Anarchy In The Ukulele (based on a suggestion by Karla Kane)

WELCOME back to my blog. Hope you had a nice hiatus, I know I’ve been all over the place, literally all over the world. But as I am deep into research for my next book (details at a later date), I have been getting requests (thank you readers!) for some new blog entries. While I always grumble “hey there’s a huge searchable archive”, I agree that if one is going to have a blog then one had better damn well write some new entries.

Yesterday I came up with an idea to kick-start my brain, I went on my Facebook page and asked some of my friends for suggestions. I was overwhelmed by the smart responses, there was literally over 70 great ideas. I told my friends that, if I used their suggestion, I would put their name in the title. That’s why I have put the name Karla Kane in this title. Karla suggested “Why ukulele is the best instrument.” Perhaps there was an element of self-interest, as she’s the lead singer and ukulele player for the Bay Area band The Corner Laughers. Anyway, true to my word, here it is. Oh and keep your eyes peeled to the Pulmyears Music Blog, I plan to use many more of the suggestions. And thank you all, again.

Memories of my errant uke…

As I have written here many times before, my parents were from Liverpool, England, although me and my two brothers were born after they emigrated to Toronto, Canada. My Merseyside bloodline probably explains a lot about my interest in songwriting, funny things and my need to live near large bodies of water. One ethnic delight I recall, was my parents listening to a radio program on CFRB in Toronto, called Calling All Britons, a kind of support group for Ex-Pat Anglos and Anglophiles in the hostile new world. The program was hosted by a man named Ray Sonin, who also hosted a similar show called Down Memory Lane. It is down that lane where I first discovered the ukulele.

Uke can’t always get what you want…

His name was George Formby, a song and dance man from Wigan, Lancashire,  and (according to Wikipedia), the son of George Formby, Sr., who was also a song and dance man. Curiously, both he and his father were actually named Booth and both adopted the stage names for reasons I haven’t even time to read up on. George the younger was very popular in the U.K. during WWII.  The thing was, this guy had cheeky, double-entendre laden songs and they all featured the four stringed “mini-guitar” (to my eyes) the Ukulele. Actually it was a Banjo Ukulele, but that didn’t matter to me then.  He was very vaudeville, what the Brits called dance hall, and had a variety of catch phrases, including “It’s turned out nice again!”, and “Ooh, mother!” and song titles like “Sitting On The Ice” and “When I’m Cleaning Windows” and this one, “Leaning On A Lamp Post”, which he sang in the film Feather Your Nest (1937).

Dude looks like a ukelady…

The next time I heard the ukulele was when I discovered the phenomenon known as Tiny Tim, born Herbert Khaury, who appeared countless times on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and was even married (to a woman) on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Resembling a disheveled Russell Brand, and with a warbly high-pitched falsetto, Tiny Tim was a cause celebre back when there weren’t that many channels and any national TV appearance meant instant (and international) fame. Here’s one such appearance on Laugh-In.

I Want To Hold Your Uke…


Of course, being of Liverpool heritage, I grew up Beatle. We now know just how influential that Formby music was on the Fabs, and when the Beatles Anthology TV series came out in the mid-90s, we saw this odd like uke picnic:

Within Uke, Without Uke…

When George Harrison had a place in  Hawaii, later in life, he always had the ukes around, as you can see at 2:25 in this clip from the EPK for his final album Brainwashed:

And when George finally succumbed to Cancer, the ukes were out again at The Concert For George. Here, Paul McCartney, movingly, tributes the quiet one with a ukulele rendition of Harrison’s “Something” (the song I bet McCartney wishes he’d written himself):

And of course Joe Brown closed that Concert For George with “not a dry eye in the house” uke performance of “I’ll See You In My Dreams”:

And speaking of the George/Uke Continuum, everyone seems to have sent me this clip of ukelele prodigy Jake Shimabukuro doing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at one point or another over the last year…

Uke Might Think…

Here’s something cool by Greg Hawkes, keyboardist for The Cars, but a very strong proponent of the uke movement, doing “Eleanor Rigby”:

Yes Uke Can

Back when Barack Obama was running for President, I got together with writer Sylvie Simmons and we recorded her song “Million Ukelele March” you can hear it on her Myspace page. http://www.myspace.com/millionukulelemarch and while you’re there, yes that’s me doing “Obama-aa-yah”.
Which brings us to today’s sponsor, Karla Kane and her group The Corner Laughers.

They feature ukulele prominently, but not in a stunty way, it’s not a big deal, it’s just the rhythm “guitar” in their tunes. Here’s one, produced by the mighty Allen Clapp, where you can’t see the band, but you can see the cat, and here the uke. “For The Sake Of The Cat”:

Oh and being in the Bay Area, I really dug their recent ode to the Transamerica Pyramid:

Couldn’t I Just Tell Uke…

Even Todd Rundgren, who lives in the 50th State, Hawaii, has become a major uke-thusiast. Here, he invites Daryl Hall to his home on Kauai, to remake “Bang On The Drum All Day” as a uke jam.

Seattle Sonic Uke…

And finally, Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder has just released his own Ukulele Songs album

And we’ll leave with this clip of Vedder’s new uke jams, “Longing To Belong”

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8 Responses to “Anarchy In The Ukulele (based on a suggestion by Karla Kane)”

  1. That was a bunch of uke songs and very pleasant, but you didn’t make a case for the uke itself. And maybe one cannot. It is a fine instrument and yet it does seem to have a coating of cheese that cannot be washed off. (Oh and didn’t that George Formby tune sound exactly like Herman’s Hermits?)

    • pulmyears Says:

      Of course you’re right, I suppose this was one of my more intellectually lazy posts. One thing though, it could be argued that by showing and not telling I am making a case that “if you like these, you probably think the Uke is a great instrument”. But yeah, you’re right, it kinda sucked as a debate.

  2. So far I only watched the George Formby clip but wow, what a resource you have compiled. Do you think Formby’s version of Leaning on A Lamp Post may have been an inspiration to Peter Noone? They did a song with a similar music hall sound but faster paced and, in my opinion, not as good as this one. This was around the time British Invasion groups started they had better write original songs instead of just covering their heroes. I went to university in Manchester and the Lancashire accent is delightful for this type of music.

  3. Excellent post! I’m still coming down from those EC shows at the Beacon (and of course seeing the Myers brothers!), so let’s add one more uke reference of note… of course, the Academy Award nominated “The Scarlet Tide” written by Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett. EC performed the solo (and often mic free) ukelele version on tour many times… here is a clip of him doing so on late night tv… Enjoy!

  4. corinne osko Says:

    i loved your article just now hey-ivor biggin plays a uke does he not?? i know he wrote naughty bit type songs but george formby i remember him too!! and elvis with a uke hawaii style a big hunk o’ burnin’ love all the best corinne.

  5. Awesome post.

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