Posts tagged ‘ukulele’


These dreams, the ones that make me think…well fuck.

You ever have one of those glorious dreams? The ones where you wake up, angry because it wasn’t real, and you know most of it will never be real. I had one of those last night.

I was on a road trip with Tegan (one of my guardian angels), we were having a great time. But the RV I’d rented for the trip broke down…bummer. The fourth car to come up to us stopped, well I say car, FUCKING HUGE pick-up. Okay, cool, not glorious yet though is it?

Patience folks, it’s about to become so.

Well I’m relieved, Tee is relieved, the RV is dead, and the pick-up driver is Beth Orton.

Beth “so fucking beautify my heart could break just lookin’ at her” Orton.

Beth “her voice makes my spine melt every-time I hear her” Orton.

Anyway the RV is fuckered, the hire company are sending out another for us, but it doesn’t to us ’til the next day. So what to do? Turns out Miss Orton has an idea, dinner at hers, a spare bed, and my not stressing ’til I’m in tears for the whole day.

Well the dream went on. Dinner was eaten, my uke was dragged out, I ended up playing, and singing badly with our hostess. My badly, not Beth who sings like my idea of a perfect angel. And the next morning I woke up to find my uke signed by her.

Then I woke up…fuuuuuuuuuuck. It was a dream…*sigh*

All that said a road trip has been mooted in the past 12 months. I’ve started the ball rolling on actually making some money from my MANY projects. My partner in crime has made it clear that I need to learn to drive. An RV…well if it was done right would cost less than hotels, and give me something I would desperately need; instant access to a toilet anytime day or night, oh and an unchanging space that’s mine.

Yeah this could work.

Wonder if Miss Orton will appear somewhere in it all.


A night spent with the Steampunks.

On last Saturday night (25th Feb) I managed to attend an event I had much anticipated for the previous two months. That event was of course Belle Agogo’s Steampunk Night No.3. This was a night filled with delicious burlesque, and even a remarkable boy-lesque, acts. A night that saw the triumphant return of the unstoppable Professor Elemental. And of course a night which saw each of us, the beautiful audience, dressed to the nines in only the very finest of our steampunk finery.

Hosted by the beautiful, room filling personality of Miss Bella Agogo, the night went off to my eyes at least without a single hitch. This of course not counting as a hitch, the spilling of his pint of Guinness by Professor Elemental. I merely count that as a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. Each act (please note I was after taking pain meds to be able to attend so the order of the acts may not be wholly accurate here. My memories are a little swiss cheesed. Damn those medications, and their blasted cheese!)  followed seamlessly by the next. The hilarious Phil Tgorgeous gave us his best Victorian vagabond, then to be followed seamlessly by the wonderful Lucy Rhinehart, and Foxy P.Cox‘s interestingly…revealing portrayal of the “Theft of Ariel’s voice” scene from Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

We were then treated to the delightful boy-lesque stylings of Jonas Wal, as his Victorian gent enjoyed a quick recorded lesson in the art of Burlesque dancing. Following this came our hostess with her hilarious explanation of how a steampunk heroine makes a good cup of tea. For those who don’t already know it involves overly complicated machinery, complete with more tubing than your lower intestines, which of course is powered by steam. And apparently laughter.

In the second half of the evening we were also treated to a beautiful, and very moving dance routine by Lilly DeValle, this act was a triumph. Being quite a sad piece it could have so easily broken the flow of the evening, instead it proved to be the perfect counterpoint to everything else that came both before, and after.

Now we get to the special guest for the evening, Professor Elemental. Now, there is a man who knows how to work an audience, and especially how to play to a local crowd. References of Barry’s Tea abounded. Raps about the vagaries of British life filled our ears. Even one which seemed to this listener to amount to nothing more than an apology for the English habit of apologizing, and of course for the existence of one Piers Morgan.

And while I, a proud ukulele owner and player there of, had to restrain herself from challenging the Professor to a duel during his song “Fighting Trousers”, (It would have been unfair don’t you see? I was armed to the teeth and all he had was a pipe.) I must admit that I am a new convert to the church of Professor Elemental. Though I will continue to also listen to a certain ukulele playing rhymer I’m afraid. After all we uker’s have to stick together in this cruel, and harsh world.


So in closing how would I rate this night?

Way above expectations, and I had bloody high expectations to begin with. The acts were all well thought out, and beautifully performed. Each was just the right type of funny, or moving to sweep the night along at a consistent, measured pace. The props were kept to a minimum meaning that the change over between acts was very quick, and very smooth. The acts were, well they were a frighteningly attractive group of people with one new crush definitely occurring for me that night, but that attractiveness aside they were professional, talented, and delivered not precisely what they’d promised, but far more than they’d promised in sheer entertainment, and delight.

If an Occiditis Fatuis was held to my head, and I was forced to choose a highlight from the night I would be hard pressed. But it would have to come down to either the belly dancing routine performed by Bella Agogo herself at the end of the night, or the incredibly moving piece of dance by Lilly DeValle. Both were performed with such a sense of enjoyment, and energy from the performers, that they were utterly impossible not to love, much less enjoy.

So after months of anticipation the night is done, and Capt. Lucretia Acidgurl 13th Imperial Marines (semi-retired) can hang up her Occiditis Fatuis…ummm no, not really. You see there’s going to be a fourth night, and this time I, your purple haired heroine shall be entering the Best Invention contest. After all it would inappropriate for a retired Imperial Marine Brigade armorer not to do her very best to represent her Empress while she is trapped in this benighted dimension, wouldn’t it?


The start of a new project.

As I hinted in the second of my New Year posts I have several important projects starting this year. Well last Wednesday one of them came to a surprising start. My partner in crime had found in a local thrift store an old, battered, bowl-back mandolin. So the next day we wandered, and I purchased her for the princely sum of 15 euros.

She’s in dire need of a lot of T.L.C. The neck was damaged but repaired reasonably well in the past. An internal brace has lifted, though after a huge amount of research I know now that too is a fixable issue. The finish is badly chipped, and scraped. And the inlay around the pick guard has been tortured within an inch of its life. But she’s still a beautiful instrument, and after Sunday I believe she can have an amazing second life as a mandolele. (mandolin-ukulele hybrid. Well in fairness I’m a female/male hybrid so it’s an ideal instrument for me don’t you think?)

My new baby pre-repairs.

Sunday I decided to clean the dust, grease and gunk of the ages off. Then I repaired 2 minor dings on the soundboard. Then finally I test strung her with a spare set of Aquila ukulele strings.The change to a mandolele came because when I got her she had only two steel strings left, both were under tension, and you could practically feel the mandolin getting ready to implode when you touched it. It simply can’t take steel strings anymore. A shame, as I’m sure she was a sweet sounding instrument, and a joy to play when she was in her prime.

Regardless after I fitted the strings the moment came when I plucked a true note from her. Ukulele’s have a sort of furry-ness to their sound that I adore. Each note kind of buzzes ever so slightly, and after trying out dozens of ukes in shops across the country at this stage I’m pretty sure it’s a standard feature of their sound. I do truly love that fuzzy feeling. I think that it is part of what makes music played on a ukulele feel happy. But the note that came from my new toy was pure, sharp, fresh. It was the aural equivalent of the difference between watching a movie on VHS video,  and DVD. (kids if you don’t know what a VHS was, the porn your dad has stashed in his wardrobe is the reason you still have that odd thing that doesn’t play DVD’s under the telly.)

Well the end result of all this is that before Bella’s Steampunk Night I intend to complete all the repairs, and refurbish my future mandolele as a key part of my costume. On that day a new character will rise, a new alter-ego for Amanda Harper, a steampunk luthier, uke player, and all round hottie named…well that would spoil the surprise.


And here comes the next one.

Last week I wrote an article speaking about what the past year has meant to me. This week I want to do much the same, this time though writing about how I hope the on coming year will play out.

So this year I hope fervently for the following things to become true.

I hope my friendships grow stronger, including somehow my finding a way to go see those I haven’t seen for far too long because they are in other countries.

I hope my romantic relations go from strength to strength. This of course also includes any unrequited ones, just because it’s unrequited doesn’t make it wonderful to feel.

I hope to be a better slavegirl, making my Miss more proud of me. Or you know, proud of me, sometimes being a brat is hard work.

I hope to forge a truly strong loving D/s dynamic of some kind from a dominant side with someone special. I suppose I should write another letter to Satan Claws on this subject.

By my birthday in March I hope to have finished the first draft of my second novel, a science fiction action romance if you’re interested.

And I hope to have performed, and released the first part of what promises to be a very long-term YouTube project.

In the coming year I intend to lay the ground work for a one woman business of my own, which will run parallel to my writing. You can most definitely expect to hear a lot about that in the coming years.

I intend to experiment with some burlesque type fun. Yes, of course there’ll be videos uploaded.

I’ll even walk the dog more, thus making her incredibly peeved off with me for waking her in the wee small hours. Don’t you just love walking along darkened, lonely canals in the arse end of nowhere alone in the middle of the night? No? Just me then.

Even more ukulele skills will be learned. One of these days I’ll master strumming.

And the mandolin will become my other instrument of choice. But I point black refuse to learn “Copperhead Road.” What a cliché.

With a little luck I’ll find myself living in Maynooth, with its shopping, and commuter service to Dublin City. Not to mention all the pretty, bipedal scenery provided by its university.

I will be finding a counsellor, things are moving in my mind, and while I may or may not post about them (while I think some people might find it healing to read about what’s churning in my head right now, it is also an intensely personal and difficult subject for me to even think about right now, much less write about.) I will most definitely need help in truly assimilating my new reality.

I will be playing my ukulele on webcam for my blog. I mean you don’t practice for hours most days just for your own enjoyment. Besides as anyone who knows me can attest, I am something of an exhibitionist.

Beyond this I don’t know, what I hope will come. But I do hope that it will be a better year than the one that is about to end. I hope my nation will claw its way back from the brink. I hope my friends and family will be happy, loved and have no reason to experience pain or fear. I hope the guys who give me hassle keep turning out to have glass jaws, because damn it but I love it when they act big and bad, only to go down like Sonny Liston.


Do you know what it feels like to get something so right?

I am learning to play the ukulele. I’m sure you’ve gathered that by this previous post, and this one, oh and this one too. But what I’ve yet to speak about in my blog, is the fact, that while I am learning to play the ukulele I have virtually no musical background to speak of. I won’t say none, I did learn the tinwhistle for a year in primary school. But at the time I could never even vaguely comprehand standard musical notation, and so learned to play, to a reasonable standard, a very simple, even very limited instrument purely by ear.

Tuesday of this week past was an odd day. I spent much of it trying to script out a burlesque act, or at least what I think would make a fun one. While I did that I chatted with someone special online. But after everything else was finished I pulled out my ukulele, loaded up the .PDF’s of my sheet music, and started to practice.

I’ve developed a love for playing a certain style of renaissance music. It has very few strums, but instead uses a lot of multi-string plucks, and intricate finger style play. It gives the sound of the ukulele a wonderful harp-like quality. And I simply adore playing in that style. Though admittedly, I do usually play any style of music rather badly.

I’m not a natural musician. I do have fairly a decent sense of rhythm, and timing. But I still find reading standard notation extremely difficult. If you struck two notes I couldn’t tell you what either of them were. Often I’d even be hard pressed to tell you which one was higher or lower. But I’ve worked hard over the last few months, and while I still can’t read standard sheet music proficiently, I can understand enough to know how long a note should be held for. How intensely it should be played, and what tempo is required for a given segment. This added to the tabulation method of writing music, at the very least allows me some small chance of occasionally hitting the right notes, in the right order and in the right way.

So Tuesday I practiced for an hour or so. Worked my way through my scales, as well as the various pieces of music I play during each practice session to stretch out my left hand, and improve my accuracy. Then that done I then went on to the internet to see if I could find something new to try my hand at. After all, there’s only so many times you can play “Moon River”, “Scotland the Brave” or “Hall of the Mountain King” before your brains start to melt.

Well, after a little while I found a random piece of 17th century guitar music. Lot’s of double, and triple plucks, only a couple of strums, those nice and relatively simple. In short, ideal. Now before that day on finding a new piece of music, I’d almost always headed straight to YouTube to find out how it was supposed to sound. But Tuesday I decided to see if I could read through the mixture of notations a few times, and then play it cold. So that’s just what I did.

I picked up my ukulele, and for about two minutes Amanda simply vanished as a conscious being.

There’s a thing that happens when you type a lot. You reach a stage where you no longer think at all about where each of the keys are. You just think and type automatically. It took me years to reach that stage as a typist. But these days I can, and often do type like that. To me that feels like the words flow from my fingertips like a stream of water.

Playing that piece of music on Tuesday. Cold, having never heard it before, felt similar. I read the music, I plucked each note in turn, performed the strums with surprising ease. The fingers of my fret hand seemed to know how to position themselves just right. The fingers of my plucking hand felt like they were dancing over the strings. It all felt right. But I never once thought about what I was playing. I read written music on the screen, and audible music came from my hands. No thought, no consciousness involved.

When I’d finished the piece, and after I’d gotten over a really odd feeling of shock at it being finished, I went to YouTube.

It wasn’t a complex piece, and I imagine for any accomplished musician it would have been laughably easy to play, but to my utter delight I not only played it well, but very nearly perfectly. I held a couple of notes too long, things like that. But it was the first time since I picked up a ukulele that I felt I was actually moving to a realm where I can someday describe myself as a musician. Not just a player of an instrument, but an aspirant musician.

But the best part was how it felt. Touch typing like that feels like water flowing. But that feeling can’t compare to this. When you type, and screw up you hit the backspace, nothing is lost, it’s a natural thing to quickly repair the fault, and move on. When you pluck a musical note, that’s it. There’s no way to ever force that genie back into its bottle. So playing that well for once, using the full limits of my present musical skills, didn’t feel like anything that flows.

No, it felt like flying, and I want to feel it again.


A review of the Mahalo Les Paul ukulele.

Right so I was originally messing about my my lil sisters Ohana uke while she was wandering around Spain for part of the Summer. Of course when I expressed orgasmic delight at playing it she went and bought me a Les Paul electro-acoustic model as my first uke.

So what do I have to say about it after three months of ownership? Well I do love it.  There’s simply no getting away from the fact that it is delicious to look at. It’s slightly larger than a standard soprano ukulele, but considering the fact that at 5’10” I’m slightly larger than the average ukulele player this is definitely a good thing. It comes pre-strung with Aquila strings, this for those who don’t know is a wonderful thing. Most uke’s come pre-strung with knicker elastic. They’re hard to tune, and impossible to keep in tune once you do. Where as Aquila’s are easy to keep in tune once the initial stretching period is over with.

For a mass produced instrument the finish is good, not excellent, but good. There are several small imperfections in the varnish, and the dye beneath it. The tuners are good quality and have never needed adjustment to hold tune. The action might be slightly high for a lot of players, but since I have kind of strong fingers don’t have any problems playing it myself. That said when I do restring it I will probably reduce the action very slightly.

I did come up against a few minor niggles. The wires inside the body of my uke buzzed at first. That problem however was easily fix by unscrewing both of the external panels in turn and sticking the wires down with miracle tape, aka duct tape. Then I found that it was still buzzing when I played the C string with any sort of gusto. After a little effort I traced that issue to a cable tie inside that hadn’t been trimmed down, and so was vibrating against one of the braces on the back of the soundboard. So out came long pair of scissors, and a long jewellers tweezers and that was fixed.

Other than that there are some very minor intonation issues with some frets beyond the 9th or 10th fret. But they are extremely minor, and since I have something of a tin ear from too many concerts, nightclubs and raves in my 20′s, to my mind they add to the unique sound of my particular uke. Although they do make my puppy, and violin/guitar playing partner wince a lot of the time, she being one of those perfect pitch type people. (By minor I mean that on a chromatic tuner the note on a given fret is either only very slightly high or low. And I mean very slightly.)

My only real gripe with this ukulele isn’t actually with the instrument, but rather with the instrument bag it comes with. It’s flimsy, badly stitched rubbish. Frankly if you wrapped it in brown paper you would be vastly improving the situation. I wouldn’t trust it to keep dust off of my uke. So the very first thing I bought was a hard-case for my baby. I would strongly suggest you do too.

Now there are those who say that only about 1 in 3 Mahalo Les Pauls are actually playable. So perhaps I got lucky. But I have since getting mine, fiddled around with a few in random music shops , and so far I have yet to find one that’s as unplayably awful as some people make them out to be.

I have yet to talk about how it sounds when played as an electric-ukulele. This is because right now I  don’t have the means to test it. But you can expect a review of this aspect in the New Year. Yup there’s an Orange mini-amp that’s seductively calling my name.

I feel that the Les Paul is a pretty good first uke. It’s a joy to play, a joy to look at, and it makes me smile everytime I pick it up. It’s a budget uke so you do get what you pay for, which is relatively cheap and cheerful. But be warn this one will lead to a very severe case of Ukulele Addiction Syndrome. I should know I’m already planning on not just buying an nice concert uke in the future, but on actually building more than a few also. Stay tuned for more information on that in the near future.


The ten most awesome things about being – a ukulele player.

Yes that’s right I’m one of those people. I play a ukulele. I’m a wannabe gothic Lisa Hannigan or Kate Micucci. As for Zooey Deschanel I just wanna listen to her play “Little Black Rain Cloud”, and then take her by the hand, drag her to…best if I say no more on that particular subject. Well anyway the point is that ukuleles have become popular again. And while they may sometimes still be scoffed at by “serious” musicians, there are so many reasons to love about them, or better yet about playing them. So here we have my top ten awesome things about being a ukulele player.

10: You can carry it where ever you go. They weigh next to nothing. Seriously, my uke’s hard case is about 4 times heavier than the instrument it protects. With a light, but well padded, gig bag you can take a uke literally anywhere with you, and barely notice it. Try that with a guitar, piano, or tuba.

 9: People smile when they see you with a ukulele. If you have one try this sometime. Bring it with you to a park, canal bank, bar, train carraige, where ever. Take it out, and start to play. People will smile when they see it. Sure some of them will have this superior smirk, but most will just get joy from seeing this teensy instrument, with its big voice.

 8: Little kids will love you playing it. Something about the ukulele’s bright, bell-like sound really appeals to young children, (and some older gothy big kids too, I should know, after all, I’m one of them). So if you have nephews and nieces, sons and daughter, or just random adopted waifs and strays, if you take out a ukulele and start bashing out some kid friendly pieces you will make most, if not all of them smile.

 7: A girl just looks hot holding a ukulele. Of course she looks even hotter if she can hold it, and play it as well.

 6: You can leave “serious” musicians dumbfounded by switching randomly from a bright cheerful kiddy piece of music, to a rollicking, rampaging rendition of “The Hall of the Mountain King” or any one of the many Minuets that exist. I highly recommend Johan Krieger’s single-time one, it’s deceptively easy to play, but still quite impressive to listen to.

 5: People will start comparing you to such people as Lisa Hannigan, Kate Micucci and Zooey Deschanel. Though usually prefaced with the words “Wishes she was…”. Still, you’re right there in the same sentence. WOOHOO!

 4: You can become a collector. There’s literally hundreds, if not thousands of ukulele models in existence. Have you space to catch, and time to play them all?

 3: You never need to worry about having a good party piece again. Just make sure you learn a new piece of music before each suitable party.

 2: You can make women swoon at your feet by starting with “Popeye the Sailorman” and switching first to the “Sailor’s Hornpipe”, then to the Jack Sparrows theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, and then finally back to Popeye. I’m still working on achieving this, but I firmly believe that once perfected it will prove itself to be a musical WMS. (Weapons of Mass Seduction)

 1: Like bow-ties, fez’s and stetson’s, ukulele’s are cool. And so are you for playing one. So watch the last two seasons of Doctor Who again, fall in love with Amy Pond, and learn to say it in just the right way. But just in case you can’t be bothered to go find it yourself here’s a selection for you to learn from.

Now say it with me, “Ukulele’s are cool.”

And so is Lisa Hannigan, my latest musical love. Enjoy.


Being a Ukulele bad-ass, or how I discovered a love for messing about with a teeny guitar like object.

So my adopted lil sister, the Pyxie, went to Spain for a few weeks.  Along with the nagging worry I always have when she’s out of the country, she also left me with her ukulele.  A really sweet lil Ohana SK-10S.  So out of curiosity and large dose of chronic insomnia I picked it up one night, and a Google search led me to website Ukulele Hunt.  After about 2 hours of learning to tune it, and pluck a few simple exercises I had come to four surprising realisations.

1. The Ohana SK-10s comes pre-strung with what I can only assume is knicker elastic.  That first 2 hours session I found myself tuning it again every ten minutes.  Though it did improve with time, I believe the C string is still an inspiration for serious swear word creation.

2. I really like the ukulele as an instrument. It’s very light and easy to handle, which makes it an ideal instrument if you, like I, suffer from a lot of physical pain and weakness.  What’s more, you can pick it up and 2 hours later with some serious effort be picking out a couple of nice little tunes.  Or put another way, it’s an instrument that’s fun and easy to play, but I suspect will prove a right bugger to master.

3. You don’t have to strum the lil bugger.  When you see a ukulele played on telly, it’s usually strummed, rarely do you see it plucked.  But this instrument can sound almost harplike if you pluck it just right.  And it’s a wonderful thing to learn to play melodies on.

4. And finally, it’s spelt “Ukulele”, not “ukelele”.  Yeah I know!  I was kinda shocked too.

Anyway, after a couple of weeks of some semi-serious messing about on the Pyxies ukulele I was hooked.  I say semi-serious because it’s hard to take yourself too seriously when your best two pieces to play on it are “Popeye the Sailorman” and “It had to be you.”

Then the Pyxie came home and bought me my own one.  I was kinda stunned.  I mean ukuleles aren’t crazily expensive instruments, but if you want even a vaguely good sounding one they are defiitely not cheap either.  She got me a gorgeous Mahalo Les Paul electro-acoustic model.  Very pretty, kind of sexy in a bad ass sort of way and a little larger than her own.  The latter a very good thing as Mother Nature did not bless me with petite fingertips, and on her Ohana I had serious problems not hitting a second string by accident.

Isn't it so pretty? And it even sounds as good as it looks.

So after a couple of practice sessions I am now even more hooked on my own ukulele than I ever was on hers.  And I learned another important lesson.

5. Aquila strings are the shit.  Seriously, they sound so much better I simply can’t get over it.

So yes, this is meant to be a review.  Well here it is.  The ukulele is not a toy instrument, it is a serious piece of musical kit.  It can be strummed, plucked, made to sound almost like a harp and even tapped with a finger to make a reasonable lap-drum if you feel like it.  I would definitely recommend one as a first instrument for a young child or even a young hearted adult, simply because you feel that you’re making progress the whole time you practice, from the very first minute.  They make a great instrument for someone who is physically a little frailer than average, because they simply don’t take much physical strength to use.  They come in several sizes, meaning even the Incredible Hulk could probably find one to suit his oversized hands.  Aquila strings as I have already mentioned are quite simply, the shit.

Oh and The Uke Bad-ass as far as I’m concerned is Alistair Wood, owner and writer of  For creating probably the best online source for ukulele knowledge and being the author of Ukulele for Dummies.

P.S. Thanks for the mini-axe Pyx.

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