Friday, 24 February 2012

The Uke's Of Hazzard

Well, my court day comes up soon and I’m sure to be found guilty.

There will be thirty of us in the dock – all charged with crimes against music and I think that we will all cheerfully admit our guilt.

My particular crime, of idiosyncratic timing, random and inappropriate chord changes and tuneless singing will cost me 400 hours of community service busking at the local dog pound (where the dogs will be ever so slightly more tuneful than my singing)

So how did this misdemeanor begin?  Well, it started with a vague rumor that there might, just might, be a new Ukelele group in the nearby vicinity.  Then, a sudden revelation of discovering the poster of said group with contact details.

I immediately text the details to my friend Argent (charged with Attempting To Pick Out An Actual Tune and Wilfully And With Malicious Aforethought Singing On Key) and we agreed that it would be good fun to find out the details and maybe go along.

I made the call and found that there was no meeting the next week – as the group, which had been going since October, was playing their first gig, but that we were welcome to come along next time.

Hmm, interesting: a gig eh?.  At least they were a bunch with some sort of vision then.

Trawling around the website, however, a few alarm bells did begin to ring.

Firstly – there modus operandi is to have every one of the thirty or so regular attendees strum and sing along to the songs – thus to hide any errors.

Now, as anyone who has actually ever learned to play an instrument will know music isn’t something that just happens when you throw a bunch of people into a room.  In reality we don’t all stand up in a music shop and sing an impromptu song about stereo equipment (no matter what the kids from Fame, or Glee might tell you to the contrary) without hours of meticulous practice.  Even getting people to start and stop at the same time is something of an undertaking – actually being in tune and time with another in between: well, it might be easier to mount a solo expedition to the moon.

Thirty or so people just doing their own thing with no co-ordination, well – it doesn’t always end well.

Secondly – at the gig the players were encouraged to wear “flowery shirts and straw boaters” in the style of Ukelele bands of yore. 

Two problems occur there immediately – which is that the overall “look” of the band then depends largely on the interpretation of “flowery shirts” of each individual member and that, to be frank, it’s a little cheesy and dated.

Still, the actual song list looked quite fun, and the general atmosphere of the set up seemed to be positive, so myself and Argent, ourselves no strangers to musical and fashion crimes, decided to give it a go.

We rolled up and, after a few problems finding parking, climbed the steps to the private room where a plethora of Ukeleles awaited in all shapes and sizes – including our band leader, on a Semi-Acoustic Ukelele (IE one that can be plugged into an amplifier) – something that I had, until that point, been unaware of the existence of.

Following on from the success of the gig the previous week the Leader had decided to try starting to teach some new songs as well as going over a few old ones, which was good because it meant that we were in a similar position to everyone else. 

We trawled through a few songs, had a break and a chat with some of the others – exchanged envious glances over different makes of instrument, played a few more songs and generally had good fun.

But the big question is – am I going to join?

Well, there are a few problems

Firstly – the location is about 10-15 miles away from either myself or Argent, which means its yet another thing that’s costing travel expenses, as well as the ludicrously high car park charge

Secondly – my speaking club is still taking up a lot of my time and money, so another interest would definitely impact on my ability to practice my Saxophone (don’t tell my teacher, but I haven’t properly practiced in nearly two weeks due to other commitments)

Finally – thirty people all singing along and playing their own thing is fine when its just a bunch of like minded people having fun (and it WAS fun), but what it needs before it goes out to the public again is more focus – some harmonization, maybe only four of five people playing some of the songs whilst others do backing bits – and I’m not convinced that the Leader would be able to put anything more complicated together.

But it WAS fun.  Ok so many of the songs sped up or down as we went, maybe most of us ignored the Preferred strum pattern and did our own thing, people didn’t sing in time, or key, with one another – at the end of that day music is about having fun and exchanging ideas.

So the Jury is out – will they find me guilty of musical crime, or will Henry Fonda persuade them otherwise?  Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, and for anyone is interested to hear how good a Uke CAN sound I strongly suggest you watch the below clip in awe.  The phrase you are looking for as you watch is “jaw-droppingly good”

Monday, 20 February 2012

Yippee Ki Yeah Whatever

An old cowboy went riding out, upon his bike one day
He found he had a puncture, and then he lost his way
When all at once a mighty sound of ringing he did hear
A hundred ghostly bicycles, were slowly growing near

He sheltered by a telephone and watched those bikes ride by
And as they swept on by him, he thought he heard one cry
"Oh Cowboy, don't you wait for help or here it is you'll stay
Besides, there's a repair shop, yonder down the way"

Yippee ki oh
Yippee ki yeah
Bike riders in the sky

visit Magpie Tales to take part

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Your Family And Other Animals

Well I have to report that as of recent my head seems to be rather empty of imagination.

It's not that I haven't been trying, you understand: oh no indeed.  Every day Mr Brain has been going to the Ideas Factory on the bus, trawling down the isles with his shopping trolley (complete with wonky wheel), but sadly he has been returning home empty handed.

So to give him some much needed rest I thought that instead of something new I would bring you something old that was, to all intents and purposes, new.

As you know by now one of the many things that I do is write songs, lyrics and poems: well, some years ago when I first moved into my current home I sat down to write and record my first set of songs at that house.  Somewhere along the way I came up with the below idea.

It's original genesis was the idea to write something that might easily have come from one of the early solo albums of (former frontman of The Smiths) Stephen Morrissey.

Morrissey, who is ubiquitously known by his surname and by his happy, smiling approach to life (erm...well, maybe not the latter) has an occasional flirtation with songs that are a combination of social commentary and wry northern humour (note that humour is deliberately spelt the British way just to annoy the spell checker)

So the below was an attempt on my part to write a song that was describing the most awful party you could imagine and to place at that party a family of utter wierdos - every family has at least one nutter, but the below seems to have more than its fair share.

Anyway, enjoy.  Oh, and by the way - a Tory Back-bencher is a member of the Conservative Party who has a seat in Parliament, but not a very important one.

Your Family And Other Animals

Amorous Auntie
At the family party
Oh she is trying to make amends
For making love with your best friend
She's had more than a skin full
Tell me isn't it sinful
Oh yes, it's a sad disgrace
To still be shagging at her age
And your Glamorous Grandma
Squeezes into her wonderbra
With her blue rinse and dentures
Seducing Tory back-benchers
And your Marvelous Mother
Is cleaning the cutlery knives
She's making light of the fact that
She's a pin-up in Reader's Wives

And here's your Flatulent Father
Well we know what he's after
Oh yes his pension won't go far
He swills it down at the local bar
And your Belligerent Brother
Well you can't stand one another
He's got a wife, but he hits her
Oh God, he's much worse than Hitler
And your Marvelous Mother
Tells you, you do not love her
Oh yes it's you she's accusing
For your Father's gay cruising
And your Suffering Sister
Has yet to make her appearance
Well she's making the most of
The Tesco's seasonal clearance

Glamorous Grandma
Belligerent Brother
Flatulent Father
Amorous Auntie
Marvelous Mother
Suffering Sister
And you

Friday, 3 February 2012

How Does Bob Marley Like His Doughnuts?

As anyone who survived the 1970s and 80s will tell you - the answer to the above question is - wi' jam-in

The Wailers, for anyone who is interested, like jam-in too - and also hope that we like jam-in too

Sadly Bob, wherever you may be, I have to report that I don't

Not, I should clarify, the very popular and highly enjoyable song from which the rather terrible joke derives - anything by Bob Marley is top notch and well worth a listen to on a sunny summers eve (note for Herself - Marley is not the one who sang Blowin' In The Wind and sounds like he has been gargling concrete for a week - that was a different Bob)

Anyway - as some of you may remember I started learning to play the Saxophone about 2 years ago.

The saxophone is different to most of the instruments I have previously learned - in as much as if you hit the right key at the right time on a piano or guitar or bass then the liklihood is that the right note will come out.  Where the Saxophone varies is that in addition to this you have to have the right Embouchure (lip pattern), or else a high pitched squeak will emit instead of an actual note.  This is likely to send even the bravest of felines scurrying for cover and can be most readily likened to the sound of a Gnat breaking wind (not something that Gnat fanciers particularly like to listen to of an evening, and certainly not something that music lovers around the globe aspire to)

But even though I have made some progress in the world of High Pitched Squeaking (the complaints from local airlines finding their guidance systems interfered with have at least stopped) I still find the improvisational sections of my practice depressing to say the least.

Improvisation is a vital way of learning ones scales and as a result of which learning fluidity of play.  The saxophone was also largely designed by its creators (despite what it says on Wikipedia I still like to tell people that it was designed by two Irish gentlemen called John Sax and Padraig O'Phone after a particularly nasty accident with a tuba) to be an improvisational instrument and was largely responsible for Jazz (for which sin it will no doubt never be fully forgiven)

But I just can't do it - I can't improvise.  Yes, ok - I can muck about with the scales and play notes that no one else has written for me - but its all depressingly linear and unimaginative and, frankly, a bit dull.  And the fact that I am clearly unable to think outside of this particular box depresses me to the point where I keep postponing any improvisation as part of my practice.

For those of you wondering at this point - i should probably mention that i specifically went to a local hardware shop recently and bought myself a box so that i would always know which particular box i was thinking outside of - one step ahead of the game so to speak (this is not true, although i do think it should just to see what people say)

Perhaps, via response, y'all would be able to suggest ways in which you were able to re-shape your thinking and to work on these skills - or just suggest a good place to buy a box to think outside of?