In the clips below, I have selected just a few examples of some superb playing of the banjo uke from well-known English players from the present and the past. There are many more I could give you, and in many other styles of playing as well, but for the time being enjoy these clips from ‘You Tube’.
1. Andy Eastwood’s live ‘on-stage’ rendition of ‘The William Tell Overture’ is a fabulous way to begin these classic clips. His technique is superb and his 1929 Ludwig banjo uke sounds fabulous. Click HERE to watch Andy Eastwood.
2. The late, great, Billy ‘Uke’ Scott was a younger and less well known contemporary of George Formby, but unlike Formby, Billy wrote almost all of his songs himself, and technically he was reckoned by many to be an even better player of the banjo uke. Very few clips of him performing are publicly available, and this is the only one that I have so far been able to find. This amateur recording of Billy was made back in 1990 and isn’t of the best quality, but it is enough to give you a flavour of just how good this man was. His technique, timing and rhythm are brilliant, and he plays his 1930’s Abbott ‘Monarch’ banjo uke to perfection. Click HERE to watch Billy ‘Uke’ Scott.
3. Although he died back in March 1961, the late, great George Formby was one of the greatest entertainers that Britain ever produced. He had few of the perceived attributes for show business, let alone stardom; he wasn’t good looking, he couldn’t sing, he couldn’t act, and he couldn’t tell jokes, all of which meant that he was going nowhere fast. But his fortune changed when one night (in the Alhambra Theatre, Barnsley) for a bet, he played a ukulele on stage at the end of his act, and the rest - as they say - was history. He made his name in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, singing popular, amusing, and uplifting songs in the dark days before, during and after World War Two. The combination of his unusual voice, the songs, and his tremendous playing of the banjo uke (and occasionally, of the ukulele), were simply dynamite.
My first clip of George Formby is of him playing ‘Hitting the High Spots Now’, from the film ‘Trouble Brewing’ in 1939. Here, he does a great solo on his 1927 Abbott ‘Monarch’ banjo uke. Click HERE to watch it. The next clip is from the 1938 film ‘I See Ice’, when George plays the song ‘In My Little Snapshot Album’ to the lovely Kay Walsh. Watch how George plays this song on his Gibson UB-3 banjo uke HERE. Thirdly we have George playing ‘Home Guard Blues’ which was recorded in 1942 during the filming of ‘Get Cracking’ (which was released in 1943). Watch him play this song on his Ludwig banjo uke HERE. Finally, the first song on this two song clip (the second song isn’t a particularly good one) is the original recording of ‘Riding in the T.T. Races’ in 1935. On this record, George plays a slow solo on his Ludwig banjo uke. Listen carefully to it then try and play it like he did, and you’ll realise just how accomplished his playing was. It may not have been his fastest, but I’ve always thought thought that the solo he plays on this record is one of his best that he ever played on the banjo uke. The solo he plays in the 1935 film itself (played on the ukulele) isn’t a patch on this. Enjoy it HERE.
4. Jack Jones was a great friend of mine and I still reckon that he was the best banjo uke player that I have ever heard. He never played quickly but his rhythm was fantastic and his technique was simply superb. He died in 2002 but he will always be sadly missed by those of us who knew him. The first clip dates from 1992 and shows Jack in his prime, playing the song ‘Believe it or Not’ on his Gibson UB-3. Enjoy it HERE. The second, later clip, shows a frail looking Jack singing one of his favourite songs, ‘On the Other Side of the World’. Click HERE to watch it. The solos in both of these clips are terrific.
5. John Shreeve is a great player of the banjo uke. Listen to his wonderful rendition of the classic solo from George Formby’s hit song ‘You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming’, HERE.
6. Peter Moss is a musical genius. Not only can he play at least nine musical instruments to an incredibly high standard, but he is also a really nice, helpful and friendly bloke as well. Listen to his solo banjo uke talents HERE.
7. Steve Helme is another great musician, a long-standing friend of mine and a great bloke as well. Hugely talented on a number of different instruments he loves the banjo uke, and a great example of his playing can be found by clicking HERE.
8. I’ve known Steven Sproat for more years than I care to remember. He always was a tremendous uke player and now he’s better than ever. He’s a good friend and a really nice bloke, so I hope you enjoy this great rendition of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ recorded in 2007 at the New York Ukulele Festival by clicking HERE.
9. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are absolutely brilliant and they have played a huge part in the rise in popularity of the ukulele throughout the past decade and more. Their shows are a combination of accomplished musicianship, wonderful humour, and fantastic entertainment, so if you’ve never been to see them you should do so at the earliest opportunity. Here is Hester Goodman singing ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ in a performance of the UOGB from 2009. Click HERE to enjoy the lovely ukulele playing, the wonderful rhythms, and the excellent singing.
Thanks for listening to these clips. I want to add clips of other brilliant players like Ray Bernard, Andrew Palmer and Mike Warren, but I haven’t got any to upload. Let’s hope I find some before too long.