My Basswood Brick Ukulele

I got a Mitre Saw for Christmas… I still have most of my fingers.

Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 2:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ha Ha Ha (ukulele abuse)

The Sydney Sunday Times (which mercifully folded in 1930), pubished this little treat on the 16th of October, 1927:

“The ukulele is a handy musical instrument on the river”, says a writer. It is an excellent plan to keep one in the bottom of the boat to use, club like, on anyone playing one in another boat”

How did they come up with such witty lines before day-time television?

Published in: on October 17, 2013 at 9:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree (1905) on ukulele

Published in: on September 23, 2012 at 7:25 pm  Comments (5)  
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Low-Tech Reivew of C.F. Martin’s New C1K Concert Ukulele

Published in: on May 23, 2012 at 7:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“I’ll take you home again, Kathleen” by Thomas P. Westendorf (1876)

Published in: on April 15, 2012 at 3:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Just singing, singing in the train”

The Perth Mirror reported, on 1 April 1922, of “Hit, Skits, and Sketches”, whatever that might mean, but in the process told the following story of fellow travellers on a train.

A young man in evening dress was sitting by the train window in company of two fair young women (‘tres chic, tres decollete”, whatever that might mean).  In the same carriage was a sweet, old-fashioned lady with two not-so-young, prim and grim women whom the narrator supposed were her spinster daughters — how unkind narrators can be. While the youth was in earnest converse with one of his pretty companions, the other took up her ukulele and began to tune the beast. Job done, she threw back her head and began to strum and sing “And when all is said and done, there is really only one, oh Margie, Margie it’s you.” (Not quite the ballad that I expected, but cute).

Someone suggested taking the hat around, but the spinsters would have frozen him, and the sweet old things was too shocked to move. Nevertheless, the songs continued for a station or two, and then the flappers and the young gent make their exit — dancing of the train and down the platform to the strains of a ukulele. No, we are told, this was not a story from Paris — who thought it was? — but down-town Milson’s Point station, Sydney.

What fun they had back in the day.

Published in: on April 12, 2012 at 8:04 am  Comments (1)  
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Home made ukulele — from match-sticks!

The Horsham Times reported, on 2 December 1932, that some people take recycling too seriously.

Mr. Donald McDonald made a ukulele from used match-sticks, complete with ivory bling from a hair clasp.

It took 200o match-sticks to complete the project. I hope Mr. McDonald wasn’t a smoker.

A more recent attempt (and a pretty good looking one) may be seen here.

Published in: on March 18, 2012 at 7:46 am  Comments (4)  
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Billy Barnes, Ukulele Ace

I came across the ‘memoirs’ of an Irish-Australian entertainer named Billy Barnes. They were printed in short bites in the Mirror newspaper of Perth, Western Australian during 1953.

Billy was a guitarist and ukulele player who played on many stages across Australia in the 1930s and 40s. He had a 10 minute radio spot on 6PR (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:35pm), and, unsurprisingly, he taught people to play ukulele.

He got his nick-name while appearing at the Theatre Royal in Sydney. A cast member fell sick and Billy was asked to fill in — he did so by playing a solo on the ukulele. As the ukulele was commonly used simply to accompany singing, people were amazed to see that it was an effective melody instrument. Several papers covered the story of the melodious ukulele player, and one reporter dubbed Billy ‘The Ukulele Ace’.

I haven’t been able to find a recording of Billy in action. If you find something, please let me know.


Published in: on February 19, 2012 at 5:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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Walking from Melbourne to London, with ukelele in hand

In 1930, two young women (Gladys Turvey and Madge Salter) walked from Melbourne to Sydney hoping to find a free passage back to London. They had only 3 shillings and 11 pence, and a ukulele. Some adventure, said the Register Post of Adelaide on 18 December. They got to Sydney OK, but I haven’t yet learned if they got their free trip back home to London.

Gladys and Madge

 The Barrier Miner (16 December) said that the women hitch-hiked most of the way, doing day work on farms for a meal and a bed. The Register said they arrived in Sydney with 3/11 and uke, the Barrier said that they left Melbourne with 3/11 and a uke. So, if both papers are telling the truth, the women must have done sufficient work for their needs.

Published in: on October 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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Learning to fly easier than learning the ‘ukelele’

The Adelaide Mail reported on 4 January 1930 that ukelele playing is more complicated than flying an aircraft. Flying Officer J. A. Mollison said so.

So, from the article we might apply the following as much to learning the ukulele as the flying officer did to learning to fly:

  1. It provides a means of entertaining one’s friends (just like learning to fly)
  2. It provides an opportunity to wear something out of the ordinary (ditto)
  3. It requires some level of physical fitness
  4. Those learning to play ukelele can be divided into 3 classes:
    1. the intelligent, requiring  5 to 7 hours of dual instruction
    2. the average, requiring 7 to 10 hours dual instruction
    3. the stupid (could they say that back in 1930?), requiring 10 hours to infinity of dual instruction
  5. It is not expensive to buy or maintain a light ukulele (about the same as purchasing and running a good car.)
  6. One gets to move around swiftly (neighbours and family will see to that)
  7. The first lesson (which takes place on the ground) includes an explanation of the controls,  and some risk of being heartbroken at not being able to get the ukelele to do what is required of it.
  8. You will soon find that you are making definite progress
  9. After what seems an interminably long period of time, you will have sufficient skill to play solo. 
  10. There is a social side too — ukelele clubs are invariably a hotbed of scandal (really, folks, here I’m only replacing the words ‘aircraft’ and ‘aerodrome’ with ‘ukelele’ and ‘ukelele club’).
  11. But, when all is said and done, ukelele playing is now disappointingly safe — but there is no need to let everyone know this.  Any ukelele player worth their salt will still tell hair-raising stories of how the bridge fell off during a tricky manoeuver.
  12. Finally, to play ukelele is the long sought-after panacea — and appeals equally to the ‘neurotic spinster’ (I’m quoting here) or the bored father of a large family (can such a creature exist?).

So there you are. Learning to play ukelele is similar to, but a bit more tricky than, learning to fly. It has similar advantages and challenges. I don’t believe a word of it.

Published in: on October 8, 2011 at 6:28 am  Comments (3)  
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