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A. J. Sturgess "Alan Sturgess" (UK)
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Pono by Ko'olau MBD Deluxe Solid Mahogany Baritone Ukulele
Pono by Ko'olau MBD Deluxe Solid Mahogany Baritone Ukulele
Offered by Omega Music
Price: £396.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful instrument: lovely sound and exceptionally comfortable to play., 3 April 2015
A superb instrument with a suprisingly rich tone. The action is pleasingly low and with the unusual feature of having a trussrod fitted, neck stability is beyond doubt. These instruments are made to a VERY high standard and workmanship is wonderful. I bought mine from a different seller because, at the time, Omega Music had no MBD's in stock. However, they were generous enough to put me in touch a specialist ukulele shop which was able to supply what I wanted. They were also able to convert it into the MBD(E). That generosity speaks very highly of the ethics and service that Omega will provide. I heartily recommend them.

I'll upload a set of photos which come from a YouTube demo that I have uploaded titled 'Pono MB(E) baritone ukulele' and another whose title explains its purpose ... 'String spacings for a 6 string guitar and two baritone ukuleles'. It is important to point out that although the Pono is a supremely playable and comfortable instrument, the fretboard narrows slightly when it reaches the nut. This is visible in the second YouTube upload where, at times, the Pono is shown beside a cheaper baritone ukulele whose neck does not get narrower.

That narrowing is no problem - it's just something to be aware of.

My Pono came complete with the case shown in one of the photos. This is made by Stagg and is specifically fitted for baritone ukes. However - that was the option offered by the seller from whom I bought it. Don't assume every seller always offers such add-ons as a case, a tuner, spare strings etc. Some do. Some don't. Always read the full item description as uploaded by the seller.

According to what options are offered, the baritone Pono will arrive tuned to either DGBE (the common tunine for baritones) or GCEA. Sets of strings for both tunings are easily available. One slight difficulty for newcomers to baritone ukes is the lack of tutor books and music books which focus upon the DGBE tuning. I have reviewed one or two examples elsewhere on Amazon, but one website I thoroughly recommend if you want a wide range of downloadable pdf's for both tunings is PDF-MINSTREL.
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Paddington [DVD] [2015]
Paddington [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Nicole Kidman
Price: £9.99

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An opportunity missed and oh so many trendy cliches all conspire to make this a disappointing experience., 28 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Paddington [DVD] [2015] (DVD)
This is a VERY hard film to review because you have to look at it from two perspectives:
(1) from the perspective of anyone who knows the original Paddington stories and/or remembers the original TV cartoon series.
(2) from the perspective of anyone who does NOT have that history and who comes to the film with no preconceptions.

My main impression is that many of the cast such as Hugh Bonneville, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters almost acted 'by numbers' and simply resurrected their oft-seen characterisations as oddball 'oldies'. The most blatant example of such a resurrection must surely be Nicole Kidman's character of Millicent which is virtually identical in all respects to the icy, evil character of Marisa Coulter which she portrayed in 'The Golden Compass'. The one exception is the acting and character of Sally Hawkins as Mrs Brown. She creates a loving, dippy, middle-aged hippy character with real energy and liveliness.

There is - almost inevitably for certain types of film - a veritable Who's Who of actors and famous voices who are drafted in for minor appearances and parts ... Matt Lucas, Geoffrey Palmer, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton.

How about Peter Capaldi as Mr Curry? If you recall the original books and series you will find barely a hint of the man - despite Capaldi's attempts to make him just as meddling and annoying. If you don't recall the originals, you'll probably just see him as a rather stereotypical nosey-parker leading a sad lonely life.

The children, Judy and Jonathon, are more believable, especially Jonathon who does capture the childish zeal of the original character.

And then, of course, there's Paddington. He, or rather, his animators, are good and his 'hard stare' is genuinely disconcerting. His movements are nicely quirky and several of his scenes are genuinely funny. (eg: His reactions when the ship's horn blows as he hides in the lifeboat and his unusual use for toothbrushes). Several of the early storylines are massively abridged versions of his original adventures (flooding the bathroom, going on an escalator in the Underground). These are probably just sops for those members of the audience who remember the original stories. They often seem to be there more for effect than as key elements of the storyline and - again almost inevitably - there are musical extracts, shots, scenes or sequences designed to mimic other famous films. (Millicent's version of an iconic 'Mission Impossible' scene).

It's all rather formulaic in those respects.

But then - finally - there's the storyline. This, for me, is the great failing of this film. The incorporation of an evil (albeit cartoonish) taxidermist hell bent on removing Paddington's innards so that he can be stuffed and mounted in a case in the Natural History museum is utterly unnecessary. It's too dark and disturbing for young children and not dark or serious (or silly) enough for adults. It's just plain ridiculous and is only supported as an offshoot of the back-story which seeks (fairly successfully) to explain where Paddington came from and why he's in London. It was surely not beyond the wit of the writer and director to come up with a more whimsical storyline because, after all, what else is Paddington other than a whimsical character attempting to find his way in a new world and environment?

That brings me to my last niggle .... the underlying theme of the Paddington saga is how he leaves his home, becomes lost and then finds a new home. Did the film-makers really have to ram that down our throats in the final few minutes with a moralising homile which drips with so much sugariness as to rival the worst of Disney.

So - all things considered, my take on 'Paddington the movie' is that it has been an opportunity lost. There are too many nods to the current trend of shipping-in established actors to resurrect and sleepwalk through their established characterisations and too strong an attempt to develop a wholly inappropriate scenario for the hero without really identifying the target audience.


4 Strings & The Truth
4 Strings & The Truth
Dvd ~ Robert Stern

4.0 out of 5 stars First 2/3 excellent. Final third loses its focus., 28 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: 4 Strings & The Truth (DVD)
For the most part this is an excellent documentary about the key figures and development of the UOGB but, for me, it lost its way at the end by its lengthy focus on just one (ultimately weak) participant in the tutorial groups that were run at that time. However, the first 2/3 are well worth watching if you want to find out more about the foundation of this brilliant idiosyncratic group.


Treasures from the Folk Den
Treasures from the Folk Den
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £12.97

3.0 out of 5 stars A fairly random selection of songs with far too many different collaborators - and all very 'precise'., 28 Mar. 2015
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I REALLY tried to like this CD. I tried several times but just couldn't bring myself to think of it as a 'keeper'. I've been trying to work out why it failed to live up to expectations.

I have come to the conclusion that it sounds almost sterile - or maybe a better phrase might be 'academically precise'. It's a very clean, acoustically perfect collection of renditions sung by a collection of collaborating performers. Individually, the tracks are mostly good, but heard as a whole there seemed to be too many shifts between genres and voices. The choice of 'treasures' is idiosyncratic to say the least which doesn't engender a sense of musical coherence --- track 3 shanty - track 4 blues - track 5 a reel - track 6 traditional folksong - track 7 gospel(ish). On balance I feel Roger would have been better advised to put together an album of treasures with maybe just Pete Seeger and/or Joan Baez.

I encountered this CD as a result of researching the history of the 12 string guitar and McGuinn's reputation with that instrument does make itself felt on several tracks (acoustic in this instance rather than with an electric 'Ricky'). But, speaking personally, I won't be adding this CD to my fairly extensive collection of recordings which feature 12s. It will, I fear, soon be for sale in my local Oxfam shop in Skipton, uk.


Stonehenge Apocalypse [DVD]
Stonehenge Apocalypse [DVD]
Dvd ~ Misha Collins
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £5.31

4.0 out of 5 stars Truly appalling yet somehow you have to keep watching it, 16 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: Stonehenge Apocalypse [DVD] (DVD)
This is one of those films where you begin by thinking there's a good idea in it somewhere (which there is) and then you HAVE to keep watching it just to see how badly things can go wrong; how many cliches they can cram into it; how many abysmal special effects they can use; how bad the acting can be; how preposterous the scenarios and characters can become etc. etc. etc.

Is it so bad that it's good?

I'd say 'Yes' except that I think it charts a new course .... it starts moderately well then becomes increasingly bad. At this point you enter the 'so good it's bad' phase but then, in the end it just ends up as plain 'bad, bad, bad'.

Yet you STILL have to keep watching it. Truly weird.

Oh yes - and then there's Hill Harper who is surely one of the worst actors of all time. He only seems to have two faces for portraying emotion: either it's a blankness or he flares his nostrils and stares goggle-eyed as if he's just reversed himself onto the horn of some passing goat. He was exactly the same in CSI-NY when his exaggerated 'staryiness' made his characterisations ridiculous. It's ditto in this film. No wonder they cast him as an over zealous fanatical archaeologist soothsayer nutjob.

As one other reviewer suggested - this film is best watched when you're drunk. Or maybe so tired you haven't the strength to reach for the remote.

It's awful.
It's good.
It's ghastly.
It's .... it's ..... O never mind.

Now if only they'd given the basic premise to Ridley Scott ....Ahhhh, there's a thought to conjure with.

Finally, if you really do want an old but still-excellent film about ancient stones and supernatural or alien(ish) overtones, try this ...

Children of the Stones: The Complete Series [DVD]

Another vaguely similar TV film which, to be honest, hasn't stood the test of time, is this one ... This is also ruined by too much hysteria and over-acting, but it might be a better choice than 'Stonehenge Apocalypse' ...

The Stone Tape [1972] [DVD]


Guitar Chords Deluxe
Guitar Chords Deluxe
by Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Compact and comprehensive with highly detailed diagrams and photos. All chords shown with 5 voicings., 15 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Guitar Chords Deluxe (Paperback)
I just found this book on a stall in our local village hall flea market. It's really superb - EVERY chord is shown using traditional diagrams and an associated clear and coloured photo. Every chord is shown using five voicings. The first shape will be at the top of the neck and then there are four inversions which show positions further down the fretboard. Use the 'Look inside' option provided by Amazon and you'll see what I mean.

The book is a compact A5 size and, although using a glued spine, it opens in such a way that it is quite easy to keep it open at a page without too much hassle. There are edge markers such as are often found in telephone directories. These make it easier to go straight to the pages which feature the chord you want.

All-in-all, a really excellent book.


Transcendence [DVD]
Transcendence [DVD]
Dvd ~ Johnny Depp
Price: £5.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthwhile and enjoyable film which should make you think., 8 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: Transcendence [DVD] (DVD)
I always try to write objective review so that even when I'm referring to my own particular stongly-held opinions, I endeavour to explain and justify them. Such will be the case with this review of 'Transcendence'.

I thus need to begin by saying that for some reason (I know not what), I've long been drawn to books or films which are built on the theme of a human mind expanding beyond the limits of the skull inside which it resides. One of my all-time favourite books is 'Star Fire' by Ingo Swann. I also really enjoyed the recent film 'Lucy' and, in the past, I thoroughly enjoyed James Follett's novel 'Trojan'

Star Fire

Lucy [DVD] [2014]

Trojan

In very different ways, each of those stories embrace the theme that I outlined. 'Star Fire' is, I suppose, a more spiritual story whereas 'Lucy' uses the theme of drug enhancement. 'Trojan', on the other hand, has more to do with the idea of an alien virus entering and infecting electronic chips and machines on Earth. 'Transcendence' is also based on the idea of electronics but in this case it's the concept of a human mind entering, inhabiting and then expanding the internet to the point where it seems about to break free.

Judging by some reviews, the fact that Johnny Depp is the key star has been a bit of a problem for some people because he isn't in the film 'in the flesh' except at the start and the very end. Inbetween, he plays himself as an electronic image - a manifestation of his 'presence' inside the internet. This is a 'problem' I intend to ignore because, for me, that isn't much of a reason to detract from the film. The key thing, surely, is whether or not the film and the story work.

In essence, they do. The whole field and concept of artificial intelligence is one that is developing at an astonishing rate. The basis of this film is that the previous sentence should have been 'The whole field and concept of artificial intelligence is one that is developing at an ALARMING rate.' This is, after all, a science fiction story and as such the existence and possible future(s) of social media, electronic communication and electronics within and throughout society are all fair game. Whether or not this film effectively portrays a future in which a human mind is 'copied' into the internet and whether or not that consciousness would carry with it such attributes as self-awareness, conscience and a soul are the foundations of the ideas in this film.

For me, with my admitted predilection for this sort of story, 'Transcendence' is both interesting and largely successful. I wasn't quite so keen on the zombie-like images of those characters who had been injured and who subsequently arose again after apparent injury or death - but that's more a criticism of the imagery rather than the idea, and it wasn't overdone to the extent where you actually start to think 'Oh no, this is turning into a zombie movie'. It doesn't. It isn't worth deducting a star for those few brief moments.

Another reason why I like this film is the way in which you are initially uncertain as to why the early scenes place so much emphasis upon droplets of water falling off a flower and then, in the very final scene, you see the same thing again as two droplets fall into a small puddle. In a way, this is the crux of the film and might well lead you to think 'Hello - maybe things haven't really gone as haywire as they seem'. Or maybe you'll wonder if those droplets actually represent insane selfishness on the part of Depp's character. Or maybe you'll just dismiss the droplets as a pretty but irrelevant image with which to end the film.

That's all up to you.

In the end, I believe that if you approach this film with an open mind, you can enjoy it both as a good science fiction yarn and also as bearing within it an idea that should well make you think again about how (and when) artificial intelligence will make the next leap. And as for the direction of that leap .... who knows?

Are we heading towards something that will be more like the creation of the Terminator's 'Skynet' - or are we heading towards something more benign? Or might our future be something else altogether? Those are the key questions at the heart of this film.


Ukulele Fingerpicking: No music background required
Ukulele Fingerpicking: No music background required
by Mr. Dick Claassen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.33

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well-structured course BUT you have to use a non-standard 'Open C' tuning (GCEg), 5 Mar. 2015
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This is undoubtedly a well-sequenced tutor book. Emphasis is placed upon using tablature which is easy to understand as long as you pay attention to the more traditional ways in which timings are notated. (eg: the use of 'tied' notes almost from the start in examples such as 'Daisy Daisy').

BUT - and in my view this is fairly major 'But' .... the author does NOT use the usual GCEA tuning. Instead, he uses 'Open C' tuning which is GCEg. This means that traditional chord charts for ukuleles tuned GCEA will not work. As example: the chord of 'C' as shown in all chord dictionaries is Open-Open-Open-3rd fret. In this book the same chord is a barre:- Open -- Open -- Open - Open. (On a GCEA uke, that chord of all open strings would play C6)

Everything depends upon how wedded you are to wanting to learn ukulele using the standard tuning. Claassen's use of slack-key tuning wouldn't stop you playing with other ukulele players, nor would it stop you playing when you are using lyrics associated with chord names. You COULD have a problem is you wanted to play using lyrics and/or notation when you are just shown chord diagrams instead of chord names.

Claassen provides his own chord dictionary for 'Open C' but this only covers 21 chords. (B7 is NOT covered). The URL at the back of the book (with associated password) allows you to download and print his chart plus lots of associated mp3 files to help you with every tune and exercise he covers.

One big plus is that several of the major chords in at least one version are barres:

On a GCEA uke, the chord of D is 2 -- 2 -- 2 - 5th fret.
On an Open C uke, the chord is a barre across the 2nd fret ( 2 - 2 - 2 - 2)

On a GCEA uke, the chord of E is 4 - 4 - 4 -- 2
On an Open C uke, the chord is a barre across the 4th fret ( 4 - 4 - 4 - 4)

Other chords require a different sort of tweak ...

On a GCEA uke, the chord of Fm is 1 - Open - 1 -- 3
On an Open C uke, the chord is 1 - Open - 1 - 1

In general, Claassen is right that the Open C tuning does make things easier but the fact remains that you will be using a tuning that many other uke players will not be using. His chord chart gives you 15 chord shapes at the 1st position (top of the neck) and the remainder at positions ranging from the 5th fret to the 10th. After that, if you encounter tunes or songs which require the use of chords he does not use or illustrate, you're pretty well on your own. However, if you search the internet using the keywords `Ukulele' and `Open C' you will find additional information. One site even has a free download of an old 1915 manual titled `Santos Nunes Original Ukulele Method' which features open tuning (it's actually not all that useful, but there are a few pages of chord diagrams, but it also uses the DGBD tuning which would now be called a `baritone' open tuning). If you search more estensively than I did, you may well find more useful sites and resources for ukulele Open C .... or you could look for guitar Open C chords and ignore the 5th and 6th strings.

So - in the end it comes down to this ....

Does it matter to you that you have to use a non-standard tuning relative to the majority of players who will be using GCEA (or the baritone DGBE). Or are you more interested in learning fingerpicking techniques?

My only other niggle is that at 210 pages, this is a thick book and without a spiral binding, you eventually end up cracking the spine to keep it open.


MEDIUM FELT PICK PACK OF 4 x 4mm GENUINE CLEARWATER PLECTRUMS FOR UKULELE NYLON STRUNG GUITAR ETC
MEDIUM FELT PICK PACK OF 4 x 4mm GENUINE CLEARWATER PLECTRUMS FOR UKULELE NYLON STRUNG GUITAR ETC
Offered by Really Useful Music Company (RUMC)
Price: £4.49

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent quality, but be sure you understand what felt picks are and what they can be used for, 1 Mar. 2015
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It seems odd to write a detailed review for a guitar pick, but judging by some of the reviews posted thus far, some buyers either don't realise what they're buying, or they simply say the items are OK or were bought for someone else.

Let's look at specifics ...

These picks are MUCH thicker and bigger than those used with guitars.
A standard guitar pick is around 3CM long, the Xlearwater felt pick is 3.8cm
A standard guitar pick is around 2.6cm at its widest point. The Clearwater is 3cm.
A standard guitar pick is often between 0.6mm and 0.8mm thick. The Clearwater is 4mm.

Felt picks give ukuleles a harder, edgier tone than when you use thumb and fingers. They are excellent for percussive strumming but need significant practice for melody or cross-picking styles.

As a ganeral rule, newcomers to the ukulele are best advised to avoid using picks (especially plastic picks) until they have some experience. The early use of thumb and fingers allows you to experience and explore the potential subtleties of the ukulele. Too early a use of picks might steer newcomers towards thinking of the ukulele as a small guitar which, in reality, it is, but which, also in reality, it isn't because it has its own unique sound and possibilities. Playing a ukulele with a pick is best tried when you see that as a way of EXPANDING your repertoire of sounds and styles, rather than as the basis for starting out.

However, I am assuming that you are considering these Clearwater picks as a way of doing just that, rather than as a way of playing your first ukulele. In that context, these are excellent picks - not too hard and yet definitely useful and usable.

I haven't tries using felt picks with the smaller ukeleles (I play baritone uke), so I can't comment on how that combination works. I'm guessing felt picks would be best for strumming when playing a smaller ukulele.

After a lot of faffing about, I think I managed to upload a few photos I've taken to illustrate this review but Amazon now seems to make it very hard to do this. (It looks as if you can only add photos if you use the new review format ... the previous system seems to have been discontinued when you use the previous review format). Even so, no option appeared which would allow me to add comments for the photos - but they should be self explanatory within the context of the review.

Finally, and just in case you have a deeper-than-usual interest in the whole topic of picks, plectra and all things plectrum-like, this book is an absolute gem.
Weird - Yes.
Unusual - Yes.
Fascinating - Definitely.

Picks!: Colorful Saga of Vintage Celluloid Guitar Plectrums' by Will Hoover
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Ukulele! a Strummer's Guide
Ukulele! a Strummer's Guide
by Jez Quayle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for beginners but I disagree with one element, 27 Feb. 2015
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This is an excellent book for beginners and possibly for intermediate players or those returning to the instrument later in life after initial interest in childhood. Anyone with some experience who wants to freshen up their knowledge of strumming techniques and rhythms will find something of use in this book. However, I'd not recommend it for players with any real level of experience.

The traditional use of nonsense phrases to exemplify strumming rhythms is very well done and is intuitively used and encourages you to use the same method to work out your own rhythms. For example: jing jing-a JING jing --- or --- something like: jing jing-a JING jing a-jing jing jing --- or maybe a variant such as --- jing jing-a JING jing a-jing jing JING!

Subsequent sections on such themes as 'the three chord' trick should be equally interesting and useful for beginners.

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There is a key reason why I award only 4 stars ......

One point I'm not convinced about is the early use and illustration of a plectrum rather than the more usual finger and thumb style of strumming used by many uke players. Try a plectrum later on by all means - but I'm not convinced that's a good idea especially for beginners who might well use a hard pick and slice their strings or damage the top of their instrument if they are truly starting from scratch. (No pun intended). Using fingers and your thumb is a MUCH more tactile experience and allows you to explore the subtleties and nuances of an instrument which can so easily sound tinny or harsh. Pick up a pick later on if you want to, but don't begin that way .... and if you are a beginner, never, never, NEVER start by using a plastic pick. Alternatives for uke players are usually made of leather or felt. These are substantially thicker than plastic picks so, again, are not really suitable until you have some experience playing. When you are ready for a few experiments with picks, I can recommend these ...

MEDIUM FELT PICK PACK OF 4 x 4mm GENUINE CLEARWATER PLECTRUMS FOR UKULELE NYLON STRUNG GUITAR ETC

or these ...

FIRM FELT PICK PACK OF 4 x 4mm GENUINE CLEARWATER PLECTRUMS FOR UKULELE NYLON STRUNG GUITAR ETC

But do remember - if you have any experience of using normal guitar picks, these are very, VERY different. Please think carefully if you're a beginner.

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YouTube is almost overflowing with uploads featuring the ukulele, strumming patterns etc. One especially clear and useful one for beginners can be found if you search for '5 Beginner Ukulele Strumming Patterns' uploaded by by anthemofadam. His version of 'jing- jing-a' is the easy-to-understand notation D U D D U which he demonstrates with great clarity. I thoroughly recommend this if you're a beginner.

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Some folks may want a CD - but the book is so clearly written that this isn't needed. If you want something like that, I'd recommend seeing if you can find 'Ukulele 101. Sheet Music, CD for Ukulele with strumming patterns' (published by Hal Leonard).

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An interesting feature of 'Strummer's Guide' is that it is published through Lulu ... if you don't know what that is, it's a way to publish your own books free of charge apart from the percentage levied by Lulu every time one of your books is ordered. Jez Quayle has gone down this route and has included an ISBN code so that his book can be stocked and sold through other outlets. In his case, all profits go to 'Save the Children' rather than into his own bank account.

This a good book in many ways albeit for a relatively limited audience. However, once bought, it benefits both the buyer and 'Save the children'.


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