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 or the evening’s leader.

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, August 17, 2021

We all need a little colour in our life—life is just too darn short for beige.

The August 17, 2021 Van-Uke-Circle night started with Ron relaying in from his car—He introduced our evening with a wonderful, colourful classic song by Donovan simply named ‘Colours’—how apt! Mel & Joni followed with Pink’s ‘Cover Me With Sunshine’—how a-dor-a-ble! From there we went a little bit retro, and a cornucopia of colours followed: with Jen singing ‘Happy Days’—Goodbye grey skies hello blue!, then Blackbird, Brown-eyed Woman and Bad Leroy Brown, taking a Yellow Taxi down a Yellow Brick Road and searching for Yellow Ribbons on that Old Oak Tree. We savoured Red, Red Wine.

Blue Rodeo, Pink, Neon Trees and Macy Gray made appearances. Subtly coloured lyrics were found in ‘A Hazy Shade of Winter’ (Craig & Tomi), ‘Shotgun’ (Mel), the Weepies’ ‘Gotta Have You’ (Rob & Amanda), and Rod Stewart’s ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ (Jen). All were shades of great.

Performances started with Edwin singing ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. Then a Bluegrass theme followed with Boaz ably picking the classic ‘Deep River Blues’ (with Katie singing along, but unfortunately no one could hear her but me, sigh). Fonny continued with ‘The Lakes of Ponchartrain’, and then Katie capoed her guitar into a ukulele range and sang ‘Silver Dagger’, slightly accompanied by Heather on a real uke to make it extra legit.

We fought off a few summer ‘Blackflies’ (grrr…feedback was unanimous, and we were all in agreement…but you had to be there…). Carol took us to dreamy ‘Blue Hawaii’, and then we finished with another round of ‘Colours’ just because we liked it so much the first time. All songs cast a lovely tint onto our evening in the sun.

All-in-all, it was a colourful night. Again, thank you to those who have regularly come and supported us on our zoom journey through this wild pandemic ride. Singing in groups is a joyous connecting experience—it brings people together and lifts our spirits like nothing else can. Let’s hope that we are back together soon.

We hope that a bit of musical colour was added to your evening,

Heather, Carol & Mel

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, July 20, 2021

Hey folks,

Boaz here.

Here’s a quick summary of our summery little Zoom event on Tuesday, July 20.

Carol, Craig, Tom, Jen, Rob, Amanda, Ed, Ron and I led some appropriately oddball songs to go with the night’s theme of Strange Songs for Strange Times. This calls for semi-colons.

Topics included Bob Dylan being uniquely creepy; someone who’s apparently both an eggman and a walrus; an egotistical yet somehow churchy guy; people stuck in a crazy world, and… I really don’t know what Tom’s song was about, but it had some hanging from the highest tree.

We had juvenile delinquent wrecks; abused young Liverpudlians; an auntie who’s the mistress of the night; a white knight talking backwards; a human-consuming purple monster; and a witch doctor who’s really just a therapist.

Our first Eagles song in a cappella was about infrastructure; we had some depressing Kentucky coal mining; a medieval food stamps song; faulty ship-building as a metaphor for screwing up; a song involving suicide — but a comedy!; a second Eagles song, this time around about a shot of courage via ethyl alcohol; and finally a wrenching love song from The Three Amigos, the most acclaimed piece of cinema in the late 20th century, had I given the orders at The Oscars.

Jeff belted out his strongest performance-time song yet, White Stripes’ Dead Leaves in the Dirty Grass. The man knows how to play. I pulled Jim Croce out of the bag, having held Time in a Bottle in my metaphorical holster for a long while.

See you next month, which will be hosted by The Trebles: Carol, Heather and Melody.


Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, June 15, 2021

Women songwriters. We know the big ones–Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone (sorry for not including Kate Bush), but so many great songs. And plenty of enthusiasm for the theme: half of the songs were volunteered by others.

I started us off singing Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone.” She won an Academy Award for the second song we did, “Up Where We Belong,” from the film “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Talk about a chorus you can’t forget.

Continuing the uplift, Ron led the 1964 hit song “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” by Gale Garnett. Tom followed this with that wistful anthem of teenage girls, “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian–a 1975 hit with a samba beat that won the Grammy for Best Female Pop Performance and had lasting cultural influence.

Speaking of cultural influence, Carly Simon’s classic, “You’re So Vain,” was led by Mary–her first time leading a song. We all know it was written about Warren Beatty. Who actually owns an apricot scarf? Not I. Vanity kills.

Tomi had suggested “Royals” by Lorde, a hit from eight years ago she would sing with her daughter. One of the best-selling singles of all time, “the track’s lyrics express disapproval with the sumptuous lifestyle presented in songs and music videos by pop and hip hop-influenced artists,” according to Wikipedia. It also won the Grammy for Song of the Year. I backed Tomi up best I could.

We cannot not do Madonna. Jen stepped in with “True Blue” from the earlier days of Madge’s immensely successful career: she is the best-selling female recording artist of all time (and only below The Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Elton John on the list of all artists), and the highest-grossing solo touring artist of all time. She is simply an incomparable institution of popular music of the last 40 years.

Alanis Morissette had an incredible comeback with her album “Jagged Little Pill” in 1995. And get this: Alanis was 21 at the time. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it 69th in their list of the 500 best albums of all time. She was the youngest artist ever to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, and the first Canadian to achieve “double diamond” in record sales. Rob and Amanda led a lovely rendition of “Hand in My Pocket” from the album with harmonica and harmony.

On Rolling Stone’s latest list of 500 best albums, Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album “Blue” was third. “Carey,” from the album, is about an American man she met in Crete named Cary Raditz (AKA the “red, red rogue”). Tom sang it nowhere near Joni’s range–who can?–and, in fact, got suspiciously quieter as he went on. He was very happy to hear that when we told him afterwards.

Another Canadian artist, Serena Ryder, who has eight albums behind her, was present through the leading of “Stompa” by Heather and Carol on Heather’s front porch. Looked pretty fun to be stomping on a porch.

Liz Phair was a blast of new in the early 90s. “Whip-Smart” is such a fun and simple song to play. Infectious chorus, led by me and Tomi. A few years before that, “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls came out. Rob and Amanda did another lovely job with this song.

Carol noted before she led “Big Spender,” as recorded by Shirley Bassey, that the woman who cowrote the song, Dorothy Fields, also cowrote over 400 songs for Broadway and film over her 48-year career and was one the first successful Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood female songwriters (Wikipedia). Let’s remember the pioneers!

Mary came back to lead the anthemic 1993 hit “What’s Up” with that indelible chorus. I followed this up with a signature song by “punk poet laureate” Patti Smith, “Because the Night,” which she wrote with Bruce Springsteen. Tomi led the next song with my back up: “Back on the Chain Gang” by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders from 1982. I think it’s such a great song, if tricky to play and sing.

Mel led “Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution” by Tracy Chapman–a song that was hugely influential around the world. Tomi and I followed this with a groovy 1997 song called “Flowers” by Cibo Matto–two Japanese ex-pats in NYC who teamed up with John Lennon’s son Sean for their second album.

Jen led the compellingly sad “Here Comes the Rain Again” by the Eurythmics. Speaking of sad, Tomi sang us through the heartbreaking “It’s Too Late” from Carole King’s incredible 1971 album, “Tapestry.” King is “the most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century in the US, having written or co-written 118 pop hits” (Wikipedia).

And then we did a song from 2012 by a Swedish folk duo called First Aid Kit about Emmylou Harris–“Emmylou.” Again, I tried to back Tomi up best I could.

But the song I liked the most from the whole roster was “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. A powerful song and cathartic to sing.

Wait. Maybe the song I liked most was “Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone. I apologize for not warning y’all that it was not going to be easy to play–essentially, I performed with a sheet. A song articulating the tragedy and hopes of the civil rights era in the U.S., it deftly combines a number of musical elements to great effect.

Our only performer, Boaz sang us a lovely rendition of “Dreamboat Annie” by Heart.

And finally, we had a crack at “Our Lips Are Sealed”–an 80s song by the Go-Gos. Fun.

Strange times. Boaz has strange songs lined up for July 20th. See you then!


Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, May 18, 2021

Water water everywhere…and loads and loads of songs to sing. On Tuesday May 18, we zoom-gathered and sang about anything wet, raining and damp, with boats, islands, beaches and rainbows.

Of course there were sea shanties and boat songs: The Wellerman, Farewell to Nova Scotia and The Fisherman’s Blues.

There were songs of longing & life: We ‘Rippled’ through the ‘Early Morning Rain’ (Rob) and ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’, over the ‘Sea of Love’ (Ed), under ‘Water Under the Bridge’ (Ron, channelling Adele), and then on to ‘Driftwood’ on ‘Echo Beach’.

There were songs of faraway tropical isles, with ‘Take Me Back to Honolulu (Jen), and Gilligan’s Island, and under the seas with Under the Sea (with the Mel & Joni team) and Octopus’s Garden (Jen). And everywhere there is water, that is, Cool Water: sung by Tom, backed by Tom, who entertained us with the old great western standard, echoing, ‘water! water!’.

Our Two Chord song was an accelerating version of I’se the B’y, a bit wild by the end, a good exercise for tongue enunciation though.

Performance Time: Fonny, a first timer, did a lovely version of The Rose. I remember Fonny when she started with her first notes—she has travelled far with her uke! Well done!

Then we went into parody-land with Mary, also a first timer, who sang Something about Overeating desserts while Somewhere Over a Rainbow, and Shea who sang Singing in the Bathtub instead of the Rain.

Boaz finished Performance Time with a noteworthy rendition of ‘Water for Carol’—and Carol was really impressed, as we all were 🙂 Thanks Boaz. Can’t do a better theme song than THAT.

We then tried a totally unscientific experiment which was fun and fairly inaccurate, but we had people vote with their actual real hands, on one of our last songs. Under the Boardwalk was chosen and then sung with gusto (we think). It was good to see your feedback-hands and to have a bit of interaction-from-afar. For a moment we could actually ‘feel’ you connect with us (sigh!)—and whether you were medium-keen or extra-keen.

We finished with our message to you: Don’t Worry, Everything is going to be All Right.

Thanks to our song leaders extraordinaire: Ed, Jen, Rob, Ron & Tom, and to everyone for zooming in and singing with us, for with you we are keeping our uke world alive. And thanks especially to Tomi for helping us with scrolling.

Craig is next month: Tuesday June 15, and it’s going to be fab. More details to follow.

Keep singing those songs, keep strumming those strings,

The Trebles: Heather, Carol and Melody

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, April 20, 2021

Hey folks,

We did it. We united the world through music.

On Tuesday night, the Vancouver Ukulele Circle got together for songs from more than 15 languages, none of them English.

For months, I looked forward to see what would happen, but was confident that our intrepid musical multilingualists would be up to the challenge. 

Craig sang in Japanese, German and Latin, and Jen sang in Mandarin, Tagalog (Filipino) and Tuamotuan, a tiny Polynesian language. I learned that our venerable in-person percussionist Jerry helped Jen with some of the pronunciation for her Tagalog song. Edwin sang the second of two Tagalog songs of the night.

We covered French (Rob, Amanda et moi), Spanish (Allan, Ron and again, moi), Hawaiian (Wendy), Russian (David, who capo-fived his guitar to make a ukulele with a pituitary gland problem), Brazilian Portuguese (after hearing her Mas Que Nada, we need to find a chemistry lab that can bottle Melody’s voice) and Norwegian (Tom didn’t name the song, but naturally began with the question: “Have you driven a fjord lately?”).

And yeah, I did a couple of Hebrew songs to keep the peace.

There were some cool duets: Tomi persuaded her friend and fiddler Steve to finally join Vanukes with a magical Irish Gaelic performance, Corinne and Sachi did a famous Japanese song colloquially titled “Sukiyaki” in the West, and newcomer Kathryn and her iPod-keyboardist partner Shane performed 99 Luftballons in its original language. A duet of sorts was Liet Hellwig singing Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” in both Dutch and French. Kudos to that long-time visitor, first-time performer.

Among some of the more esoteric linguistic highlights, Ed taught us how to pronounce the Icelandic “ð,” Tomi and Steve showed that in Irish Gaelic, “bheatha” doesn’t sound anything like “bheatha,” and when Magda sang a line with the Polish word “wyciągniętą,” we just enjoyed listening to her song about Kraków.
I’d like to give sincere thanks to everybody who performed and participated in this one. It was what the French would call a collaboration.

A nice result of the whole thing was that people stuck around to the end of the night. I’m sure the songs brought back memories for a lot of people. Wendy told me she recognized more songs here than a regular Vanukes night, and as we all know, and a happy Wendy is a happy Vanukes.

Next month, The Trebles return. Look for Carol, Heather and Melody to lead a water-soluble Vankes event. Carol will explain.

p.s. I can’t get Bamboleo out of my system. I’m okay, though.

Thanks to Jen for putting together this picture of the song leaders.

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, March 16, 2021

Hello Vanukers,

I missed a few hours sleep last night. But it was worth it to give my tribute to Ron Usher’s wonderful contributions to the Vancouver Ukulele Circle all these years. I really enjoyed remembering highlights from many years with Ron playing bass by my side. And it was also a fabulous selection of Obit. Songs from great artists no longer with us.

Thanks to Craig for setting it up and roping me in and also to everyone who joined in to play along. I especially enjoyed the banter with old friends (in particular the opportunity to tell Ed once again what a menace he really is and always has been ha ha – So delightful!)

In case you haven’t heard.. my Ukulele Entertainer e-Newsletter is up and running again. It arrives about twice a month in your email and is full of all sorts of things to do with being a ukulele player/performer. You can sign up for it here: https://ralphshaw.ca/newsletter/ (and it’s really easy to unsubscribe if you change your mind later.)

You can read past articles on my Blog page: https://ralphshaw.ca/blog/

It’s also a good way to keep up on my activities if I have anything new or interesting going on – and it doesn’t cost a thing!

Wishing you a very happy, healthy and safe summer from jolly old England.

Keep Strumming and Smiling,

Ralph Shaw


Once Ralph went to get some shuteye at the ungodly hour he found himself after leading songs of recently-passed artists, the rest of us carried on calmly through fifty-five years of music. The recently-deceased included people like Vera Lynn, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Kenny Rogers, Doris Day, Amy Winehouse, Prince, David Bowie, Pete Seeger, Glen Campbell, Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries, Ric Ocasek of The Cars, Ginger Baker of Cream, JJ Cale, Doc Watson, Dr. John, Donna Summer, BB King, Aretha, Bill Withers and Lou Reed. And we did not include plenty of other viable contenders like Eddie Van Halen or Whitney Houston.

My thanks to song leaders Ron, Tom (smartly set up in the Digital Age with assistance from Boaz), Rob and His Fancy Chords, Boaz and His Bowie Phase, and Carol, who fought the good fight and led us through her song after 150 minutes of Zooming. My thanks also to Tomi for lending her fiddle to a Prince song to replace the synthesizer and helping me with (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman and Back to Black after a well-deserved nap.

This was an opportunity to honour Ron’s presence, contributions and steady hand as bassist (and sound man) over his 18 years of coming to the Vancouver Ukulele Circle. Because we should say things to people when we can.

This is the Van Ukes O Canada recitation that Ron mentioned:

One of the songs we did was THE grunge anthem, which has 1,232,829,450 views on Youtube. Here are 1000 people doing the same song (Liet posted this in the chat last night). Look how enthusiastic they are:

And special thanks to Ralph for joining us with some choice tunes at a less-than-ideal hour from across the pond!

Up next is Boaz leading us all through a special Van Ukes night on April 20th.

Stay safe, mes amis.


Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, February 16, 2021

Hi All, below is the recap for February 16, 2021, on behalf of Heather. Plus an added treat: Brenda Krenn was kind enough to share her lyrics and chords for COVID-19 blues, to be played to the melody of “Please Come Home for Christmas”.

It’s Friday I’m in love….although it was actually Tuesday Feb 16th, 2021 that we gathered separately-together via zoom to sing about love.

What is love without angst, jealousy, longing, and heartache? We sang songs about love that were sad, mad and bad, yearning and get-even, ghostly and obsessive. Throw in a murder or two, and a hanging—we ran the gamut. It was our night to explore love in all its’ wonderfully, complicated glory.

There were happy songs too! And our first song featured 6 year old Joni, who without a doubt was the highlight of the evening. She sang Someone to Lava (with a wee bit of help from mom Mel). The volcano explosion was particularly dramatic—what an adorable treat and lovely little singer!

But the course of true love never runs smoothly and we soldiered on—Carol reminded us it’s Always on our Mind, and Ron pointed out that Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime and everybody falls in love somehow….and yes, it often doesn’t go smoothly, but it certainly makes for fun songs to sing!!

Craig led kd lang’s haunting Trail of Broken Hearts and later Foreigner’s Cold as Ice, a bit chilling. And what is longing without Leonard Cohen or Adele? Rob led Famous Blue Raincoat, and Mel led Someone Like You. Carol’s To Love Somebody brought back happy and sad memories of the BeeGees. Jen added her wise contribution on the follies of love, that love and happiness hang in the balance… until…that is…you say Something Stupid. Frankie and Johnny put in an appearance, which didn’t end well.

Happily, we had Performance Time: Ed shared a clip from a previous (pre-Covid) VUC gathering and spoke so warmly, remembering loved ones who are no longer with us. He shared Simon & Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song (known also as Feelin’ Groovy)—Slow down you move too fast. Wise words in these times, wise words at any time.

Natasha, a first timer, sang an absolutely lovely version of Ingrid Michaelson’s The Way I Am, and Brenda, another first timer entertained us with her excellent new lyrics to a familiar blues tune, The Covid Blues. Boaz, a multi-timer, performed 4+20 by Steven Stills.

To love is to cherish those near and dear to us. We ended happily, because what is love but a happy ending? Carol led us with Bruno Mars’ Marry You. Love prevails!

Carol, Melody and I would like to thank everyone for coming to these zoom-gatherings, for singing and supporting us, that’s what makes these nights so fun. Thanks also to Craig and Tomi for the scrolling and muting duties. It was another fab team effort.

To sum up, Mel’s song Memories, by Maroon 5, captures it best:

…But everything’s going to be alright, go and raise a glass and say…
Toast to the ones here today, toast to the ones that we lost on the way,
‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories
and the memories bring back memories, bring back you.

Next meeting: Tuesday March 16th, to be led by Craig, more info to follow.

Until next time,
The Trebles: Heather, Carol, Melody

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, January 19, 2021

Greetings all,

Let’s reflect on this moment in history. 
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, watched by a socially distant crowd of supporters, Ron Usher was inaugurated as a social influencer.
The previous night, at Tuesday’s Vanukes Zoom event, in preparation of an impending political change south of the border, Ron led two back-to-back songs: “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful.”
The following morning in Washington, DC, this happened: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s2DViOOElA
“I can’t help but note that J-Lo copied my medley,” Ron emailed me early Wednesday afternoon. “Next time I’ll ask the US Marine Band to come to Vanukes.”

Back in Vancouver the previous night, Vanukes opened 2021 with more than 20 songs from the 1910s to the 1990s. There was no official theme. They were just good old songs that were fun to play. Song subjects included shoes, tickets, mothers, babies, tin soldiers, trains, kisses, cats, a dog and a raccoon. The latter would bear arms, which sounds weird.
Guest song leaders included Craig, Jen, Rob, Ed, Melody and Ron.
We had a surprise last-minute drop-in during Performance Time (TM), when Shae sang Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” It turned out the newcomer got some advice from Ed in the Zoom breakout room, and she took up the challenge to perform on her first visit. Shaw swung and hit it out of the park, or whatever sports metaphor works for you. I guess this little anecdote also makes Ed a social influencer.

It’s not unusual (no Tom Jones pun intended) that Edwin and Tom entertained us during Performance Time (TM). What is unusual is that Tom, finally joining us in this century, bought a laptop on Tuesday morning and had it set up just in time to join us on Zoom. With that technology at his fingertips (no more two cups tethered by a string, and we could actually see him!), Tom would channel Annie in “Tomorrow.”
Speaking of the future, it looks like we’ll continue with this format for a while. So be it.

Next month, Vanukes will be led by Carol, Heather and Melody. From the sounds of it, the theme will be something combining love and anguish, but I’m sure we’ll hear further details about that in the coming weeks. 
Also, remember that our traditional in-person hosts, the Rogue Folk Club and their host, The St. James Community Square, are seeking donations to cope with the COVID-19 financial troubles. Visit http://www.roguefolk.bc.ca/
See you on Tuesday, Feb. 17! 


My bad. I have two corrections:
1. The next event is Tuesday, Feb. 16. I incorrectly wrote the 17th.
2. Let’s not forget Tomi’s harmonies (with Craig) and her awesome scrolling skills.