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 March, 2020, these postings are being made by the evening’s leader.

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, June 21, 2022

So we made it! On Tuesday June 21, we held our first in-person VanUkes in 27 months — albeit with a reduced capacity crowd and in a different, lower-cost location. It was a success.

It was nice to see some familiar faces from St. James Hall and Zoom, as well as a surprising number of first-timers. Clearly, there is pent-up demand out there for live ukulele and singing. We were very close to the venue capacity. 

For our loyal Zoom VanUkers who were not able to join us in person, we missed you and are sorry you had to miss out. We were not in a position to broadcast online. In fact we had to ditch the microphones in order to be able to project the songsheets on the screen. (We couldn’t get the A/V system to handle separate audio and video inputs.) As a result, the session had a more intimate sing-along feel, which a number of people commented on favourably.

We had the usual varied program of oldies and more recent songs from a diversity of artists including: Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Lorde, Madonna, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Band, and Chumbawamba.

For Open Mic time, Boaz treated us to a rousing rendition of Bamboleo.

The ensemble up front was Boaz, Craig, Kathryn, Rob, Amanda and Tomi, and we all enjoyed singing and harmonizing together. Thank you to Geoff for coming up to lead a song and to Tomi’s companion for helping with scrolling the songsheets.

Vanukes at The Post on June 21, 2022.

Thank you to all who came out to join us. It was great to be singing and strumming together again!Stay tuned for future developments. We’ll be taking a break for the summer, with the intention of reconvening in September, location to be determined.

If anyone has a suggestion for an in-person venue that could become our regular home, please let us know. Ideally, we’d like to find a place that’s: (1) cheap; (2) centrally located; (3) cheap; (4) able to accommodate more than 40 people; (5) equipped to handle sound amplification and projection of songs; and (6) cheap. 

Also this was Craig’s last VanUke’s. He’s off to take on new challenges and we wish him well.

Keep on strumming everyone!

Boaz, Kathryn and Rob

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, May 17, 2022

Today I tried to soak up the sun–or what I could get of it–while rain seemed perpetually on the horizon as I was waiting for the bus. Can it ever come on time? In my dreams. But I guess we’re talking about a long and winding road it has to travel. 
Anyway, I was searching my soul for all those superstitions I have about dancing in the dark. I think of angels watching over me but really, I don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus, I just want to see his face.
Down here on earth, sweet, sweet Jane is my personal queen of hearts. Ruby Tuesday’s a little too fickle–though I expect she’d be up for a dance in the moonlight. Though I suppose that’ll be the day that I die. As for you, Renée, you can just walk away (although nothing compares to you). 
As I waited for the bus, I held a letter from an occupant of the fortified part of the city. She was telling me about her sourdough starter, which was apparently tops
That’s my entertainment, I guess. 
PS: Thanks to Rhona, Boaz, Rob, Amanda, Tomi, Gage and Camilia for gettin’ involved. 

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, April 19, 2022

I want to mix my aerosols with strangers—is that weird?

Nature, in the form of this current virus, pushes back, denying us yet again the hope of being in person for the Vancouver Ukulele Circle in April.

Not only that, I had a plan afoot to collaborate with a few people for a bunch of songs and then there was a Covid exposure amongst our little group. AND SO.

Rob and Amanda led four songs over the misnamed software called “Zoom” (what about it matches a childhood onomatopoeia? The swiftness with which one becomes tired of having to use it?): “Walking on Sunshine” (Katrina and the Waves), “Swimming Song” (Loudon Wainright), “Hard Sun” (Eddie Vedder) and “Wagon Wheel” (attributed in part to Bob Dylan and which became a big hit ten years ago), made famous by the Old Crow Medicine Show and covered by, among others, Darius Rucker.

I note: “The song [Wagon Wheel] has been performed so often live at venues and events that some actually discourage its performance….[John] Cranford [with music label Swampfire Records] states: ‘We banned it. (We) literally put signs up that said “Absolutely No Wagon Wheel.”’…’It has become our generation’s “Freebird.”’”

Boaz did “Cheer Down” by George Harrison—from the soundtrack of Lethal Weapon 2, the 55th most successful R-rated film at the US box office. Some lovely minor chord progressions.

The rest was up to me given the on-again, off-again nature of this beast these days. I did a bunch of songs but I was perhaps most excited about learning to play “Goodnight Saigon,” Billy Joel’s lament for those sent to fight the Vietnam War for the United States. On theme as well was “Universal Soldier” by Buffy Sainte-Marie. And we then whistled through “The Letter,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”—all dead easy to play.

We did the first rock and roll song to reach number one on the U.S. charts: “Rock Around the Clock” performed by Bill Hailey & His Comets, and more than any song, says Wikipedia, it brought rock and roll music into mainstream culture around the world. I followed this up by “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” by Billy Joel, avowing its centrality in culture despite whatever inroads punk and disco and new wave were making by that time.

“Another Day” by Paul McCartney was slightly more complicated but “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” from the “O! Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack, was decidedly not—a song of hobo fantasy in three chords.

I did a song about drugs—“Running to Stand Still” by U2. And a dramatic song of love by INXS called “Never Tear Us Apart.” We did a local band’s key song, “The Littlest Birds” by the Be Good Tanyas, “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys and I am tired even writing this out. And also “The Suburbs” by Canadian phenom Arcade Fire, “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay, the incomparable “Ziggy Stardust” by Bowie and finally the lovely “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John.

As we continue to watch from afar an unprovoked war, Ron led us through an instrumental version of the State Anthem of Ukraine. This was the event Ron was inspired by: https://liveukulele.com/ukraine/.

Boaz performed a song by Tom Lehrer: “We Will All Go Together When We Go” from 1959, a comedic song about nuclear holocaust.

Do we go back in person on Thursday, May 19th? We’re not sure. Keep your radio tuned to this station. 

Stay well folks.


Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, March 15, 2022

Hey folks,

Well, we did it. We got through two years of a once-per-century pandemic, having relied on the good coders of Zoom to keep our musical community alive.

On Tuesday, as a herd, we heard the unheard, more than 20 songs that were never before sung at Vanukes.

I’d like to thank song leaders including Jen, Jeff, Kathy, Craig, at the increasingly awesome duo Rob and Amanda for taking visitors through a ’70s-heavy program. Not all ’70s, but sufficient.

Let’s not forget Tracey for her performance song, Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” and Rhona for an encore-inducing version of Tennessee Whiskey. Also a nod to visitor Eleanor, who beamed in from the future (Wednesday) in Perth, Western Australia, home of the deity Tim Minchin.

As for next month, we’ll keep you posted.

There are hopes that Tuesday might have been our last formal Zoom program. The only way we’d come back to Zoom is if we can’t find suitable accommodations in time for April, or if we learn of RNA cabals gleefully rubbing their strands together.

Rest assured, we’re working like SPCA-approved animals behind the scenes trying to get back to in-person music. Sounds good?


Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, February 15, 2022

Hi everyone!
Rob and Amanda here, wanting to say thank you so much again to everyone who joined us on Tuesday for the February edition of the Vancouver Ukulele Circle!

Since we gathered the day after Valentines Day, we aimed to link each song to love (however distantly). While not all our songs were explicitly love songs, virtually all of them did contain the word.

We kicked off with a couple of oldies from the 70s and 60s respectively: Take It Easy and I’m a Believer. Jen did a nice rendition of Falling Slowly from the soundtrack of Once (and featured in the VUC songbook). Craig and Tomi followed with some great harmonies on Walking to You and a spirited You Can’t Hurry Love. We sang Ten Degrees and Getting Colder, one of Gordon Lightfoots ballads from the early 70s. Then Kathy did a great job with Kate McGarrigle’s NaCl, a clever song about the chemistry of love as embodied by salt. We ended the first half with three songs from the the 2000’s: Accidentally In Love, Hello My Old Heart and Ship to Wreck, and finally another oldie from the early 70s: Doctor My Eyes.

After the break, we started the second half with Friday I’m in Love, Ron followed with More, from the soundtrack of Mondo Cane and winner of a Grammy in 1962. Baby I Love Your Way was next up, a song Rob had intended to sing for Boaz’s cancelled-by-Covid 70s night 2 full years ago. Boaz then sang One More Kiss, by Paul McCartney and Wings. We played the only reggae-ish song of the night: Break My Stride, a one hit wonder from the 80s, followed by Jen leading Don’t Cry Joni, a country love song from the 70s with a twist at the end. We carried on with Such Great Heights from the late 90s and Fool If You Think It’s Over from the 70s.

Fonny started the open mic segment with Asal ale mau nanti (If you would like to wait for me), a love song from Indonesia. Edwin followed up with La Vie en Rose, currently being used as the hopeful theme of an opposition candidate in the Phillipines Presidential election. Boaz played a nice version of another McCartney song: Baby’s Choice (anyone else see a pattern here?). Margery, a brave first timer, got the traditional VanUkes standing ovation with Dream by the Everly Brothers. And finally Ed sang All You Need is Love, a sentiment we can surely all agree with.

We finished the evening with Save Tonight. 

We can all agree too that a lot of good music was produced in the 70s, but there are a lot of good songs from the other decades too.

Thanks again to Craig for scrolling the songsheets for us, to Carol for the Zoom link and the breakout rooms, and to all our song leaders and performers who helped us out.

Stay tuned for more information about next month’s VanUkes, which will be run by Boaz!

Thanks again!

Rob and Amanda

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Virtual Meeting, January 18, 2022


This is how it went down. We don’t want to be doing music on Zoom, but I picture the Covid-19 virus and its variant forms like Hans Gruber and his fellow terrorists in “Die Hard”: “Have no illusions. We. Are. In. Charge.” So as the Omicrotechahedronron variant got warmed up in December, someone at the last Vancouver Ukulele Circle suggested we wear pajamas for the next VUC. As if to say: “Can we just do away with the pretense that we’re wearing grown-up clothes for this thing?” Yes. One less stressor: pants not required for Zoom.

And then we discussed what songs went with that? Comfort songs.

At first I was thinking about songs that you wear like a favourite t-shirt. But then I found myself looking at songs where comfort is intended by the singer’s lyrics.

We started with “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops and one of the biggest songs of 1966 and of Motown. Apparently, it was written so that the singer would be at the top of his vocal range and really be wailing. Boaz led a Who song, “Squeeze Box”–their only international number one hit. Carol led “The Story” (recorded live, in studio, right here in Vancouver) by phenom Brandi Carlile–who recently performed all of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” at Carnegie Hall. Carol mentioned that it was her first song sheet and it dates back to 2010. Talk about comfort.

Ron led “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” a song by Bobby McFerrin, and the first a capella song to reach number one. Wikipedia tells me it’s not without its detractors, but that tune is undeniably catchy. Rob finds “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet comforting in all the ways, harkening back to palm trees and beaches and meeting the mother of his singing partner and daughter Amanda. My mom had Chris de Burgh’s album “Spanish Train,” which I grew to love as a kid, including the song “This Song for You,” about a doomed World War I soldier enclosing a melody in a letter to his sweetie back home.

Jen led “There’s a Kind of Hush,” which has been covered by a few people including the Carpenters and was originally written as British music hall number in 1966. Ron took us through “Ukulele Song” by Arthur Godfrey, who was a famous U.S. broadcaster and “influencer” whose fame peaked in the 1950s. He was known for being a bit spontaneous on the air with his uke.

I offered to maybe put together a comfort song song sheet if anyone requested. James noted the recent passing of Betty White and asked for “Thank You for Being a Friend” by Michael Gold–written in about an hour, a cover of which was theme for Betty White’s show “Golden Girls”. Boaz took us through Graham Nash’s little domestic bliss song–“Our House”–about being at home with Joni Mitchell and her two cats. But it has been used as a commercial jingle for things like Eckrich sausage in the 1980s, and Sears Kenmore appliances. It seems I watched a lot of television as a kid.

“Show Me the Way to Go Home,” goes back ages. I know it from the film “Jaws,” but plenty of people know it from when their dad or grandma sang it to them as kids. Amanda, who led it with Rob, noted how her mom TOTALLY KNEW the song when she brought it home from summer camp.

We all know “Let it Be,” don’t we? Written by Paul McCartney after his long-deceased mother visited him in a dream and offered this advice as his world-famous band began to break up. I added some Ooohs over the chorus. “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls has got to be a comfort song for plenty of people. It is already 25 years old, by the way, though that may be discomfiting. It became the best-selling single of any “girl group” and, according to one study in 2014, was found to be ”the most easily recognisable pop song of the last 60 years.” But if you want to LEAVE your lover, sing Paul Simon’s song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Comfort is being offered in the lyrics.

On a bigger scale, you might be comforted by the story of Moses in the Bible. “O Mary Don’t You Weep,” covered by Bruce Springsteen and countless others through the years, originated among enslaved people in the United States and was again popular during the Civil Rights Era. Renditions of this song inspired “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Paul Simon and the book “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” was written by Rogers and Hammerstein and covered by Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1963, becoming an international soccer stadium anthem beginning with the Liverpool Football Club. At the end of one Queen concert, the fans spontaneously burst into this song, which inspired the band to write “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You.” And it has lately become an anthem in support of healthcare workers fighting what is now the fifth-worst pandemic in human history.

Alexis–in her My Little Pony onesie–had requested “Things Can Only Get Better” by Howard Jones (did I say Thomas Dolby?). I thought I didn’t know this song but I TOTALLY KNEW IT. Jones: “…I think pop music, one of the things it should be is like a cheerleading song that helps you get through a bad time and pick you up a bit when you’re feeling a bit exhausted and glub.” Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” was the best-selling single of 2014 and it is hella catchy–perhaps another demonstration of what Jones meant.

John Lennon was comforting his son Sean in “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” which I find a little heartbreaking. We can’t find comfort without acknowledging sadness sometimes.

Boaz agrees. His performance song, “I’m So Afraid” by Fleetwood Mac, includes the lyrics: “Days when the rain and the sun are gone / Black as night/  Agony’s torn at my heart too long / So afraid  /Slip and I fall and I die.” Boaz is comforted by irony. Rob and Amanda are comforted by the Barra MacNeils’ song “She the Ocean,” which they performed for us with lovely harmonies. Edwin covered ABBA’s “Happy New Year,” which is at least optimistic. And Jen noted the recent passing of Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes and slipped in her song sheet for “Be My Baby” so folks could play along. Considered one of the best songs of all time, it exemplified Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” approach to recording.

And we finished with “Your Song” by Elton John. For you and all of us, for sharing and singing and playing. Thanks to all the song leaders. Till next time.


P.S. Wendy passed along this:

Itʻs been a tough two years. Winter is here again. But relax. Come with us to the warm, sunny islands!

Hoʻokani plays traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music. On January 29, 2022 we are performing at the Mel Lehan Hall in St. James Community Square, at 3214 West 10th Avenue, at Trutch Street, in Kitsilano, Vancouver. The doors open at 7:00 PM. The concert begins at 8:00 PM.

We are thrilled to be joined for this performance by Don Kellett, on steel guitar, and hula dancers from the Wailele Wai Wai Hawaiian dance group. There will be loads of Hawaiian music. There will be hula dancers, steel guitar, slack key guitar, a cappella singing, chanting, and a whole lot of fun. Please, e komo mai (join us)!

Tickets are by donation, in advance by e-transfer to santle4077@gmail.com with the names of all guests, or cash at the door.

COVID stuff:  Proof of double vaccination by vaccine card and government ID required to enter. Masks must be worn at all times in the building. Seating will be socially distanced.

Stephen Antle (vocals, acoustic and slack key guitars)

Greg Harrington (acoustic, slack key and steel guitars, ʻukulele, vocals)

Yoshi Yamamoto (ʻukulele, traditional Hawaiian percussion, vocals, hula, chanting)

Contact: Stephen Antle (santle4077@gmail.com; 604 349 1465)