Sweet Child(ren) O’ Mine

It should be pretty clear by now that I like my music, and this is one area where we have an advance in the boys. Most of the baby toys we have been given or acquired have an element of music to them. The mobile that hangs above the cot for example, plays “Wonderful World”. It is like a wind up musical box, and the more you wind it up the quicker the tune plays. It sounds like an LP played on the 45rpm setting. I’m sick of hearing the song now, which is awkward because I was trying to learn it on the Ukulele. And thereby hangs a tale, and another challenge.

I know the first rule of Ukulele Club etc. but sometimes these things have to be told in order to play the scenario over again in my mind to make sure I didn’t dream it. Bearing in mind that, with the odd exception, I am pretty much the youngest there by about twenty years, and I am just over 40. Okay, three years over 40, but who’s counting?  There are a number of people in their 50s, but some (well, a lot) of the people at Ukulele Club are well into their 60s and it wouldn’t surprise me if there aren’t one or two septuagenarians that occasionally attend.

One bloke who regularly turns up has no nose (“How does he smell?” I hear you ask, but I’m not going there) – I thought he had a bit of flaky skin around the outside of his nostrils but one evening when the sandwiches came round he took a prosthetic nose off and put it on the side of his plate while he was eating. A gaping hole appeared in his face where his nose had been just moments before. The flaky skin I had noticed was actually where prosthetic skin met actual face skin. It was the only giveaway. Why you need to remove your nose to eat a vol-au-vent is a mystery to me, but it seems impolite to ask.

There is another fella that has started to come along that doesn’t have a voice-box and has to use one of those Electrolarynx’s like Ned Gerblansky from South Park.  Seeing as the Ukulele is mainly an accompanying instrument, or at least it is in Ukulele Club, and we have to sing along with our playing, I’m not quite sure how he gets on – he needs both hands to play Ukulele so I can’t see how he can use his Electrolarynx. I say “we sing”; I still haven’t quite got the hang of singing and playing. I can sing or I can play my ukulele, but I can’t do both at the same time. It’s a bit like rubbing your head and patting your stomach at the same time. Or is it the other way round? The way Ukulele Club works, if we aren’t having a masterclass given to us by some Ukulele virtuoso, is that members of the club are invited to either shout out the name of a song, or a page number from the Ukulele Songbook that we all use, and then we get on and play it. In recent weeks some of the more adventurous members have encouraged the rest of us to shout out random numbers, rather than ones to songs we know. The theory is we learn to play new songs, more chords and expand our repertoire and improve our skills, rather than just churning out the same old songs week after week. And largely it has worked. Until last week that is – it all started to unravel when the random page number that somebody shouted out happened to be Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine. Imagine the age group I have described above attempting to knock that one out. To give them their due credit, they bloody well tried! The challenge I mention earlier is we now have to go away and practice this one until it isn’t so much of a car crash. (I said we tried, not that we mastered it! I’m including myself in this purely because I was there, but at least I knew the song).

I once asked what time Ukulele club finished, as I never seemed to stay until the end, usually leaving at about 10pm. The nature of my job and location of my office mean that I don’t have too much time of an evening. Since the twins arrive I barely manage a couple of hours every other week on club nights, with precious little time to practice in between. The truth is, after a couple of hours, my left wrist feels like it is ready to explode as a result of contorting round the fret-board and the bones in my fingers as though they will burst through my finger prints. You can imagine my horror when I was told there wasn’t really an end time and that they sometimes play on until way past midnight. Ukulele Club meets in a room above a pub, so some of the regulars must literally fall out of there after a heavy night strumming. That’s a hell of a lot of stamina and wrist action, I can tell you. Anyway, I’ve said too much…

The musical swing that was given to us has a massive selection of tunes that play short snatches of one after the other. So far I have identified about five of them. “Frere Jacques” is in there, as is”Rockabye” as in “Baby, on the treetop” rather than Sean Mullins’ effort. “Show me a home where the buffalo roam is also one of the songs and I keep having to stop singing the Ivor Biggun version of it. “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is in there as well. There are about another seven tunes on there that I recognise but as yet I can’t put a name to them. One or two of the five I have named came to me at about three in the morning in a blinding flash of inspiration, so I am hoping more will come to me, but I was getting so frustrated with them that I downloaded Shazam* on my mobile (*other song recognition apps are available) to try and get to the bottom of what they are. I don’t think it is recognising the Casio Concerto properly though because even though I’m not overly familiar with the song, I’m sure there isn’t “Smack My Bitch Up” on there. It would make a great pub quiz round; the “can you identify these songs from the musical baby swing seat’s interpretation of them?” round.

There is another projector device we have which beams pictures onto the ceiling and whilst doing so plays a mind-numbingly repetitive electronic tune which is supposed to send the boys to sleep. It isn’t an actual tune that you would know, but I guess that a composer somewhere has been paid to come up with the tune, before the electronics guys do their thing with whatever plays these tunes.

At first I thought the boys didn’t really care what the tunes were that they were listening to, that it was all just noise to them. As it turns out through, they are rather discerning. Sometimes if they are howling and won’t go to bed at their allotted bedtime, in order to give Mrs Aitchworld a break I will put them in their bouncers while I do the washing up. While I am doing this I have been playing music and have noticed some clear differences in what they like and what they don’t. Taylor Swift seems to be a winner, and while I prefer “Red” to “1989” out of Ms Swift’s albums, both boys agree they are more in tune with the latter. Avril Lavigne went down like a lead balloon, whereas Nena was quite well received with her 99 red ones. They were indifferent to Dire Straits’ “Alchemy”, despite me telling them it was the soundtrack to part of my youth. I’ve tried a few other things without making note of what it was, but I get the feeling that they think country and folk is okay, rock music average, pop can eat itself, unless it is Pop Will Eat Itself because that was quite catchy, and classical isn’t really all that. I’m really hoping they will like Supertramp’s Crime of the Century because it is my number one desert island disc and if there is a finer 40 minutes of music, I’ve yet to find it.

The revelation that has most surprised me though is that both Arthur and Henry love a bit of Prog Rock. And I mean really love it; there are many smiles and much arm waving and giggling at the merest hint of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. It Bites went down quite well, Pendragon a little less so and despite me loving IQ’s “Are You Sitting Comfortably”, they weren’t so keen, although Marillion seemed to be a bit of a hit. And as for Yes, well Arthur loved them so much the first time he heard Big Generator he threw up all over me again in excitement. He only has to hear a few notes of Jon Anderson’s voice and he gets giddy, although Jon and Vangelis confused him – it sounded like his musical swing with lyrics and vocals. I’ve since also tried both the boys with “Tormato” and “90125” from my Yes collection (and it is quite a substantial collection) to see if it was just a fluke, but they seemed to really like both of these albums, as do I – both of them have a decent number of individual tracks on them rather than some of the marathon albums that Yes released. I reckon if I put “Tales from Topographic Oceans” (double album, eighty minutes, four songs. Four!) on it will be just like the projector – endless plinkety plonkety electronic noise with no discernible melodies and nothing you can sing along to. On second thoughts I might try it if it sends them to sleep.  And if I was to try them with “Fragile, with its five minute bass solo, ten minute triangle solo and fifteen minute nose-flute solo, they will probably pack their bags and leave home immediately. Mind you, at least I would get my sleep back…

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