I Play The Ukulele – And It’s Bloody Brilliant!

Posted by Kyle on February 1, 2018 News | | No comments

One of my favourite vloggers, Casey Neistat, put it simple:

Find what you’re supposed to do.

You know it when you find it. You’ll enjoy finding solutions for problems, learning new things, practising in your spare time. You’ll teach others.

in Bedale for BAMfest – thanks to Nikki R Photo!

For me, it was the ukulele. Two Scottish guys drunk on YouTube playing “Theme from Rawhide” sucked me in. Then I saw the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. eBay spat out a bright yellow ukulele. A year of playing every day pushed me to play out live. Playing live introduced me to musicians of all backgrounds and ages. Networking led to gigs, adventures, bands.
Gigs meant money.

Adventures meant fun.

Bands meant making friends, writing songs and performing together.

I play the ukulele, and it’s bloody brilliant.

My first problem was learning chords. Some people play chords up the neck and pick out solos. It’s hard to fathom when you have no musical theory behind you, but my advice is to stick at it. With plenty of free advice out there I soon found that I enjoyed playing rhythm more than lead. I’d zone out when strumming different patterns and cramp my fingers dampening the strings.

Find what you’re supposed to do.

The finale of Hope & Social’s 12 Gigs Of Christmas – Leeds Trinity Church

2. Sound

I’d never sung in my life. Ok maybe for a few minutes at school during music lesson. I shook like a leaf and stared at the ceiling in embarrassment.

Record yourself as much as possible and get used to the sound of your own voice. I soon noticed that I was mumbling and corrected myself to sing clearer. And louder. You’ll soon find that going too far will strain the voice and give a sore throat. It’s a process.

Closing party for the Yorkshire Festival

My cheap ukuleles didn’t resonate nor ring to my tastes. As a single guy living at home I had plenty of disposable income and began importing ukuleles. I discovered mango, koa, walnut and solid-body instruments. Through research on YouTube I bought my first commissioned ukulele from Rick Turner. My 2010 Christmas present was a Kamaka 8 string koa ukulele from a guy in Hawaii. I hope he likes his house that he bought with the proceeds of selling to me. I love his ukulele. Ken Timms makes superb Martin-style ukuleles and it’s one of my favourites.

After buying and selling a whole host of ukuleles, I settled on my current crop. A soprano from Ken Timms, the 8 string from Kamaka. Rick Turner’s Compass Rose ukulele made from beautiful fiddleback maple. A mahogany and cedar Kala Baritone with bloodworm binding and a cool slotted headstock. All 4 have their own distinct sound and give plenty of variety, song to song, gig to gig.

Bedale folk club finale

3. Find someone to play with, or along to.

The best thing I ever did was head to my local folk night. I wasn’t a fan of folk music by any stretch but music is music, and they were accommodating people.

You get to meet other musicians and learn tips on all aspects of playing and performing. Number one has to be carrying on when you make a mistake — no-one will notice! After a few months of heading to the club weekly I became aware of sessions in other towns. A band named FiddLynMan Doris introduced me to even more musicians, more sessions further afield and different styles of music.

An early gig with The Trollops

After travelling around the county for almost a year I joined my first band, The Trollops. Playing gipsy-ragtime originals and bluegrass covers of popular songs. Our highlight was a small paragraph in the local paper after playing at a house gig. We loved it. I toured around with some friends and played along with their band at sessions. This ranged from Rochdale to Filey and up to the Isle of Lewis. I was at the Hebridean Celtic Music Festival, all because of playing a ukulele. We played in a couple of pubs and clubs in Stornoway on the fringe.

4. Knowing when enough is enough.

I joined a band after a drunken 12 hours of playing at a session. It’s where all the best ideas start and are usually forgotten about. Again the experiences were great with gigs in Cumbria and Skye. I learned to play without a capo and recorded my first CD.

The 5 of us were close-knit and like a travelling family.

The band shifted from jug-style blues to rock ‘n’ roll and was the first time I felt uneasy playing music. It’s not my favourite genre, least not for a 3 hour set list; the gigs soon dried up and I quit with a sour taste. Breakups are never easy.

My spot on Folkal Point, Radio Teesdale

5. Never be afraid to explore

I’d been around my local music scene since I first started playing and it felt stale. There were other towns to visit such as Leeds, York and Newcastle. As luck would have it a ukulele festival in York was weeks away where I would meet my current band. My impression of a ukulele group was a bunch of elderly people strumming along to nursery rhymes. Nothing wrong with that but not my cup of tea, either. What I found instead were groups of enthusiastic and friendly people. Brought together through our love of the ukulele and smiling all day.

So I got friendly with the Grand Old Uke of York and ended up joining them. Here’s what we’ve been up to:

Galtres Festival. We attracted so many people into the tent that they ran out of room to sell beer.

The Grand Opera House, York. We were filmed and featured on the DVD taken that evening.

The big one! Playing in front of 10,000 people at Leeds Arena with Hope & Social and the Northern Songbirds to open the Tour De France in Yorkshire. Live TV audience of 300 million.

Played at York’s Barbican theatre.

Beach-attire for a wedding.

We’ve busked and clogged up the street with punters. Played weddings and parties. Boogied our way through beer festivals. Been in the regional newspapers, local radio and news.

Taken after our final rehearsal at the Leeds Arena.

Packed out our own Spiegeltent in the centre of York for the York Fringe – 300 people, 2 years running!

Made a music video for our Christmas album.

Our own version of Nickleback’s Rockstar, complete with video!

Starred at Carfest North and South for consectutive years

Made an advert with Toyota!

I play the ukulele, and it’s bloody brilliant!