My First Ukulele Composition

After spending quality time this weekend with the ukulele, I was ready to start the week having learnt a new song, the Spiderman theme music from the original cartoon series. It wasn’t a difficult tune (the lyrics took a while to get right), but there were some nice chords, sounding similar to something that Cornelius Vreeswijk might have penned.

Fuelled with enthusiasm, I arrived at school early this morning and came up with the beginning of an untitled children’s song. By the end of the day it had become a two verse, one minute ditty now known as The L/eg/g Song. Because the risk was big that I would forget some of it by tomorrow, I videod myself playing the song. The benefit of this is not only a personal one, but in the future my children will have a film of my doing something creative, and I am sure it will mean as much to them as it means to me to have actually made up a song.

It was many years ago I last composed anything, and at that time it involved computers, synths and other electronic bits and pieces. Now I am completely unplugged, just a man and a uke. This simplification of technology may well see a number of new songs being produced in the near future.

My Ukulele

My first encounter with a ukulele occurred over a year ago. My friend and work colleague, Jeremy, brought one to work after his wedding in Hawaii. Whilst he strummed away over the following months, I never thought much about trying it out myself, even though I appreciated his own child friendly compositions. In fact, I cannot remember when my own interest was aroused, only that I started playing properly three or four months ago on another, worse quality, ukulele that Jeremy had been given.

The more I played, the more I enjoyed the sound that a uke could produce. It also had the advantage of size, being much easier to play than a guitar in the presence of children, and being easier to transport. The additional benefit of a smaller fretboard and fewer strings to control also gave me the illusion of being more adept at playing a stringed instrument. I could knock out chords on a guitar, but had more trouble producing a decent sound, especially with some of the harder finger configurations.

About a month ago I started seriously considering buying my own ukulele. I was becoming good enough, enjoying it immensely, and tiring of the bad quality uke I was using at school. One of the tuner screws had threaded, meaning that the particular string in question would constantly go out of tune.

After some research, I found a model which was rated by other players, and fitted my budget of one thousand crowns. I deliberated a couple of weeks, whilst finding a shop in Stockholm that stated it stocked just the model I was after, a Lanikai LU21. I decided to take the plunge and visit the shop today, with the intention of purchasing one such uke, providing it played, sounded and felt right.

On arrival, I immediately found what I thought was the model I was after, and politely asked if I could try it. As soon as I held it, it felt right. I strummed out a few songs I had learnt, and the sound produced was sweet. I expected it, of course, but having been used to a uke that cost a quarter of the price of the Lanikai, it was none the less impressive.

Just to make sure, I tried a couple of other models, one of which was similar to the one I had just played, and also a Lanikai. When I started to play, it seemed familiar. On closer inspection, I noticed that this model I had in my hands was, in fact, the LU21, and was much closer in every aspect to my school uke than the previous uke I had just tested. It was then I realised what had happened.

There are different sizes of ukuleles. The one that Jeremy and I have at school is the smallest, called a soprano. The first uke I picked up in the shop was an LU21C, the “C” standing for “concert”, which is the next size up in the range. My lack of knowledge of ukuleles made me somewhat bewildered, not knowing the implications of finding a different size than had previously been intended. Whatever the implications may be, I knew that I had found what I was looking for, so I made my way coyly to the lady behind the counter to make a purchase.

It turned out that the display uke was the only one the shop had in stock, and I was offered it for eight hundred crowns, which I accepted without problem. I walked away a very happy customer, and look forward to a future as a casual ukulele player, thanks to Jeremy.

ESC in Malmö – Saturday

Saturday started off with an unexpected piece of news. As we were slowly getting ready for another day in town, Jo received a Facebook update that Hop Louie, a well known Swedish street artist, was having a vernissage in a gallery in Malmö. Today. In a gallery that was situated about 200 metres from our flat. We had our first mission of the day.

The gallery was quite small, and there were probably only about fifteen Hop Louie pieces. In another small room was an exhibition from a woman calling herself ItchySoul, whose art was both humourous and interesting. Jo and I stood there with our glasses of white wine, when Jo expressed an interest in buying one of Hop Louie’s pieces called Framåt. It did not take me long to persaude Jo that she could use some of the birthday money she had got from me to buy a pair of vegan shoes. So, within half an hour of entering the gallery, Jo was the proud owner of an original Hop Louie, which will be sent to us after June 1st, when the exhibition comes to a close.

It was an odd feeling. Jo has been into street art a couple of years, and has done her best to photograpgh as much as she can, sometimes placing herself in potential danger to get a good shot. From the start she has liked Hop Louie, and while it feels natural to support him, there is a part of me that feels uncomfortable standing in a gallery, drinking wine, and looking at a price list of, what is essentially, street art. A far cry from walking through a dark, icy, disused train tunnel in the hunt for new pieces. Still, I am glad that Jo made the decision to purchase the piece. Who knows, it may even be worth something in the future.

After our departure, we strolled up to and around Old Town, taking in the Eurovision atmosphere that was oozing from the main streets. Our next mission involved food, in the form of falafel. Since Malmö is known for its falafel, it would have been rude to have left without trying at least once. Luckily, we arrived at Meze de falafel, just before four o’clock. It did not occur to me that any restaurant would close in the middle of the afternoon, and looking at their website gives conflicting information about weekend opening times. Not that it mattered, as we ordered a falafel in Libabread each. The portion size was more than enough, and the price was a very decent thirty-five crowns per roll. The only thing that brought down the whole experience was accidently eating a small slice of lemon in the tabbuleh. Lemon rind, even in small quantities, is extremely sour, and not recommended.

After eating, we made our way back to the flat, to prepare for the main event. We chose to go to Folkets Park a few hours before the start of the final, in order to get a decent place. On our arrival, we saw that many others had had the same idea, though we found a spot just on the wrong side of the path that intersects the park. We did not count on the park, and the path, being packed full of people arriving later than we did. Some people even sat on the path, making it more and more difficult for the public to traverse the path, and resulting in our view of the screen being obscured.

For a while I became increasingly irritated at the general impoliteness of people vying for their own personal space in the park. It goes against the sense of Brittishness I have, especially when I saw people complaining who themselves had commited a social faux pas in my eyes. By the time the final had started, I was in a better mood, even though we had to stand to see anything. The evening ended pleasantly, the result expected: Denmark won. We had other countries as our favourites, but a Scandinavian victory means that we could possibly do a similar journey next year. Something we have vowed we will do.

ESC in Malmö – Friday

The main event for us is now over. Yesterday we attended the second semi final, the first and last time we would visit Malmö Arena, where the real festivities take place. So today was a welcome distraction, allowing us a whole day to chill, explore the city, and try out some of the restaurants we had on our list. Malmö caters well for vegans, and falafel seems to be the city’s speciality.

Our first port of call was Glassfabriken, a cafe run by left wing youths, where toasted sandwiches, veggieburgers and the like are on offer. As expected, we got good value for money, as well as plain, decently prepared grub. They will never win any prizes for their cuisine, the decor was not really inviting, and the music inside was not at all soothing, but it was an affordable way to get some tasty food in our tummies.

We made our way to Folkets Park, or were we led there in our hunt for street art? As it turned out, the park was both large and child friendly, more than normal parks are. There were many things for the kids to do (playground, paddling pool, a water structure in the form of a flower, terrarium and very small theme park with a couple of rides), with the essential pub placed near the hub of the park. We decided it would be here we would watch the final. A scene had been built for pre show entertainment, and a large screen erected next to it. It looked like there was enough of a grassy area to hold many hundreds of people, and since there were other places doing something similar for the final, we would have a calm and pleasant time here.

A quick drink and visit to the paddling pool later, we took ourselves to the nearby raw food place, Raw Food House. We were not overly hungry, but it gave us the chance to tick off one of our desired food experiences. And, of course, they served wine. We tried three different cheesecakes, all of which were excellent. We also polished off a bottle of white wine. Our overall impression off the establishment was positive, and the interior was fresh and simple, without crossing the line to hippiedom. It would have been nice to have tried one of the main dishes, but we were simply too full from our earlier meal.

After a time out at the flat, we made our way to another talked about vegan restaurant, Vegegården. A vegan Asian restaurant with self proclaimed well spiced foood, this place had received good reviews, and our expectations were high. Sadly, the food was neither exciting or well spiced. In fact, it is probably the blandest Asain food we have tasted, and their red curry could have easily been replicated with any shop bought red curry paste. The best part of the meal was the spring rolls, but those were merely average. A very disappointing offering, which is a shame, since it is not a satisfactory advert for vegan food.

We went home and got a bit drunk. That saved the evening a tad.

ESC in Malmö – Thursday

The day finally came for us to travel down to Malmö. The ladies of the family took an early morning train, and I followed in the afternoon. For the long weekend of Eurovision fever, we had the company of an old friend from our Luxembourg days, Debbie.

By the time I arrived at the flat that we had hired, the female members had made themselves at home, and unsurprisingly some alcohol had been imbibed. I was very impressed with our accommodation, which we had got from a friend of a friend of a friend for an exceptionally good price. Not only was it spacious and homely, (we later found out) it was ideally situated, being pretty much central to all our intended destinations during our stay.

I had only a short amount of time to regain myself after the long and slightly painstaking train journey. Eurovision awaited, and by seven o’clock we were outside the arena, standing in one of the long queues to get inside. And then, just to our left, a small demonstration started.

Now, I enjoy a good demonstration, but this was definitely not one. The subject matter chosen was the Israeli occupation of Palestine (of which I know next to nothing), so I had no bone of contention with the issue, though for some reason it felt that the Eurovision Song Contest was the wrong platform for a political diatribe. If there is one event that deserves a respite from political issues, it should be the glamour, glitter and gayness that is ESC. The rubbish PA system they were using did not help, and I can’t imagine the message being heard by many of the assembled croud. But by far the most agonising part of the whole thing was when they ended with a rewritten version of ABBA’s Euro classic, ‘Waterloo’, which I shall give the title ‘Israel’. I cannot remember the words, but the whole idea and performance was naïve and very silly. And just to make sure they killed of any last bit of respect and self respect, they were awful singers. Slaughtering a classic song in the band’s home country, to a potential audience of ABBA lovers is not the way to get supporters to your cause.

The actual show was exactly how it should have been. The arena floor was untraditionally standing room only, and unbeknownst to us the floor was divided into two sections. This meant that we ended up in the section further away from the main stage. Our view was somewhat limited, bringing down the experience a tad. We relied more on the TV screens to see what was going on, but the ambience of the evening contributed enough to make it a very entertaining evening.

Day one completed, and a thoroughly enjoable day had by all.