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 – November 20, 2018

November at the Vancouver Ukulele Circle brought in a good crowd of happy ukers, who seemed to be enjoying themselves, (or at least they said they were!) and singing quite enthusiastically. I’m guessing they were getting their voices ready for next month’s festive Yulekelele Circle. I will soon be sending you a separate email with a link to the Holiday songbook to look over.

Last night we had a stellar lineup of song leaders, including (in alphabetical order) Boaz, Candy, Carol, Chris, Craig, Ed, Erica and Heather. We missed having our usual master-of-percussion, Jerry, who was home nursing a bad cold. I would encourage anyone feeling sick to take a pass on coming for that particular month, as the only thing we should be passing along on uke night are happy strums. In the absence of Jerry, we turned our bass-player Ron’s amp up to eleven, and he was able to keep everyone on the beat and in the groove!

Performance Time started off with Allan and Stephanie singing something stupid. Sorry – they were singing “Somethin’ Stupid,” by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, and they did a fine job of it! Geoff then performed a peppy rock song by The Shins, called “Young Pilgrims.” Joan was up next doing a great job of Janis Joplin’s version of “Me and Bobby McGee,” which got her a standing O from the crowd. Carol and Heather and a roomful of supporting players (which C & H provided songsheets for) performed the wistful, “Hey There Delilah,” by the Plain White T’s. Boaz was up next with a wonderfully unique version of Joe Walsh’s riotous tale of rockstar decadence, “Life’s Been Good” – played on a banjo! Changing gears, Ed then played a very happy blues(?!) by Aaron Keim called “Henry’s Boogie.” Candy then did a nice job playing Richard Marx’s 1989 rock ballad, “Right Here Waiting” Craig finished off Performance Time with a smashing version of Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek” – the only thing missing was a Fred Astaire tap solo!

Our Two-Chord-Wonder Song of the month was They Might Be Giant’s “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” whose quick chord changes (Dm & A7) and quirky song structure kept everyone on their toes (or fingers…) Very fun, if nothing else…

My usual thank you’s for the Rogue Folk Club members for providing the wonderful venue of St James Hall for us, Christian and Peter for running the sound board, all those who help with the table & chairs set-ups, Craig for scrolling the Projector Songs, Ron for bringing equipment and himself over from Parksville every month – Ron invites you to drop into their Island uke nights (http://www.gzalounge.com/gzal-ukulele-club.html Thanks to all the song leaders and performers, and finally, to all of you who fill up the floor of St James Hall with your strumming and good cheer!

As I said at the beginning, keep your eyes peeled for next month’s songbook, arriving via email very soon.

Until next month – happy plunking!!!


Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – October 16, 2018

Craig Stewart wrote this month’s blog.


Tom handed Jennifer and me the reins for our annual Spooktacular because he was off to see They Might Be Giants on that very same night. Ron, meanwhile, was in Singapore for a conference, and Ed was ill. Ralph Shaw? I think he may be somewhere in the Andes or the Alps or the Alpacas. We should send out a search party.

(This post-event summary was a bit later than usual because I was working the election advanced polls yesterday. GO VOTE! Saturday, October 20th!)

It was a warmer October night, an early Spookulele in drifts of autumn leaves, but we had a good number of people in costumed force. Long wigs, long gloves, medical mayhem—by the time we’d howled our way through the terrifying list of songs, there were enough feathers on the floor to suggest, shall we say, foul play. The list of songs included Superstition, Season of the Witch, Ghostbusters, and the book favourite Monster Mash to start us off.

To prepare, Jennifer and I looked at various lists of Halloween songs on the ol’ World Wide Web. The song Thriller seemed to be at the top of every one. The album Thriller, released in 1982, is still one of the best-selling albums of all time. The 14-minute long video for Thriller was added to the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress—the first music video ever selected. We changed the key ever so slightly to make it easier to play on the uke. Along with Thriller, many Halloween songs were basically two chords, often with a 7 and some variation in the chorus—like Superstition and Season of the Witch. On top of the spooky song choices Jennifer and I sang some a capella morsels to transition in and out of our official program of songs.

I have never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I know. Something about going to the theatre with toast and yelling lines. Carol and Heather brought us expertly through the raucous Time Warp from the film. This song grew on me as I got to know it in preparation for playing bass in Ron’s absence. OH! And there were some folks who knew the dance. Bonita and the striking Dicso Cat came onstage to show us how it’s done. It’s not all ukes, all the time, folks. Sometimes it’s dancing.

Heather and Carol, in cowgirl hats and with grim faces, set an unsettling mood with their garb and ambient intro to “Ghost Riders in the Sky”—an epic of cloudy skies, eerie apparitions, and warnings of doom. We were into it. Yippi aye ay, fellow riders.

Erica came up to help us with “I Put a Spell on You,” in which were mixed the influences of not only the original composer, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, but also Creedence Clearwater Revival’s driving beat and Nina Simone’s soulful lament (“I love you, I love you…” ). Erica also helped close out the night by leading us through Bad Moon Rising and Folsom Prison Blues.

Also leading us from the stage were Carol, Stephanie and Allan—with his gorgeous, custom made tenor uke made in Nashville. They gracefully carried us through Superman’s Song (“because so many people dress up as Superman for Halloween!”)—a song imagining what it’s really like to be a character invented to entertain us. I wonder if Wolfman, for example, takes his vacations on, say, a remote island where he won’t feel guilty for eating humans because there are none. Or if Dracula has a fitness regime.

The was a record drop in the number of individual performances this month, and we’re really not sure why. Zombie apocalypse in one of the suburbs? Candy performed My Neighbour Totoro, composed by Joe Hisaishi from the beloved 1988 Hayao Miyaziki film of the same name. It was not at all spooky or scary. It was sweet and it made me want to watch Japanese anime films about simpler things than the logical problem of being afraid of things that are DEAD…but STILL ALIVE.

Boaz did a performance of George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun, after, well, a creepy intro of—ah—beat poetry (?) with his signature deadpan flair. Jennifer said: “It was lovely, off-kilter, and unpredictable: the notes lurching and lilting artfully in and out of tune.”

Later on in the evening, Jerry propelled Jennifer and me through Red Right Hand—a song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds covered by the Arctic Monkeys. I had not heard of it until we saw it on these lists online of Halloween songs, and Jennifer asked me to learn the actual bass line. It was this song, by the by, that a producer at CBC was excited to have us perform in studio for the Early Edition with Stephen Quinn—apparently Mr. Quinn loves that song. If you look at the archives for the show on the CBC website, the October 16th show has us being introduced to talk about Spookulele at around 58:14.

Ghostbusters: If you listen to the actual song—I’ve met my lifetime quota already—they really are unrealistically cheerful and enthusiastic in singing the word “Ghostbusters.” Heads Will Roll, in contrast, is quite a dark song, percussive and apocalyptic. Check out the video and its glam, along with stylish dancing from a beast. It was so quick when we did it, we had to do it again. I hope you all practice the Halloween theme and creep out trick-or-treaters. We heard its eerie notes drifting up throughout the night like a haunted oboe. Superstition is so fun.

As for the costume contest, our friend Tom of the White Hair won it for his costume of Guest Speaker—for which he donned the shell of a massive amplifier, stating: “I can sing a song in any language!” Runner up was the incomparable Betty Boop, and third place, according to Marnie of the Rogue Folk Club and one of our gracious hosts, went to Iced Teal—featuring a last minute but altogether striking ensemble. Imagine the main character from Frozen joining the cast of Little Mermaid. Boaz got some great photos of costumes and the fun.

We had enough time for call-out requests. We got in about six bonus songs, like Zombie, and a past-traditional closer, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”—a song sung from crucifixes at the end of a comedy film which was banned in Norway.

The highlight of my night may have been Jerry coming with that drum splash in the middle of “In the Air Tonight.” And I loved that lackadaisical bass line that Jennifer played for “Season of the Witch.”

In our excitement for all things Halloween, Jennifer and I chose, learned, and wrangled to the ground a full 15 songs—a new seasonal mini-songbook! This made some of our teeth go black, though.

Happy Halloween!

Thanks to Jerry Santacruz for the photo of Craig with co-leader Jennifer Conroy.

Craig & Jennifer

Thank you to Boaz Joseph for these photos.

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – September 18, 2018

September’s meeting marked the end of summer and the 18th Anniversary of the Vancouver Ukulele Circle. If my math is correct (and it usually isn’t) that is 216 monthly meetings of ukulele enthusiasts, getting together for no good reason but to have fun, sing and make music in the wonderful company of others. And if that’s not something to celebrate, then send your complaints to Ralph Shaw – he started this foolishness!

A good number of people (and we can always use more) got up to lead songs for the group, including Boaz, Candy, Carol, Chris, Craig, Ed, Edwin, Heather, Jennifer and Jerry. If you’ve ever thought it might be fun to gather up your courage and get up there by yourself, (or with a friend) please consider finding a song that would be easy enough to lead confidently and send me an email at calabash@shaw.ca and you will discover the fun of leading a roomful of fellow supportive plunkers through an old favourite song – you know you’d like to! Think about it…

Performance Time started off with Carol and Heather performing a White Stripes’ tune, “We’re Going to be Friends,” bringing out the simplicity and nostalgia of the start of a new childhood school year. They also did something that they’ve done several times before – they brought printed copies for everyone else to play along with them. It’s a very effective way to get backup on a song that might not be familiar to a lot of people, though they probably had to spend the cost of a cup of coffee on the printing! The song’s simple structure paid off with lots of group participation. Following that, Boaz performed Tom Lehrer’s satirical 1960 song, “Pollution” which made its jabs to a happy calypso beat. Candy was up next, and played the seasonally appropriate, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” from Green Day’s 2004 album, “American Idiot.” Next up was Ed, who sang what he considered a happy blues song, called “When I Lost My Baby.” Try as he might, he made us feel more happy than blue! We had a last-minute entry from Jim and Paul, (just in town from England) who gave us a raucous version of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya”, that had the room a-clappin’ and a-hollerin’ along. Craig and Jennifer played a rousing version of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” for the second time that night – the first being a Craig-only version. And finally, Jennifer, backed by Boaz and Tomi, performed a beautifully moody piece of rustic Americana, with a tune called “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.”

Our Two-Chord-Wonder Song (which no one knew until after the first ten notes of the acappella intro) was Merle Haggard’s 1969 call for civic order, “Okie From Muskogee.” We used F and C7 to two-step our way through it.

Big thanks to Craig for filling in on the bass for the evening with little notice (or sleep!), and it was good to see Jerry back behind the drums and his ton-and-half of other rhythm instruments. A special nod goes out to Gayle for backing me up with her melodica (a handheld keyboard) on which she played the note-perfect organ parts of the 1963 pop hit, “Sugar Shack.” Fun stuff! And of course a tip of the hat to our sponsors, the Rogue Folk Club (Steve and Marnie and all the other Rogue volunteers) and to our sound crew, Christian and Peter.

Next month’s uke circle (October 16th) will of course be our annual “Spookulele” night. I regret to say that I won’t be there for it, due to prior commitments, but Craig and Jennifer will be leading a howling good time of Halloween frivolity. Come in costume and join in the fun. I can almost guarantee that you’ll do the mash (you know which one…)

A final thank you to everyone who brings their little four-stringed friends along to play and make the Vancouver Ukulele Circle a highlight of their month for 18 years and counting. Thanks for coming out, and keep on strumming…



Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – August 21, 2018

In the warm haze of the BC fire season, it was a good night to gather inside St James Hall for an evening of exhaling song lyrics and fanning our four-strings – Hot Fun in the Strummertime!

We had lots of people leading songs from the book, including Candy, Carol, Craig, Jennifer, Johnny and Sylvia. Boaz led a very stirring version of My Way, out-Franking Frank, and five members of the “Burstin’ With Broadway” group performed a unique, polychordal version of Hank Snow’s, “I’m Movin’ On”. Would YOU like to lead the group with a song from our book? If so, drop me a line at calabash@shaw.ca and we’ll get you in the line-up. Right now is the time to do that, so I can get your choice in the set list that I’ll send out in the next few weeks. That way everyone will have a chance to rehearse your song choice and you will have a very confident group of strummers backing you up.

Performance Time had the least number of performers (seven) that we’ve had in recent months, but I didn’t think it seemed too noticeably short – it gave us time for some bonus book songs at the very end of the night. Most of the performance songs were fairly short in length, which I think is a good thing. If you choose to perform a great Leonard Cohen song that has twelve verses and twenty-four repeated choruses, consider editing that down to three of each. I could send you a list of over fifty very well-known Beatles songs UNDER three minutes each…

Jennifer started Performance Time off with a short, (ha!) but mellow interpretation of Cyndi Lauper’s signature song, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” followed by Johnny’s version of Green Day’s 2004, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Chris was up next with her first appearance on our stage, giving a very solid version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which brought the house down and rewarded her with a much-deserved, standing-O! Candy played a very nice ballad, by Australian band, Savage Garden, called “Truly Madly Deeply,” which I would have thought was from the soundtrack of the film, “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” but it’s not… Boaz then treated us with an instrumental song played with a glass slide that he called, “Before the Pocket Calculator.” It had great rural charm, and he described it as being crafted for playing on virtually any old porch around the house. Craig was up next, fingerpicking a tender ballad by Bellingham, WA band, Death Cab For Cutie, called “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” And closing things off were members of the “Burstin’ With Broadway” group, playing the Hawaiian standard, “Aloha ‘Oe,” before sailing off into the sunset.

Our Two-Chord-Wonder song this month was “A Horse With No Name” by America, which I was assisted vocally by Jennifer and Boaz, and a boisterous crowd. The chords were Dm and C6, the latter of which I simplified down to a simple “get-your-grubby-fingers-off-the-fretboard!” chord.

Special thanks to Wayne, who filled in on the drums for us (in Jerry’s absence,) and to our bass player emeritus, Ron, for filling in the low notes. Big thanks as usual to the Rogue Folk Club crew for keeping us fed, hydrated, and sounding good, including our sound techs, Christian and Peter. Thank you…

Please start sending me your Song Leading requests from our book, and we will see you next month, starting at 7:00pm, on Tuesday, September 18th.

Until then, thanks for coming out, and keep on strumming…



Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – July 17, 2018

July at the Vancouver Ukulele Circle left us all feeling warm and fuzzy – maybe not so much fuzzy, but certainly warm as we strummed our way through another sunny third Tuesday at St James Hall. I would guess that much of the heat was generated by the endless movement of people making their way up to the stage and back. I think it was definitely the largest collection of people we’ve ever had getting up to lead songs, (or to back up others with their songs.) Of special note, I know that our primo percussionist, Jerry, put in much work ahead of time to learn specific arrangements for many of the performers’ songs. He makes it look (and sound) effortless, but… We were also treated to many tasteful single-string lead uke lines played by Leone – another element that helped pull things together musically.

The various song leaders, (in alphabetical order, cuz the list is getting that long…) included Boaz, the “Burstin’ With Broadway” choir group from North Van, Candy, Corinne, Craig, Ed, Erica, Gayle, Jennifer, Jerry and Sylvia. I firmly believe that this is the direction that our group is headed, with many members contributing to leading the songs we play. And of those many members, why shouldn’t it be YOU (or you and your singin’ buddies…) leading the rest of the group through a song you already know? All that’s required is to make your way from start to finish with a steady rhythm, simple enough for even beginners to follow along with you. Please send in your song choice to me at calabash@shaw.ca and get your request in the set list that I send out to everyone a week before the next uke circle.

Performance Time… I’ll admit that we had a few complaints, not about the performances themselves, but the amount of spent on Performance Time. That blame will fall on me, as I allowed three more performances than we normally have. I have tried (not always successfully) to limit the number of performances to eight. Last night we had eleven… All of the performers had their merits, but it did cut into the group-playing time, which is what many come out to Vanukes for. I suppose the fair thing would be to try to stick to a limit of eight performances. Unfortunately, that might mean that some people who are up there every month as performance-regulars, might have to occasionally take a break for a month to allow other less-frequent visitors the opportunity to perform. On the upside of that, I know that many of our regulars would be completely fine and gracious with making way for others to come up and shine.

Performance Time last night started off with Karen, who sang and played a very nice version of Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide,” which she hoped would cool people down with its lyrics alluding to seeing her reflection in the ‘the snow covered hills…” Gayle was up next with a beautiful, but not too sad song, called “Sad and Beautiful World” by Danny Michel, which she pointed out as being so very relevant to our current uncertain times. Johnny then sang “Golden Brown” a 1981 song by the Stranglers, one of the longest-surviving bands from the UK punk scene. Our drummer Jerry traded his sticks for a uke to play a lovely rendition of “Hold on Forever” by Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas, on which he was backed up by Leone, Sylvia and Gayle on its bouncing reggae rhythm. You never quite know what you’re going to get from Ed, and so it was with his bouncy version of “The Crawdad Song” – an ode to talking his sweetheart into joining him to catch crawdads – freshwater crustaceans that resemble small lobsters. For some reason the song veered off into “When the Saints Go Marching In”, but I forget to ask Ed exactly why – maybe the saints have an appetite for crawdads, too…

Up next we had more than a few jaws drop, as a pair of ukers from Brazil, named Vinicius and Leandro, played some incredibly intricate picking on an a sweet instrumental tune called “Donna Lee”, and made a huge impression on the crowd. Candy then performed one of Coldplay’s most popular tunes, “Yellow”, a 2000 song which has a Canadian connection – it was originally inspired by Neil Young! Craig then played another song from 2000, an electronic and dance inspired tune, “Idioteque” by Radiohead, whose lyrics were literally created from cutting up phrases and drawing them from a hat! Our friend Eduardo then wished to show his gratitude to all of his friends at Vanukes by giving us an amazingly well-played version of Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” Jennifer was up next with U2’s wistful “Love Rescue Me”, a song that U2 recorded at Memphis’ tiny Sun Studios, where Elvis cut his first records. And finally (I said it was a long list of performers…) Boaz and Bonita performed a very nice harmony version of the early Bee Gees’ “New York Mining Disaster 1941.” The song recounts the story of a miner trapped in a cave-in, which Boaz said brought to mind the recent triumphant rescue of the young soccer team in Thailand.

I will also mention a special attraction for the evening, whom I alluded to earlier, the “Burstin’ With Broadway” choir group from North Vancover. They are a group of seven hearty singers and plunkers, who added hot Cajun fuel to the Two-Chord-Wonder song of the month, Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya.” They also helped us get primal with the rollicking, “I Wan’na Be Like You (the Monkey Song)” from the soundtrack of Disney’s the “Jungle Book.” They have vowed to return next month with even more shenanigans…

Big thanks as usual to the Rogue Folk Club crew for keeping us fed, hydrated, and sounding good, including our new soundman, Christian, who will be working opposite months with our regular soundman, Rich. Thanks to Jennifer for filling the roll of projector scroller for the benefit of the rest of us! And finally, a big nod to our longstanding (long-sitting?) bass player Ron, for filling in the bass-notes and his other various group contributions. I’m sure I’m leaving somebody else out, but keep in mind that if you are attending the Vancouver Ukulele Circle, and doing anything to keep the tunes rolling along (from any seat in the house) you are deserving of my gratitude. Thank you…

So please start sending me your Song Leading requests from our book, and we will see you next month, starting at 7:00pm, on Tuesday, August 21st.

Until then, thanks for coming out, and keep on strumming…



Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – June 19, 2018

It was a warm and sunny early introduction to Summer at St James Hall, and I’m told that many people were enjoying themselves, even while I was throwing the evening’s schedule out the window and making up the setlist as we went along! Ron, our bass player, was held up with delays due to ferry rescues and unforeseeable traffic woes, so our first set was all “book songs”, and then Performance Time right after the break (like the good old days…). We finished off with a few Projector Songs, before we headed out warmly into the night. Thanks to Craig for filling in on bass, and for Ron for not saying “to heck with it” and turning around at any point. We are very fortunate to have such devoted members always ready to help out when call of duty rings out!

Some of those devoted members included our “song leaders”, featuring Carol & Heather, Ed, Candy, Jennifer, Erica, Craig and Boaz. The majority of our group seems to enjoy having a variety of song leaders, so I would really like to encourage YOU to consider getting up to lead a song from “the book.” And just so that the rest of the group gets a chance to review the songs ahead of time (in our week-before email) I would like to encourage YOU to send in your requests to me at calabash@shaw.ca. I know it seems like a lot of advanced warning being asked, but I would really like to start getting your requests in soon. It gives me time to arrange the evening’s set order, and it also gives you time to get confident with your song selection. Being comfortably prepared makes your playing time much more enjoyable. And two-and-a-half weeks away isn’t a huuuuuge amount of time when planning the next uke circle’s two dozen songs. So, “Send me a postcard, drop me a line…”

Carol & Heather opened up Performance Time with “Riptide” by Vance Joy – a real toe-tapper that was joined in enthusiastically by much of the crowd playing along, thanks to printouts of the song provided by C & H. Candy then sang a wistful ballad by Pink – an oldie from 2017 called “What About Us.” Next, I had been telling about how I had bungled things up last month and left Edwin off the performance list by mistake. Well, he came back and did a wonderful version of “Fly Me to the Moon”, for which he received thunderous applause! Up next, Johnny was joined by Judy to make a duet of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” and did a very nice job of it. Our resident bluesman, Ed then sang a rollicking version of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” which had the audience joining in on the call-and-response “Ya Ya” sections. Up next was Elizabeth, who sang a very beautiful ballad, and did a really nice job of singing it. I can’t tell you what it’s called because she wrote it, and even she doesn’t know the title of it yet! Jennifer then led a rockin’ version of Modest Mouse’s “The Good Times are Killing Me”, joined by Tomi on bass. Boaz played an instrumental version of George Harrison’s Beatles classic, “Something” with Craig on bass. And to finish off Performance Time, Craig led a group effort with a lesser-known, but still fun Beatles’ rocker called, “Hey Bulldog.”

Our Two-Chord-Wonder song this month (Bb & F) was Lee Dorsey’s 1966 New Orleans R&B classic, “Working in the Coal Mine.” The song was also covered in 1981 by the quirky rock band Devo, and I learned that our drummer Jerry and myself had both attended Devo concerts in our younger days! Jennifer joined me on harmonies and to give the pickaxe, rock-breaking sound effect, she used a pair of gardening hand tools to provide the familiar ‘tink’ sound on the “2-beats.”

Big thanks as usual to the Rogue Folk Club crew for keeping us fed, hydrated, and sounding good. And to Jerry on drums and percussion – and to Craig and Ron for filling in the bass-notes for the evening.

So please start sending me your Song Leading requests, (and your Performance Time requests, too…) and we will see you next month, starting at 7:00pm, on Tuesday, July 17th.

Until then, thanks for coming out, and keep on strumming…



Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – May 15, 2018

May’s uke circle marked our first session with a new, earlier start time of 7:00pm, (which was decided in March with a group hands-up poll.) Our first “early circle” had a smaller (umm, more intimate) crowd, but it’s hard to determine whether that was because some people weren’t able to arrive earlier, or if the no-shows were just groggy from the heat… I would be interested to know how many people find the half-hour-earlier time a deterrent to coming – nothing is set in stone, so we could always change back to a later start, if a further majority find it too much of a challenge to arrive for a 7:00pm start. But the indication last night was that people were enjoying the earlier start time.

On a different topic, one thing I reconfirmed from asking the crowd was that a majority of attendees DO like to review the songs on the set list that I send out a week before each uke circle. Therefore, I will continue to ask people who would like to get up and lead songs from our book to start sending me your leading requests in, starting NOW, and up until ten days before the next circle. That way, people can see your request in my week-before-email, and YOU will have a well-rehearsed roomful of strummers backing you up. Send your requests to me at calabash@shaw.ca

Performance Time had a really nice, wide variety of performances. First up was a uke octet (that’s eight of ’em) led by Kathy, that did a very nice, full-sounding version of a Madeleine Peyroux tune, called “Don’t Wait Too Long.” Next up were Shannon and Ted, who performed an original song titled, “Graham’s Song” – Graham is a friend of theirs who suffered a major brain injury. He had forgotten much of his previous life, but found that learning the ukulele had helped him to express himself. Graham wrote a couple of the verses, and Ted and Shannon added a couple to the song’s poignant lyrics.

Next up, our group’s percussionist-extraordinaire, Jerry, performed Cat Stevens’ heartfelt, “Father and Son”, and was joined by Leone, who provided tasteful instrumental backing. Johnny then gave his unique take on Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight”, from her classic 1971 album, “Blue.” Candy took John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” from our songbook, and raised the key to suit her range – something you may want to keep in mind for your own future Performance Time choice. Our dear friend Ed, who recently lost his wife, dedicated a song to her that gave her great pleasure – Simon and Garfunkel’s, “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)”, and he did a wonderful job honouring her with the song’s joyfully optimistic tone. Craig and Jennifer (with Jerry back on the drums) gave a rousing and raucous version of Peter Gabriel’s 1986 hit, “Big Time”, before Boaz finished the set off with a pleasingly mellow tone, on a song he dedicated to Ed – a version of a 1983 Ringo Starr tuned, titled, “Hopeless.”

All in all, it was a very nice assortment of tunes by a talented cast of players. My one big regret (that I didn’t discover until today) was that in the confusion of putting the Performance Time set together during the break, I had completely skipped over Edwin’s request, so I hope he will return next month to show us what we missed!

Our Two-Chord-Wonder Song was actually two songs, demonstrating a couple of feels for “rocking” an A and a Bm7 chord, using two very long-titled song’s – Doug and the Slugs’ “Who Knows How to Make Love Stay?” and Jackie Wilson’s, “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” We’ll have to see how many of you remember: 1-2-3 – 1-2 Bananarama… (FYI – it’s also the timing of the sax solo in “Rock Around the Clock”…)

Big thanks to our Song Leaders – Ed, Candy, Jennifer, Carol, Craig and Boaz, and to the Rogue Folk crew for keeping us fed and sounding good. And to Jerry on drums and percussion – and also to Craig for filling in on the bass for the evening.

So please start sending me your Song Leading requests, (and your Performance Time requests, too…) and we will see you next month, at our “Here Comes the Summer” circle – starting at 7:00pm, June 19th.

Until then, thanks for coming out, and keep on strumming…



Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – April 17, 2018

Dear April Strummers,

What a lovely night! Was it the sun, the warmth of the day? St. James was *full* last night, and there were still more people coming through the doors at 7:25 pm. It was a pleasure to be part of such a mass of singing and playing.

We met new people — from as near as Coquitlam and as far as Australia — and we now know what a ‘combie’ is! We had our youngest song requester — Lennon — who got the room to play Yellow Submarine at the end of the night. Craig invited him on stage with a look, but he politely shook his head.

Marvelously, it felt like we found new songs in the book. We were joined by Carol, Heather, Boaz, Corinne, Candy, and Erica; their enthusiasm helped lead the evening in new directions. We made it all the way through American Pie, which everyone seemed to know intimately. Boaz and Corinne led us through a virtuoso rendition of Nights in White Satin. These two both have advanced and intricate playing styles, and Corinne looked pretty cool, flourishing a white satin scarf and fringed jacket.

Up on the projector, Carol and Heather got us through Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes and Mamma Mia — I will have that little riff in my head for the next week. Boaz and Craig led Down Under (of the ‘fried out combie’), which, if you’re Australian, you’ll know is a VW van. Erica led us through Build Me Up, Buttercup. If there’s a song you like — especially if it isn’t done often, consider leading. You’ll be supported and it truly makes the night more interesting.

Craig and I started off performance time with Fever, written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, and famously performed by Peggy Lee. Candy did a sweet and confident version of The Show, which has just about the best closing lines I’ve heard in a while. Next time you’re having a tricky day, you can go back and forth between “I want my money back!” and “just enjoy the show.” Next, Boaz helped Brenda on We Don’t Want Your Pipeline, written by Robin Williams and Bob Bossin, with an extra verse written by Brenda. Brava to Brenda for speaking up for water and Indigenous land rights.

Ming reminded us of the song that did so much to re-establish the uke: Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World. A lilting, insistent tune. Carol and Heather performed convincingly on House of Gold by 21 Pilots, which they jokingly referred to as their millennial moment. Carol demonstrated the muted strum — an impressive but easy way to keep the beat. Their rhythm was strong, harmonies were solid, and Ron and Jerry joined in, helping build it throughout. Sold.

Ron’s song Gasoline — a parody of Abeline by Bob Gibson, Albert Stanton, Lester Brown and John D. Loudermilk, performed by George Hamilton IV — could be a protest song, but from a driver’s perspective. Written in 2008 in the height of the soaring U.S. gas prices, it laments the high cost of fuelling up, and feeling stranded and at a loss. Abbotsford Ken and his friend Glenn performed “Rock Out,” a song about love. “It got so complicated” — yep, been there. Glenn accompanied Ken with effortless style on fretless bass.

Eduardo not only survived his first Canadian winter, but has been teaching at Ruby’s Ukes. We’ve missed his deft and complex jazz renderings, and he did not disappoint, on James Hill’s arrangement of L.O.V.E., a Nat King Cole song from 1965 written by Bert Kaempfert, with lyrics by Milt Gabler. Boaz, we’ve decided, has missed his calling as a Broadway musical actor/performer. Never mind the complicated melody plus chords or the feats of memorization, he also disappears into character, this time as Tevye in “If I Were a Rich Man.” Always entertaining and effective. In all, a full night of performances, each one distinct and taking us somewhere.

Thanks go out to the people who came up to lead — Carol, Heather, Boaz, Corinne, Candy, and Erica — to ever-stalwart Ron on bass and Jerry on drums and train whistle, and to Rich and Peter for their expert handling of levels for, like, 500 different people. Do you want to come up and lead? Please do. Get in touch with Tom and he’ll set you up: calabash@shaw.ca. Here he is with some business for next month:

Hello: Tom here. Just a few bits of info to pass along to you. First, if you were at the April meeting, you’ve already heard that starting next month (May) we will begin playing at 7:00pm, and end at 9:30. It’s only a half an hour earlier, but many people voted last month to turn back time, and so we will. I will remind you again as we get closer to the May meeting. And, if you’d like to lead a song from the book next month, I would like to remind you to send in your requests early to me calabash@shaw.ca That will give me time to arrange a set list and include your book-song request in the week-before email next month. And finally, here’s a new element of Vanukes we’re introducing — at the end of the “week-before email” we will be including a section called “ETC, ETC, ETC…” It will be like a classified section for you to post uke-related items, such as “Uke for sale” or “Uke flash mob at English Bay on Thursdayafternoon” or “Uke lessons by Chris” or any number of other uke-related issues. Please don’t use it if you want to sell your car, even if you plan on using some of the money to buy a new uke. Send your submissions to me at calabash@shaw.ca well in advance, so I can include it in the “week-before email.” Thanks for supporting the Vancouver Ukulele Circle – see you next month. Tom.

And thank you, faithful strummers for filling the hall with your songs and merriment and warm welcome for new people. Always a good time.

Until next time,

Jennifer & Craig

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – March 20, 2018

Well, what a fun night we had as Winter turned to Spring and we arrived in glorious sunlight again. One of the main things that impressed me was the wonderful variety of different song leaders we had guiding us through the evening’s song list, including Candy, Carol, Heather, Jennifer, Sylvia, Craig and Boaz. The “more the merrier” seems to work well with us and I’d still like to see even MORE people get up and try leading the group from our songbook. And the time to start thinking about leading is right now! If you have a song that you’d feel comfortable leading, send me an email at calabash@shaw.ca and we can get it into the set list that gets sent out to everybody a week before each month’s meeting. I’ve had a number of people ask me on the night to lead a song that they saw in the “week-before email”, and I’ve felt bad having to decline their offer. My main reason is usually that someone else has already requested it, and I would hate to ask to take a song back from the original person who requested it (and who has possibly been working on it for the night.) So find something that is in a good key for you to sing that you can play all the way through from start to finish, That’s all you’ve got to do… And as always, remember that your song will be backed up by our house band, and assisted by a large room full of your favourite uke friends, singing and looking at their books and not at you!

I know that not everyone will want to lead songs, but I still want to make an appeal to anyone who has ever thought, “I could do that”, but has held back until now. As I said in the beginning, I think a larger group of people leading songs leads to a better collective experience for all of us!

IT’S ABOUT TIME… For many years, the Vancouver Ukulele Circle has run from 7:30 to 10pm. I did a hands-up poll of the room, asking if they would prefer to move the night ahead by a half hour, so that playing would run from 7 to 9:30pm. There was an overwhelming approval for that motion, so you should know by the time the “April week-before email” comes to you. It will depend on availability by the Rogue support crew. If that works out, we’ll be starting earlier.

I also asked for opinions on the recent format of putting Performance Time at the very end of the evening, instead of right after the break. Again, the majority seemed in favour of playing together as much as possible with the group, and then having the option of staying for Performance Time, or leaving if they wished or needed to. And when there’s enough time to squeeze one more group song in at the end, we’ve been singing that oldie but goody, “Goodnight Sweetheart..”

Very few people chose to leave early and stayed for a nice collection of Performance Time treats. Wendy and Anne started things off by singing “Easter Parade,” which turned out to be a promo for the upcoming Cherry Blossom Walk/Easter Parade on April 1st (the details of the event are at the bottom of this message.) Ming was up next with a song that I hadn’t heard in a while – 1970’s “Yellow River” by the British band, Christie, for which he received a standing ovation by the Vanukes crowd (a tradition for first-time Vanukes performers.) Next up, Johnny hoped that Frank Sinatra wouldn’t seek revenge for him covering Old Blue Eyes’ version of “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die” – he played it confidently enough that I don’t think he would! Bogdan played a strong, heartfelt version of John Lennon’s 1971 peace anthem, “Imagine.” After that, Candy (with assistance from Jennifer) presented a Cantonese/English version of Franki Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” Craig then performed a fiftieth anniversary tribute to the Rolling Stones’ song of turbulent times, “Street Fighting Man,” and then Carol and Heather finished things up with a relatively recent song (for us!) 2010’s “The Cave” by London’s Mumford and Sons. They also provided song sheets for those not previously familiar with the song, and were rewarded with a roomful of backing strummers!

This month’s Two-Chord Wonder Song had many people surprised at the ease of using only a pair of relatively easy chords (Em and C) to play the Beatles’ groundbreaking, “Eleanor Rigby.” After recruiting an unsuspecting team of strummers (that knew how to play an Em chord) we broke new ground with an onstage team that felt confident to lead the room after only seven seconds of instruction. “Ahhhhh – look at all the ukey people!”

Thanks to all who help make the evening a fun, enjoyable event – The Rogue Folk Club for all they do, our fabulous house band, and all of the various song leaders and performers – and finally to the rest of you who come out every month to strum and sing and add the largest amount of links in the chain of the Vancouver Ukulele Circle. See you next month (with a possible earlier starting time…)



>>>Wendy Cutler has asked me to include this item:

“The April 1st Cherry Blossom Walk/Easter Parade has not yet really taken on the flavour of the la-di-da outing Wendy has imagined, but usually there is quite a crowd, some sporting Easter bonnets, and it always begins with the singing of Easter Parade, accompanied by ukuleles. Here is a relevant cartoon: http://www.gocomics.com/heartofthecity/2017/04/12. It’s really just a cherry walk that takes place on Easter Sunday, which is April 1 this year, and this year will start at Burrard Skytrain Station at 1:30, with the singing and strumming at 1:25. Wendy writes: “I’m not much of a singer, so I’m looking for willing singers, and also willing ukulele strummers. I have words and chords that I can send it anyone who will join me. No-one can really hear how you’re singing or playing – it’s the jolly appearance that matters.. Let me know if you’re willing to play. I’ll hand out words anyway for everyone to join in singing”. You can contact her via our Vanukes webpage at https://vanukes.ca/

Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – February 20, 2018

We had a bit more of a smaller, intimate crowd last night, with some of my blame going to a Vancouver concert at the same time by that no-talent uke strummer, Jake Shimabukuro (just kidding – he can play “Singin’ in the Rain” with ALL the chords – even the F#dim…) We were also missing our regular percussion whiz, Jerry, but we were fortunate to have Wayne fill in for him behind the drums – until the tow truck showed up! In my week-before emails to you, I mention all of the free parking in the neighbourhood, but I think Wayne unfortunately parked a little too close to the corner and got nabbed. It just showed the good heart of our group that one of our members, Wendy, passed a hat around, and we were able to cover his ticket costs. Bravo, Vanukers!

As per my ongoing requests to you, we had a new song leader, Candy, step up to the mic to rock us along with “Brown Eyed Girl”, and a relatively new song leader, Carol, also help us out by leading the first uke song she ever learned to play, “White Sandy Beach” – always good to have new faces leading the book songs, in addition to Boaz, Jennifer and Craig confidently leading and backing performances.

Performance Time had a nice mix of interesting songs. Ron played a tribute to recently-deceased crooner Vic Damone, with “The Glory of Love.” And Ron was correct when he said that Vic turned down the wedding singer role in The Godfather – the role eventually went to Al Martino. Boaz and I sang “Oh Yoko”, in honour of Ms L’s 85th birthday. Ed sang and played a very beautiful ballad from the 80’s (the 1880’s, that is…) based on a poem by William Butler Yeats, called “Down by the Salley Gardens” – nice one, Ed! Both Johnny and Uncle Bob had “Ain’t” songs for us – Johnny sang Leonard Cohen’s “Ain’t No Cure for Love” and Uncle Bob swung Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” That still leaves “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Ain’t That a Shame” for next month! Carol and Heather performed a very fun Hawaiian tune that I was previously unfamiliar with, called “Toad Song”, by Keali’i Reichel. Its lyrics rolled along very quickly and had the room yelling out “Oom mama, oom mama, oom mama….” in the choruses. Yes, very fun! And finally, Candy finished off Performance Time with a sweet, bouncy number by Bruno Mars, called “Count on Me.” Overall, quite a nice, varied mix of tunes for a cold Vancouver evening!

Special thanks to Estha, who filled the role of scrolling down the Projector Songs for the benefit of the rest of us to play along. And a thank you to the Rogue Folk Club volunteers, who set up the hall and provide us with food and drink every month – Marnie, Steve, Morris and Terry – not to mention our great sound crew of Rich and Peter. Hats off to the whole Rogue’s gallery! Thanks to our Island boy, Ron, for trekking to the mainland with his uke bass, and a repeated thanks to Wayne for filling in on drums and percussion. His cheerful, last-minute participation towed our hearts away!

Next month, March’s uke night again falls on the 20th (three days after St Patrick’s Day.) Feel free to wear some green, but be prepared for a very low percentage of Irish songs – though I may try to find us something high-spirited and easy that we can shout the choruses of! Until then, thanks for coming out, and keep on strumming…



Vancouver Ukulele Circle Meeting – January 16, 2018

Tuesday night saw the Vancouver Ukulele Circle back in place at St James Hall, hopefully forever and ever, after last year’s needed renovations. The latest improvement is a brand new, sprung-floor which allows us to tap our toes in time to the music with much greater accuracy. And we did.
For song leading, we got by with a little help from our Ed, as he Ringo-ed his way through the call-and-responses of that old chestnut. Craig and Jennifer did a very solid, fun version of the 80’s-Canadian pop hit, “Echo Beach,” and several other toe-tappers (good thing we’ve got the new floor.) Corrine came up to add Carlos Santana’s instrumental licks to “Black Magic Woman”, and Boaz led the Band’s/Joan Baez’s hearty singalong of, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Carol joined Jennifer for the singing of “Zombie”, as a tribute to recently-passed Dolores O’Riordan of the popular Irish group, the Cranberries. And we had a new song-leading recruit with Allison coming up to lead the group with “On Top of Spaghetti”, which leads us into the next section:

As you know, I encourage YOU to consider getting up to lead a song at an upcoming uke circle. If you’d like to, my main request from you is that you email me your song choice at least a “week-and-a-bit” before the next uke circle. The reason for me wanting that amount of notice (the “and a bit” part) is that I will then be able to add your request into the setlist of the email that I send out the week before the next meeting. Then, the people that like to rehearse the songs ahead of time can do so – and from the show of hands last night, a fair number of you do. Another reason is that if you don’t pass along your request to lead until the actual night, it might mean we’d have to cut out a song that people have already rehearsed. So please consider coming up, and getting your requests in early. Our band, Ron and Jerry, and I also know songs, and we won’t let you down!

Last night’s Performance-Time songs all seemed to me to fall on the sweet-and-mellow side, and that turned out to be a very good thing. Allison started things off nicely with Patsy Cline’s country music classic, “I Fall to Pieces.” Ed was next up to play something untypically Ed-like, as he masterfully picked his way through the beautiful instrumental, “Another Waltz” by Aaron Keim. Jerry (our house percussionist) got his uke on and sang a very sweet love song, written by Ed Sheeran, called “Little Things,” to which I added a melodica (it’s like a harmonica played with a tiny keyboard.) Johnny played a song in tribute to David Bowie – his wistful, 1999 tune, “Seven.” Boaz played the deceptively mellow, “If You Really Loved Me” by Tim Minchin, and finally, Candy finished off the set with a very sweet and lovely tune, “The Moon Song”, by Karen O, from the movie, “Her.” The song speaks of the bliss of being alone with her sweetheart on the moon, a million miles away. I had to restrain myself from breaking the mood and informing everyone that the moon is, in fact, only 384,402 km (238,856 miles) away.. There – I’ve said it…

For the Two-Chord-Wonder Song of the month, I tricked, cajoled and coerced at least a half-dozen people out of the crowd to come up and become the Plastic Ono Uke Band, as we used only C and G7th chords to belt out the anti-war anthem, “Give Peace a Chance.” As they filed off the stage, I noticed that they all had the same giddy smiles that people have when they finally get off the roller coaster. I hope they enjoyed their time up there and felt secure within the “safety in numbers.” PS – Getting back to leading songs and also Performance-Time, you might want to consider getting up there with a friend or two!

As always, thanks to the Rogue Folk Club – Steve and all the crew – Marnie for arranging the always delicious snicky-snacks & bevvies, and to Rich and Peter for running the sound system. And a final thank you to our uke volunteer (whose name woefully escapes me) who carried out a very important task for us, scrolling down the Projector Songs on the laptop, for the benefit of our playing. Thanks to everyone – it takes a uke village to keep this thing rolling!

Please feel free to contact me at calabash@shaw.ca if you have any questions, comments, song-leading requests, Performance-Time sign-up requests, etc.

I’ve moved Performance-Time to the last portion of the night recently. It used to be right after the break, and then we finished off with “book” songs.. My thought for doing that was that some people who still wanted to play from the book after the break, didn’t wish to sit through Performance-Time, and were leaving at the break. So I swapped the two sections. Do you have any strong preferences, one way or the other? Think about it…

Next month, uke night falls on February 20th – a week after Valentine’s Day, so I’m guessing love songs could be a safe bet to expect. Until then, thanks for coming out, and keep on strumming!