As my interest in banjo ukes and ukuleles started to grow I found only limited information and advice about them and their associated products such as bridges, strings, tuning pegs,cases, and many others. This led me to do a lot of research over many years, and I opened this website in January 2001. It had two main aims; the first was to give people access to the knowledge, experience, and expertise that I’d accumulated, and the second was to offer for sale a variety of really nice instruments (mainly vintage) across the entire price range that I know to be of really good quality. Expensive or otherwise, every instrument or item for sale on my website is of really good quality and are ones that I would be happy to own for myself.
In September 2011 I began to write a book in which I wanted to make available lots of information (using text and photographs) that I had accumulated over the years, and in November 2018 after seven years of research a limited edition of just 300 copies of my first book ‘All About The Banjo Uke’ was published, which I’m proud to say had a wonderful reception and which has sold to people in 17 different countries around the World. You can learn more about this book by clicking HERE.
Starting in 2020 during the period of ‘Covid lockdown’ I wrote a second book mainly about different makers and their instruments - both vintage and contemporary. As a result ‘All About The Banjo Uke- A Photographic Companion’ (containing just under 500 photographs and some text) was printed in April 2022. You can learn more about my second book by clicking HERE.
My interest in banjo ukes and ukuleles has continuously developed over the last forty-five years and in that time I have learnt to play them to a reasonable standard (thankfully not all at once!). This interest began on the day I went into a small antique/junk shop in Keynsham (near Bristol), and sitting there on a table was a little black instrument case marked up at £4. I looked inside it and found a small banjo uke (which I subsequently found was a Dallas ‘B’ Model). Knowing nothing about banjo ukes I took a gamble and bought it and over the next few months I slowly learned to play it, and I started to become interested about the history of this little instrument, about which I knew nothing. There was nothing to indicate who had made it, nor where or when it had been made, and it was my search for answers to these questions that gradually put me into contact with other people sharing similar interests - in particular a man called Ray Bernard, who was a veritable font of knowledge about banjo ukes, ukuleles and banjos (and Al Jolson!). Over time, all of this led to an accumulation of knowledge as well as to some amazing events in my life. Throughout this time I was pursuing my career teaching Geography to pupils aged from 11 to 18, initially for three years at Hemel Hempstead School then for thirty-two years at Oswestry School (Shropshire) where I retired as Head of book Geography and Housemaster of Burnaby House. Incidentally, Oswestry School has provided a fine education and lots of opportunities to all of its pupils on a continuous basis since its foundation over six hundred years ago in 1407. Having spent over 35 enjoyable years in the teaching profession I took early retirement at the end of August 2011 in order to research and write my first book.
Late one afternoon in March 1979 I telephoned a chap called Doug Parry who ran the music shop ‘John Alvey Turner’ in Great Russell Street, London. It was a very good shop that offered an excellent range of new and vintage banjos and other instruments, and Doug told me that he had recently acquired a ‘Ludwig’ banjo uke from a customer in London. I had never seen a Ludwig banjo uke before, in fact the only image of one that I had ever seen was a rather poor photograph of one at the bottom of page 30 of Alan Randall’s excellent tutor book called ‘Playing the Ukulele and the Ukulele Banjo’. I asked Doug to put them ‘on hold’ for me and the following Saturday I caught the train to London to have a look at them. The Keech was in nice condition but the Ludwig was a far superior instrument and it made a fantastic sound. Doug told me that together with its original case it was £140. I just didn’t know whether to buy it or not. £140 was quite a lot of money at the time, in fact I only had £140 in savings plus my return rail ticket back home to Bath, and I didn’t even have enough money in my pocket for the Bus fare to get home from Bath Spa Station, so I had to walk! Anyway, I took a gamble and bought it, and I remember sitting in the train going back to Bath clutching the Ludwig’s black case in my hands and thinking “What have I done?” Well, what I had done was to be introduced to what I have since come to consider as the finest banjo ukes ever made, and once I had got it home and set it up, the sound that the Ludwig produced was simply stunning, and ever since that day my appreciation of Ludwig banjo ukes remains undiminished to this day.
In November 1979 I joined the George Formby Society (GFS), and shortly afterwards in early 1980 I became a member of The Ukulele Society of Great Britain (USGB). Before he died in 1961, George Formby had been one of Britain’s premiere stars from the mid 1930’s onwards, and for three successive years at the height of his fame he earned more than the top three Hollywood film stars put together, and in 1941 he was paid £500,000 to make six films for ‘Columbia’. He had made his name by singing amusing songs with a timeless appeal and had accompanied them with his own brilliant style of playing on the banjo uke, and he undertook an enormous amount of work boosting morale to troops and civilians at home and abroad throughout the Second World War. I was privileged to have been elected Secretary of the GFS from 1982 until 1987 and President from 1988 until 1992. The USGB is much smaller than the GFS, having fewer meetings, fewer members and a rather broader musical base, but thanks to both of these societies I have had the opportunity to meet some great musicians, to make many friends, to play and own some fabulous instruments and to develop my knowledge and love of the ukulele and the banjo uke.
On November 6th 1990 (whilst I was President of the GFS) and completely out of the blue I received a phone call from George Harrison (yes, the George Harrison). He told me that he’d contacted me because he wanted to re-generate his interest in George Formby and in playing the the banjo uke and ukulele, both of which he had held since he was a child. He had phoned me wanting some advice about the instruments that he should be looking for. We met shortly afterwards and Mary and I were given the huge privilege of being invited to stay at his house (Friar Park), and we remained very good friends for eleven years, until his sad and untimely death in November 2001. George loved playing the banjo uke and the ukulele and he was a brilliant player, musician and composer. I am really proud that it was me who first helped him to start his collection of banjo ukes and ukuleles and that I was the person that first advised him about which instruments to look for, how much he should expect to pay for them, as well as helping him play in the style of George Formby. After he asked me whether I thought that he would enjoy going to a meeting of the GFS in Blackpool, I suggested that he would more than likely genuinely enjoy the experience and have fun meeting a lot of people who all shared a similar interest. After considering the matter he told me that he would probably try to attend the next GFS meeting (in March 1991) at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, which he did, together with his wife and son and George’s friend Jimmy Nail). He subsequently attended a meeting of the USGB (the Ukulele Society of Great Britain) at Digswell, Hertfordshire. He told me that he had enjoyed both meetings immensely. I am also proud to have had a number of instruments restored for him including the first vintage banjo uke that he ever bought after talking to me in 1990, which was a gold plated and engraved Ludwig banjo uke with its original hard shaped case. After the Ludwig had been beautifully re-gold plated and cleaned, this instrument looked magnificent and sounded superb, for which George was eternally grateful. Finally, Mary and I had the pleasure of him staying overnight in our very modest home and even taking him (at his request) for a drink in our local pub (the lovely fifteenth century ‘Horseshoe Inn’, Llanyblodwel). The following day he even took us for a ride in his fabulous McLaren F1! Amazing memories.
George Harrison was a very kind, friendly, caring, thoughtful and deeply spiritual man, and it was both a privilege and a pleasure to have known him. He was kind enough to give me a ‘Big Resonator’ Gibson UB-3 with a ‘three dot’ fingerboard and three thumbscrew resonator mounting, which was originally presented to me in one of his large black Epiphone tenor ukulele cases with a yellow plush interior! He had written a message to me on the old vellum and had signed it himself and on behalf of his family. Sadly, the vellum had several small holes in it and had to be replaced so that the instrument could be played and enjoyed, but I carefully removed the original vellum and it is kept in the original Epiphone case. That is one instrument that I will never sell because it means so much to me and it brings back so many unforgettable memories. George loved his banjo ukes and ukuleles and he had a great collection, but he always wanted to buy my best gold plated and engraved Ludwig banjo uke, but however hard he tried to persuade me to sell it to him I refused - and believe me he offered me a lot of money for it. I knew that if I sold it to him I would probably never ever find such a beautiful looking and beautiful sounding instrument again. Tempted though I was, I preferred to keep, admire and play that beautiful instrument rather than exchange it for a large pile of banknotes, and it remains with me to this day.