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Halloween song - Alone

It's Halloween, so here is my contribution to the Ukulele Cosmos Halloween song challenge. The song is called "Alone" and features Brother Jon on keys with me singing and playing all the other instruments.

Ukuleles used:

Rhythm Ukulele - Kamaka Gold Label soprano
Lead/Rhythm Ukulele - Earnest style 1K soprano
Slide Ukulele - Bruko black slimline soprano
Bass Ukulele - Ozark acoustic bass

The track was produced using Cubasesx.

The song featured in the Ukecast Halloween special. I hope most of you have listened to this and downloaded your Halloween treat.

Be seeing you

Cover of Ramblin'

Well the summer holiday has finally arrived and so I have had a little time for recording. My first finished track is a cover of a song by Rico called Ramblin'. I was inspired to record it after listening to Portland Uke's version of Caravan posted at FMM, he used a version by Jazz Jamaica as his starting point and after listening to their record again, I choose to cover another track from their first album.

It was the bass line from Ramblin' that really drew me in and I played it on my new (to me) acoustic bass. I have been long seeking a better bass sound and tried electric bass, synths and samplers, but none have been quite right. I really dig the sound from the acoustic bass and it records really well. Although most people would describe it as a bass guitar, it has four strings and so to me it is a bass ukulele.

In addition to bass there are several rhythm uke parts and melody played on a melodica. I also ran a soprano through overdrive and wah wah effects and ended up with a good lead sound.

Hope you like the track.

Be seeing you,

Ukulele Revolution EP

Hello everyone,

My new EP is up and I am overwhelmed by the positive response. In this blog I shall describe the process of making the title track, "Ukulele Revolution".

After making "The Hypnotist", I was itching to make another reggae track and explore the possibilities of overdubbing different uke rhythms. So I rushed to the studio and choose a simple chord progression of Dm7 to G7, to do this. I played a drum beat on the keyboard and assigned a suitable drum sample to the midi. With the keyboard I then played an off beat piano rhythm and a bass line. (Only the bass ended up in the final track). I then played uke to this backing and came up with the melody and words.

About 2 weeks then passed until my brother, who is a jazz pianist, came to visit. He brought with him his electric piano and we recorded a version of "Moonglow". I then decided to ask him to overdub parts on some tracks I was working on. We listened to a number of things and he was immediately taken by the UR backing track, he liked the slow harmonic progression; he then busied himself jamming away along to it. I made a backing loop about 20 minutes long and left him playing along to it. I had a cup of coffee, and then returned to the studio. He recorded a full 20min take, which was amazing and worth listening to on its own.

The next day I chopped Jon's keyboard part into suitable chunks and re-sequenced a backing track in much the order of the finished song only about 8mins long. I then recorded all the uke parts with my K-wave rock uke, using a Behringer B1 mic into a mic100 pre. To this I added a couple of guide vocals. I recorded several takes of the uke and played with different rhythms on each, these were compiled into 3 main uke tracks, with 2 extra looped tracks on the chorus section.

At this point I asked for help.

I made a short backing loop of the chorus and posted it to the "Uke Players of the World" forum asking for people to email in overdubs of their voices. The first to send anything in was Patsy Monteleone, who sent singing and himself saying revolutionary slogans, I was stunned, he is a ukulele legend and here I was listening to his brilliant vocal on my song!!!! I quickly put this into the track, on the section after the keyboard solo and on the final chorus, I was listening to myself duet with Patsy (wow). The next in was Ali Bee, who had never recorded herself before. She was naturally nervous, but her singing was great and synced in perfectly. The only thing was she used a headset mic to record and so her voice was obscured by what sounded like a jet aircraft revving it's engines. I cleaned this off and found her voice was a lot like Hester Goodman from the UOoGB (again wow).

Well, the contributions came in thick and fast. Jukkalele, from Sweden, sent in singing and spoken bits, he is responsible for all the "ukulele revolution" bits in different languages. Great vocals came in from VintageFL, Arch Larizza, Dave Parsons (sub-bass singer), Craig Robertson, Phil Doleman, Zathras and Jana. Craig also sent the slide guitar part and Phil some uke bits. I added everything in; all the singing to the end chorus and Phil's uke in the intro and end chorus. I chopped in Craig's slide guitar part and resisted the urge to have it all the way through the whole track. Craig is an awesome guitar player.

I then overdubbed triangle, shaker, slide whistle, tambourine and the main lead uke solo. In this session I finally recorded my main vocal and 3 part harmony. A few days later Jugs came round and added tabla. The final recording was Jodie my 12 year old, ukulele playing, niece who sang on the second chorus and through the final chorus, she did this in one take (more wow).

It then took about two weeks to make sense of the mix. I wanted everything to be heard and spent a lot of time cutting out little bits and playing around with the blend of voices. Everything was mixed in cubasesx and all the effects are all in software. I ended up keeping the synth bass, despite trying both samples and a real bass. I found the biggest issue was keeping the energy through the track; I used some compression and tape saturation effects on the master channel to help keep everything tight. I used a valve pre effect on most of the vocals which helps to warm them up and used a reverb send effect for all the vocals and ukes which helped them sit together well. The reverb was a simulation of Abbey Road studio B and gave lushness to the choir; I had to be careful not to add too much as this made everything mushy. I used a lot of automated mixing to highlight different singers and parts.

The final mix was mastered in wavlab; I used eq and compression to achieve the required sound and a spectrum analysis to help look for any rogue frequencies. The final master was normalised, dithered and rendered to mp3.

The whole EP thing was an after thought; I wanted to properly celebrate everyone's marvellous contributions (and show off my rock uke).

I want to say a big thanks to everyone for their help.

I do hope we can have more internet musical collaborations in the future.

Be seeing you,

Below is a screen shot of the mix in cubase, you may be interested to see when the different parts are playing.

The Hypnotist

Today I have posted my version of Craig Robertson's song "The Hypnotist". If you are not aware of Craig, he is one of the best songwriters and ukulele players around and you should check out the excellent downloads on his website.

Last week when cycling to the supermarket I began singing "The Hypnotist" and I imagined a reggae version. I think it was the bass line that came first and the rest of the arrangement just slotted together. I got home and quickly noted down the idea. Over the next few days I found time to record the bass and drum parts into cubase. I felt that I needed to get this track done more quickly than usual, so on Monday Mrs Nipper kindly looked after the little Nippers which allowed me to spend the whole day and night recording ukulele parts and a vocal track. I recorded lots of X chord rhythms which form the introduction and end of the song. Working late into the night I tidied up tracks and picked the best takes until I had a basic version laid out and ready to be mixed.

Yesterday I spent much of the day mixing; I used vst effects to add compression, reverb, delay and eq to the tracks and then balanced the mix, panning to create a stereo picture. I usually then use the automated mixing in cubase to further work the track, but in this case the balance sounded good so I decided to post it. I will probably do a full on Dub mix in a few weeks time and this will definitely require an automated mix to trigger all the delays and balance more complex effects. I used a Stagg soprano and a Risa classic concert ukulele to record all the ukulele parts. The melodica is an old Hohner soprano, which sounds great with ukulele and lends an authentic reggae vibe. The bass and drums were played on keyboards to trigger samples of the real instruments. "The Hypnotist" is a great song and I hope you like my version.

About My Songs

The first song "Bound for Ukeland" is in response to a bulletin board posting about scratch recording gear. Over the years I've moved away from making songs simply and take months to 'produce' a track. I wanted the old feeling of song writing back, so I wrote and recorded this tribute to in just one day. I used a Sony mic and recorded straight to minidisk, I then transferred it to my PC and mastered it to mp3. Thanks to Zathras for making it the Ukeland Theme song.

The Second Track "Harmony Dub" is an adaptation of a song by Jeff Reed and Charlie Thorley from the reggae band Skaville Train. It was originally called "Living in Harmony" and my version features a sample of Jeff singing from a live recording of the song. The song was never released, so I thought I would do a ukulele version. You may also recognise some of the ukulele riffs are the same as those used in the His Master's Ukulele Theme. The track is inspired by the cult TV series ‘The Prisoner’ and features references to number 6 and the episode ‘Living in Harmony’. My friend Jugs is playing the congas and I'm doing the rest. This track took months to make.

I make a lot of Dub reggae ukulele music so I should perhaps explain what this is. The Dub style was invented in the 1970's by producers like Lee Scratch Perry and King Tubby who took already recorded reggae songs, took away most things from the mix and then used delays and effects to change the song into something completely different. I make this sort of music with the addition of ukuleles.

Be seeing you,


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