Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Frank Skinner on George Formby and the Ukulele – Part 1

So, what’s not to like about Frank Skinner?  As a Brummie myself, I’ve always been fond of Frank.  (Yes. I feel I know him well enough to call him ‘Frank’; he’s that sort of bloke, isn’t he?)  I enjoyed reading both of his autobiographies though he doesn’t seem old enough for two volumes.  What I like about Frank is there’s nothing pretentious about him.  He’s not afraid to talk about his past in an open and, well, frank manner.

Anyone who saw his programme about George Formby will have picked up on the enthusiasm and affection he has for both Mr. Formby and the ukulele.  He didn’t get in the way of the story, as so many presenters do.  You can usually tell what sort of show it’s going to be if it’s entitled ‘Piers Morgan’s personality shortcomings’ or Joanna Lumley’s predictable comedies’.  This was simply about George Formby and asked some basic questions like, ‘Why was he so popular?’ and ‘What is the appeal of the ukulele today?’

Frank Skinner on George Formby Video

Frank even came within a gnat’s whisker of getting the terminology right.  The instrument that George Formby usually played was a banjolele or ukulele banjo, though I was interested to see a clip of him playing a ukulele.  The mistake people make is partly his fault.  He sang ‘With my little ukulele in my hand’, but it wasn’t.  A ukulele is a small, usually wooden instrument shaped like a guitar.  A banjo is a larger instrument which has a circular resonator.  That’s the bit that’s covered in animal skin and looks like a tambourine.  A banjolele combines the size of the ukulele with the shape of a banjo.  In essence, it looks like a small banjo.

It was interesting listening to Frank talk about what was different about George Formby fans.  The fact that most of them actually play a uke, sets them apart from so many fan clubs.  “Jimmy Hendrix fans don’t take their guitar along to appreciation clubs.”  It’s a very active society. 

Attending the annual George Formby convention in Blackpool, Frank was made very welcome.  He said, “I didn’t meet a single person that I didn’t like.  They have warmth to them”.  There didn’t seem to be any one-upmanship.  Grown-ups and children seemed to get a lot of pleasure from simply playing together in a non competitive forum; so refreshing in these days of ‘Young Musician of the Year’/‘The X Factor’/‘Britain’s got Talent’/’You’re rubbish at entertaining, so why don’t you go away?’  etc.

(to be continued ...)

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