Been a while, but rant time on Got A Ukulele. So let's start with this. I am not a huge fan of Elton John. Don't care much for Robbie Williams either. I can take or leave Chris De Burgh and have never bought any music by Celine Dion. (I also love ice cream but can take or leave chocolate flavour...)
Hang on though, I love music (and spend far more than is probably healthy on my record collection), how can I possibly not enjoy these performers? I mean, they are musicians, right? I like music, therefore I must like them? Right? Wrong. And I know I don't need to explain why that is. Some readers may be big fans of them, and that is cool. But I think any right minded fan of music in its many forms would recognise that we don't all like the same things. You see, it's perfectly OK to like different things in music.
I like to think I have a pretty broad taste in music and am as happy listening to The Beatles as I am to Charlie Parker, as happy with Neil Young as I am with Mozart. But I do have many eclectic choices too and when growing up would find myself shocked when I had to retort, 'What? You mean you don't like Frank Zappa / Tom Waits / Nick Cave'
Instruments too may have their fans, and it would be right to say that my music collection is heavy on guitar based instrumentation, but I also like piano, keyboards and lots of electronic music too. I also have a fondness for the traditional and have been known to go weak at the knee at the sound of an autoharp... But again, tastes differ.
Which got me thinking of another oddity in the ukulele world. The assumption with some that 'because he / she / they are playing a ukulele you MUST like them because you play one too.'... Excuse me? I adore the playing of Jimi Hendrix on an electric guitar and Richard Thompson (on a guitar of any variety) but should it therefore follow that no matter who records a piece of music on one of those instruments should automatically get my affections? Of course not. So what gives with the ukulele then?
I decided that in penning this blog post that it was probably best to keep off individual names, ( I don't have time for all the angry email it would generate, even if that would serve to prove the point) but here's the thing. Just because a performer plays a ukulele, it doesn't follow that I automatically adore them just because I write about the instrument. Like any instrument or genre, I have my preferred tastes. It's hard to pin down, but music that moves me, speaks to me, or damn well just makes me tap my foot can do it. And personal tastes (and you all have them) mean that some things don't flick that switch for me.
Yet I never fail to be surprised by the reaction I get if, on public social media, I would 'dare' to say 'actually, no, he / she / they are not by cup of tea'... I've seen it all - a genuine reaction of confusion at best, and horror at worst that other ukulele players genuinely don't understand WHY I may not like performer X... I am sure it's not just me, but it still doesn't half amaze me how many there are who get confused in the first place.
This is not about talent, skill, technical ability. There are plenty of musicians who I look at and think, 'wow, you really are a good example of your art' but I would never really enjoy sitting and listening to. Take Eric Clapton (sorry Eric). A performer who's early work I have a fondness for, but today seems to present something that would see me rather sticking needles in my face than listening to him. I don't know what it is. His technical skill is clear to me and I am in total awe of it, but his music these days does nothing for me. And what is music if not something that should move you in some way, whether physically, mentally or spiritually? If it doesn't do that should I automatically 'like' it just because he plays a guitar? And I like guitars....
This slots in to a bigger observation about the ukulele I suppose, and something that spawns the endless MEMES that circulate along the lines of the 'keep calm, play your ukulele' or 'So then she said, why do you need more than one ukulele?' variety. I understand the passion, certainly. But I don't understand the 'obsession'. There is a difference. I love the instrument, but not at disregard to my own tastes and love for other forms of art. To do so would be obsession.
I recently saw a slightly heated debate on the subject of UAS, and collecting instruments for the sake of it. I chipped in and suggested I had 'been there, done that and realised that it wasn't a sensible thing for me'. Cue the comments along the lines of 'there is no such thing as too few ukuleles' etc.. Groan...
And in the same way, when someone posts a picture of a new ukulele, it will be guaranteed to get more likes, cooing and fawning than a picture of their new born baby would. Do all ukulele players automatically adore any image this instrument? (I don't). I don't believe they really do, but the community standards seem to suggest that we are all duty bound to 'like like like' anything uke related. And don't get me started on the guaranteed reaction you will get by sharing an image of a guitar you own in ukulele media circles... (cue the 'but it has too many strings' jokes... guffaw, guffaw...)
Interesting, and just an observation I guess, but with a serious point at the heart of it. I personally don't think it is all that healthy to 'like like like' anything ukulele related without any perspective. It really is as crazy as someone saying 'you like music, why don't you like ALL music?'
Surely we all like a bit of variety, and a world in which we all had exactly the same record collections would be a dull world indeed. I mean, you would NEVER get tickets for any band because surely EVERYONE would be trying to get them. Every album would share the number one spot. And so on and so on.
And dare I say it, but, I don't think it's particularly good for the image of the instrument. The ukulele already gets pigeonholed as something of a joke or toy instrument, and having people get rabidly obsessed with it no matter what hardly helps in my book. Yet why do we have so many players / clubs / bands who all kind of dress the same and play what is essentially the same song book? A desire to be part of a community for sure, and I am not disrespecting that, but can we not be part of a community with some individuality? The professional acts certainly differ, and that is one of the things I like so much about the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival I recently reported on. VARIETY. There was, naturally, a LOT of ukulele music that weekend, but the variety was clear and there really was something for everyone. In fact I am not a fan of ukulele festivals that book acts that are all very much the same.
It's OK to like different styles as much as it is OK to not like certain styles. It doesn't mean you have shunned the instrument, it just means you are an individual. There is room for all.
I for one think the 'community' would be a stronger one, and one that is taken more seriously if it had more variety and individuality. And please, don't question me if I say I don't enjoy a certain performer... it's nothing personal! Your comments would be most welcomed!
( And, if you like the thoughts of this 'Grumpy Bloggers' rants and want some more - take a read of THESE. They come from a good place, I assure you!)
© Barry Maz