4 Degrees Celcius
I woke up this morning to a light frost and the not-so-subtle reminder that summer has come and gone! I also realised that I hadn’t written a blog post for quite a while (sorry) so I thought I’d write a round up of my summer activities – just in case you think I’ve been slacking. It’s been quite a busy time with lots of teaching and playing. In the last 2 months I have been to Madeira, Spain and Scotland. I almost feel like now I am not on holiday I can relax!
Forest Ukulele Retreat
June was a particularly busy month with 3 ukulele festivals in a row. The first was the inaugural Forest Ukulele Retreat set in the beautiful rolling hills of the Forest of Dean and hosted by Matt Stead of the The Uke Room. Matt invited 4 (of the best!) tutors from the UK including Phil Doleman, Stephen Sproat, Peter Moss and myself. The event started on Friday evening with a get together and sing-a-long. Right from the first chord the vibe was very upbeat and congenial. Saturday was pretty full-on as I gave 3 classical ukulele workshops and then played in the tutor’s concert in the evening. Teaching can often be draining but it was a great day and I thoroughly enjoyed working with all the groups. I was really touched when, after my set, Alison jumped up and bought me a large glass of wine! It really hit the spot.
The main focus of the retreat was on the teaching. Each workshop group contained 10 – 12 players. Ukulele workshops often contain up to 40 players so this was a great opportunity to work with small groups and I felt everyone got a lot out of the sessions. The overall standard was very good as was the enthusiasm, group interaction and willingness to learn. On Sunday each of the tutors worked with just one group. The objective was to prepare a piece, or 2, for the concert finale in the afternoon. The concert was a huge success with everyone giving their best. It was impressive how much everyone had learnt over the weekend and the level of commitment. There was a great atmosphere of support and sharing. This was a friendly event, very well organised and I’m delighted to have been invited back next year. For more information visit: The Uke Room.
Next stop was the BUG (Biddulph Ukulele Group) Festival on 23rd June. This is my 3rd visit to BUG – which probably says it all! I love this festival as it is full of friendly, fun loving people. Kath Dean and her team of BUGs put on a fantastic show attracting groups and players from far and wide. The venue – the town hall – was decorated with balloons, streamers, flags and inflatable cacti! Did I mention the theme was Mexico? I guess the hats are a bit of a give away.
Homemade cakes and sandwiches were available all day and it really felt like a ukulele fiesta. My only regret was that I didn’t eat more of the cup cakes! In the morning I gave 2 workshops on classical and finger style playing: one for beginners and one for intermediate players. In the evening concert I performed with guitarist Lara Taylor. Other performers included Peter Moss and Manitoba Hal so the audience were treated to a variety of styles. My set included pieces for machete and guitar and some of my own ukulele arrangements and compositions. If you are looking for a smallish but very professionally run festival then I would certainly recommend getting the BUG!
Halsway Manor Ukulele & Singing Weekend
The following weekend I was at the Halsway Manor Ukulele & Singing Weekend. Halsway Manor is the National Centre for the Folk Arts. It really is a beautiful venue with on site accommodation and full catering (they even do Sunday roast!). This is an annual event which focuses on workshops and learning but also has opportunities to perform. The tutors are Jon Bennett, Liz van Santen and myself. Jon and Liz, who are part of the folk group the Moonrakers, are fabulous musicians and they bring something refreshing and unique to the ukulele. They’re great people and committed teachers. The weekend offered a broad spectrum of styles including jazz, blues, song writing and classical, campanella & finger style. Friday night started with a get together in the bar with an opportunity for people to perform. Many of the participants are regulars so there is always a great atmosphere. On Saturday evening there was a tutor’s concert and then another open mic in the bar. This is another small, friendly and well organised event in a beautiful location.
One of the participants, a classical ukulele fan, came all the way from Germany and brought me a very special present – a hand knitted machete! Thank you Ruth!
Just a few days after the Halsway weekend I was off to Madeira with guitarist Lara Taylor to record a CD of music for machete and guitar. I was invited to do the recording by Paulo Esteireiro who is a composer, academic and machete player. Paolo is the Head of the Research and Multimedia Division at the Arts and Multimedia Education Services (Regional Secretariat for Education, Madeira). I felt very honoured to be invited to do this recording in the homeland of the machete.
After recording & shooting a video (see photo) we had a free day to do some sight seeing. We were feeling pretty exhausted and decided to stay in the main city of Funchal. There is plenty to see and do. We visited the Clara Convent and Blandy’s Winery and also had ice-cream at the Ritz!
The hospitality of the people of Madeira is something special. Roberto Moriz and his girlfriend Paula took us to dinner in a small restaurant up in the mountains. The food was excellent, as was the company!
While in Funchal I collected a beautiful handmade rajão from expert luthier Carlos Jorge Pereira Rodrigues. I already have a machete made by Carlos and it’s great to have both of these unique instruments from Madeira. I’ve already started arranging for the rajão and have some exciting new projects in the pipeline which I’ll let you know about later!
After Madeira I went to Spain for a break. It was really hot so the pool was very much appreciated. Not the underwater photo at the top of the page! Some ‘free’ time also provided an opportunity to work on my research projects. Fifteen thousand words later I’m still working on it…! It’s a hard slog but I’m getting there. I also drafted a new collection of Pieces for ukulele for easy to intermediate players which will be available soon and arranged a concerto.
Here’s a sample of Lara and I playing a Waltz by Candido Drumond for machete and guitar.
Another summer project was an arrangement for microtonal ukulele. This might actually be the world’s first microtonal ukulele! I’ve worked on this exciting project with microtonal guitar expert Tolgahan Çoğulu. Under the guidance of Tolga I added 2 extra mini frets to the ukulele. One at the 2nd fret of the 1st string and the other at the 4th fret of the 3rd string. I then adapted Tolga’s arrangement of Uzun Once Bir Yoldayim, or I Am On A Long and Narrow Road, for ukulele. Please check out Tolga’s website for more information about microtonal guitar.
Yeovil Ukulele Festival
The new term started with the first ever Yeovil Ukulele Festival on September 9th. This was a one day event with workshops, open mics and performances run by the Yeovil Ukulele Club. Other performers included Ben Rouse, Opera-lele and the Mother Ukers. The venue was the beautiful tithe barn at Haselbury Mill. The festival was a huge success, raising over £1000 for charity, and will be back next year.
After Yeovil, which is a local event for me, I was off to Scotland for the Highland Ukulele Gathering, or HUG. This was my 2nd visit to HUG and the festival was even bigger and better than the previous year. Organised by Acoustic Music Workshop this event is held in the picturesque town of Pitlochry in Perthshire. This really is a stunning part of the world so if you want to combine a bit of touristing and uking then HUG is a great option. This is a fairly small and intimate event with lots of friendly people and workshops catering for all levels of players and a range of styles. As well as my classical ukulele workshops, Scottish musician Nigel Gatherer gave workshops on traditional folk tunes and playing the blues, and Nigel Patrick gave a workshop on movable jazzy chords. There were also strumming sessions with Edis and Susan Bowden, and open mics and concerts.
We managed to extend our stay in Scotland for a couple of days and stayed in a b&b called the Garrison of Inversnaid on the eastern side of Loch Lomond. This was seriously ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and an ideal place to escape from the madding crowd and unwind. The hosts Paul and Kelly are friendly and welcoming and will cook you delicious breakfasts and dinners with their homegrown, organic produce. Paul even took us to meet their highland cows! We had hoped to go on the Loch Katrine steamboat but Storm Ali put a stop to that. Despite the weather I really loved my stay here and it’s definitely on my bucket list to go back. I even managed to convince Paul and Kelly that they needed to get a ukulele!
Summer is over. Phew! I’m back into the teaching routine and working on my various PhD projects. I’ll be doing some more tutorial blogs as soon as I catch my breath so please stay tuned for more ukulele shenanigans. Thanks for following my journey!