The key of C – the people’s key

The conclusion I reached after spending three days at the Cairns Ukulele Festival was this: ukulele players are lovely people. I reached a number of other conclusions, including “I need to learn how to play Don’t Worry Be Happy”, “I love conga lines” and “I need to buy a banjolele”. But the one about uke players was the main one. The entire Festival had a fantastic atmosphere, with people chatting away happily to anyone else carrying a ukulele case. James Hill, the headline performer (with his partner, Anne Davison, on cello) was truly fantastic. I love that moment when someone finishes a song and everyone around you quietly says, “Oh, wow…” before applauding like mad things. Check this outOh Susannah done as a tragically slow song on ukulele lap steel.

Right, banjolele. I went and visited Music City which, since I lived up north, has developed a speciality in ukuleles (which makes Cairns a perfect place for a ukulele festival, I suppose). I drooled for a while over the entire wall of ukuleles, and was particularly taken by the banjolele, which is pretty much what it sounds like – a banjo the size of a ukulele, with four strings, tuned like a ukulele, sounding like a (little) banjo. Wouldn’t Duelling Banjos played on ukulele and banjolele be a marvellous thing? Although I’m sure if I search for it on YouTube, someone will have already recorded it.

I also did a workshop with James Hill, and as a result have been working away at a new chord shape, which will give me such exotic chords as Fm7 and G#m7. Which are very jazzy chords. Jazz is, I am told by James Hill and therefore believe, the perfect sort of music for ukulele. I am trying to learn the song we touched on in that workshop, a jazz standard called Avalon, but I think that’s going to take me a while. Not only does it consist of all new chords, but a new strumming and kind of rhythmic muting. I need more callouses on my fingertips. When I get it right though, and learn to slide back into each chord shape without having to laboriously place my fingers in the correct spot on each string every time, it’s going to sound brilliant.


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