Author Archive | nick cody

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

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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:

Facebook:

Geraldine Ukefest

New Zealand Ukulele Network

YouTube:


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

Website:

Geraldine Ukefest

Survivor Girl Ukelele Band

Geraldine.nz – the Heart of South Canterbury

 

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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”: https://youtu.be/5k3d2Lx2rHw

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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.

 

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Interview with Phil Doleman by Nick Cody

Phil DolemanI understand you are currently recording in the studio, what can people expect from this new recording?

Well, the ‘studio’ is a nest of blankets and foam sheets at the bottom of my stairs! I’m recording onto my laptop with a single large diaphragm condenser mic into a Focusrite interface. With the exception of the laptop, the whole setup can be had for around £250. I think that people that know me for playing uke might be a little surprised as not only are there several 5-string banjo tracks on there, I’m also playing the guitar, bass, percussion, harmonica, etc. and there are some great guest musicians too (including my daughters!)
It’ll be released in plenty of time for me to take a box full to the Ukulele Festival of Scotland in April 🙂

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to record their own material?

Do it! Don’t expect amazing results at first, but just get used to how things work and how you sound. Recording yourself is a great way to improve as it can be really difficult to concentrate on playing AND listening critically! We’re all so spoilt now, many of us have recording technology in our phones that Abbey Road would have been envious of, so why not use it! Also, keep it simple. We have access to such amazing technology now you can end up with 48 tracks of nonsense in no time! If your song doesn’t work with voice and a uke or guitar, then it won’t work whatever you do with it. As it happens I’m going through all of my recordings at the moment and asking, “does it really need that extra instrument?”!
All that said, a great song well played but recorded on an answerphone is worth more than any expensively produced but soulless hit.

Phil Doleman

I see you are teaching at Sore Fingers as well as another retreat in the UK as well as a workshop in the USA. What is unique from each of these learning experiences for any student?

Sore Fingers is a bluegrass and old-time music camp, not a uke camp, so students get to mix with lots of other singers and instrumentalists, all of whom have some common musical ground. Also, the students stay with the same teacher for the whole week, so there’s a lot of opportunities to get really deep into the material. At the West Coast Retreat, people pick different tutors for different workshop sessions, but there are still workshops that continue over 3 sessions (one each day) so again you can take it further than a single hour-long session. Plus of course, both situations have plenty of time for extra-curricular playing & jamming! As for the Uke Room retreat, it’s brand new! I’m really looking forward to doing it and finding out what we can achieve!

What in your experience are the biggest misconceptions people have about learning the ukulele and other instruments?

That it’s about notes, chords, etc. or even what the best instrument or set of strings is! Of course, those are important parts, but music is about feeling, it’s about getting a reaction from you, your friends, your audience. It’s about connecting with other musicians as well as the listener. It’s about making feet tap, making people dance, smile or cry. That sounds really naff, but I don’t understand why anyone would want to make music if they haven’t been profoundly affected by listening to it at some point. There are songs I cannot listen to without the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. That’s why we learn an instrument, and the technicalities of learning it are just so you can make that happen, even if it’s only to yourself.
Oh, and the ukulele is no easier than any other instrument if you play it well 🙂

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

Wow! So many… The wonderful Seattle busker Howlin’ Hobbit once said (I paraphrase), “if your prime concern isn’t entertaining people, get off the stage” which I think is brilliant! Another one, which many musicians have said at some point but I got from Bob Brozman, is “Just because you can don’t mean you should”.

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

I’ve been really lucky to play with lots of great musicians and some of my heroes, but sadly many of those I would love to play with are no longer around. I’d have to say Dom Flemons, he’s such a great performer who really knows his music and history. If I’m allowed to pick someone who’s deceased, I’d love to strum few songs with Pete Seeger.

How useful is it to play a variety of instruments in musical development?

It’s extremely useful to be able to realise ideas. If you play bass, for example, not only can you add a bassline to your song, you also understand how basslines work, how they can drive the song along, change the harmony, etc. All of the instruments you play cross-pollinate, so you’ll get inspiration for a guitar part from something you discovered on say, a banjo. Instruments are just tools, the more tools in your box the more jobs you can do!

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

Play what you love, regardless of whether others think you should. The music I play now is music I have been seeking out and listening to for 30 years (and playing for myself, in private), but only in the last 6 or 7 years have I been playing it in public in any meaningful way. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Oh, and get used to beans on toast and charity shop clothes!

Phil Doleman

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The Power of Visuals in Music

When working on a number of new projects in recent times, I am increasingly aware of the importance of great visuals in music and especially in music promotion. This visual dimension is one of those elusive obvious considerations that often gets missed by both artists and promoters.

As the old saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words” 

I actually suspect that visuals may be even more impactful that that!

YouTube in promoting music

As well as using great photographs, video has become king in the world of communication. YouTube in particular is a major platform for artists and in the era of sound and vision on the move, people are far more likely to watch a short video that read an article.

YouTube actually added 500 million users between 2012 and 2017 which is an indication of how music is increasingly consumed in this way. In setting up the OUS platform we decided that video should be central on artist’s pages.

For my own band The Small Change Diaries, we decided to invest in video for the Birdman track from our second album. The video actually pre dated the La La Land movie, and interestingly had a similar wonderful dance sequence between Kier Brown and Amy Hamilton filmed in the record store. Ink Blot films did a great job

This video was a huge amount of work, but to date has attracted some good attention. As the old saying goes

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”

The Importance of using great photos

All smart artists and promoters appreciate the value of using great photographs. This often means good investment in hiring somebody who can do this professionally to get the best results. I’m constantly amazed  at how many artists and promoters use really sub standard photographs on websites and in promotions.

Here are some of my favorite photographs taken by Karen Turner 

Visual impact with record covers

Record companies have of course always known about the importance of a great visual image and many artists have classic album artwork. Classic covers include the Clash’s London Calling cover, The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers cover, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Andy Warhol’s famous graphic for the first Velvet Underground cover. These have become iconic images which of course work far better visually as vinyl album covers than as much smaller CD covers.

Collectable Music Visuals

Much of the work from photographers during 1960s and 1970s who took photos of classic artists is now highly collectable and a great investment. Genesis Book Publications specializes in very high quality books of such photographers. Once an artist dies the material becomes even more valuable. One example is for David Bowie’s artwork. The Speed of Life book is fully subscribed – see http://www.genesis-publications.com/book/9781905662210/speed-of-life and can now be worth 500% more than the original retail price for the 2000 limited edition run.

Original prints of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and in more recent time Bruce Springsteen are starting to be great investments. I suspect the photographers when they originally took these photos would be surprised at how sought after these items are.

Conclusion

The visual image for a musical artist is a key ingredient in getting attention, if you see what I mean?

 

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Chris DeGirolamo

DeG is an ukulele performer/Songwriter based in Atlanta, GA. He performs original songs and covers of pop songs, but also Hawaiian language songs at luaus and Polynesian festivals. His original music has appeared on 2 charity compilation CDs, Ukulele Underground United : Song Still Remains, and Ukulele Players United to Decrease World Suck, Volume 1.

He founded the Southeast Ukers ukulele club in 2009 which currently has over 450 members on it’s Facebook Group. He also is the organizer of Chattahoochelele, which is an annual ukulele event near Atlanta where a flotilla of innertube riding musicians drift down the Chattahoochee River playing their plastic ukuleles. The 2017 event expects upwards of 50 participants.

A multi-instrumentalist (bass, guitar, drums) he plays cajon in the ukulele reggae band Drop Ready, featuring Seeso and Greg Golden.

Follow DeG on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DeG.ukulele/

Follow Drop Ready on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dropreadyukulele/

Support Kiva microloans to help improve the lives folks in developing countries by downloading this CD or donating to the Kiva fund: https://ukuleleplayersunitedtodecreaseworldsuck.bandcamp.com/releases
https://www.kiva.org/team/ukulele_players_united_to_decrease_world_suck

Proceeds from this Ukulele Underground compilation will benefit the Duchenne Foundation for boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy:https://store.cdbaby.com/m/cd/UkuleleUnderground

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How best to develop ukulele skills?

There are many reasons why people enjoy and play music. Some people are happy to learn to  strum a few chords and there’s definitely a place for that. Others like group strum alongs which can be terrific social events. Many ukulele and other niche festivals can be social meet ups and places where people would rather jam that actually listen to seasoned performers. A major ukulele social media site ran a poll where only 22.8 % of those polled would attend an event to see experienced performers v 52.9 % would prefer to jam with friends. Online there are lots of people asking questions about how to develop skills and the advice can be at times “questionable” at best although well intentioned. Phil Doleman wrote a great article on this very subject here 

In the UK there’s a great interest in promoting ukulele festivals and festival style events with one happening almost every 3 weeks, often with the same core artists. Some of these events have workshop opportunities for learning usually in a 60 minute or 90 minute format. In the past these snapshots have been a lot of fun, but of course there’s only so much you can do in this limited period of time. Memorable ones to date include a claw hammer introduction from Aaron Klein and a rhythm workshop by Phil Doleman. My observation in recent years is that many workshops are not fully sold out even though the actual festival is fully subscribed. This again reconfirms that the festival format is often focused on social interactions rather than learning.

The more intensive learning retreat model is in my view a much better way to develop skills for the following reasons. Firstly those attending have committed a period of time (usually a weekend) solely to musical learning. This makes such events a real immersion process. I have personal experience of attending two wonderful Martin Simpson workshops. This would typically be for a maximum group size of 30 attendees. During this time, we each have a unique opportunity to ask questions and learn a huge amount about the technical aspects of learning but also many other aspects of performing. The frame of the learning environment means students can really forget about worldly activities and only focus on music.

In the UK Sorefingers  have ab excellent reputations for providing excellent learning for students. Both Phil Doleman and Percy Copley are teachers with this group. In June this year Matt Stead is providing a very welcome new learning initiative with a residential ukulele retreat that looks very well organized with some really excellent teachers. See https://theukeroom.com/retreat/

OUS is all about creating NEW ORIGINAL MUSIC. Musical education is a key element in making this possible and in my view investment in developing such skills is time well spent. We never stop learning and being in the company of music professionals is only going to help with that process.

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The Importance of encouragement and support

The FB OUS forum has been running for over 2 years and now has over 3000 members. Its generally a friendly supportive space and over the last 26 months many of the artists who have posted there now have pages on this site.

I recently deleted a new member, which is highly unusual as most people who join the site are there to support other artists and to post their own material. This person decided to do neither and even suggested that promoting original material was “an obsession” When asked to perhaps post something original himself he made an excuse and ducked the opportunity! I welcome open discussion and debate but only with basic good manners, so we nipped this in the bud!

I’m however grateful to experience this nonsense as it reminded me of the importance of encouragement and support for artists. The irony was that the character who posted endless negativity was not really a shining example of great vocals or musicality and could have learned some useful skills from the OUS family.

As established or aspiring artists we are all on a learning curve of one sort or another. Hats off to anyone who aspires to entertain others, but special kudos for anyone who puts themselves out there to create something original. Creating something new, requires a genuine courage to put yourself out there. Yes, not everything is going to be great first time round, but that’s the same for everyone. Developing any craft takes time and application.  OUS is all about creating a safe space to encourage and support creativity. This does not mean suggesting that everyone and everything is “brilliant” but at the same time slamming everything as being “sub standard” is equally naïve and unhelpful.

Special thanks to Alan Thornton and Harry Parker who moderate the FB group and to all those who have posted there. Also thanks to those who have contributed guest blog articles here. We are a space dedicated to creating something new.

Best Regards and Merry X Mas to all

Nick Cody

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Victoria Vox knocks it out of the park

Victoria Vox and Jack Maher are the OUS 2017 artists of the year.

I therefore expect music from Victoria to be of a very high standard, BUT in my view this latest track just out is a new level

Go listen here, I’ll let the music speak for itself

This is really what excellent music is all about and I for one look forward to hearing the full album

BRAVO! (:

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