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 – December 19, 2017

Well, the weather outside was frightful, but the uke choir was so delightful… A dedicated bunch turned out Tuesday night, despite having second thoughts earlier, as a white, fluffy marshmallow world turned into a pineapple slushy. That just shows you the devotion of the West Coast ukulele enthusiast! St James was refinishing the wooden floors in the main hall, so we moved downstairs into the basement, and with the help of the Rogue Folk Club’s sound crew, Rob and Peter, we got by just fine in an improvised setting.

The real star of the night was the wide selection of Christmas songs, carols, and winter wonder-tunes that the group were forced to play without the helpful benefit of chord boxes! And the challenge of the many chord changes on these songs that seemed to fly by fast and furiously. I’m sure that some of it was a challenge for some of the newer players, but hopefully it was a challenge that also gave them confidence as they chased majors, minors, and sevenths to already familiar tunes. We also learned a bit about those crazy diminished chords that have four different names for each chord – luckily they can be located in just three positions. More on them in the next circle!

We had a great group of song leaders and support players on a night that naturally called for many voices joining together in harmony. Our regular bass player, Ron got stuck at home in the snow, so Craig handily jumped in as a last-minute replacement. He also kept his previous commitments to sing lead and backup, so extra cookies for Craig’s stocking this year. Jerry, our ace percussionist, gave us sympathetic accompaniment, and he got to justify purchasing good quality sleigh bells (which are mostly a December rhythm choice…) I also put him on the spot, hounding him to to play a drum solo in the middle of “The Little Drummer Boy” – which he did, and very tastefully at that! And if that’s not enough, he also dusted off his uke, to lead the group in playing “Old Toy Trains.” Angela led a lovely version of “White Christmas”, and Carol and Heather led a trio of songs, including a rousing version of Bruce Springsteen’s take on, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” And last but not least, Jennifer sang lead and added much harmony to all the tunes, and even sang the little-known intro to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” All of the players made the evening a delight to play along with them.

We had a quick, messy Christmas quiz, and learned many bits of useless trivia! Did you know that if your true love gave to you all of the presents in “A Partridge and a Pear Tree”, UPS would have to drop off three hundred and sixty-four of them? Consider adding extra security cameras!

We ended off the night with a Performance Time full of a wide variety of seasonal songs. Ed kicked things off with a chord-melody version of “Silver Bells”, as taught to him by talented local picker, Guido Heistek. Boaz was up next with a jaunty version of Tom Waits’ candy tribute, “Chocolate Jesus”, which he described as being “sacrilicious.” Karen then got up and gave us a very tasty version of “A Marshmallow World” (a hit by Bing Crosby, and later, Dean Martin.) Jerry played the only Justin Bieber song of the night – a cover of his song, “Mistletoe”, a happy little ditty with a reggae beat, that – for a few minutes – turned me into a Belieber… Jennifer performed a sweet, wistful solo version of Frank Loesser’s 1947 song, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.” Carol was next up, and Jennifer joined her as they sang a very beautiful, haunting melody called, “Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson. Craig finished off the evening with a song written by Sting (of Police fame) called “Russians”, which I assumed had some sort of Christmas connection, with its aim of averting global destruction, which no one wants under their tree.

Thanks to everyone who came out to lend their voices, talents and Yuletide uking. We should be back upstairs in the hall again next month, and will begin another year of fun and frivolity with the Vancouver Ukulele Circle. Until then, I wish you happiness, peace, good health, the close company of friends and family, and maybe even a few new chords!

Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, Mele Kelikimaka, and a Very Happy New Year to all our ukulele friends!


Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – November 21, 2017

Hello strummers!

What is it about small flying water that affects our mood? We rode our bikes to the November Ukulele Circle last night at St. James Hall, geared up with rain-proof covers and rain pants, wary of the dangerous slickness of mushy leaves on dark pavement.

We are learning how to lead, and we appreciate your patience as we work toward the right balance of songs that are accessible and offer a fun challenge. We did make it so that there would be no scrolling—just “next slide”—and we thank Tomi for being attentive to the exact moment when that was called for.

That space is so great in the winter though, isn’t it? This big, warm, wooden hall. It’s said that for “We Will Rock You,” Queen recorded themselves stomp-clapping in a wooden church, and so St. James seemed like a perfect spot to emulate that. There were some nice musical moments. Jennifer was keen to rock out to some CCR.

For Performance Time, we had a collection of wistful, emotive songs. Why do we love music? It expresses the inexpressible.

First off was Bogdan, ever-improving, covering “This Love” by Maroon 5, from 2004. The song in our book, described by its songwriter as “extremely erotic” about the break-up of a relationship. Boaz does write his own songs once in a while—typically instrumentals. Jerry and Craig backed him up on what he called “B5 Shot,” (B5 being the dominant chord), a slightly trance-like meditation with groove. Carol came up to perform “Landslide,” a 1975 song written by Stevie Nicks and recorded by Fleetwood Mac, which was also a hit for the Dixie Chicks in 2002. Boaz did some soloing and Jennifer backed her up on harmonies. The timbre of their two voices complemented each other well, and the sweet ache of the song came across.

House percussionist Jerry got Ron and Jennifer to back him up on a 2015 song called “Bright” by Echosmith as covered by Dave Crosby. Jennifer provided avocado-shaker rhythms and harmonies. Both the song and the performance emanated yearning and tenderness.

Ed mentioned that he was recently at the hospital for a week, three times a day, and had the opportunity to “practice” for people. He fell in love with “Lullaby of the Leaves.” Jennifer’s notes say: “Sad, soaking November. A lullaby. Ed’s voice has gravel, tone, and character. He knows how to take his time and let the swing happen.”

Ron, ever the eulogizer of musical voices we have lost, marked the recent passing of American country music singer/songwriter Mel Tillis. He gave us “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town, ” recorded in 1967 by Johnny Darrell, about a physically disabled veteran pleading with a woman not to go out without him. He realized after a bit of playing that he had the pages mixed up — which earned sympathetic laughter from the audience — this was soon rectified and he gave the song its proper, folksy, due.

Johnny announced his performance song, “Morning Morgantown,” as the second in a three-song performance cycle of Joni Mitchell songs, which are complex, evocative, and beloved. He had forthright strumming and nice oscillations between soft and strong.

Kyala came on stage as our final performer, her first time performing at the VUC, and noted that she is new to Vancouver as of about a week ago. With sure touch and a strong distinctive voice, she brought warmth and presence to Matisyahu’s “One Day.” The 2008 song “expresses a hope for an end to violence and a prayer for a new era of peace and understanding.”

Thanks as always to Ron and Jerry, and Kathryn on the door, and Wendy for her behind-the-scenes wisdom. The Rogue Folk Club especially stepped up this month, supplying Peter to do the sound as a replacement for Rich. While there were a few heart-stopping sonic booms, we got through just fine. The spirit of these nights is what we like best, the pitching in.

And just a reminder that we will be arriving to the Christmas Ukulele Night (Yule-kulele?) by the side door of the St. James Hall off Trutch Street and descending to the Yule basement, with Yule cheer. A number of people said they would like to have a printout of the booklet Tom has put together, so please remember to bring a fiver for that. We are looking forward to making joyful noise on December 19th!

Jennifer and Craig

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – October 17, 2017

Halloween Strummers,

We got the call—as so often happens these days—via text: UKEMERGENCY. This was less than 24 hours before curtain. Tom was ill and was unlikely to recover in time to AWOOO to “Werewolves of London” for Spookulele 2017. Could the two of us step up? Well of course we could. Tom had determined the list of songs, including two that we had planned to lead, and we just had to learn the rest of them or change them if we didn’t know them well enough. Simple.

It was a merry vibe as people with ukes (some in costume) billowed into the St. James Hall like a boisterous Halloween fog. A few were even there for the very first time.

Thanks are due to a number of people who came up to lead us all through songs, including Boaz, Jerry, Ed, and Carol. You, yes you, should think about leading a song from the stage. Not daunting at all, especially with Ron and Jerry coming in to steady you in the second bar. We welcome duos, trios and groups, if that’s easier than taking the stage by yourself. If you’d like instrumental support, please ask; we’re happy to back you up.

We ambled through selections from the book. It seems there was one person who had never heard the song “Monster Mash.” This was immediately remedied. In memoriam of Tom Petty, who passed away this month, we did “Free Fallin’” and sang the chorus a few times a capella. We included a few extra songs that weren’t on the list that Tom sent out (see above) and even had time to add “Zombie” at the end. This 1994 song, interestingly enough, is more about the Troubles of Northern Ireland than re-animated corpses. Corinne had wanted to do “Rainy Night in Georgia” and “Black Magic Woman,” and was unable to make it last night; Boaz stepped up and quickly learned the former (and we didn’t do the latter).

Performance time started the evening with many empty spots but ended filled with various tunes, some of which connected directly or indirectly to Halloween. Erica began with “Granny’s Rules for Drinking” after telling us about her late mother and the wisdom of old birds. The tart song included the tell-tale line: “Gin will ruin your complexion.” Sporting a bright pink beehive wig and leopard pants, Bubblelicious gave us, with ease and smoothness, “Lipstick On Your Collar,” a hit for Connie Francis in 1959. It was both hilarious and slightly unsettling. Eduardo the music teacher, bracing for his first Canadian winter, pulled together an instrumental version of “Autumn Leaves,” originally written by Joseph Kosma Jacques Prévert. It seems he is a little taken with his first autumn, having never seen all the reds, golds, and greens of this temperate rainforest in fall.

Josh introduced his sweetly-played song—“The Curse” by Josh Ritter (no relation)—by saying it was as much a St. Valentine’s Day song as it was a Halloween song. It’s a heartbreaking tale of love between an archeologist and her mummy; we encourage you to check out the video online. Scary times indeed: Boaz performed Tom Lehrer’s “MLF Lullaby,” a caution against a 1960s-era, American-proposed, nuclear armed force involving various European allies, including the recent enemy, (West) Germany: “We taught them a lesson in 1918/And they’ve hardly bothered us since then.” Jennifer performed Radiohead’s 2001 song “You and Whose Army” (with Craig and Jerry on the assist), which Thom Yorke said was “about someone who is elected into power by people and who then blatantly betrays them.” Ghost horses. Jennifer and Craig then tackled the goth anthem, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus (lusciously covered by David J), with Jennifer providing the cryptic (what pun?) instrumental touches and Jerry the tense percussion. Momentarily overlooked (see above), the returning and Trumphiant Ron did “The Flying Purple People Eater,” a 1958 hit by Sheb Wooley, to rousing reception.

There were some fantastic costumes, as demonstrated by the folks who came up on stage, including Bob Marley, both a good and bad witch, a Mad Hatter, the terrifying and horrific Trump, and the three prize winners: Bubblelicious, the Bumble Bee, and Dr. Helga.

Craig thanked the Rogue Folk Club, Wendy, Kathryn, Jerry, and Ron, but he forgot our intrepid sound man, Mr. Rich, for his steadfast contribution to our ukulele nights. As well as Tom for putting the projector song sheets and song list together.

For next time, November 21, Tom had already invited us once again to handle leadership duties, so we will be back with you then, with a bevy of music. Did someone say beverage?

Let us know if you have any feedback.

Jennifer & Craig

Thanks to Boaz Joseph and Ruth Raymond for these photos from the October meeting.

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – September 19, 2017

September’s meeting marked the 17th anniversary of the Vancouver Ukulele Circle, with a good turnout and a good time had by all. Though the group returned to St James Hall last month, it was my first time back there since this summer’s roof renovations, and it might just be me, but I could swear that it was a bit cooler in there than I remembered. Steve Edge from the Rogue Folk Club came up to tell us about further work to be done on the hall, including refinishing the hardwood floor. That will probably happen in December, and we will once again be displaced from the hall. However, a likely, and very good solution for an alternate location might have us just move downstairs to the St James’ basement for that time. It’s a good-sized room, about the size of the area we normally have our tables and chairs set up on. It’ll work for a temporary space and it shouldn’t be that big of a disruption to our usual routine. More on that later.

Last night, we were missing our beloved bass-player, Ron, who is home nursing a sore foot, but we were fortunate enough to have Craig step up and fulfill the bass duties for us. Most people don’t realize how important a bass is to keeping a uke circle playing together until it’s not there, so hats off to the big, bad, low-down bass!

There were a number of others leading songs, including Craig and Jerry, who both played songs from our songbook that I don’t think had ever been played by the group before. Jennifer and Boaz both led songs, and even Uncle Bob tackled “Hallelujah” down in his low, Leonard range. I encourage others to get up and lead songs from the book. Please send me an email to calabash@shw.ca ahead of time, so we can get your song choice in the ‘week-before’ email that I send out each month. Lead by yourself or with a friend or two, if you wish.

I have changed up the format of the evening a little bit, by putting Performance Time at the end of the evening. Some people had expressed that they are mostly there to play in the group setting, so I was surprised that most people seemed to stick around until the end anyway. What did YOU think of the format change? I’d be interested in hearing your opinion of whether we should keep it this way, or go back to the old format. Last night, Boaz started things off with a catchy song called, “Another Day,” by Eric Idle’s Beatles parody band – the Rutles. Bogdan then played a rhythmically ambitious, fingerpicked version of “House of the Rising Sun” while hitting the high notes vocally. Johnny was up next with an early Joni Mitchell song, called “Urge For Going.” Craig and Eduardo teamed up for a crazy little duet of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” with some blistering lead lines from Eduardo. Then Joe (who we haven’t seen since the ‘Our Town’ days) brought his own crazy little song – a mashup of Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” and the Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk,” which I’d assume he calls, “Land Down Under the Boardwalk.” Allison sang a very beautiful rendition of “Goodnight, My Someone” from the musical, ‘The Music Man.’ And finally, Ron from Newport played a nice flamenco piece on a uke-sized, 6-stringed instrument, the name of which has escaped me – though a quick Google search tells me it could have been a guitarlele.

The Two-Chord-Wonder song of the month (A & E7) was Johnny River’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” which turned us into a roomful of rockers!

Extra thanks to Jerry and Craig, (our house band,) the Rogue Folk Club for hosting us, Rich our wonderful soundman, and to Boaz for pulling together a bass, amp, and Projector Song laptop – and scrolling it for us, too!

Next month will be our Halloween “Spookulele” circle, so we encourage you to wear something fun or spooky. Expect some tricks and some treats, and be prepared to sing the “Monster Mash” at least a hundred times.

I hope you had fun last night. Until next time – Tuesday, October 17th – keep on strumming, and we’ll see you then!


Tom Saunders

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – August 15, 2017

Dear Strummers,

Being back in St. James Hall for the August 2017 Uke Circle felt like coming home after forced exile. And it was a newly clear, crisp night after weeks of haze. The renovations included insulation and a ventilation system in the roof, which will help moderate the temperature in the room (it did seem a touch cooler). We were glad that the Hall was not suddenly all white, or otherwise changed from its warm charm and character. And after two months at the Legion (bless them for housing us), wow: does St. James ever carry sound and does it ever ring with music we all create. It was a most welcome homecoming.

Ralph spent years building this rock-solid format for the monthly Circle, packed with appealing content, animated by his uke-wielding antics and charisma. The ever-stellar Tom then stepped up with his boundless energy and awesome musical resumé. Our job was simple: try to do what they do. BUT, as substitute teachers, we decided to veer away from the book and introduce 14 new songs.

If there was a theme to the all the songs, we might say it was one of Love and Loss (“You Can’t Hurry Love,“ ”Don’t You Want Me,” “Bye Bye Love,” “Crying,” etc), or songs with repetitive chords that somehow work (“Dancing in the Dark,” “Authority Song,” “You Never Can Tell”). We hope you enjoyed them.

One of our favourite things is seeing people performing for the first time. This audience is so kind. People we’d never met approached Jennifer tentatively and hesitantly, asking: “Is there a spot for me? I’m ready to go up there.” Seeing new people showered with appreciation exploring songs they love reminds Jennifer of her first time on stage, and how terrified she was just to go near the stairs. Her song wasn’t polished or memorized but she loved it so much. If you’d like to help lead a song, or perform something on your own, we will make space for you and help you get there.

Performing gives you a sense of responsibility for your song, an ownership which isn’t the same if you never perform it. And if you’re nervous in one of your first few performances on stage, then you just seem all the more human. And you thereby inspire others to think that they can do it, too. Advanced players inspire us to try ever harder.

So. Karen’s voice is huge and warm, and with her delivery of “Blue Bayou,” she could have been Linda Ronstadt up there, thrilling us effortlessly with the highest notes. Another newer performer is Eduardo, who keeps us delighted and inspired when he plays, which was deft and complex in an instrumental version of Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”

Next was Uncle Bob, one of our small cadre of baritone uke players, who is learning to play by ear. He gave us solid driving blues, with “Wake Up Little Suzie” by the Everly Brothers. Makes us keen to see what he will do next.

In a summery pink shirt, Johnny took us back to Toronto in the 80s, standing on the street outside Much Music, before launching into, in his laconic style, Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.” We want to know those strummy chords.

Our very talented house percussionist also decided, on the spur of the moment, to join the list. A borrowed uke was no problem for Jerry, in his melodic and heartfelt take on Niall Horan’s “This Town.”

Ed, joined by Ronin, got everyone clapping and nodding and singing along, with a laid-back blues number called “Walk On” by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. (Or Chipper McGee? Both sound pretty convincing.) Performers, those two.

And who doesn’t love a hot mess? Josh said he might be, but really, he did a fine and assured job on his cigar-box uke with “Poncho and Lefty”, the old west story-song by Townes Van Zandt.

Our lastest-minute addition to the list was Erica, in her second-ever appearance on stage, with “Be My Baby,” by Phil Spector for the Ronettes. She has quite a lovely voice, and when she asked for help with the chorus, the audience was more than happy to back her up.

Ronin gave us Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” (released as a single in 1962 and included on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan the next year). Dylan said of this song: “[the answer] ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind — and it’s blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that….I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong.” Ronin’s delivery was remarkably restrained. Both delicate and fierce, he delivered a powerful appeal for humanity in these troubled times.

Boaz—who did not consult with Ronin beforehand—also did a song from 1963. It was the theme song to the 2nd official James Bond film, “From Russia With Love,” as performed by Matt Munro and written by Lionel Bart. This hit audiences only one year after the Cuban Missile crisis and just before John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and a few months before the Beatles landed America. And it has that minor chord, spy-danger vibe that brought Craig right back to watching that movie on television as a kid. Sly, measured, and immensely capable in his playing, Boaz’s distaste for current US political craziness couldn’t have been clearer: “…send in the orange idiot.”

We want to thank Ralph for the pre-Circle ringing endorsement, which meant a lot to us.

Hearing everyone sing along, carrying the songs, with joy in the music is the best part for us. As first time substitute teacher hosts, and long-time participants, we’re most grateful for the opportunity to lead. One of our favourite moments was just before we started into “Losing My Religion” when all through the room, people were plucking out the opening riff: it sounded like a sparkling field of notes, a twinkling sky of new things.

Thanks to Karen, for leading and performing, and to all the performers, bravely sharing what you have been working on. Thanks to our stalwart house band, Ron and Jerry, and to Tomi on the scroll wheel. We are newly grateful to the Rogue Folk Club crew, and to Rich, our friendly and adaptable sound guy, who makes a tricky job seem so easy. To Wendy and Kathryn, for maintaining the Van Ukes administrative backbone, and to all the volunteers who make the music feel effortless.

Next month, Tom will be back at the helm, so thank you again for the most fun of Tuesday nights, and we’ll see you again in September at St James.

Jennifer and Craig

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – July 18, 2017

It was a warm July evening for the Vancouver Ukulele Circle at the West Point Grey Legion, and I hope that it was an enjoyable evening for all you strummers. I found the night somewhat of a challenge, as we discovered ourselves without a soundperson or a P.A. System… Luckily, thanks to Uncle Bob, who ran home and brought back a pair of guitar amplifiers, we were able to improvise by running mics through them, and bringing some volume back to the room. I did double duty acting as host and soundman, both of which to a much lower level than I would have hoped for, considering the large, faithful gathering of strummers who turned up, including some ukers who made a special visit to us from both Maine, USA and Winnipeg.

Performance time started off with Bogdan playing the Beatles’ “Across the Universe.” Carrying on with that celestial theme, Eduardo took us on a lunar journey with his instrumental version of “Fly Me to the Moon.” Landing much closer to home, Gayle dedicated “My Skies” by James Keelaghan, to the victims of the recent devastating fires sweeping the province. Traveling across the country, Gary sang “Song For the Mira,” whose lyrics spoke of a longing for the serenity of the Mira River region of Nova Scotia. Jerry was up next with a sweet version of “The Bird Song” by Victoria Vox. The original version of that song featured toy piano accompaniment – Jerry had Gayle very effectively playing the backup on a tiny keyboard app on her Ipad. Johnny then took us back centuries(!) with the Rolling Stones’ ballad, “Lady Jane.” Jennifer was up next, joined by Craig and Tomi, on Neko Case’s rollicking declaration of independence, titled “Man.” Performance Time finished off with three tributes to the recent fiftieth anniversary of the Sgt Pepper album – Craig performed Paul McCartney’s “Fixing a Hole,” Gayle and I sang “She’s Leaving Home” and Boaz tackled George Harrison’s composition in the Indian classical style, “Within You Without You.” Quite a nice variety of performances from everyone who got up.

This month’s Two-Chord-Wonder-Song (G and Am7) was the Temptations’ Mowtown classic, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”

Big thanks to all of you who showed up and filled the room with your spirited singing – when I can hear your voices over mine, I know you’re belting it out! Thanks to all of those who helped lead songs from the book, (Craig, Jennifer, Jerry, Gayle, Boaz and Ed) and to our wonderful backup band, Ron and Jerry. Also, Wendy and Kathryn for their mostly unseen work for the group. And once again, thank you to Uncle Bob!

At this point, we still don’t know for sure if we will be at the Legion, or back at St James Hall for the August meeting of the uke circle. My hunch is that we will still be at the Legion for one more session – but we won’t know until we get into next month. A decision one way or the other will be made by the next email, sent out a week before the next meeting in August. Wherever it is held, you will have new leaders to guide you – Craig and Jennifer will be the hosts for the evening, bringing their own fresh approach to the group. If you would like to lead any songs from the book, or sign up early for a spot at Performance Time, Craig says you can email him at craigewen@gmail.com

Enjoy your summer, and keep on strumming!

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.