and this has resulted in a few tantrums online, but IMO that’s often no bad thing as it provokes discussion and debate.


In the last two years, the OUS FB page and this main site have been truly inspirational and I have been blown away by the quality of many of the original songs. I appreciate that the ukulele world is a niche musical genre and most of what I see and hear is not original music. Fortunately, artists like Victoria Vox, James Hill, Manitoba Hall, Biscuithead and the Biscuit Badgers, Danielle Ate the Sandwich and my own band The Small Change Diaries are all looking to push the boundaries of ukulele-based music. It’s not to everybody’s taste of course, but personally, such artists give me some hope that we can show the wider public that the ukulele is an extraordinary instrument that can be used as an excellent creative musical tool. Artists like Eddie Vedder, George Harrison and Elvis Costello have also embraced the mighty uke to create some superb songs.

I passionately believe that the world is a better place for artists creating new music and I applaud anyone doing this. OUS remains an oasis for such material and in 2019 I will be unveiling a much bigger platform also dedicated to the love of music.



Interview with Percy Copley

When did you first become involved in music?

At an early age. I started out with a ukulele banjo and some “teach yourself” books around the age of ten. I played songs from old songbooks I found from the twenties and thirties. They had the ukulele chord windows in them and I learnt a lot about chords and chord sequences from them. I learnt a bit of piano at school. Later on I moved on to banjo in a jazz band, 5 string bluegrass banjo, guitar, mandolin, tenor guitar, harmonica – and bagpipes. I got into early jazz then folk and bluegrass and country and blues.

How similar or different is your attitude/approach towards the different instruments you play?

I think each instrument is different. In its voice or style or application. Taking up a different instrument means there is a certain sound or style I want that I don’t get from another I already play. Some songs or tunes sound better on some instruments than others. Each instrument has its place.
Perhaps the guitar is more of an all round player than the others. You can do a wider variety of things on the guitar. That’s not to say the others are limited. Perhaps the banjo, for example, has a more particular sound, especially in the mind of the public, that can make it more applicable to certain things than others. But it’s also good to surprise people by doing something unusual or unexpected.
That’s part of the fun with the ukulele. It has generally managed to stay uncategorised, apart from the Hawaiian or Formby sound, and is used in so many different styles. In some ways it is a blank page, and you can do what you want with it. Once people have got over the “when I’m cleaning windows” and “over the rainbow” thing they are happy to hear whatever you want to play.
Basically each instrument has its place in what I do. There are some similarities or influences but they all do different things.

How did you become involved in Sorefingers and what can people expect from attending that workshop?

First, let me say that SoreFingers is a lot more than a workshop! It is a week or weekend (depending on which one you go to) of immersion in music, learning and playing. It is based in bluegrass and old time music but has now opened a ukulele class too.
There are several instrument courses – banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, ukulele, singing etc etc – so you are surrounded by different sounds and sessions all the time. The students are encouraged to participate in bands and sessions, from the student bands that play on stage to the evening socializing in the bar. It is a full on experience and made better by the fact that you can play with other people on other instruments.
I first went as a student many years ago and later returned as a tutor. I have taught banjo and mandolin and recently started the ukulele course which also has brought in Phil Doleman to teach.
The teaching sessions range from straightforward techniques to individual styles and tunes. The important thing is that there is time to really work on things. It’s not just an hour long workshop to give a taster. The easter week is five days of learning and playing giving you time to really get to grips with it. You go away with your head full of stuff to work on and a happy, tired grin on your face!

What did you most learn from your experience of working with Disney?

I worked at Disney full time for nearly 25 years. And I still work there on an intermittent basis.
Working in a corporate atmosphere, especially in music, can be  challenge. Also playing every day, five days a week, to a room full of hungry, tired or overexcited people can be a tough job. It is also a very enriching experience. You get to perform music and songs over and over, giving you the chance to really work on them. It is a great way to get used to being in contact with the public on a daily basis. Part of the job I love is the contact with people. Especially people who are not necessarily there just for you as a performer. You and your music are a surprise to them – hopefully a good one!
I think the Disney job helps you to be consistent, professional and able to do the job on a daily basis.
Even if you do the same set every day – every day is different and will bring you into contact with some amazing people if you reach out to them. Music can do that.

What advice would you give to somebody starting out learning to play a musical instrument?

Get good advice. Preferably from someone you know and trust, or several people.
Get a playable instrument. Not the cheapest or the most expensive. Get one reasonably priced that will play well, but won’t ruin you if you decide to not go on with it. Too many people are discouraged by buying cheap instruments that are hard to play. If you continue you can move on to a better instrument that will inspire you, once you know more about which direction you want to go in.
Get a teacher if you can. Early help will make you progress in leaps and bounds. Teaching yourself alone can be a long hard struggle, and you can learn a lot of bad habits that will be hard to undo.
Beware of bad teaching on Youtube! There are a lot of weekend wonders out there who think they can teach you a miraculous way to do something quicker or easier. It doesn’t work. The only way to get better is work and practice. And that takes time and effort.
Enjoy learning the little steps rather than being frustrated that you aren’t a flash player yet.

What are the biggest misconceptions that people have about learning and playing the ukulele?

It’s easy.
Is it? Well lucky you then. Show me how easy it is. Go on. Play me something.
There are qualities in a ukulele that make it easier to approach but the techniques and habits you need are the same as any other stringed instrument. Practice, precision and perseverance.

It’s a small guitar.
No it isn’t. There are two bass strings missing and the notes of the strings are different and the 4th string is tuned an octave up. There are similarities between the chord shapes of the ukulele and guitar. But give a ukulele to a guitar player who’s never played one and watch their face contort as they try to figure out where to put the fingers where there are no bass strings!

It’s meant for children.
It’s meant for everyone. The ukulele’s small size can make it easier for a child to get to grips with at first and may encourage them to continue with music. But it is also an instrument that is played by people of all sizes. You can get “child size” guitars if you like. But a ukulele is a “one size fits all”, whatever size ukulele you have.

It’s not a proper instrument.
What’s a proper instrument? The ukulele is played by young and old, large and small, all across the world, from pop to classical, jazz to rock, folk to funk. Not a proper instrument? – don’t go to Hawaii!

Play any chord you like – they all fit.
The chords to a song are the chords the songwriter wanted. They decided on those chords. If the arrangement says E then play an E. Or learn to play an E. If it says Bb then play Bb. E7 and Bb6 are not substitutes except in certain circumstances. It is better to choose to play an E7 because you think it sounds better than an E in that particular circumstance rather than just because you can’t play an E. Practice, precision and perseverance!

My fingers are too fat/big/long/short/stiff…..
We all find excuses for why we can’t do things. Look at the people who play well. Look at their hands. You will see short, fat, stubby fingers and long, skinny, pointy ones. All doing the same things. Some may have a better reach over some chord stretches. But they get the job done. Maybe you need to do some finger or hand exercises to get the fingers moving. But they will. With – practice, precision and perseverance!

Which artists have you most enjoyed playing with and why?

Too many to mention any one or two by name. But always most enjoyment comes from inspiration. Bouncing stuff off somebody who then bounces something off you. A collaboration of ideas and attitudes that create great music on stage. The best feeling is playing on stage with someone you know will catch you if you stumble or fall. To be in a situation where everyone is holding each other up to be the best they can, because they want to hear that other person play, and to contribute to that great moment.
There’s nothing worse than being on stage with someone who only cares about how they look and sound, and who will do their best to make you look bad because they think that will make them look good. I’ve been in that situation and it never ends well – particularly for the person doing it. They are a lonely breed.

8. Tell us something about yourself that you have never revealed in an interview to date

I’m not very keen on oysters. I wish I was. Those who love them seem to get such pleasure out of them. So I’m always happy to give my share away to others!

Percy Copley


How to build a ukulele festival from scratch – By Hugh & Fi McCafferty

Location, location, location –

The small town of Geraldine in New Zealand seems an unlikely venue for anything of importance. It is a pretty town of some 2,500 people, with a similar number living in the surrounding areas, and can be found nestled into the foothills of the Southern Alps, roughly in the middle where the highways to the South Island’s major cities intersect.

Known for its white-water rafting, picturesque views, and Barker’s internationally recognized fresh fruit products, Geraldine is also home to an increasing number of artists and craftspeople, all of whom add an eccentric and colorful flavor to the personality of the town. Since 2013 it has also become the focus of a small ukulele festival, now attracting upwards of 350 visitors each year, a festival which is spoken of warmly in New Zealand ukulele circles, and is increasingly attracting international interest. In 2016 Ukulele Magazine named Geraldine Ukefest one of the ‘six go-to festivals’ for that year. Organisers Hugh and Fi McCafferty first picked up the ukulele in 2009 because of their involvement in a kid’s church band. A small child turned up to practice one day clutching a slightly battered red instrument that was almost impossible to tune.

‘Can I play this in the band?’ she asked. The McCaffertys, who between them already played guitar, banjo, bass, fiddle, bongos and saxophone, rushed out and bought a Makala Dolphin each, and set about learning to play them.


Two years later, encouraged by attending a sold out Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra concert, they decided to run a series of adult classes. These classes proved so popular that they ran some more, with that class eventually morphing into a weekly group of around 25-30 players. Although Fi and Hugh have now moved on to other ukulele projects, that Geraldine group is still going strong. Another of their church activities, was to organise variety shows fundraisers which showcased local talent. In 2012, billed as the Mid-Winter Ukulele Extravaganza, the ukulele group made their debut in one of these shows. In July the following year they ran the very first Geraldine Ukefest.

Build it and they will come

In 2013, from an idea scribbled on a napkin after a bottle of wine (or two) at a local café, the McCaffertys thought if might be fun to run a mid-winter event for ukulele players, grandiosely entitled ‘The Big Strum’, in the Geraldine Community Hall. They would later be encouraged to add a crash course for beginners, a free community concert, ‘Ukes in Church’, whereby folk could strumalong to their favourite gospel songs, and and an open mic where you were invited to get up and ‘Get Leid’.

Using a series of bright -coloured posters they spread news of the event via shop windows, South Island music stores, and Facebook. Creative Communities New Zealand and a local supermarket chain agreed to offer some sponsorship. “It was a little nerve-wracking,” says Fi. “We’d presold some tickets but really had no idea how many people would show up.” They need not have worried – in the end around 120 folk made their way to Geraldine and a fun time was had by all.

Spurred on by this early success, the decision was taken to run a second festival – and having made a small profit, this time there would be a headline act. An invitation went out to the somewhat eccentric Kiwi ukulele group Big Muffin Serious Band (who had just celebrated their 30th anniversary). The Muffins accepted and the bright-coloured publicity again made the rounds.

But things were about to step up a notch. A chance encounter on Facebook soon led to the forging of a ‘virtual’ friendship, and resulted in the addition of Brit Rodriguez, an original ukulele artist from California, to the lineup.

The art of asking

“We are the kind of people who don’t usually ask for help, especially from friends. We prefer to not push the envelope – we do what we can afford, and do it on our own,” says Hugh.

“At the time I was reading The Art of Asking by ukulele punk diva, Amanda Palmer,” Fi adds. “I’d just reached the chapter where Amanda describes her reticence in asking soon-to-be husband Neil Gaiman for a loan to fund the recording of her next album. She prefers to do things on her own, too.”

“Our Creative New Zealand funding was already spoken for – how could we help this young girl get here?” Fi continues, “Then it occurred to me that local company Meadow Mushrooms, owned by friends Ros and Philip Burdon, was a sponsor of the New Zealand String Quartet. ‘That’s it!’ I remember yelling out loud, ‘Ukuleles also have four strings! This is going to be such an easy pitch!'”

And so began the three year relationship with Meadows, who not only generously offered more than enough to bring Brit and her mom/manager Colleen from Hollywood to a small town in New Zealand, but also increased the level of sponsorship over the next two years, thereby establishing a solid financial foundation which has allowed Geraldine Ukefest to flourish. The organisers are pleased to now have the luxury of professional sound and lighting, photographers, videographers and street banners.

Fi has also learned that asking really isn’t that hard – just last year she had Bryan Tolentino, Halehaku Seabury, and (in November) the inimitable James Hill, perform on Geraldine stages. “I still haven’t finished reading Amanda’s book,” she laughs.

No ordinary festival

A ukulele festival in the middle of winter? “Yes, some folk might have thought we were crazy, but what better way to brighten everyone’s spirits than to sing and dance and wear bright clothes?” says Hugh. “We took a look at Barry Maz’s ‘Got a Ukulele’ festival calendar. It was the same worldwide – nothing much was happening during the colder months.”

Because of the cooler temperatures, the entire festival is held at indoor venues. Hugh tells us a lot of effort is put into attendees comfort. “Although, there was that one time when it snowed, really heavy snow, four days before the event. It had us just a little worried!” he adds.

Occurring as it does in the off-season, the festival is also appreciated and well-supported by local businesses, community organisations, and a hard-working team of volunteers.

‘Oh, how we laughed,’ said Hugh when faced with a white ukulele event

GUF18 Summer Strum
9-11 March, Geraldine, New Zealand

As well the big winter festival, the McCaffertys are this year trialing a smaller ‘Summer Strum’. Aimed at ukulele players in the surrounding regions, the intention was to hold a low-key event – low budget, no headliners, with loads of performance opportunities.

“But now we hear that people from all over New Zealand are heading our way again, and from Australia, too” says Hugh. “After another lunch with wine, we also decided to invite Laurie Kallevig come meet us all. Geraldine Ukefest supports Laurie’s incredible work with her Survivor Girl Ukulele Band project, working with the victims of sexual trafficking in Kolkata. She lives with these rescued girls for six months every year, sharing the love and the healing powers of music by teaching them ukulele. Long story short, the Summer Strum is looking like it might be a bit bigger than we planned!”


“We’d also decided to invite Laurie Kallevig to come and meet us all. Laurie jumped at the chance, and we all fell in love with her as she shared her stories and her new CD with us. Geraldine Ukefest supports Laurie’s incredible work with her Survivor Girl Ukulele Band project, working with the young victims of trafficking in Kolkata. She lives with these rescued girls for six months every year, sharing the love and the healing powers of music by teaching them ukulele.”
“Long story short,” Hugh continues, “the Summer Strum, was a great success, with more time for relaxation, collaboration and comradery than the frenetic activity that abounds at Ukefest proper! We’ll definitely do it again next year.”

Geraldine Ukefest 2018 (GUF18)
19-22 July, Geraldine, New Zealand

At GUF18’s main event ‘The Big Concert’, Hugh and Fi are thrilled to be presenting Aaron and Nicole Keim AKA The Quiet American. A home-grown modern folk revival, their music incorporates traditional ballads, banjo breakdowns, raggy choruses, gospel duets and other dusty Americana gems. Aaron and Nicole present a concert experience that pays tribute to old time folk music traditions yet strives to connect to a modern audience.

Opening the show for them will be Wellington’s renowned one-man-ukeband, Shane McAlister, with his unique style and quirky original songs, and all-girl Dunedin trio, The Flukes. First ‘discovered’ at GUF16, this will be The Flukes first headline appearance.

The GUF18 four-day programme includes an ‘Earlybird Strumalong’, a ‘Gospel Jam’ at a local pub, the opportunity to perform during the lunch break as part of ‘Ukes in Cafes’, ‘The Big Strum’, still a key event at every ukefest, and, of course, the inevitable lineup of Open Mic sessions. Friday’s ‘Opening Night Invitational’ will see eight awesome ukulele acts, hand-picked from all around New Zealand, some of whom will be making their debut on the big stage.

There is a total of 16 workshops to choose from over five sessions: Fingerstyle, Clawhammer and Strumming Styles, all with the super-talented Aaron Keim; Singing and Old-Style Folk songs with Nicole; The Art of Busking, Songwriting, Arranging Ukulele for Groups, Slide Ukulele and more. You can even learn how to play the spoons!

Where to from here?

Now in it’s sixth year, Geraldine Ukefest has grown from a one-and-a-half day event which mostly attracted local interest, to a four-day, full-on festival, bursting with national and international acts, workshops, family matinees, strumalongs, and most importantly, lots of opportunity for amateur performance. The biggest festival of its kind in New Zealand, it is now attracting national, and even international patronage. There is a loyal following growing, too, with many attendees booking their accommodation for the following year as they check out. Hugh and Fi also report an increase in the number of original artists attending, and keen interest being shown in songwriting and performance workshops.

“We are seeing groups come through who, every year, grow and mature, taking their performances to the next level, even writing their own material,” says Fi. “This is really exciting to see. The Secret Lives of Ukulele, for instance, who first performed at Geraldine Ukefest in 2014. Then a newly formed four-piece ukulele group with a cigarbox guitarist, now they number nine players including a fiddle-player and full-kit drummer! Last year they were one of our headline acts, and are now writing songs and performing semi-professionally around the region.”

The McCafferty approach

Unlike other big festivals, Geraldine Ukefest maintains a linear programme. Having already grown to fill the town’s biggest venue, Hugh and Fi say they will have to start ‘thinking sideways’ as to how the festival can expand.

“We know most other festivals have different options, concerts and events running parallel. That’s one way to go,” says Hugh. “But we don’t want to get big just for the sake of it. Our philosophy is that people are here to have a great time, and so far that appears to be working. And we’re happy with that. Too much choice, too many people and we run the risk of losing our festival’s unique personality.”

“As for invited performers, we make it our goal not to repeat an act too often, and each year try to feature a headliner quite different in style from the year before'” says Fi. We tend to have an underlying ‘theme’, too. We’ve had the ‘Greenie’ festival featuring Formidable Vegetable Sound System, the ‘Showdown’, a mock-battle between the Big Muffins and kiwi ukulele trio The Nukes. Last year was ‘Aloha’, this year it’s folk. GUf19 will have an Italian flavour featuring Lorenzo Vignando AKA Ukulollo. Negotiations are about to get underway for 2020 – it’s going to be great!”

When asked the secret of their success, Hugh points at his wife. “Fi spends hours meticulously organising things. I’d say she thinks about it 427 days a year, a trick she learned from Hermione,” he jokes. “Sometimes being on the Asperger’s spectrum makes for difficulties, but when it comes to organising, planning, coordinating – it is a decided advantage. She also has a background in direct marketing and design, so our collateral looks good, and her skilled use of social media gets the message out there.”

Over the last two years Fi has also developed a Facebook group, The New Zealand Ukulele Network (NZUN). NZUN has become an online ukulele community serving players and groups in New Zealand and overseas.

Fi explains,”After the 2015 festival we had no idea how to grow it without somehow finding the ukulele players around New Zealand. We had begun collecting an email database from festival attendees, but because New Zealand is a long, thin country with long travelling distances, and a bit of water splitting us in two, there really was no cohesive ukulele community. So we formed one. We added every ukulele player we knew, they started adding their friends, too, and before we knew it, folk worldwide were joining up. So we made a group directory and found that we’d accidentally invented a whole new tourism genre for our country. It’s a very different kind of ‘ukulele group’ to most of the others out there. Rather than just being about ukuleles, its a network that’s all about real life connections – helping new members find a jam or a teacher, helping groups find a bass player or a workshop leader, helping make a ukulele group where one doesn’t exist. Of course we talk about our ukuleles, too, but that’s not the focus.”

At the time of writing NZUN has nearly 1,500 members. The directory lists more than 50 groups which means that travelers in the New Zealand can always find a group to jam with. There is also an events calendar and a membership badge, and a sticker.

“There’s still a few gaps on our map, but we’re getting there,” Fi laughs.

The key to a successful ukulele festival

“In the end it’s the experience that counts, “says Hugh. “Because Geraldine Ukefest has gained a reputation for being well-organised, people feel safe, and they feel looked after. Fi and myself do genuinely want both performers and attendees to have a good time. With a small band of helpers we work hard and smart to make sure a warm welcome is given to all. Because of the season, café owners and hoteliers are glad to see visitors coming in to town. The Geraldine community are some of the friendliest people around, are quick to offer help when needed, and give great applause. And, of course, ukulele people are so darn great that once you get them in a confined space, and Geraldine only has one main street, they are bound to have a good time.”

Hugh and Fi McCafferty, Directors of Geraldine Ukefest


Links that may be of interest:


Geraldine Ukefest

New Zealand Ukulele Network


Geraldine Ukefest YouTube Channel

GUF17 Official Highlights

GUF17 Grand Opening by uke-playing leaders of the Maori Party
GUF16 The Ukulele Showdown

GUF15 Formidable Vegetable Sound System

GUF14 Goulash Archipelago AKA Big Muffin Serious Band

GUF13 The Big Strum


Geraldine Ukefest

Survivor Girl Ukelele Band – the Heart of South Canterbury



Finding Just the Right Word by Mike Turner

There’s no question I’m my own worst critic. I write and re-write, edit and re-edit, to find just the right word to convey the story I’m trying to tell; get just the right timing and phrasing down to match the melodies I compose. In this essay, I invite you to a visit to my lyric-crafting world.

I’m envious of those who have the ability to pump out a fully-formed lyric on the first draft, in ten minutes flat. I know those people are out there – I’ve met a few. But I’ll never be one of them.

Let me give you an example. I spent months working on a 3-chord rocker, basically about a guy begging a girl to have sex (which, truth be told, is what about 80% of male-written rock songs are about). It’s intentionally what I like to call a, “lyrically challenged” song – that is, a song with minimal lyrics, relying heavily on the musical and performance elements to carry the song and convey the emotion. In fact, this is one of the few songs I’ve written, that started, not with lyrics, but with a chord progression and musical “hook”, with lyrics added later.

Anyway, I spent two days or so sweating over one word in a couplet and I thought showing the process to you would give you an idea of the warped levels my writing and editing can reach.

The couplet went through multiple versions until it came down to these two versions.

[version 1]
We’ll join our hearts and minds, let our spirits bind
Our souls will combine

[version 2]
We’ll join our hearts and minds, let our spirits bind
Our souls will entwine

Version 1 “sang” a bit better in the melody.

And yet, I’ve gone with version 2 in the final. Why, you may ask?

Well, if you go back to some of my earlier blogs on this site, I think it’s very important that we put something of our authentic selves, in everything we write. Part of that, for me, means that I make an effort NOT to write anything in my songs, that I don’t personally believe. Obviously that can’t be a hard and fast rule – I’ve written songs in which the protagonist murders someone, and I’m not a big believer in murder and violence (27 years in law enforcement will do that to you – and in those songs, I try to make sure the protagonist pays a price for their transgressions). But whenever I can, I try to write things that, in their underlying meaning, reflect my worldview.

And, while it’s a subtle distinction, that’s what’s happened here. It has to do with something I believe about relationships. We’ve all heard about two lives, hearts, souls becoming one, etc., etc. My wife and I, by contrast, believe that while as a loving couple we mutually support and encourage each other and work towards mutually beneficial ends, we should not and do not surrender our individuality by coming together in love and partnership.

Now, as I say, it’s subtle – but to me, the word “combine,” used here in the context of the song, infers a merging of two souls into one – in direct opposition to what I believe. The word “entwine” by contrast, to me expresses the joining of two souls, curling around each other in a mutually supportive way.

One my argue with my definitions – as I said, it’s a subtle (but to me, important) distinction – but what counts here is what the words mean to me. Why? Because they’re expressing what I believe. They’re part of my authentic self that I’m injecting into the song. Even if the words might not make a difference to my listeners reading them on the page, they would sense SOMETHING inauthentic if I chose to sing the word that I don’t really believe with – and they’ll sense SOMETHING authentic in my performance when I’m more invested in the word I do believe in. So, “entwine” it is.

I’d also point out that I just like the word “entwine” a little bit better – it’s not a word you hear every day, particularly in song; where “combine” is pretty common. I like the little extra “oomph” that the more unusual word gives.

Imagine going through this type of analysis for an entire song, and it becomes easier to understand why I can take weeks or even months to come to a “final” version of one of my creations. Clearly this isn’t the only way, or even a preferred way, to write lyrics – just ask the folks here who can turn out 10-minute masterpieces, or who can post 3 new lyrics a day, every day. My hat’s truly off to them. But that’s not the way I’m wired, that’s not the way I work, and I won’t “release” a song until the words I’m using, convey the message I’m trying to convey.

Anybody else go through this type of inspired lunacy?

Oh, and for anyone interested, here’s a link to a work tape of the final version of “Come On”:


Interview with Manitoba Hal by Nick Cody

What is it about the blues that you love?

I love that the music is all about the feeling and emotion. It’s built on a simple accessible framework that makes the music accessible and immediate. It’s also not important that you play well. Many great blues acts are not great musicians but they absolutely have the feel and the emotional connection. Of course, playing well doesn’t hurt.

What in your experience are the biggest misconceptions people have about earning a living from being a musician?

I think the biggest misconception is the “made it” myth. The reality in today’s music business is the new “made it” is just continuing to be able to have a job. There is no big “discovery” moment anymore, it’s a series of small discoveries and one-at-a-time marketing now. Your career is made on multiple small streams of income. CD sales, merchandise, touring income, workshops are just a few of mine. I’ve been blessed to make a good living the past 8 years from music alone.

How did your previous experience as guitarist help or hinder learning the ukulele?

It was useful in that the basic shapes and tuning are soooo related. But it took me a while to play a uke like a uke. (do I even do this now? Not sure.) Also, the fact that I knew a little about stringed instruments and scales has helped a ton with playing skills.

What’s the best advice anyone gave to you as a musician and who gave it to you?

The best advice I ever got was from my grandfather. He was a piano player in the depression years here in Canada. And he told me that being a musician is a lousy living but a great life. And he was absolutely correct. He also added that when you become a musician you take a vow of poverty and the better you stick to that vow the more you’ll enjoy the life. What I took from that is that you have to make peace with the idea that you can’t do everything. You can’t own the latest gadgets. Good things come but they come from planning and hard work.

If you could play with any musician on planet Earth that you have not yet played with, who would it be and why?

It would be my grandfather. He wasn’t famous or even influential really but by the time I came along he had quit playing publicly and by the time I could really play he was close to the end of his life. I often think how lovely it would have been to be a professional player with him and play shows together.

You are known for touring Canada, Europe and Australia. Do you have any favourite festivals that you look forward to playing and why those ones specifically?

Honestly, I love them all. They all have their special flavour and things that they do well and things they sometimes don’t do well. The bottom line for me is interaction with the fans. I am really into just hanging out with the people. I’ve never wanted to be the big “star” who hides away and then makes a grand entrance. I prefer hanging out in the pub or at the coffee shop with the folks that make it possible for me to have a living.

What are the most common issues students struggle with learning the uke and what advice would you give to someone starting out?

The most common thing I run into is the notion that playing all the songs in your songbook constitutes practice. While this is technically true, all you are practising is your repertoire. You aren’t learning anything new or building new skills. I run into tons of players who think they’re intermediate because they have been playing for several months but all they’ve done is play the same 6 or 8 chords over and over again with the same rhythm. I always suggest that students spend 15 to 20 minutes a day on pure skills development. Work on a hard strum pattern. Play the chords of a key you don’t know. Work on the chords up the neck. Learn a scale. Then after that, you can move onto practising your repertoire.

If you could go back in time 20 years and give yourself one piece of useful advice, what would it be?

The only advice I could offer my early self would be to stay positive and open to possibilities. I’ve been playing uke for over 20 years and for the first 10 I never took it that seriously. I was certain that the guitar was going to be my ticket to “making it”. In the end, it is the ukulele that has carried me around the world. I often wonder how far I could have gotten if I had spent more time with it at the beginning. That said we are where we are meant to be. So maybe I wouldn’t have even made it here. It’s hard to say I suppose and I’m just thrilled to be here.