Archive | July, 2018

The Covert Pop Songwriter by Derek Reynolds

My name is Derek and I am a solo acoustic singer-songwriter. That is the story and I’m sticking to it… oh, also I perform with a ukulele.

People have written SO extensively about the problematic image the ukulele has with musicians that I won’t dwell on it However I find it interesting that even the primary and obvious use of ukulele in hits by Vance Joy, Twenty One Pilots, Train, Young The Giant and Bruno Mars haven’t really helped the public perception of the little 4-stringer. There is not a uke to be found in either of the official videos for Vance Joy’s big hits Saturday Sun or Riptide, which are both played on the uke. So we can assume that Vance’s management definitely understands the issue. Even though I applaud Vance Joy’s YouTube videos where he seems to usually be on one of his ukuleles, thank you James Gabriel Keogh! And YES, Eddie Vedder came out of the closet and released the Ukulele Songs album. Hooray! But not so much, here is what Rolling Stone said: “The ukulele doesn’t allow for the widest range of expression, which makes it a challenging foil for Eddie Vedder, who never met a feeling he couldn’t drive through a wall. But this uke-suffused album stands up because he adapts the instrument to his idiosyncratic needs.” When have you EVER read an album review that blamed the instrument for the shortcomings of the music? As a person who HAS released a solo acoustic ukulele album, much Like Eddie’s, I can attest that he did not even scratch the surface of what the instrument can do. Can we admit our lovely ukulele has a PR problem? Absolutely yes. Is it fixable? or does it really NEED to be fixed?, that is a bigger question that plays back to being a musician in the first place.

I don’t say I play the ukulele and the “U” word does not appear prominently on my website. But that is just so people don’t turn away before hearing my music. Once people hear your music it shouldn’t matter what you are playing ON if they find a connection with what you’re playing. If the songs matter the medium becomes a non-issue. And I think that is what a lot of online performers are missing. Learn your instrument, develop songs (original or covers), make them musical, dynamic and interesting. Then go play your music live and see what gets a response. Put yourself emotionally into your songs, be honest, be yourself and make the audience part of your music then you will find the people that “get” what you’re doing. A lot won’t get it but the ones that do are your fanbase, at that point, it becomes a numbers game. And there is no faking it when you are playing a three hour set of 40 songs because it is exhausting.

I play a fair amount of Farmers Markets which sell locally sourced produce, meat, furniture, pottery paintings, etc… The “Local Grown” movement is big in these parts and as far as I’m concerned music is part of that. Just because you can post a video to thousands of people all over the world with social media tools you are not really building fans. Start local, the real fans come from an emotional connection with your art so get out and play for them. That is the work that goes into being a performing musician and it is and SHOULD be hard and occasionally frustrating. That’s how you learn. I think it’s a concept that seems to be losing ground because it is SO easy to just cut a 55-second video and post it. But there is no real connection to your audience in that format, no shared vulnerability of a live show. So if you get lots of online attention for your music try posting a lyrics-only video of a song and see how that affects your numbers. It’s a good litmus test to see if you have followers or fans.

So get out there and show people that your ukulele is more than just a gimmick or a social strum-along toy. It was born of an old Portuguese instrument and proudly honed for 100 years by Hawaiian artists and luthiers all over the world. It has a long and proud tradition so make real music with it, write songs on it, go play shows for people who really aren’t expecting what you are about to do, be brave. Get off the web attention-fix and make your OWN music. It’s not easy but it is definitely worth it and the whole ukulele community will thank you for it.

Derek Reynolds

Derek Reynolds


Ukulele builder and lover – John Doug Dumle

I started out playing ukulele just over 1 year ago and really enjoyed it but, I wanted to do more. I saw that people were building cigar box guitars and thought I would give a cigar box uke a try. The first one was cool but I enforced the face and it killed the sound. I talked to someone that repaired and worked on stringed instruments and ask for advice. He showed me a cut away of the inside of a guitar and explained that uke strings and steel guitar strings are very different. So back to the shop and the next one sounded a lot better and as I continued to build they got better looking and the sound was getting better. I have used several different types of wood for the neck and even built my own boxes. I have a 8 string with a ceder box and a cherry neck that i believe sounds great. I have even added pickups to some of my ukes.

A few months back we were in Maui and a friend said “Pick up some Koa while your there. It will be cheeper than here in Colorado.” I have also got pointers from several luthers and have continued to improve on my builds. I have now completed 2 traditional style ukuleles (1 tenor size, and 1 soprano size) they look and sound beautiful.

My next project is a Ubass of maple and walnut. I am not much of a player but am getting this build thing together. It has been very rewarding and great for stress management. To date I have about 35 cigar box builds and 2 traditional styles and I don’t see this ukulele addiction going away any time soon.



Girl Friday

Hobart-born and Melbourne-based award winning* singer/songwriter Girl Friday (Tracey Hogue) will transport you to a different era. Her folk, jazz and blues sensibility evokes a sense of nostalgia, innocence and melancholy. Girl Friday’s rich, soulful voice and heartfelt lyrics remind us that people have felt and sung about the same things forever and a day. This calibre of songwriting never goes out of style.
*Winner of Roddy Read Songwriting Award, Maldon Folk Festival, 2016


The Greatest Day by Jake Shimabukuro

In 2017 I was lucky enough to be invited by Van Fletcher, Jake’s manager to his house in Nashville to listen to the latest mixes of the new Jake album. Interviewed Jake in the UK in 2016 and we had a fascinating discussion about music and it was clear to me that he has a great love of all kinds of music. Of course Jake is well known for his brilliant Queen and Beatles covers and I had his excellent Nashville album. Now he has released The Greatest Day and its excellent.
The new album is a brilliant choice of material with some fantastic guest musicians, including Jerry Douglas who is on three tracks – If 6 Was 9, Eleanor Rigby and Go For Broke
Jake commented
“It was such an honor to have Jerry guest on the record” He was only going to play on one tune, but we had such a great time that he stayed and played on two more tracks.”

You can preorder online here 

Here is the tracklisting
  1. Time of the Season
  2. The Greatest Day
  3. Eleanor Rigby
  4. Pangram
  5. Bizarre Love Triangle
  6. Straight A’s
  7. If 6 Was 9
  8. Shape of You
  9. Go For Broke
  10. Little Echoes
  11. Mahalo John Wayne
  12. Hallelujah
I have long maintained that the ukulele is a terrific instrument, but often many (not all) ukulele players don’t explore more of its real potential. This album is a brilliant example of pushing the sonic boundaries and raises the bar for all ukulele players, but then Jake is far from just a ukulele virtuoso. In my opinion he is a superb musician who just happens to play the ukulele.
The album has a diverse range of material and kicks off with the great Zombies song “Time of the season” which has a fantastic melodic hook. The production is excellent on this track and throughout the album. The rhythm part reminds me of something Michael Jackson might arrange, a really great driving beat. The Greatest Day is a Jake composition and swings wonderfully with Jake’s part soaring in the mix. There’s also a great use of effects on the uke, which I’m not usually in favor of, but here it works really well. As with all the other tracks on the album, there is a real consideration to sonic dynamics which is essential especially for instrumental work. Few artists truly pull this off.

The title track “The Greatest Day” follows and here’s Jake talking about it

I know Jake has a love of Beatles music and Eleanor Rigby is really well arranged and sounds great especially with Jerry Douglas. I’ll kill to see Jake and Jerry play live as they work brilliantly together. “If six was nine” is where Jake takes this album to a whole new level. The playing is superb and I suspect Jimi would have approved.

The challenge for uke players in playing guitar classics is to do something new. Otherwise why not just play the guitar? On this version, there’s, a great arrangement and this could sit comfortably on “Electric Ladyland” which from me is the ultimate compliment. Jake’s playing throughout is wonderfully fluid with a lot of dynamics. He’s been described as “the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele”, but I think of him more as “The Eric Johnson of the uke” Both musicians are world class and have a very distinctive sound.
“Straight As’ is an original composition by Jake and has a great feel. Its good to see Jake writing his own original material and continuing to explore new sound combinations.

The album concludes with Hallelujah another great cover of a classic song. Those who know me, know that generally, I favor original material, but Jake is a rare individual who has the talent and creativity to bring something entirely new to such great tunes. He literally set the world alight with “While my guitar gently weeps” and I was blown away by Bohemian Rhasphody on his Ted talk. The Greatest Day will in my view continue to showcase the magic of the tiny uke to a much wider public, which is most welcome. He’s also on a trajectory for exploring new territory and that is always the sign of a smart musician.
Clearly, a great deal of time and care has gone into this recording and it shows in the result. Jake is touring extensively in the USA and Asia and audiences are in for a treat.

Anna van Riel

Following the success of her 2014 Tui Nominated album “Whistle and Hum”, Award-winning Lake Hawea singer/songwriter Anna van Riel changed tack with a fun and interactive, toe tapping album, with a focus on supporting child development and interaction.
Having successfully toured her way across North America, with family in tow, Anna resourcefully engineered her own self-managed house concert circuit through sustainable and earth homes. Her passion for community and connecting with her audiences, has lead her on a musical journey that has been meaningful and unique.

When performing for her younger audiences, mother of two, Anna brings a wholesome, loving and encouraging air to her shows. She is also enthusiastic about sharing her sustainable approach to motherhood and music through song and dance.

Nominated Best Children’s Album and Best Children’s Song at the NZ Music Awards, the title track to Anna’s children’s album, “Cooking up a song”, also took out Best Song for Children at the Australian Songwriters Association awards in Sydney last year.

The album has recently taken her on an Off The Beaten Track tour in the Deep South where she visited children in remote areas.

Southland born, Anna is based in Lake Hawea with her husband and two children Matilda and Oscar.

Sign up to Anna’s newsletter here.

Discography: Cooking up a Song (2015), Whistle and Hum (2013), Love is Just a Word (2014),The Funny Thing (2014), Einey Meiny Miney Mo(2010), Solar Panel (2010).


The importance of encouragement and good manners



I set up OUS almost 3 years ago with the purpose of bringing together ukulele artists interested in creating original music. The FB site was the initial platform and then we set up this main OUS site. This was from what I see the first site dedicated to this end and its a fair amount of time and money investment to keep it all live. In fact a few months back the main site crashed due to traffic as we blew the bandwidth.

I have always adopted a policy of thanking people for their work, no matter how busy I am or where I am on the planet. On average I am in a different country every 6 weeks, often in different time zones. Alan Thornton and Cody Reeson help administer the FB site. On the main site we welcome artists in having their own pages and to date 127 have taken up the offer. We also invite guest blogs and articles and many have contributed thoughts including Phil Doleman, Mike Turner, Percy Copley and many others.

The platforms are advert free and there is no pleading for PayPal contributions to keep this all live. OUS has also sponsored uke festival stages, give away samplers, live charity events, musician travel, musician accommodation and many other initiatives. All this is done to encourage new music creation. I think some people would be surprised at the amount of financial investment in creating artist opportunities, but I am happy to do this as longs as there is enthusiasm for people creating original songs.

Next year we’ll be launching “Music for the Head and Heart” which is much bigger than OUS and not confined to any niche instrument. Of course, neither OUS or new the platform will be to everyone’s tastes and that’s fine. In the uke world, there are all kinds of politics and of course commercial interests that shape opinion. This is often the main focus of social media, but its not the focus of OUS. I mostly stay away from all that nonsense but will always stand up for OUS if people hurl negative posts and especially when these are fabricated.

I always welcome discussion and of course, people can pm any comments rather than try to be the centre of attention in some flame war online that serves no positive purpose. There are plenty of online groups for all that stuff. There is also a small group of characters who seem threatened by the whole concept of OUS, which is a bit odd to say the least. The often fostered image of one “ukulele community” is IMO total fiction. In reality, there are many completing commercial and artistic interests and all too often there’s not plenty of selfless actions and genuine encouragement, which is a sad reflection. Fortunately, there are a few beacons of hope and that’s the good news!

Some of the comments on social media defy belief and at times it’s like watching the lastest walk back in current Trump based  White House with a number of fabrications spouted online.

One recent example from a character who criticised OUS, was on the platform, left and then tried to apply again but was refused because of his history of online behavior commented –

“I was thrown out, because I didn’t agree with him.”

NOBODY has ever been “thrown out” or off the forum for not agreeing with myself or anyone else.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite! Discussion and debate are always welcome as is honesty and good manners. I don’t think its too much to ask for.

I blogged about this earlier this year on my personal site and little has changed –

I think it’s important to call people on such behavior as its the polar opposite of good manners and encouragement

The FB platform is growing faster than ever and the approved artist applications for this site are also at an all-time high. Part of the reason for this is that OUS is more than just an FB group that ebbs and flows, its a bigger creative movement for artist expression.

We will continue to promote artists at all levels interested in creating original music. OUS is inclusive and the FB page is a friendly place to share content.

Best Regards




Song and Supper Rooms

“Rewind a bit there and you’ll notice we said ‘singer and ukulele player’. Yes, Song and Supper Rooms are the spiritual heirs to George Formby, but George Formby if he wrote self-consciously wry ditties about Emperor Claudius’ wayward wife, WWII planes crashing into mountainsides or prostitutes in 19th Century cinemas…” Nightshift Jan 2017. Catchy melodies, eclectic subject matter and a nod to old-fashioned music hall from a ukulele-driven three-piece.

Oxford-based band performing original songs with ukulele/vocals, bass and cajon.


Is it time to expand the sonic range with the ukulele? Part 2

The first article on this subject generated some useful and interesting discussion. Since setting up OUS a few years ago I have noticed that there are often two very polarised views when it comes to “ukulele music” Some people love to play cover songs and strum and its more of a social interaction which is fine. I have regularly supported running a PA for such groups and my wife attends a weekly strum along group.

My point is that as well as this, there is an opportunity for more diverse and ambitious sonic exploration. Good musical development means a willingness for critical evaluation. Of course, you never please everyone, but I’d like to think that its possible to aspire to greater creativity and OUS is a testament to that being totally possible. Without critical thinking, we never really develop as artists.

Developing your sound

One of the things I have learned from setting up bands is the importance of investing time and money. This means setting aside time for rehearsals and ensuring that you mean getting the best possible sound. Of course, will have time and money constraints but often a well-considered investment into a musical instrument rather than a “ukulele shaped object” can make a massive difference to your sound and enjoyment of playing. String choice can make a major difference and even a DI box choice can make all the difference between a sound and a really good sound. I have always promoted Fire Eye Development’s products for this.

Some artists use a multitude of effects but don’t explore how to set the effect parameters. This can result in effect saturation to the point where the sound loses any kind of dynamics. Of course, there is always the argument that people can have whatever they want, but a good musician knows the capability and limitations of equipment and s always seeking to refine and improve what they do.

The challenge with any instrument is that on its own there is a limit to its sonic range. Of course with a guitar there’s is the possibility of altered tunings and of course, typically a guitar is at least six strings. Ultimately its all about exploration and innovation. One of the best bands I ever saw was Morphine at The Pink Pop festival. The lead singer had a two-string bass and was accompanied by a saxophonist and a drummer. They opened the festival and blew everyone else away including Bjork, Crowded House, and The Orb.

As I mentioned in the first article, I absolutely love the ukulele as a musical instrument and even after a recent cull still own 20 ukes. I’ve written recorded 36 original songs on the uke and played this material all over the world. I admit to not being a fan of the quirky comedic uke image, but that’s a personal view. There are a few artists that have enough imagination and musical skills to connect with the wider public. These include Victoria Vox and James Hill among others.



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” “amazing” 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 seriously run the danger of dumbing down music in an unhelpful manner. When everything is described as “awesome” nothing really is…

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



Tom Hood and The Tropical Sons

Tonite at Trader Toms is my latest release and takes you into my Tiki Rock genre. I play 4 and 8 string ukuleles and harmonica on this CD and joining me are Peter Grace on Spanish Guitar, Tenor and Baritone Uke and Vinnie Mungo on Bass,Percussion, Keyboards, Special Effects. The songs have been written on the road including my travels to Mexico and the Bahamas.

The you tube videos are from The 2018 World Ukulele Day Concert in Dunedin FL and TBUG17