Author Archive | nick cody

Interview with Phil Doleman by Nick Cody

I 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.

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!

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The Happy Pluckers

The Happy Pluckers’ are an up-tempo high energy band playing popular music covering a wide range of genres from Country and Irish to Rock & Roll in a unique style, for a great evenings’ entertainment! Based in Mojacar, Spain

we got together about a year ago – various degrees of experience amongst us, and our band includes concert, tenor, baritone and bass ukulele and cajon. We also have guests playing harmonica and fiddle from time to time

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Interview with Matt Stead – original ukulele opportunities

1. How did you become interested in playing and teaching the ukulele?
It was kind of purely an ergonomic thing at first and for two reasons. Firstly I was in an indie-pop band called A Fine Day for Sailing and used to do solo shows. Lugging an acoustic guitar around on busy tubes to get to shows was no fun so I used to stick a little Mahalo uke in my rucksack and use that on stage. I found it went well with the melancholy nature of my songs anyway. Secondly, I was a librarian and use to run storytime sessions. You’ve not lived until you’ve heard 40 toddler singing ‘Bear Hunt’ accompanied by uke! It didn’t take long until I was hooked and got myself my first ‘proper’ uke; a Mainland concert (which I still have.) Then I found the Ukulele Underground and UAS kicked in big time.

2. What inspired you to create the Ukulele Retreat?
I wanted to run a truly immersive learning experience, where the emphasis was on learning, rather than simply performing or being entertained. Sure, there will be an element of that (the students get to play on stage with their mentors at a grand finale concert) but people will come away with more knowledge, inspiration and enthusiasm. I’ve purposefully chosen tutors that either has a wealth of experience or bring something completely new to the table.
I’d been thinking about doing this for a while and when Steven Sproat and I looked into opening a ukulele school, it was at the forefront of our minds. Matt Warnes is important here too as we were looking into the possibility of a castle weekend down this way but then I got distracted by other things. I still really want to do this with Matt in the near future; a stately castle study weekend! Then I got talking to Phil Doleman about Sore Fingers, the Bluegrass retreat and that got me even more enthused about doing something similar just for ukes.

3. How did you decide on choosing these specific teachers for the retreat?
It was really important to me that each tutor brought something new. For example, blues and roots from Phil Doleman, melody style from Peter Moss, Formby and strumming from Steven and campenella style and arranging from Samantha. It was also important to choose tutors with experience in teaching and/or academia. Teaching is a skill in itself and is often taken for granted. Thankfully for me, they’re not only great teachers, but they’re also amazing players.

4. What’s the teaching format for the event?
We’ve got three distinct approaches across the three days. Friday night is for relaxing and getting to know each other. We have welcome drinks and open mic; all very relaxed. On Saturday small groups of students will rotate around four teachers, so each student gets a lesson with all four tutors. The groups are small so the tutors can give them their full attention to best relay their skills. For a bit of relaxation in the middle, we have a ukulele picnic. Yum! In the evening students can see how it is done as the tutors all perform. Sunday is where things get really interesting. Each tutor will coach a group through two songs, teaching them all kinds of techniques and building up their confidence in playing. Students then get to perform it on stage in a group, with their tutor, at the student concert. We’re all in it together so there is no pressure and it’s going to be a supportive and warm atmosphere.

5. What’s different about this event to the standard workshops in festivals
The big thing for me is that this weekend is entirely about learning. Students will come away with so much more than they went in with. It’s going to be special and heaps of fun. There’s nothing wrong with standard workshops at festivals though; they’re an excellent way to dip your toes into different teaching styles and learn new things. There’s a place for every approach.

6. What qualities make for a really good teacher and/or teaching experience
Being a good music tutor takes a whole set of different skills to being a good musician. The obvious skills are patience, communication, attention to detail and musical knowledge. For me, the key skill is to be able to strike a balance between what a student enjoys and what it is they need to learn (even if they don’t realise it at that point.) To build those skills takes time and experience.

7. What other music related projects are you currently involved in?
I’m so busy with The Uke Room project that my performing side has hit the backburner for a little while. I’m investing all my time and energy into teaching and workshops. Hopefully, that will bear fruit in giving people an amazing learning experience.
I have been writing songs for a new album. It’s 75% finished I’d say, but it’s going to take a while this time. Last year we recorded two albums in just a few weeks!

 

8. How in your view is the ukulele seen by the wider public?
It has changed entirely. I started playing almost twenty years ago. There wasn’t a ‘uke scene’ like there is now. Though, being a technophobe until recently, I did apparently miss the emergence of ‘the scene.’ Whilst I was strumming away in my band I didn’t realise how popular the instrument was becoming until the last few years. When I started most people would refer to it as a mandolin or banjo. Now pretty much everyone knows what a uke is. I still think in the UK there is still a perception amongst the wider public that it is a bit of a novelty instrument but that’s slowly changing.

9. If you could change one misconception people have about the uke, what would it be
I would like people to see it as a serious instrument in its own right, rather than a novelty. Listen to James Hill, Kimo Hussey or Jake Shimabukuro play. There’s nothing novelty about it. One thing I would love to see would be ukulele artists to break out into mainstream festivals. When we see a Jake Shimabukuro or James Hill perform at Glastonbury, then we’ll know that the ukulele has finally gained acceptance amongst the wider music world.

10. Which musicians alive or dead inspire you the most?
For me, my main musical hero is Brian Wilson. When I was a teenager my friend played The Beach Boys song Wendy to me and then isolated the vocals in the speakers for me. The blend of harmonies really changed the way I thought about music. For me, it’s all about harmony and melody and nobody commanded the two quite like Brian. I once wrote and released an album called Sandbox, named after the sandbox in which his piano sat in his living room so Brian felt like he was on the beach when he wrote. I put every conceivable harmonic line I could possibly cram into one album on that one.

In terms of the ukulele world, it was the Hawaiian players (not just uke but guitar too) that inspired me most. Gabby Pahinui, Eddie Kamae and Sonny Chillingworth are amongst my favourite. Again, with them, it’s all about the melody. In terms or modern ukulele, I love Corey Fujimoto, Abe Lagrimas Jr, Jake Shimabukuro, Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel. James Hill is undeniably the modern master though. His approach to not just playing, but teaching has had more influence on me than any other.

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MUMF: Meet the Ukulele Maker Festival (Friday evening 18th, Saturday 19th May 2018)

Most ukulele festivals in the UK are performers’ gigs – venues where you can meet other players, share your chops, learn how to play better and get the opportunity to have your ‘15 minutes of fame’. While these festivals provide the important function of recognizing and celebrating playing talent, makers often hug the sidelines hoping someone will notice their work. They are often like bit-players in a musical drama.

With this in mind, I and my wife Helen decided to ‘give back’ to the ukulele community since we have had so many kind people support us since 1994.  We had the idea of sponsoring a festival in 2018 where makers in the ukulele community could display their work, share their techniques and knowledge as well as selling their instruments.

Let me say at the outset, this is not ‘my festival’. The main focus of it and the whole purpose is to give others the room to shine. Kevin Mulcock of KM Ukulele, Liam Kirby of Wunderkammer Musical Instrument Co., John Pearson of Solwayer Guitars, Tom Zeigenspeck, Zachary Taylor, Lawrie Reekie, Volker Grass, Sven Nyström, Rick Thorpe and Richard Cross are booked to display and discuss their work. Some of the luthiers have been invited to host technique workshops.

If you are a maker, whether amateur or professional and would like to book a FREE selling space, please let Helen know by emailing her at h_howlett@btinternet.com

In addition, MUMF will be a festival where professional musicians Andy Eastwood, Zoe Bestel, Paul Tucker and Liz Panton, as well as performing in concert, will share their music-making techniques: song-writing, composition, playing and teaching expertise.

The venue is the former country house: Plas Tan y Bwlch (now the Snowdonia National Park Environmental Studies Centre) situated in Gwynedd near the Lleyn Peninsular. It has two performance spaces including a 100 seat intimate theatre.

There will still be the opportunity for Festival-goers to sign up for an open mic session on Friday evening and amateur players will be invited to perform between the headlining acts during the Saturday evening concerts. There will also be opportunities for ‘break-out, spontaneous sessions in the communal areas of the old country house venue.

The venue is the former country house: Plas Tan y Bwlch (now the Snowdonia National Park Environmental Studies Centre) situated in Gwynedd near the Lleyn Peninsular. It has two performance spaces including a 100 seat intimate theatre.

You can either attend as a weekend resident with full board or as a day delegate on Saturday. The free open mic on Friday night is in the function room of the nearby Oakeley  Arms hotel.

(Full board & accommodation at the main venue: Friday dinner, Saturday breakfast, lunch & dinner plus admission to all workshops and concert. Sunday breakfast & lunch: £185 ensuite, £168 shared bathroom. Day tickets £45 with the option of adding on meals.)

For more information visit the MUMF website.

 

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Don’t Deny the Muse by Mike Turner

I recently responded to a post in one of the songwriter groups I’m in, and I wanted to share the gist of the exchange with you.

The poster, wrote, in essence (I’m paraphrasing here): ‘I set out to write a dark song, but it’s coming out much more positive and upbeat than I intended. Should I switch to a minor key to get back to the dark song that I intended?’ The poster went on to say that he seldom finished songs he’d started, and really wanted to make a go of this one.

My answer? “Don’t deny the muse. Many songs take on a life of their own as they develop, which is really your authentic self injecting whatever the music and lyrics are making you feel as you create them. Keep going and see what develops, and then polish it to be the final product that it wants to become. You can save your ‘dark’ instincts for the next one. If, as you say, you don’t seem to finish too many songs you start, maybe this is partly why – don’t fight what your heart and soul are telling you this particular song is supposed to be.”

Art and creation are wonderful things – and the very expression of them, can inspire us to even greater heights of creativity. Like an athlete, we can really get into the zone when we get into writing a song. Some describe it as a feeling that we are merely channeling some higher being who is providing us their words and music. I prefer to think that it’s the process energizing the art and creativity that’s within us.

Or, maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s the muse.

Don’t deny the muse.

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

Location, location, location.

The small town of Geraldine, 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 recognised fresh fruit products, Geraldine is also home to a increasing number of artists and craftspeople, all of whom add an eccentric and colourful flavour 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.

All this because of one small child and her red ukulele

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.

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 trialling 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 opportunites.

“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 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!”

‘Why have just one ukulele festival, when you can have two?!‘ says Fi

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.”

Christchurch band Secret Lives of Ukulele going from strength to strength

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:
GUF17 Festival Highlights
GUF17 Bryan Tolentino & Halehuku Seabury
GUF17 Mapua Motherpluckers make their debut
GUF17 Grand Opening by uke-playing leaders of the Maori Party
GUF15 Formidable Vegetable Sound System
GUF14 Goulash Archipelago AKA Big Muffin Serious Band
GUF13 The Big Strum

Website:
Geraldine.nz – the Heart of South Canterbury

Five Years of Geraldine Ukefest

 

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Victoria Vox – Colorful Heart Review by Nick Cody

Since Victoria Vox and Jack Maher dropped by last year to my house, I have been a fan of their work. Victoria Vox is, without doubt, one of the few artists I have seen in the ukulele world who has mass appeal to reach a much wider audience with her music. On this album that took a year to create, there is a real attention to detail and this comes over in both the performance and the production.

The album starts with the title track Colorful Heart which is a real earworm and in my view, would be a great single. There’s a rhythmic multi-layering to the sound and the production is excellent. There’s a lot going on musically and the vocal multi-layering brings the song to a climax. Crucially the sound never gets cluttered and this reminds me of the very best Madonna material while the material remains unmistakably all Victoria Vox.

Next is Out on the rails which starts with a great bassline and is more of a jazz shuffle feel. I could imagine hearing this at The Vanguard in New York. At 2.16 in length, this is a great example of how to edit a track and ensure that every second counts. It has a great feel and Victoria’s voice soars above a wonderful jazz groove.

Kick it back follows and this returns to a more pop feel but once again with a great groove. There’s a strong rhythmic feel once again that is hard to resist as a listener and this also in my view is a serious single contender.  Only time will tell is a bossa nova  and has a more folky feel with Victoria’s trademark mouth trumpet and some great harmonization’s around 2.45 which remind me very much of the Beatles. Same Dirt starts low key and then builds rhythmically and is the longest track so far at 4.06 minutes. There’s a strong melodic hook throughout the track I love the lyric “Give each other the space to breath” and it’s clear as I listen to this album that everything is very considered in both production and delivery.

Daytime Moon starts off like an Andrews Sisters track in terms of harmonies but again is very much Victoria’s sonic blueprint. The track twists and turns musically and is one of the highlights of this album. I would love to hear this live and you get the impression she’s singing just for you.

Sounds of Summer kicks off with a great bassline and reggae/pop groove with some excellent shuffle percussion. This is a great summer song and again has real commercial potential. Harmony is piano based and again features some great harmonies. Its clear to me that this album has strong melodies and well-considered arrangements. It’s extremely diverse but remains cohesive as a collection of songs. Tugboat returns to a jazz shuffle feel with Victoria’s mouth trumpet. I absolutely love the way this song swings with some wonderful vocal expression. This is Vox at her very best! Wildwood closes the album and is clearly a very personal song. This is Victoria singing to a piano and this stripped back closing track is a great closing track. I defy anyone who listens not to be moved by the emotion in this track.

Colorful Heart is a wonderful collection of tracks that showcase jazz, pop, folk themes that take the listener on a journey that is wonderfully musical but never predictable. What’s clear to me is that this is a very well-crafted album with strong musical ideas. The production is excellent, so every vocal inflection is perfectly positioned alongside some superb playing. There’s a big audience for such intelligent well-crafted music and Colorful Heart really plays to Victoria Vox’s strengths, great melodies, superb harmonies and well-crafted songs.

CHECK THE ALBUM OUT HERE

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What’s the story? Storytelling in songs

I’m increasingly noticing how songs which tell stories are some of my all time favorites. When you tell a story there is usually a beginning, middle and end, so often the listener is wonderfully engaged with what they hear. Below are some of the tracks I keep on my media player when travelling around the globe

Here Loudon wonderfully tells his tale and the music is perfectly arranged in relation to his wonderful lyrics

Below is another example from a master of storytelling Bob Dylan and from all time favorite album “Blood on the Tracks”

This is a nine minute track, but a wonderful example of storytelling with lots of wonderful descriptions to maintain listener interest

Another brilliant songwriter and storyteller is Tom Waits and here is a superb example of him in action

Bruce Springsteen is also a superb storyteller and songwriter and this is one of his best songs

Note, all these artists make great use of sensory language to capture audience attention and in my view many of the great songs tell stories. In my own band “The Small Change Diaries” and my new solo project “Tales of Dark and Light” I’m increasingly using the medium of storytelling in creating songs.

 

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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”:

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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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