Monday, 24 April 2017

Summer Strum Monday Missive #5 - 24th April 2017 - Does my bum look big in this?

Ukulele Dress Code - "Too Much?"

Just a ramble about image - *may lose its thread along the way and unravel - *puns intended :-) and apologies that the layout isn't better. Can't figure it out man ...

Despite doing it for 6 years it never gets any easier deciding what to wear to a gig ... every single time I twirl in front of my husband asking "Too much?" he always replies "you are going to play the ukulele, nothing is too much". Actually I am citing him to the fashion police as an accessory to my tragic outfit decisions for over half a decade!

I cannot believe the amount of awful clothes I have accumulated since starting to play the ukulele! I have a drawer dedicated to 'clothes I wear for ukulele gigs' - skirts, leggings, tops, dresses -  covered in flowers, Hawaiian prints, pineapples, chilli peppers, squirrels playing banjos (oh yes!); all colours of the rainbow. None of them would I wear on a day to day basis. But when it comes to playing a ukulele on a stage in front of lots of people anything goes - yes siree!

And don't forget the accessories to match! Flowers hair clips, hair bands, leis, wacky sunglasses, hats, bags shaped like pineapples ... cupboards rammed with the stuff!

I have only been adhering to the band dress-code though, which up until this year specified wacky/colourful/FUN/hawaiian!

Recently though enough has become enough! There is dissent in the ranks and we are trying for a new look that doesn't make us feel like we are dressing up for a pantomime every fortnight. The discussions we have had ...

So how do you settle on a look guys? Take a group of fairly disparate people, different tastes, different sizes, different ages. Do you go down the 'uniform' route with everyone wearing the same thing? It'd be easy wouldn't it? There it hangs in the cupboard gig ready; no need to try on countless outfits until finally declarng "sod it, that'll have to do" before rushing out the door. 

Will the same outfit suit everybody? I mean, when it's right it's right: 

But when it's wrong... (Man on right: "well, I don't see what your problem is - I think these white slacks are rather slimming. Just stand up straight man")

How about a colour scheme then? Colours are a very personal thing - "what is your favourite colour?" is one of the earliest questions children learn to answer; its one of the most common questions you learn how to answer in a foreign language too. Your favourite colour can say a lot about you according to pop psychology! How do you choose a colour to suit all tastes and complexions?

For instance would you have chosen these outfits if you were these boys?

Green and cerise combo - daring at the best of times - and pastels tend to make one look washed out don't you think? 

It's like dresses for bridesmaids ... Do you choose the same dress regardless of whether it suits everyone? After all its your big day and all eyes will be upon you anyway! You would think ...


But it can be done well - striking and fun with mix and match accessories:

Or different dress styles to suit each person:

I feel I am gradually getting to the bottom of it though as I write! A little bit of uniformity but with scope for each individual member to project a bit of personality? Not sure how the fellas would look in the dresses though ...

Should we try a theme? We've all tried the Hawaiian look - admit it! Yes the ukulele has Hawaiian links; yes it's bright and colourful and makes people smile. And hey there is nothing wrong with that. I'm not a Hawaiian-hater. But, unless you embrace the floral and brightly coloured in your everyday life, you end up with a bunch of clothes taking up room in your chest of drawers that you would not normally be seen dead in - back to the beginning of this missive! This is a girl who wore only black for most of her formative years.

80's? Yes - great if you play 80's  music. Punk? Yes if you play punk songs. Cowboy? Yes if you play country and western. But we mostly play covers from many different eras. 

Perhaps we could dress according to venue: church - black and white; summer strum - festival gear; Floral Pavilion - full on colourful; Farm - rustic.

Or just have a 'throw on anything, devil may care' attitude? After all - isn't the music the most important thing? "Who cares what we wear", I hear you cry? I think that works well for a smaller group, but when a large number of you are doing it there is the tendency to look like a load of teachers on an inset day. And there will always be one or two of you that just go a little too devil may care!


How about checking out the bands that you think do it right and copying them. Here are a few of my faves:

(I realise that video probably won't work - it's Human Error - my fave band of SS 2015 :-))

Copying is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery after all ... but even that can get a bit annoying:

Or just downright creepy:

My conclusion? Uniform, theme, colour ... it all works with different bands. 

You know what the most important thing to wear when you are up there on stage is?


Because at the end of the day it's just a bit of fun. Nothing is "too much"! Go for it! And if all else fails get some great looking people on your front row!

I'm off to spring clean my drawers! Anyone want some floral clothes?

Keep Strumming. Love you all! xx

Monday, 17 April 2017

Summer Strum Monday Missive #4 - 17th April 2017 - Bloody Weather

Bloody Weather!

Wow! That was a quick week. Just back from Wales. The weather was okay for the time of year - only two days when it rained a bit but that didn't stop us messing about on the beach. playing crazy golf or walking up a hill. The thing about a Welsh holiday is that you pack for every eventuality - which can be rather hard when your family of four car is a Fiat 500 - flip flops, swimming gear, sun tops, body boards, raincoats, boots, woolly jumpers. The thing about our welsh holidays (we go several times a year!) is we have certain rainy day places - towns with shops and nice cosy cafes, craft centres, steam trains, swimming pool - and less rainy day places - the beach, crazy golf, walking up hills and around lakes. All activities are tackled with a cagoule wrapped around our waists and a jumper slung over our arm just in case. Love it!

When the weather grates it always brings to mind the Monty Python cartoon that crops up in their Holy Grail film. A scribe is sat in the top room of his house neatly writing out the title page for the Tale of Sir Lancelot when all of a sudden loud bangs shake  his house, making him spoil his page. He mumbles and heads downstairs. When he goes outside, the sun and three clouds are jumping up and down on the ground ('hey-up'). "Clear off", he cries and they sheepishly sidle off. "Bloody weather", says the man as he heads back indoors. Makes me laugh out loud every time - even then when I was just thinking about it!

For 'bloody weather' read rain, wind, sleet, freak showers of frogs - anything sent from the heavens to try and make life a little more trying.

Its the one thing we cannot control at the Summer Strum and practically the only thing that makes us nervous! "Get a big tent" we hear you cry. Well big tents cost a lot of money - not only do you need to hire the tent but you also need several trained and burly men (hmm - actually ... but, no, think about the cost Emma!) to erect it in order to meet the proper health and safety criteria. Besides where's the fun in that (well - several burly men for a start!)? We want to commune with nature at Summer Strum, breathe in the fresh air, wake with the larks, catch the rays that do shine down upon us from time to time, unicycle through the crowds if the mood takes us ... Farmer Eavis doesn't pitch up a mahoosive canvas edifice to keep his crowds dry. On the contrary - it is encouraged to revel and cavort in the rivers of mud that inevitably plague the biggest music festival in Britain (yes - I know rather a disproportionate comparison!).

The roof over Centre Court is only a recent thing - although it was about time I suppose and they could more than afford to do it. It takes 10 minutes to close and a further 30 minutes for the atmosphere to be stabilised before play can resume. It weighs 3,000 tonnes, the equivalent of 7,500 Wimbledon umbrellas (according to the Times). It benefits the play and players, not so much the spectators, who would happily shelter under those 7,500 umbrellas to watch Timmy play tennis in the 'bloody rain'; Football fans and players weather the storms (meteorological or otherwise) on a weekly basis throughout the season to support their clubs. Even at primary school age, parents (of which I am one of two) stand committedly on the sidelines week after week huddled under someone's golfing brolly, hoods up, wellies on, flasks of hot chocolate in hand watching their progeny trudge up and down on a field of mud (That's love for you). I am certain that ukulele players are just as fanatical and committed! You prepare your body and soul and its not so bad if it rains a bit is it?

I watched the very delightful Danny Mac on Sunday Brunch yesterday talking about the new production of On The Town (New York, New York, Its a helluva town) in Regent Park's Outdoor Theatre. "It's been a while since I've been" said the interviewer who is not Simon Rimmer. "Does it have a roof?". Danny scoffed at the thought and waxed lyrical about hardy theatre goers knowing the risks and preparing themselves accordingly with booze, food, raincoats, umbrellas and a Blitz mentality that the show must go on. Rain only pauses play (rarely cancels) for health and safety reasons (slippery stage, say).

The first Summer Strum in Hoylake was shifted seamlessly indoors only when it became evident that the heavens were to remain open for the rest of the second day thus threatening the sound equipment and making electrocution a real risk - at the time Fagin's Boys were playing so we didn't want to be responsible for that old institution Gerald Williams being shot out of his welly boots by a 2000 volt shock. The boys carried on the proceedings indoors with great panache and the show miraculously ran to schedule! But it wasn't the same was it? Although still great fun we had gone from a spacious outdoor arena into a cramped and humid room. Good job us ukulele players don't mind getting up close and personal.

So when we get asked "what are we going to do if it rains?" we say we will carry on regardless until we have to move indoors. In the meantime there will be ponchos for sale and gazebos to shelter under. For Summer Strum 2017 we suggest you pack for a holiday in Wales to include one, or a combination, of the following:
  • a rain proof coat
  • a brolly
  • welly boots
  • flip flops
  • sun cream
  • a hat
  • a plastic ukulele
  • a warm jumper
  • a picnic blanket
  • a Viking spirit
If those namby pamby southerners can do it at Regents Park then us Northerners can sure as hell tackle the 'bloody weather'! And it's all for charity after all!

Come - show your commitment to a great event and support some great charities - don't let the 'bloody weather' put you off.

For 'British weather' read 'chances of rain'!

Over and out. Enjoy the wet bank holiday!

Em and Pat xx

Monday, 10 April 2017

Summer Strum Monday Missive #3 10th April 2017 - A Local Festival for Local People?

Today's installment comes to you from the Welsh coast with a bad internet connection :-) Disclaimer: may ramble and contain mistakes!

Is Summer Strum the best ukulele festival of the year? Nah - that's GNUF! Do we want to be the best ukulele festival of the year? Well, maybe in our dreams - but that will always be GNUF! Is Summer Strum the best ukulele festival in the Northwest? We are certainly a contender! The best on the Wirral? You bet!! 

A few folk have actually said that Summer Strum is a highlight of their ukulele calendar - and that'll do us!

For better or worse we at Summer Strum don't have high aspirations - we just wanted, and still want, to provide a platform primarily for ukulele players from the Northwest who would otherwise not get the chance to play at a festival or who just don't have the flexibility or money to travel to get their ukulele fix. That some people travel from further afield is an added bonus! We are truly privileged! I admit I have only ever been to one ukulele festival outside of my immediate surroundings - Nukefest, a fabulous day in a sunny beer garden. As a family woman, I could not possibly make a convincing case for trekking off to ukulele festivals all over the country (although in a rare, possibly drink fuelled moment I have persuaded my husband and children to come with me to GNUF this year! Therein lies a whole blog in itself!) - so creating a festival on our doorstep was the next best thing! Just a short walk from a mainline Mersey Rail station!

At Summer Strum we do what we can within the time, money and personnel constraints we are under. And so far so good - like a 'field of dreams' we build it and you come. Would it be nice to have a bigger stage? Of course; would it be nice to erect a huge marquee in case of those inevitable showers? Yep. Would it be nice to be able to pay every performer and perhaps buy in some big names? In an ideal world - perhaps. But actually, we quite like putting this festival together on a shoestring. It makes us focus on the things that count, ensures we never forget our aims and ethos and shows us just what local community is capable of. Being given free reign of Hoylake Rugby Club, a decent discount from Handy Scaff on a stage; having a bass player who can rustle up a second sound system from the boot of his car, a community of amazing people who offer their help all year round and musicians who play just for the love of it - that's what helps make the Summer Strum happen. How long will it continue? Who can tell. All we know for now is that there is still a call for Summer Strumming in 2017.

People ask "are there really that many groups to make a weekend of it?". Well apparently there are. And more! We function on a first come first served basis. All inclusive, no airs. And the main stage fills up within days - that's thirty 20 minute slots.

We are of course very lucky to have some local big hitters and are privileged that they have joined in at our request - seeing how it is done gives us all inspiration doesn't it? Ukulele Uff and Lonesome Dave Trio ("We love you Dave!") have rounded off Saturdays with style over the past two years and the Mersey Belles have spread their sunshine since Chester. We are also over the moon that some bands, and uke fans for that matter, do travel on their own steam from afar to spend the weekend with us - Scotland, Hartlepool, Wales, Finland (what a fantastic rendition of Nothing Else Matters!), London, Kent - and this year Sweden! Yes, our great friends Trellebelle Ukulele Orchestra, well known for their Beatle covers, are travelling over to headline Saturday - in a potentially damp field in Hoylake! How cool is that? A modern Wirral/Viking link!

We don't want to sound complacent. We do work very hard to get this show on the road within those constraints and are always thinking of new ways to keep you entertained and finding people who can help us carry them out for free (!) - nobody wants the same ol' song and dance year on year after all. So - alongside the staple main stage and party tent there will be more food (yes we listen!); there will be morning jam sessions with local ukulele clubs, Wirral Ukulele Fanatics and D'Ukes of Hazzard, giving everyone a chance to dip their toes in the ukulele pool and play alongside veterans; there will be a songwriters spotlight featuring 6 performers (from near and far) playing their self-penned tunes (initially an idea to try for a grant - but grant unforthcoming we decided to run with the idea nevertheless!); we have local heroes Splintered Ukes kicking off the party on Friday night with a Clubhouse set; and open mic, also in the Clubhouse, to be run by the very lovely Karl Parry on Saturday night. Lots of ways to get your ukulele fix we hope you agree.

No matter what we change or add, however, the Summer Strum is still free to enter in 2017 and remains open to EVERYONE - local or not!  

And remember ... there will always be spacehoppers!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Summer Strumming Monday Missive #2 - 3rd April 2017 - A Sentimental Jourmey

The Road to Charitable Giving - a Sentimental Journey

Last week I touched on how hard the ukulele community all work to raise money for charities year round. Let me tell you why the Summer Strum chooses Wirral Hospice St John's to be one of our two main charity recipients.

Summer Strum 2015 was the last time many of us saw our friend Roz. At that time she had not been diagnosed with her brain tumour. Her headaches, fatigue and growing spells of confusion had so far not been thoroughly investigated by the NHS; and by the time she went privately to Walton Neurological Centre for a scan, the tumour that had been the cause of all these symptoms had grown too big to treat successfully. Often at the Strum that year you caught a normally exuberant Roz sitting pensively with her beloved dogs - already we had started to get the cotton wool out knowing that something was amiss. 

I saw Roz one more time after that in the downstairs room in her house that had become her bed/rest room. Her two dogs sat with her, protectively, sharing every precious moment they had left with her, as she chatted lucidly and philosophically about her lot. "I'm glad it wasn't dementia" she told me - typical Roz. We laughed, held hands, hugged - she was sad but maintained a cheerful front. She knew time was ticking.

Wirral Hospice St John's ( is a charity that provides care and support to patients, and their families, who have incurable conditions and are nearing the end of their life. They have a team of wonderful staff who work tirelessly to improve the quality of life of patients under their care. Everything they do relies on local fundraising. Roz was an active trustee for Wirral Hospice St John's for many years and it is here that she spent her last days in January 2016.

The loss to Roz's family was immense - a bright light snuffed out too soon. The WUO felt their loss - for it was our loss too. We really do have this family thing going on and the loss of a member left a hole in all our hearts. 2016 was a rather subdued year for WUO - we missed Roz (and still do). But she would have been looking down on us shouting for us to buck up and get on with the show!

This is what it is like for all of us ukulele players (and anyone in a group, whatever it may be) - with our uke families we laugh, we celebrate, we share, we meet new lifelong friends, sometimes we argue, then we make up, just like with our real families; and when one of us leaves it rocks us.

One of the main aims of the Summer Strum was to create a strong and supportive community made up of all our different ukulele families - to get together as one big happy family which then goes on to support one another all year round. Pat and I have met some really great people who we consider our extended uke family - and we have a great body of volunteers made up of members from many different groups (WUO, UCL, WUF, D'Ukes of Hazzard, Neston Strummers, Greasby Ukes). Without their help we would be gibbering wrecks and not the paragons of coolness that you see floating around the festival site come the beginning of July ;-)

And as our uke families are always looking for new members the Strum also provides a free, fun, inclusive and non-judgmental environment for everyone out there on the Wirral (and beyond) who has ever thought of picking up a ukulele to come along and join in. Come along, whether you have a ukulele or not, and there will be plenty of opportunity to give it a go and meet new faces. And to support a very worthwhile cause.

Peace and ukes

Em and Pat x