Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Little Bit Funny?

A man gets on board a bus carrying a cello.  One of the passengers shouts, 'Hey mate, bet you wish you'd learned the piccolo instead!"

As in life and in music, and despite what people tell you, size really does matter. 

There are, in the pantheon of musical instruments, those instruments that are considered "cool" (the drums, the electric guitar), "uncool" (the bass, the xylophone and the triangle)

There are also instruments that, when placed in the wrong hands, can only be considered to be the weapons of Satan - for instance if I am ever swept to power then one of my first rules will be the banning of Recorders and Violins to the under-6 age group (one of my favourite moments of all time was when a local news reporter cut back to the studio from a school recorder band with the comment, "Hmmm, sounds like my pet cat singing".  He later had to apologize, but I'm still laughing over 15 years later)

And then there are the sadly maligned.  The instruments that have never, in their entire lives, done so much of an iota's worth of harm to their fellow man.  Never have their squeaks caused winces amongst the collected parents of Class 2B, never have they been used by the local Scout Group to blow your ear drums into the next street - and yet they find themselves the instrument (groan) of mirth.

Like the aforementioned cello player on the bus - or the harpist (how the hell do you transfer one of those from place to place?  I'll tell you how: with great bloody difficulty - I've seen it done.   Those women may look thin and angelic, but I'd fancy their chances in the boxing ring with those sorts of muscles)

And then there's the Ukelele - the shrunken Hawaiian guitar.  Best known in the UK thanks to wartime movie star George Formby (although technically what Formby played was a Banjolele, but that's another story)

For some reason it has aquired an air of comedy.  Why is this?  Is it a size issue?  Well, the piccolo is very small and not generally considered laughable (other than in reference to as a preference to carrying a cello on the bus)

Is it as a legacy from George himself, known for his innuendo-filled lyrics and cheeky character?  It's hard to imagine now that a gawky lad from Lancashire whose catchphrase was "He he, it turned out nice again" could have single-handedly swayed the course of the Second World War (sorry USA, you guys helped a bit it's true - but it was George that did it.  Just watch the films if you don't believe me (see end explanation))

Is it the sound?  Well actually, it makes quite a nice sound - assuming you can get your suddenly huge fingers squeezed into the tiny frets.

Maybe that's what it is then - it's the fact that the Uke is played by people who are disproportionately large in representation to the tininess of the instrument?

Well, whatever the reason, I recently found myself in a local musical instrument shop and, being of an inquisitive nature, I succumbed to temptation and bought myself a little Uke.  Aside from the small (pun not intended) problem of squeezing my fingers into place I have to say that it's making some nice noises and as I already play the guitar it was relatively easy to start pushing out some simple tunes fairly quickly.

Well, what else can I say?  He he - it turned out nice again!

George Formby Films:
A general plot of a George Formby, and indeed Norman Wisdom film was that George, or Norman, would end up somewhere dressed in army uniform (despite being a civilian - something that would actually have got them shot) and would, through a series of humerous vignettes, end up behind enemy lines, sing a few happy songs and change the course of the war

This is an over exaggeration of his film plots, but not by much.


Stephen Hayes said...

I've always wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument, but so far this remains on my "To Do" list. I envy folks with this ability.

Argent said...

Awwww! I wanna play the one I strongly suspect is all wrapped up for me for a certain day in the not too distant. Can't wait to try nee tooons on it.

Titus said...

George Formby was the highest grossing British artist of the 30s and 40s. And so influential we still associate the ukelele with him. And his song 'With my little stick of Blackpool Rock' was banned by the BBC. And I think he was a jockey once.

That said, hope you enjoy the new instrument. I saw a TV programme with the Ukelele Orchestra in it, and they all seemed like jolly nice people. Sounded great too.

The Bug said...

Loved the song - very clever!

In my neck of the woods, Tiny Tim is the reason that ukelele's are considered funny :)

Tiptoe through the tulips...

the watercats said...

ukes are fast becoming the new black. particularly after yer man from the rock band made an album completely with with a uke (can't remember the bloke or the band he was in). I think they've become retro chic now, and are loved particularly by 'contemporary hipsters'..? have had fun dropping in to see you again by the way. :)

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Stephen - you should get a guitar. Second hand, and even new ones, are quite cheap and there's plenty of internet sites showing chord shapes

Argent - he he :)

Titus - i dunno about the jockey bit, i think he played one in "come on George" though

Bug - yes i've heard of Tiny Tim

Watercats - you could be right. So i'm jumping on the bandwaggon now!

English Rider said...

Did Bowie ever embrace the ukelele? That image won't fit in my head.

Lydia said...

My mother played the Uke! Not really well, because she did not know music, wasn't particularly musical (a good dancer, though), but she had that old Uke and we always loved it when she brought it out. I have it now. Don't have the slightest idea how to play it. My husband has his grandmother's uke, that is a really beautiful one. Since he plays guitar I should ask him to try the uke. I do love the sound of it, and appreciated the group in this video. I appreciated this whole post, as a matter of fact!

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

English - he used the stylophone, so anything is possible

Lydia - glad you enjoyed