I just got back from playing with Brian Cullen and guests in Nagoya Japan. This was a wonderful evening in a small bar Country Joes which was like a small part of Americana in the middle of Japan. It was fascinating to play some of my songs for the first time arranged for mandolin and guitar as a duo. It was also great to sit in with many other great artists. There’s a wonderful “Anything can happen” vibe to the proceedings and I loved it. I’m hoping to do something similar in Austin Texas this Sept. Its a real joy to be playing original music in Japan and showing how the mighty ukulele can be used to create a wide range of music.
This is my 16th trip to Japan and I continue to be inspired and delighted by Japanese design, especially with musical instruments. I’m very aware of whats available in the UK, Europe and USA, but in Japan there seems to be a whole new level of atttention to detail. I’m also increasingly discovering many amazing ukulele stores which have led to some new family members returning to the UK. Whether its musical instruments, gardens, buildings or trains, the Japanese in my view are ahead of the rest of the world. I already have the diary booked for return trips in 2018 and 2019 and can’t wait to explore more of this amazing country
I’ll let the pictures here speak for themselves
Such sad news to Hear Bill Collings passed. He was a true genius and will be greatly missed. I met him a few years back and did a great interview with him http://originalukulelesongs.com/article-2/
I own 4 of his ukes, tenor guitar and an I35, all of which are amazing
This is the 16th time I have visited Japan and this visit reconfirms to me just how much the Japanese love the ukulele. In the last two days I visited 3 stores in Tokyo alone which have a vastly greater range of ukes that anywhere else I have seen or heard of in the UK or Europe. The range of quality is quite staggering and today our guide my good friend Takahiro Shimo showed us many of his instruments and some stores, one of which has been around for almost 100 years. The final store on our “Shimo trip” had a museum of ukuleles including many extremely rare Martin ukuleles that I have only seen in books.
These three stores have the standard range you would expect for beginners and enthusiasts, but what is crucially different are the high-end instruments that you’d never see in the UK at all. It’s an absolute joy to be able to play these in the same acoustic space and shows just how much the Japanese regard the ukulele as a musical instrument rather than something to bang out a few chords! (Not that playing a few verses of Wagon Wheel is a crime) I am also struck from talking to be people about the OUS platform that there is more of a seriousness and enthusiasm for music rather than the uke being a focus for community get togethers. Such strum alongs are of course fine and fun, but there seems here to be a greater musical appreciation and that’s reflected in what’s on offer in the marketplace. I think many players and builders would love to visit here and see what’s on offer
In my other life for my years I have taught about treating and resolving all manner of problem behaviours including depression, anxiety, food disorders and phobias. I teach my own PCW model in 13 overseas countries and this week I’ll be teaching medics in Japan for 16th time, before heading back to the USA for the third time this year in September.
Creating CDs using music for a change in well being
As well as being a massive fan of listening to music, I have used music in my own work for almost two decades including releasing many spoken word music products long before discovering the mighty ukulele. Back in 2001 I recorded the CD “The Adventures of Well Being Now” which was specifically for clients with anxiety related conditions. Often such clients have hyperactive thinking which triggers anxiety and this usually leads to bouts of depression. This is unfortunately very common among musicians and over the years a number of high profile artists have been clients of mine. The Adventures CD used Ericksonian language patterns to assist clients in slowing down to discover a better sense of “Well, being now” which of course itself is a deliberate linguistic ambiguity.
It’s no surprise to me that music is now commonly accepted as highly useful in treated all manner of psychological conditions and especially those that involve memory loss as music is seen to stimulate the brain in useful ways. Other client conditions like anger issues usually are the result of too much hyperactive thinking. Of course, “hyperactive thinking” can be as useful as it is problematic depending on the context where this is taking place. Many such clients often speak at a fast rate which is a mirror image of their own internal thoughts. Such folks usually have problems connecting with work colleagues and become frustrated with other individuals, as everyone else seems “to be driving way too slowly” The upside is that the quick thinkers can usually multi task and problem solve in ways others can’t.
The introduction of music changes the way in which internal dialogue is being experienced and crucially addresses the issue of problematic speed. It’s like having a car that previously only has 6th and 1st gear; by involving music a person can discover “the others gears” essential for a healthier life. I have had many articles published on the importance of changing internal dialogue which in turn changes unhelpful states of mind. In these instances, music is mostly used to slow down a person’s thinking, but this is just one of many uses.
Working with athletes
In working with athletes’ music can be used to crank up states as well as slow them down. This of course is nothing new and it’s easy to spot all manner of professional sportspeople wearing headphones to block out external sounds and suggestions as well as focusing the mind and emotions. In my own work, I mostly focus on how a person processes information rather than on content which is usually not helpful. Here’s a testimonial from one of the clients I have worked with, where in this case we explored changing internal thinking with music and other elements. What I love about such client conditions is that its measurable.
“In the space of a month I met with Nick on three occasions and made instant improvements in my approach to competitions – I was happier, more confident, less effected by poor weather conditions and always ready to race. Each time I visited Nick I was able to tell him – almost unbelievably – that I had won another race. It was almost becoming boring. But only almost!
After a successful early season, the help Nick had given me really came to fruition on the day of the 2014 Commonwealth Games Trials. I was approaching the most significant race of the weekend, where the outcome would determine whether I would or would not be selected for Glasgow 2014. The pressure was intense, weather conditions were far from ideal and added to that I was tired having already run three top level races that weekend. I believe that ordinarily and without Nicks help I would have “gone to pieces” in that situation. Instead I ran a lifetime best time of 23.94, breaking through the elusive 24.00 second barrier to land on the podium.
Five days later I was officially selected for The XX Commonwealth Games – Glasgow 2014.”
Lucy Evans – International 100m, 200m and 4×100m relay athlete
Working with Alzheimers and other conditions
When somebody keeps thinking exactly the same way, they usually feel the same way as well and of course the exact same behaviours then follow. In conditions like Alzheimer’s music has been shown to usefully stimulate parts of the brain that allow for greater connectivity and expression. The “Alive Inside” movie in 2014 made some very useful observations which mirror my own longstanding experience of working with clients.
Of course, the very act of physically playing an instrument can also be highly useful in changing a person’s feeling state as well as developing a sense of rhythm. Small instruments like the ukulele are often a good starting point for creating and exploring music. There’s also a community benefit to people playing instruments that is good for emotional well being. I have often lamented the fact that in “uke world” music comes second place to community gathering, but such gathering and sense of belonging to a tribe does have many benefits and of course from a psychological perspective communal strumming is a terrific way of creating group rapport.
We live in a world of sound and vision, so it should be no surprise that adjusting these elements will in turn adjust how we then experience life. I’m about to head to Japan where I’ll be running another 3 day conference on this subject and I continue to be inspired at how music can produce all manner of great therapeutic benefits as well as be a terrific amount of fun.
“We human beings are tuned such that we crave great melody and great lyrics. And if somebody writes a great song, it’s timeless that we as humans are going to feel something for that and there’s going to be a real appreciation.”
I was talking recently to a fellow musician about the challenge of finding appreciative audiences, especially for artists who play ukulele in live sets. Note here I’m say “appreciative audience” and by that I mean one that is primarily there to listen to the music.
When I first started exploring the ukulele, I was taken aback by two comments independently made by people who were very familiar with this musical niche.
The first commented
“Remember Nick, these folks mostly want to play, not to listen”
The second said
“Twenty minutes is the maximum period of attention you’ll get from the audience”
As a longstanding lover of music, this struck me as highly unusual, but recent years have confirmed that both observations were spot on.
Rather play than listen? (both are fine of course)
“Intimacy comes from being yourself on the stage and making the audience feel, without trying, that you’re sittin’ down there with ’em, playing, and that can happen in a big hall, if you have a good audience that want to listen.”
I have noticed that online there are often comments made about people preferring to strum at “festivals” in small groups rather than see the headline acts. Some of these acts may have travelled a great distance, so this personally surprises me. Don’t get me wrong, I think people can decide for themselves whatever suits, but it does mean that “the listening audience” is probably far smaller than many might imagine in what is already a niche musical field. In terms of 20 min sets, I fully appreciate that this strategy allows the audience to have a taster of a wide range of acts, so there is some logic to that way of working. However as a performer its a very short period and even an additional ten minutes allows for a lot more musical variation.
I was also surprised that at some events a set may be just half this time and I have even heard performers travel hundreds of miles playing such slots for free. Hats off for the enthusiasm, but it does again highlight a theme. I also know of a number of really superb ukulele artists who regularly comment on how hard it is to get live work. All this makes me wonder how big the listening audience might be for this niche.
“There is of course significant playing enthusiasm with ukulele clubs appearing all over and of course many events even allocate a substantial part of the time of the event to people playing, as opposed to listening to artists. This can of course create a dilemma for event promoters in attracting paying customers and of course the changing trends in ukulele festivals are well documented in recent years. Of course, it’s useful to consider both these dynamics. A lot of ukulele meet ups can be primarily social events and there’s is a definite place for that. Teaching schools often put on end of year concerts where players can perform to friends and family who would mostly constitute what I would term “an appreciative audience” I help out providing PA assistance for such events and when done well these can be great fun.
The wider picture?
I set up The Original Ukulele Songs platform to give original songwriters a collective voice online. Its been a fair investment in time and money as the site receives substantial traffic and now there are 81 individual artist pages. In talking to many artists, I am discovering that with a few exceptions many find it tough to find appreciative listening audiences. Those who have managed this have from what I see done so by writing really good original material or reinterpreting older material in new ways as well as doing regular tours.
Victoria Vox and Biscuithead Biscuitbadgers and others have in my view managed to reach wider audiences and built up diverse audiences. Andy Eastwood is also a great example of a hardworking multi-talented musician who seems to endlessly be touring and is a true artist. I recently blogged about these artists, but the responses on social media focused on almost everything but the quality of entertainment I was writing about! This entertainment factor is essential in connecting with a greater listening audience.
The OUS platform is an initiative that gives voice to all artists who are looking to connect with a wider public and I’m happy to fund this as I think it’s important that such artists are able to be heard. As I predicted 18 months ago this platform has polarized some opinion and I have had (I’m being polite here) all manner of responses about what folks believe “I should do” and how “lots of people think x“. Personally, my view is that d debate is an essential part of the creative process and if the ukulele is to reach a wider audience such debate is essential. I have the greatest respect for all artists who are seeking to entertain audiences in creative ways and who stick to their guns in terms of the music they create. I may not always like their music of course but in my view congruency is a key part of building a body of work.
The ukulele is in my view a terrific instrument for writing and performing. Despite my enthusiasm for the instrument I would never class myself as “a ukulele artist” but rather a musician that plays many instruments including the uke. Many of the most appreciative the listening audiences with my own band to date have been at Arts and Guitar Festivals where there is generally an appreciation of music on a wider scale. Two of the most well-known ukulele based artists The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and Jake Shimabukuro, have attracted wider audiences mostly though smart arrangements and playing well known material.
These folks provide superb entertainment and many of my friends who have no interest in the uke, have and will continue to see these artists when they come to town. I’m happy to be part of an appreciative paying audience with usch artists and as well as being entertained, I have learned huge amounts from such individuals. My view is that despite the enthusiasm online the actual listening/appreciative audience for ukulele based music is smaller than many might imagine. My hope is that this will expand and in my view the best way to do this is to show how the instrument can create a wide range of truly diverse and original music that bucks the stereotypical idea many have about the instrument.
In my other life for the last decade I have been teaching communication and performance skills across the globe in the USA, Europe and Asia. In fact I was doing this long before I started playing live gigs. The most common anxiety on planet earth is fear of public presentations, which often starts at an early age. Over the years I have also had many well known professional singers and musicians as private clients.
Even the most seasoned performers can get stage nerves or in extreme situations have melt downs on stage. Its therefore highly useful to develop set of skills that allows people to mitigate against this. Many clients I see 1 – 1 and by skype have previously sought help for these issues without success. Often they have talked about the issue for hours on end and may have had “general relaxation” but crucially not found a way to change their feeling state when on stage. I created a model called “Provocative Change Works” or PCW that is now publised internationally in a number of books including “Innovations in NLP” and “Transforming Negative Self Talk” by Steve Andreas. I have also have articles published in numeous magazines as well as UK newspapers on this subject.
I always tell students that once you have seen your first 5000 clients as a coach or therapist, you start to notice that its all about the process of thinking – feeling – final behaviour. Any feeling state has to be created by some form of thinking and this splits down into four main catagories which are
- What you see externally
- What you hear externally
- What you picture internally
- What you say or think to yourself internally
In sort every feeling state is created by a way of thinking and the common factor in performance issues is that the person’s brain is running too fast which means they are in a right old state rather than the right state for the performance.
One of the most common themes is that a person can play with absolute confidence to friends or a small group and have no unhelpful self talk going on, but when on stage they start to think very differently. Often the internal self talk starts to crank in an unhelpful manner and they arev literally talking themselves into an anxious state. No amount of reassurance or analysis usually helps change the anxiety, instead the key is to change the speed of thinking through specific exercises which then means the person feels more at ease. Usually the negative self talk splits into two forms
- A self diagnostic with the person giving commentary on their own state
- A commentary on how they imagine others are thinking ablout their own performance
Examples of number one include
“Don’t feel anxious!” (thought in an anxious voice) or “Don’t fuck it up!” (thought in an anxious voice)
Examples of number two include
“They are not enjoying it” (thought in an anxious voice” and “We are losing them” (thought in an anxious voice)
This internal messages creating an unhelpful feeling of being way too self conscious which then triggers the feeling of anxiety.
The anxious feeling usually locates in one or more of the following places
The key is to teach the person to slow down the feeling, so they them find a greater sense of ease in the previously problematic situation.
These state control skills can usually be taught comprehensively in a couple of hours and I’m pleased to have helped many performers over the years. I teach some of this material in the UK and New York workshops I run with my co trainer Doug O Brien. We are also currently writing a book on this subject which focusses on developing creative writing skills as well as developing excellent state control. Some of these groups I teach are pretty big and this work allows me to fund all my musical explorations and to sponsor stage opportunities for other creative artists.
Having just got back from Vienna and seeing some great folks to talk about music, OUS and instruments, next week I’m heading back to Japan for the 16th time and this is a terrific opportunity to catch up with old friends, many of whom are musicians or instrument builders. First stop will be Takahiro Shimo in Tokyo as well as Dean Leoni at his excellent store. Both these guys have been hugely useful in obtaining some really terrific instruments that have been used on most Small Change Diaries recordings. I’ll also be playing with Brian Cullen in Nagoya as a duo and this is gonna be a lot of fun. As well as SCD tracks I have some new solo material to preview.
I’ve already been to New York twice this year and will be back for a third time after first visiting Austin and Nashville. Hopefully I’ll be able to hook up with the guys again at Collings Guitars as well as visiting Hill Country Guitars which carries amazing stock. After Austin I get finally to visit very old friends in Nashville for the first time and then drop back to the UK via New York and attend my good friend Zeke’s book launch which is bound to be a great focus for NYC musicians.
Most of October will be spent finalising arrangements for the album launch and I’m already letting some people know what to expect. There will of course be the full SCD band with guests as well as no less than three UK support bands. There’s a lot to figure out in the rest of 2017, before a total revamp for the OUS platform in 2018 and 2019. I’m lucky to have met some amazing people around the world who share a real love of music and an interest in smart musical discussions. In 2018 I’ll be back in Europe, USA and Asia, for more explorations and even have some 2019 dates in the diary. The OUS platform has meet meeting up with music lovers around the world in person rather than just online which is really exciting.
The previous two blog posts were about folks who I considered as artists to be great entertainers. These were entirely at random and the posting was purely on the subject of ENTERTAINMENT and nothing else, despite what some may imagine or insist!
Here are some more great examples of folks who I personally think are great entertainers. These are some of my personal favorites and of course each person will have their own as this is 100% subjective.
After the last blog which featured male performers, here are some more terrific entertainers.
There are countless female artists online these days, but few who can play and sing at this level. Astraluna is quite exceptional especially live when she is playing all manner of loops, building up a sonic feast.
These are 4 great entertainers. There are of course many more, but these are the ones that come to mind. They are this time all original artists but that wasn’t the main consideration in picking them. The world is better for such folks.