Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Frank Skinner on George Formby and the Ukulele, Part 2

While sharing his own enthusiasm for the ukulele, Frank Skinner, in his recent TV programme about George Formby, was keen to tell us about the man himself.  (Frank Skinner on George Formby and the Ukulele part 1). George Formby’s father, George senior, was also a very popular singer and entertainer who made a very good living.  George’s upbringing was a far cry from being poor and working class.  George junior actually started out impersonating his father’s act.  It wasn’t until he met his future wife and business manager, Beryl that he found his act being redefined.  She put him into a suit and placed the banjolele at the centre of his act.  He gave her a lot of credit for his success.    

We were treated to some fine clips from George’s twenty four or so films, all of which, according to Frankie, followed more or less the same story line, i.e. gormless boy meets girl, evil/bad man causes problems, boy solves problem and gets the girl.  Songs and ukulele playing were shoe horned in along the way. 

That didn’t mean that Mr. Formby had nothing to offer.  Anyone who has ever picked up a ukulele will have appreciated the speed and the skill with which he played.  Take a close look at his technique.  Not only is his right hand action incredibly fast, but listen to the variety of rhythms he works into his solos.  It’s often syncopated, full of triplets and he even varies the way he makes contact with the ukulele strings, sometimes playing with a finger, a thumb, his fingernails or all of his fingers.  The sound is quite overwhelming.

As an aside, Frank went into a primary school classroom in an attempt to pass some of George’s expertise onto some ukulele wielding children.  That’s another attractive thing about the ukulele.  The technique can be as simple or as complicated as you like.  With only a few chords and a flexible right hand, even young children can play a whole host of songs.  Perhaps it’s time for the ukulele to replace the recorder in the classroom.

It was a real treat to see Andy Eastwood play.  Watch the video below and be impressed!

Andy Eastwood playing the ‘William Tell Overture’. 

His playing really is most impressive, though I do find his rictus grin a little disturbing.
While on the subject of performance, is the Lancashire accent really necessary?  Are we acknowledging the man and his music or simply doing an impersonation?

George himself was most revealing and sincere in the clips shown from his 1960s special.  His sentiment about stardom is something that some of today’s entertainers could think about.  In short, he said that it’s the public that makes an entertainer into a star and they should never forget that.  Without an audience, there is no ‘star’.        

Frank Skinner’s program was informative, entertaining and unpretentious.  It showed George Formby to be a thoughtful and talented man who gave and continues to give, a lot of pleasure.  What about the banjolele?  Well, it’s hard to be miserable when you’re playing one.  As Frank said:

“It’s like a little bottle of joy”.

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