Ralph’s Blog

Ralph Shaw photo

Ralph Shaw, our Illustrious Leader, writes:

My purpose in starting this uke-log of the meetings and activities of the Vancouver Ukulele Circle is to give those people who are unable to be at the a meetings a chance to get a flavour of what they missed. I can tell you now that not all the information will be entirely accurate. As I sit down to update this uke-log in the days after any given meeting I will be sure to have forgotten some key moments and one or two worthy performances and I hope that feelings won’t be hurt. I will do my best but if you notice any omissions or major inaccuracies please feel free to email them to Wendy Cutler so that corrections can be made.

Note from Wendy: Ralph has been keeping this blog since the very first meeting in September, 2000. The full set of previous years’ entries is available in the 
Blog Archives.
Starting in February, 2017, these postings are being made by Tom Saunders.

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – June 20, 2017

Summer made its first appearance last night, (as did the Vancouver Ukulele Circle) at its new, temporary home at the Point Grey Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion at W. Broadway and Alma, while St James Hall undergoes extensive renovations this summer. The evening also marked the welcomed return – for one night only – of our group’s founder, Ralph Shaw, back here to lead a uke cruise to Alaska. He looked and sounded much like we remembered him!  Last night also marked the return of Craig, who said farewell to Nova Scotia, by leading “Farewell to Nova Scotia,” followed by a rousing a capella version of Stan Rogers’ Canadian pirate song,  “Barrett’s Privateers.”

Our evening was heavy on Canadian tunes and we had help leading tunes from Ralph, Craig, Jennifer, and Lisa, with onstage backup from Tomi, Boaz and Ed – not to mention our always stellar uke-band, Ron on bass and Jerry on percussion. Also, thanks to Ron for providing his projector for the Projector Songs, and to Morgan, from the Legion, for assisting us with the sound system.

Performance Time started off with Eduardo’s skillful playing of James Hill’s arrangement of “After You’ve Gone.” Up next was Ed (whom I ‘mistakenly’ referred to as “Edweirdo”,) who sang “Shine On Harvest Moon” – complete with the seldom-heard intro verse. Ralph and Bogdan sang their version of Neil Young’s “Old Man,” which was notable for this being Tuesday night, and Bogdan having started playing the uke on Sunday night! Uncle Bob (a good manly name) gave us a rendition of the Shel Silverstein-penned, “A Boy Named Sue,” made famous by Johnny Cash. A different Johnny and Jennifer did a duet of the Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra song, “Summer Wine,” and then Jennifer and Boaz sang “Freight Train” (same title but different song from last month’s “Freight Train.”) Boaz and I sang Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” before Boaz finished off with Tim Minchin’s “Rock n Roll Nerd.”

Our Two-Chord-Wonder-Song of the Month was another Canadian classic, the Stampeder’s “Sweet City Woman,” which technically had more than two chords, but only in the bridge, where everyone stopped playing, in order to sing in French – C’est Bon!!!

Thanks to everyone for coming out last night. Until next time – Tuesday, July 18th – keep on strumming, and we’ll see you at the Legion!


Tom Saunders

Thanks to Ruth Raymond for this great moment in ukulele history: Ralph breaks a string.

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – May 16, 2017

It was really nice to arrive at uke night with the bright rays and warmth of the sun upon us. I’m no groundhog, but I’m predicting six more months of it. Steve Edge from the Rogue Folk club gave us a bit more of an update on St James Hall, which has been saved from the wrecking ball, (the first of two ‘wrecking ball’ references here) and ready for a summer makeover to its roof & floors, and parts in between. At this point, it is still in the high 98% range that we will be relocating the uke circle for June, July and August – but only a few blocks away – to the Royal Canadian Legion, located at 3679 Broadway (and Alma.) I will send you more info on that in a few weeks, before our next meeting.

I had some very good help leading songs, with Ed, Boaz and Jennifer taking charge for several of the book songs. A real treat (and hopefully a regular future feature) was having the trio of Carol, Heather and Melody leading really nice versions of “Falling Slowly”, and “I’m Yours.” I strongly encourage anyone who would like to try leading a song or two to contact me with your song choice and we’ll get it in the setlist. Remember that it’s not as scary as you’d think, because nobody’s looking at you – they’re too busy following the chord changes in their books!

Our Two-Chord-Wonder-Song of the Month was Harry Belafonte’s “Dayo (the Banana Boat Song)” which had the entire uke circle crying out that daylight was coming and they wanted to go home…

I thought we had a nice combination of tunes and people leading our ‘Projector Songs’ section. Ron, Ed, and I channeled our inner Kingston Trio on “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Jennifer then joined me for an energetic version of Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes”, before she lent her voice to “The Rose” and Bobbie Gentry’s 1967, gothic country hit, “Ode to Billie Joe.” Boaz joined me to finish the section off with a rousing singalong of the Beatles’ “We Can Work it Out.” As a final note to the ‘Projector Songs’ section, I wanted to thank the very kind person who scrolled our songs on the laptop for the benefit of the other strummers – a very important task. I didn’t get a chance to thank her, or give her the prize I offered. I will bring it next month for her!

After the break came Performance Time… We were all very pleasantly impressed by first-timer Edwardo playing a fantastic instrumental version of Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” While only playing the uke for three years, his main instrument is the cello, and his musicality shone through. Up next was another St James’ first-timer, Josh, who did a very spirited and growling take on “Call of the Wrecking Ball” via Dave Alvin and X. He also had the first electric cigar box uke I’d ever seen – very cool. Melody, (who had earlier sung with Carol and Heather) set off on a solo tour with Cat Power’s version of “Sea of Love” from the Juno soundtrack. Uncle Bob then became Blind Lemon Bob and led the room in an impromptu instrumental, “Blues in D.” Johnny sang and played Lou Reed’s wistful, 1972 “Perfect Day” (the b-side to “Walk on the Wild Side.”) Boaz backed Bonita on Elizabeth Cotton’s classic folksong, “Freight Train, ” which the left-handed, upside down Elizabeth wrote when she was thirteen years old. Jennifer performed Lucinda Williams’ haunting, gospel-influenced, “Get Right With God,” and Boaz finished Performance Time with his friend, Plucky the banjo, on Kermit the Frog’s longing, “Rainbow Connection,” but not before educating us in the difference between “zoology” (the study of animals) and “zoology” (the study of zoos.)

Once again, big, big thanks to our house band – Ron on bass and Jerry on percussion for keeping us all in line and grooving along. And to our wonderful hosts, the folks from the Rogue Folk Club, who we probably won’t be seeing until we’re back at St James in September.

I will keep you informed of our next meeting location and confirm all the details before then. I hope you had fun last night. Until next time – Tuesday, June 20th – keep on strumming, and we’ll see you then!

Tom Saunders

Thanks to Ruth Raymond for these photos.

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – April 18, 2017

Another good turnout and another great time at the April uke circle! Beforehand, Steve Edge from the Rogue Folk Club gave us a bit more detail about the summer renovations to St. James Hall. We will have to vacate St. James for June, July, and possibly August, as they replace the floor and roof. As you could imagine, it’s always a potential logistical nightmare to relocate 100+ people, (even for a short time) but it has been done. Most conveniently, the new location is just five blocks away from St James Hall. We have found a temporary summer home at the Royal Canadian Legion, located at 3679 Broadway (and Alma.) They normally have music nights there on the weekends, so there is a stage and sound system already in place. The Legion is of course a licensed venue, so the one drawback is that unfortunately, minors will not be allowed (but group consensus last night was that loggers and fishermen would be allowed in…) More details to follow – but keep in mind that next month’s uke circle is still at St James Hall.

When we started playing last night, I really noticed that we had a very lively group of confident singers & strummers out there. I was very pleased to hear the overall volume of people singing. The uke circle is a very supportive environment, so please feel free to sing out loud and strong, and don’t worry for a moment that you’re not Celine Dion or Pavarotti! It’s more important that we rattle the walls and make a joyous noise! The same thing goes for your ukes – the combined sound of hundreds of warm nylon strings, can’t be anything but a good thing, so continue playing with gusto!

I had some great help leading songs from Jennifer and Boaz, who did a lot of preparation for last night. Even Ed got up to lead a rousing Buddy Holly song! If you think you’d like to try leading a song, please send me an email at calabash@shaw.ca and we’ll get your song choice in the setlist, which we send out a week before the following circle. To lead a song from the book, you should be able to confidently sing and play it for others to follow, but remember that you will not be alone – you will have the backing of myself and our wonderful house band – Ron and Jerry – keeping things solid and rolling along. Our Two-Chord-Wonder Song (C7 and F7) for April was Joe Cocker’s funky “Feelin’ Alright.”

For Performance Time (which you should also really consider doing – by yourself or with a partner, or a uke-gang…) I joined Corinne for a moody version of “Rainy Night in Georgia”, which she played some very nice lead parts to. Speaking of moody versions, Tom Moody was up next, playing a beautiful song with nice chords (his specialty…) called “One More Kiss, Dear” by Vangelis, from the Blade Runner soundtrack – though it sounded like a much older song to me! Jerry, our house-band percussionist traded in his sticks and shakers for a uke, and played Jason Mraz’s smooth version of “Fly Me To the Moon” (but only after mocking me with a brief snippet of Randy Newman’s “Short People”!…) A crazy little thing called Ed then got up and rocked his way through Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Johnny was next with a song by the Kinks, called “Apeman” about someone fed up with the modern world and wanting to “sail away to a distant shore and make like an apeman” – though I think getting a ukulele would be a much easier option! Next up, I put Uncle Bob on the spot by dragging him up and having him play a song that he’s been working on recently. He rewarded us with José Feliciano’s version of “Light My Fire.” And finally, Boaz, Jennifer, and myself did a bluegrass/folk song by Josh Turner, called “Armed and Dangerous.”

I hope you had fun. Until next time – Tuesday, May 16th – keep on strumming, and we’ll see you then!
Tom Saunders

Thanks to Ruth Raymond for these photos.

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – March 21, 2017

We had a very good turnout with a large number of first-time strummers providing fresh blood to our lively group. Steve Edge from the Rogue Folk Club came up to tell us of this summer’s renovations to St James Hall, and he concluded by asking everyone to have fun, and to sing and play “with gusto” – and they did not let him down! I had help with leading songs from Jennifer, Boaz, and Geoff, and instrumentally with our “house band”, featuring our longtime bass-player, Ron, and our latest great recruit, Jerry on drums and percussion. I don’t know if everyone realizes what a solid foundation they lay down for us to play along to. Trust me – they really do!

It was our second month of a new segment I’m calling the “Two-Chord-Wonder Song”, so it could just be a coincidence that we had not one, but two of them. In honour of the recent passing of Chuck Berry, we “rocked the chords” of his 1959 classic, “Memphis Tennessee.” Then we made America Great Again, by singing (with full-throttle gusto) Merle Haggard’s 1969 hippie-shaming anthem, “Okie From Muskogee.” Both of these songs I could have sworn were your standard three-chord songs, but nope – it just takes two!

Performance Time started off with Dotty dressed in sartorial splendor, (possibly the only one of us in pearls) singing Amanda Palmer’s “In My Mind.” Erica then celebrated recent birthdays by singing, “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Ron our bass-player, shocked the crowd by pulling out what looked like a guitar (!!!), albeit a four-string tenor guitar, very similar to the one that rock’n’roll founder Chuck Berry started his career off playing. He played a song that Chuck wrote while doing time in jail – the song was appropriately called, “No Particular Place To Go.” Tom Moody presented what he described as the only pro-smoking song of the evening, 1932’s wistful, “Smoke Rings” by the Mills Brothers. Jerry (our house percussionist) played a sweet song he heard in Hawaii called “All I Want In My Life is You” by New Zealand band, DSS (Da Soul Sound.) Jordan was up next, playing a friendly version of Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” Then Geoff welcomed better springtime weather with Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” Jennifer played the oldest song of the night (originating in the early-1800’s), the haunting “Wayfairing Stranger” and Boaz finished off with some fine fretboard acrobatics, playing a song from Dire Straits’ 1978 debut album, called “Water of Love.” Both of the last two songs featured Tomi on the bass.

I really appreciated the participation of everyone who filled the house, playing and singing with extreme gusto (my last ‘gusto’ reference!) We really have a very special thing going on with the Vancouver Ukulele Circle. I can’t think of many other musical situations that can bring together such a large number of people to sing and play music shoulder to shoulder, and have as much fun as we unashamedly seem to have. In my opinion, the ukulele really is “the people’s instrument”, and for some reason, it just seems to attract a very wonderful, smart, unassuming, fun-loving bunch of folks. And it’s a pleasure for me to be a part of it with you.
Until next time – Tuesday, April 18th – keep on strumming, and we’ll see you then!

Tom Saunders

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – February 21, 2017

Tom here – From all accounts, I think we had a fun-filled evening, in our first meeting since the departure of our group’s founding member, Ralph “The King of the Ukulele” Shaw, who has left us (hopefully not for long) for the warm, sunny shores of England! He was definitely with us in spirit, as a very good turnout sang and strummed to a jam-packed evening of tunes. I had lots of help with leading songs from Ronin, Boaz, Jennifer. And we had bonus help, instrumentally. In addition to rock-steady Ron on the bass, we were helped out enormously by Jerry on drums and percussion, and an unexpected treat of Rosanna on the violin. What a house band to keep us going forward in style!

People seemed to enjoy a new segment I introduced, called the “Two Chord Song of the Month.” This month’s bi-chordal wonder was America’s “A Horse With No Name.” The thought behind this segment is to give the challenge of anticipating chord change patterns without the aid of a songsheet. Two chords might initially sound a little boring, but people’s reaction to it seemed to be quite the opposite. And as I said, if you think you’re playing the wrong chord, play the other one! More to come in the following months…

Performance Time brought us a feast of variety, starting off with Eric from Maui, (which begged the question of what the heck is he doing in Vancouver in February?!?) Eric played a brilliantly beautiful, instrumental version of Ruby and the Romantic’s 1963 song, “Our Day Will Come”, which gained him a well-deserved standing ovation. Ron, our bass master, then played a much-appreciated tribute to recently-passed CBC storyteller, Stuart McLean, by playing the theme to the Vinyl Cafe, a song titled “That Glad Reunion Day” (and several other titles.) Tom Moody graced us with a wonderful version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado,” the title of which translates to “out of tune,” though Tom’s rendition was anything but!

Johnny was up next with his take on Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?” Ronin played a sweetly introspective version of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire,” as a tribute to his mother, who passed away recently. Deryl did a ribald take on Valentines Day adult encounters, and Jennifer and Boaz showed off their tight harmonies on a haunting version of the Poppy Family’s Vancouver-born classic, “Where Evil Grows.”

The final two songs came from Gary, then Sylvia, leading “The Little Ukeband,” (with fellow group members, Gayle, Leone, and Jerry.) Gary did a spirited version of Billy Joel’s 1980 rocker, “You May Be Right,” while Sylvia finished off with a really beautiful song I had never heard of before, called “Hang on, Little Tomato” by the band, Pink Martini. Wonderful arrangements and harmonies.

I want to personally thank the various people that went out of their way to come up to me after the evening to express their support for my efforts in keeping this uke-machine rolling along. Your words were much appreciated, and I will continue to try my best for this wonderful thing started by Ralph Shaw, and supported monthly by some of the the nicest, most enthusiastic group of folks to swing a ukulele!

Until next time, should need to contact me, you can reach me at calabash@shaw.ca.

Next meeting, Tuesday, March 21st. See you there!
Tom Saunders

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – January 17, 2017

What an incredible evening! Tonight was the closest I’ve ever come to the feeling of winning an award. Having some of my qualities and work recognized by a bunch of people who I care about was really neat. There were 2 cakes, signed cards, great energy and an outpouring of good feeling and nice things. It was very touching. Oh yeah, and there were about a 100 of you all wearing bow ties! I’ll never forget it.

In less than 2 weeks I head to England but tonight I was really wondering if I’ve made the right decision. Your kindness and support was quite overwhelming. Plus there was also a heightened performance energy from everyone too. Very cool. Song leaders all did great: Thanks go out to Aletha, Dasha, Jennifer, Tomi, Boaz, Ronin, Ed and Roan. And a nice surprise from Erica who offered to do Jolene at the last minute.

And I was especially pleased to see how supportive you all are of my stand-in Mr Tom Saunders. He’s the perfect person to keep things going while I’m gone. And it’s up to you to keep on coming and keep the uke circle rolling along!!

It seemed like all the performances were extra special tonight. Several made reference to me and my imminent travel back home. The first song, by Heather Stubbs and the Kitsaleles, was the 2009 song Home for which I got to join in on tambourine. Adam then sang My Girl Bill. Vivian, in anticipation of next month’s valentines, did a wonderful quirky and perky performance of Stupid Cupid.

Deryl has been coming for a few years and it’s so neat to see how he has developed and is now more relaxed in his performance style. His song was a funny one about Millennials. Ed then gave us Singing the Blues and reworked the lyrics to get me in there.

I have heard the George Michael song Careless Whisper many times on British radio without having a clue what the song was about. Ronin’s rendition of it tonight really put across the words and the feeling of the song quite powerfully and in that sense I’d have to put his performance above George Michael’s. Good job Ronin! And if you expected the quality to drop at that point, it didn’t. Roan did a Marilyn Monroe song Bye Bye Baby with new lyrics for me for which I had to sit next to her in a chair and listen. She has an exceptional voice that makes people sit up and listen.

Boaz did an original instrumental tune with a very catchy melody. Highly enjoyable. Tom Moody sang Ralphie (as opposed to Alfie from the movie of that name…) His Ralphiefied lyrics sung in his deep voice and with his careful finger picking were hilarious. It was a sort of “exquisite agony”. And the final song was Tom Saunders and I singing Short People. A wonderful song about the stupidity of human intolerance.

At the end of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life I made as if to smash my ukulele to smithereens on the monitor speaker. I think I did a good acting job too from the shocked look on some faces. But there’ll be no uke smashing from me. There’s still lots of playing to do. And I wish the same for you too.

I’ll be back for a visit in June when I return to do my Alaska ukulele cruise.

Until we meet again…keep on Strumming and Smiling.

I now leave you in the very capable hands of Tom Saunders. Next meeting Feb 21!!

Ralph Shaw

Come with me on a Ukulele Cruise to Alaska!
June 28 – July 5 2017
Details: http://ralphshaw.ca/alaska-cruise-with-ralph-shaw/

Note from Wendy: See photos from this evening on Facebook at

and Adam Abrams’s video at

Thanks to Ruth Raymond for these photos.