Scarlett and Amelia
In my last blog post I mentioned that I only owned an acoustic ukulele when I played my first gig and this is the story of how that came about.
The first instrument I ever even vaguely learned to play was the keyboard back in year 7. Keyboard club used to be on Wednesdays after school and one of my friends who sometimes carpooled with me and my mum wanted to go there so I swung by to check it out. It ended up being a rather fun experience and it led to my dad buying me a keyboard as a late reward for my year 6 SATS results (level 5 in science and maths and level 4 in English - I never really liked English that much anyway).
This keyboard was actually my first instrument, but that doesn't make for a very interesting story and I don't really count it because writing this blog is actually the first time I've thought of it in that way. I sort of feel bad for the thing because it's just propped up against the wall in my room (pictured right) and I hardly ever play it - I'll do something with it tomorrow, I promise.
Through year 7, I visualised how I would use this keyboard to write incredible songs and have an instantly successful music career, even imagining what my single covers and music videos would look like, but I never really got to the stage where I could write music for keyboard or even sing at the same time as playing. The arrangements I came up with in my head for potential songs always featured a lot of brass for some reason and I didn't think of how this would all come together with my rather limited setup and skills.
At some point I gave up and stored the keyboard under my bed for a few years. It came out a few times when I needed to practice for a music lesson (which I dropped before GCSE since I enjoyed it but was much better at science and geography).
At another point when I was 11, my sister wanted to learn guitar and my mum bought her a 3/4 size acoustic. My mum is a pretty good classical guitarist and she said she would teach both of us when I expressed my interest. Classical guitar, as it turned out, didn't really interest me. Some advice for anyone wanting to learn an instrument - start by learning things you know and like. If my mum liked Green Day as much as I did, things could have been very different.
Anyway, jumping forward a little bit, my sister was given a ukulele for Christmas 2011. She developed an interest in it by watching YouTubers like Charlie McDonnell and Alex Day. I'm aware of how that might sound now but I'm sure a lot of people got into running because of Jimmy Savile; be it for exercise, charity or pure fear.
At some point in February 2012, I came back from a trip to Nando's with some friends and asked my sister to teach me some of the basics. I was able to pick up C, G, Am, F, D and Em relatively quickly and the first song she taught me was Alex Day's "Forever Yours". I still maintain that it's a good song. Nothing can change that.
A few weeks of looking up chords for pop songs and learning how to play them later, I decided that the time was right to get my own ukulele. My mum offered to buy one for me at the start of the Easter holidays, which I was truly thankful for. I was still unsure if the whole ukulele thing would be a phase or not, so I chose an apple green Aria soprano ukulele which was only £20.
On the drive back home, I tuned my new friend, played some of the songs in the song books we had also picked up, tuned it again and tuned it some more (new ukuleles, especially cheap ones, lose their tuning very quickly and need some time for the strings to get used to being at playing tightness).
I also decided to name my new friend. I knew that I would want to give something that I was going to be this close to a girl's name and wanted to choose a name that was as strong as it was graceful. I must have watched Night At The Museum 2 a week or two before this day because Amy Adams's portrayal of Amelia Earhart stuck out to me. And so I took Amelia home and made beautiful music with her until my fingers felt strangely sore. This was what I would come to know as the development of the calluses on my left hand which made playing a lot easier.
I did notice problems, though. Her action was a little too high and notes on the first fret would sound weird due to the overstretching. I searched around to see if that was just a feature of ukuleles and it wasn't, so Amelia was taken back to the shop. I also sort of regretted choosing the name Amelia since I now preferred Scarlett (after Miss Scarlett in Cluedo) so a new ukulele would be the thing to solve all my problems in this area.
I was sad to see Amelia go, but Scarlett opened up a whole new realm of possibilities, like playing an F chord without it sounding horrible. She was also the same model and colour as Amelia so the only way you would know that the first photo was Amelia is if I told you, which I did.
Scarlett didn't sound perfect, but my untrained ears didn't know that. I had something to make music with and I was happy enough with that.
Scarlett happened to come with a case, which was useful for when I decided to travel into London for a Tumblr meetup. I knew no one there, but having Scarlett and knowledge of the chords of a few pop songs with me helped me to make friends - more than I had ever made before, in fact. One of the friends I made that day is pictured on the right with Scarlett. This day really marked a turning point in my life - a lot of people actually actively and unambiguously wanted to be around me and wanted to see me again. It was this day that really cemented my love of music and playing live. Expect a blog post on it at some point.
I kept going to meetups and became more open to decorating Scarlett a little - I spelled my name in masking tape on her back and on the front I put the sticker from an apple, a sticker of the Apple logo and a Tumblr sticker which I got from another meetup some time in that summer.
Instruments do often get damaged and in September 2012 I noticed that Scarlett's 12th fret had fallen off. I had absolutely no idea how this had happened or where the fret had gone. This was no real big deal since I never played that high up anyway.
I took her to university with me and one of the first things I did when meeting my flatmates was mentioning that I played ukulele so they asked me to play something for them. While I was getting Scarlett from my room, one of them apparently said to the others, 'guys, what if he's not very good?'. They seemed to like me because I only heard about that a few weeks later.
Just over a month later, disaster struck. I was in my room at university and Scarlett was leaning against my desk drawers. I moved my chair and heard a sliding noise, followed by a loud bang. I looked down and the unthinkable had happened:
It took a while for the shock to register and shortly after taking this picture, I rushed to the engineering building to ask if anyone would be able to repair her. I was directed to the carpenter, who fortunately was interested in guitars, who told me to come back in 2 days. I did and Scarlett was good as new once again, glued back together and a screw holding the neck to the body for extra support.
The last time I played Scarlett in public was at my first open mic night with Warwick Bandsoc, where I was the first performer of the night and I played my song "Sweets for my Sweet". I still hadn't got the hang of microphones because I remember moving around quite a lot.
Scarlett doesn't see much use these days but she still hangs on my wall, tuned and ready for another song. Such as this one: