– Uke Hunt is my absolute favourite ukulele blog.
– I have a lot of respect for Al, for his tireless contribution to the ukulele community, for having managed to make a living out of something he was really passionate about. I also love his writing style, his sharp sense of humour and extreme use of self-derision. And I admire his outstanding ukulele skills.
– Al has been very inspirational and helpful and it is partly thanks to him that this very blog has taken shape.
Since I am no match for Al‘s wit, what better introduction than to ask him if there was something he would like to be asked about ?
U&L : Are there any questions you’d like to be asked ?
Al : Hmmm, questions I’d like to be asked… I’d quite like to be asked “How did you get so handsome?”. And for sure no one has ever asked that before. You’d probably get better answers with questions I don’t want to be asked. Some of those would include:
– You’re a mediocre ukulele player, a lousy writer and a clumsy social networker. How long do you think it will be before you get found out?
– Are you going to throw a hissy fit when Ukulele Tabs knocks you off the top of the top 50 list ?
U&L : How did you get so handsome ?
Al : Excellent question! I guess the gods must have been smiling on me.
U&L : (Disclaimer : this question is not my own !)
You’re a mediocre ukulele player, a lousy writer and a clumsy social networker. How long do you think it will be before you get found out?
Al : I’m more comfortable with this than I used to be. The little hater can still make it difficult particularly when it comes to writing the ebooks. At school, English and music were my second and third worst subjects. So I spend a lot of my time feeling like a fraud.
U&L : Are you going to throw a hissy fit when Ukulele Tabs knocks you off the top of the top 50 list?
I’ve been expecting to get knocked off the top for a long time. It’s difficult for a one man blog to keep up with user-generated-content sites in terms of visits. But I thought it to be Ukulele Underground that knocked me off. Strange that I’ll be knocked off by a site that, to be frank, sucks. I’m sure I’ll deal with it. I’ve got a shirt with a big 2 on it ready.
Before I go on asking my own questions, let’s listen to Al playing what looks like an incredibly tricky piece to play, a cover of Music For A Found Harmonium by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Check out the number 2 shirt !
U&L : How bad is your UAS ? What are your favourite ukes ?
Al : Not that bad at all. I think I have eleven ukes. Something like that.
I’ll count: Fluke, Ohana, two Kalas, two Mahalos, Eleuke, RISA, aNueNue, Ashbury, Johnson, no name soprano. Twelve. None of them are really expensive.
The Ohana TK-35G is the uke I play the most. The action on it is high which makes it hard work to play. But it keeps me honest.
The Kala Lacewood is a favourite. It has a really punchy sound to it and it’s LOUD.
And the RISA is really good for playing whilst wandering around the flat.
U&L : You’ve run Ukulele Hunt for 2 and a half years now, played the ukulele for almost 20 years, are you still amazed at new possibilities the ukulele can offer ?
Al : I feel like I’m nowhere near getting the instrument figured out. There are so many things that haven’t been tried a great deal on the ukulele.
At the moment I’m trying to work out what an electric ukulele sounds like. I’ve been messing around with a Boss GT-10 but I haven’t come up with anything good yet. It always winds up sounding like a guitar. Earlyguard does a good job of playing an electric ukulele.
U&L : What are the most significant changes you’ve noticed in the ukulele world in the past 2 years ?
Most obvious is the sheer number of people playing it.
The amount of ukulele videos, blog mentions and, more recently, tweets just keeps going up and up.
The choice of ukuleles is much wider now.
The number of ukuleles cropping up in pop culture has exploded. They’re on every other advert. The ukulele used to be an instrument for ugly boys and now it’s an instrument for cute girls. It’s strange seeing questions like, “I’m a boy. Would it be weird if I played the ukulele?” on Yahoo! Answers.
U&L: You have become very influential in the ukulele world and your words can pretty much be the sun or rain of the people you mention. How do you feel about that ?
I tend to think that my support is more the kiss of death for acts. If I feature a contest entry video it’s guaranteed not to win. I declared Miss Jess’s Jammin’ at Jacksons to be the best record I’d heard all year – the silence was deafening.
On the other side, you look at the most popular UkeTubers – Julia Nunes, Wade Johnson, Danielle Ate the Sandwich – none of them got much help from me. So I don’t think I have much influence at all.
If I can connect a few people with music they really like, that’s great.
I hope I don’t rain on too many people. Even if someone’s stuff does doesn’t appeal to me, I still respect them for creating something rather than sitting on their arse watching X-Factor. If I don’t like someone’s schtick, I try not to talk about it. There’s only one ukulele player that I want to repeatedly kick in the crotch and I’ve never mentioned his name on the blog. (Oh, and there’s one I want to knee in the crotch – but just the once.)
U&L : What piece of advice would you give to someone who has just bought a uke and has never played another instrument before ?
Practical advice: Learn to tune it by ear.
Less practical advice: Listen to as wide a variety of music as you can and steal as many ideas as you can.
U&L : What is your trick to combine fingerpicking and strumming in a tune ?
Keep you hand as close to the strings as you can while you’re strumming. If you can get away with it, only move your index finger when you strum. Try to end the strum with your thumb somewhere near the G string – that gives you an anchor point for the rest of your hand.
U&L : We’ve never heard your voice in your YouTube videos, Ukulele ebooks videos, not even for counting up the rhythm. Is that deliberate ?
Yes, that’s very deliberate. I hate the sound of my own voice. And I am no good at talking. My brain works too slowly for talking. I can’t stand even talking on the phone. I’ve had a few people want to talk ukulele business on the phone and I’ve had to say it’s email or nothing.
Besides, Americans can’t understand a thing I say in my Yorkshire accent.
Let’s hear the voice of Al’s ukulele instead in a fresh video in which he plays the Laurel and Hardy Theme, Dance of the Cuckoos.
U&L : If you were to take five objects to a desert island, what would they be ?
A bottomless skip full of food and water. Because there’s no way I’d be able to survive on my wits.
A knife. A real, “You call that a knife? This is a knife,” knife. Not because I could do anything practical with it. Just so I could run around playing at Bear Gryllses.
A copy of Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson. My favourite piece of writing of all time. “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion.”
A big wad of paper and a bunch of pencils.
A fretted, string instrument. I’m not sure if I’d take a uke. It might be better to take an instrument I was completely unfamiliar with. Perhaps a waldzither. Although the strings would rust up pretty quickly on the island. Perhaps a uke would be best after all.
U&L : What is the next Uke Hunt project ? Another ebook ? Another video ?
At the moment I’m trying to prepare the site for Christmas.
My next ebook is provisionally titled How to Shred the F*** Out of a Ukulele. But it’s still at the planning stage. The idea is that it’s a follow on from the blues ebook. Focussing on soloing with various genres. With a section on electric ukulele and effects. I’ve just put up two new videos so, judging on past performance, it’ll be a few months before I get round to doing any more. I want to record a version of James Bond. And possibly one playing around with various ukulele effects.
U&L : Where do you see yourself in 10 years time ?
Al : 10 years? Even Stalin only planned 5 years ahead.
Looking at the history of the ukulele, it seems unlikely that it’ll be as popular in ten years as it is now. So I don’t know if I’ll be able to make a living out of writing about ukuleles like I am now. But I don’t think I could ever go back to having a real job. I expect I’ll have to cut down the amount of time I spend on ukes and have to spend more time making boring sites .
I’d love to live somewhere with mountains, a forest and hills. I’m particularly taken with the idea of Slovenia at the moment. It’d be nice to have a family but I think I’m too much of a loner for that – which makes it sound less like I’m communing with nature in a Snow White fashion and more like I’m living in a tumble-down loony-shack like the Unabomber.