Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.


June 20, 2010

20-6-10 Newkulele

The blog has been a neglected allotment for a while. Life takes up time without creating incident.

An easy distraction comes in the ‘pineapple’ shape (i.e. not waisted like a small guitar) of a new ukulele hand-made for me by Prof. Chris Reed. It was his second ukuluthiery excursion and I wonder if his is the first ukulele made by a Professor Of Law.

The lead that injects camera images into my hard-drive is still packed somewhere, so photos of the object will appear in time. Some indication of the project is this inventory of woods selected and ordered:-

“Top and neck: English Yew (“figured” Yew if you’re showing off)

Back and sides: Cherry

Nut and bridge: Laburnum

Fretboard: Tiger oak

Scale length: Ooh, thereabouts, definitely soprano-ish”

It strums a treat with a warm ringing tone, and a common initial reaction is how loud it is for such a small instrument. It’s those characteristics that have sent me into a spate of finding scales, so picking up the uke to while away five minutes can easily turn into a tuneful half -hour with no discernible tune to show for it. As so often, this has carried back to the guitar, particularly the electric.

Tunes, I guess, will emerge as a by-product. For the moment I’m happy to hear runs of notes that fit together. It seems improbable, shortsighted, lazy, dim, not to have put in time to learn my way around the frets before; now at last I discover why you’re encouraged to practise them. Like so much technique, you take the time to learn it to remove obstacles and prepare the way for intuition. Learning scales and variations extends the possibilities for useful mistakes. Creativity is rarely a lightbulb inspiration, most often a result of spotting useful accidents and keeping them. Many guitarists will have stories of accidents that stop them in their tracks and require close attention to recreate – what did I do just now that made the difference?

I was left with a tape of The Smiths’ ‘important’ album Hatful Of Hollow in the car recently and drove a good many miles listening to a band I’ve only really heard in snatches. I must have spent more time listening to fans rhapsodising about main-man Morrissey’s lyrical flair than listening to the music.

A few plays round I can easily see why Johnny Marr’s guitar lines made other guitarists halt and listen but dearie me, I’d hoped for more from the lyrics, sung in a limited, predictable scale apparently independent of the band arrangement.

Kill The OED

I own a dictionary

And in Manchester that makes you la-di-da




So I sit here with my diary with its lock



With my gel pens and my thoughts…



Some say my words don’t rhyme, but I don’t give a hoot

I haven’t got a thing to say-ee-ay, anyway-ee-ay-ee-ay

So while the band cast nets

Of chiming chrome complexity

It’s easy to forget the spotlight’s trained on little me

Singing the same song, all along


And again and again and again

Oh no-oo-o!

So you can sing along.

Am I the genius they say I a-a-am?

I dunno-o-o-oh

Perhaps I am, you never know

Woe-oo-oh oo-oh

So I’ll yodel through the solo

Yippy-aye-oh oo-oh oo-oh

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