It was a cold and grey Spring morning that broke with an awful lot of rain squalling about. Perfect weather for ducks and for the potted herbs and plants I am growing on the balcony but not so much for skulking around in. Now normally on a Saturday morning if the weather is like this, and unless I was going outrigging, I would have had little desire to get out of my warm bed but in another part of Newcastle, a lovely ray of sunshine was about to break and it was called the Newkulele Festival.
This is a festival dedicated entirely to the ukulele. How perfectly wonderful because apart from my passion for yodeling and velvet paintings from the early 1970’s, I also adore the ukulele. I have owned a uke for many years. Even before it was hip to do so. When I first became acquainted with this dear little accoutrement I felt as though I had run a marathon, eaten an entire block of chocolate and simultaneously met the love of my life…….which it turned out I had!
I find the ukulele charming and it’s a lot of fun. It is quite easy to learn to play as there are only four strings so once you master the basic chords along with a bit of basic strumming technique, you are pretty much on your way. Thing is, it does require a little skill and a lot of practice to play the ukulele well.
I am not often one to acknowledge my abilities however I do recognise my once barely there playing skills have improved considerably over the years. I haven’t had lessons but I do have a handbook and I also watch the occasional video on YouTube about playing. I just prefer to noodle away on my own, often in the company of Zoe, or I’ll strum along to a tune or ten which crackle out from my old transistor radio set to the Golden Oldies station. I even wrote two songs on my ukulele. Hey, I never said they were good. The first one I wrote about 10 years ago was for Gus and the other was a little jazzy number about insomnia. I should point out I cannot sing. I have the most terrible voice and I am, for the absolute life of me, unable to hold a tune or sing in key. Mere technicality though.
This is how I think I look playing the ukulele…….
This is probably how I really look……..
The Newkulele Festival ran work shops for beginners to advanced players, singing and harmony sessions, finger picking, ukulele arranging, swing hokum and ragtime lessons, rock and roll and simple chord progression. You could even book in to make your own ukulele. There were stalls and market stalls where you could try out and buy a new uke. I mean really, why have one when you could have seven.
There was a youth stage and a main marquee for day and night gigs which saw some of the best of local and international acts. Ukulele teachers shared information, lessons and strumming secrets and then there was my favorite. The open mic.
No doubt this was the best part of the festival for me. A ‘first timers session’ where everyone, no matter who they were or what their level of skill got up and performed. Egos, worries and hipster attitudes were all left at the door and everyone in the bistro bar at the Newie Jockey club just rooted for each performer. Don’t you love the power of positive and encouraging attitudes. Stray cats, alley cats, hep cats, stolen kisses, rainbows, original songs and covers, a little base a little blues and little rock and roll, love and riptides were all strummed plus there was even a moment of yodeling. Oh happy days!
You know, sometimes I can feel a little like a five-legged pony in a field of thoroughbreds and I would dearly love to have had the confidence to get up and play. I don’t nor have I ever performed with other ukulele players, for others or in front of others with the exception of my cats so therein lies a slight problem. Who knows though, perhaps one day I will. After all, stranger things have been known to happen.
Ukulele players are a bit of a quirky lot too and never in one place will you see so much floral or colourful print outside of Hawaii or such happy, soul beautiful and carefree people. You always see a happy face on a uke player. My thought would be that this is because there is a high string at the top and the bottom of your ukulele so whether you strum up or down you will always end on high (and happy note). The ukulele is also a very agreeable travelling companion so here is a great tip – never leave home without your ukulele! I left mine in Australia when I went to live in America and deeply regretted that decision. It was however, one very happy moment of unpacking it two years later though.
The ukulele originated in Hawaii and luckily I not only discovered outrigging while there last year, but I also found myself smack bang in ukulele heaven. Quite simply there is nothing more comforting than the smell of coconut oil, rum cocktails served in tiki heads and being surrounded by ukuleles. And if you want to buy a ukulele then this probably the place to be. Every shop in Hawaii sells them but if you want a better quality one and not just a toy souvenir, then don’t buy from the larger souvenir shops such as Hilo Hattie, ABC or Whalers General.
I found a beautiful little ukulele while in Hawaii. Vintage and perfectly pre-loved. I picked it up. I put it down. I strummed it and I plucked its faultless strings. It had a lovely sound and it sat perfectly in my hands and against my body. I worried about the wood ……just a little. I worried about not buying it….an awful lot. I wanted it more than anything but I let it go and I have been kicking myself ever since. Perhaps, it really is just all about holding on and letting go…….. or heading back to Hawaii to buy it.
This is a 1928 pineapple ukulele. Do I want one. Yes! Do I need one. Oh absolutely!!
Sadly, we are going to have to wait another two years for the festival to come back around to Newcastle. In the meantime though, it will give you a chance to discover the ukulele if you haven’t already done so and it will also give me the opportunity to perfect the riff from AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
There really is just something quite lovely about this little flea that brings joy and happiness and sometimes, you can’t ask for more than that. So here’s hoping your week is full of good music, kindness and anything else that makes you feel pretty wonderful ……..xx