Friday, December 16, 2011

Ken Middleton & The Lost Art of Playing Fiddle-Tunes on the Ukulele

In the fall of 2004, The Old Time Herald (Vol.9 #5) ran a feature article of mine titled: Ukuleles In Old Time Music http://www.oldtimeherald.org/archive/back_issues/volume-9/9-5/uke.html The purpose of this article (researched by Deb Porter and I), was first and foremost to shed some light on the role of the ukulele in the string band era. We explained in great detail, that the Ukulele was prominently featured in both the black Jug Bands as well as the white dance bands of the 20’s and 30’s. There were groups like The Fiddle Powers Family, The Hillbillies, Jimmie Rodgers, Da Costa Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters and the Memphis Jug Band; all of whom sat alongside of the Vaudeville Crooners, who inspired the masses. Thus, the ukulele was at the forefront of both progressive pop music as well as keeping the old tunes from home alive.



It has been almost 8 years since that article came out and a lot has changed in the ukulele world. We have witnessed an explosion, the likes of which only comes around every 30-40 years. From, The Mighty Uke to You Tube phenomenon Jake Shimabukuro, the global Uke craze has given birth to Ukulele clubs, festivals, dealers, builders, instructors, performers, authors, bloggers, and every other ilk. With this craze, has come a fine array of pickers and grinners, many of whom love old time music and its thriving repertoire of instrumental dance melodies. 

One of those players is Ken Middleton of the U.K. I first discovered Ken, via You Tube when I was searching for renditions of Arkansas Traveler. Ken is firmly entrenched in the lost art of arranging Fiddle Tunes for the Ukulele. Players of old like Roy Smeck and King Benny also played melodic tunes, rags, marches and reels, but it was often done in more of a chord-melody style or occasional campanella style. Today’s crop of Ukulele Wizards (Ken included), have built their approach on the chops of those gone down before as well as an arsenal of progressive banjo rolls, contemporary finger-style picking patterns, chord melody like phrasing and anything old, new, borrowed or blue. In Ken’s playing one will hear many approaches to arranging a fiddle tune; from single string lead style, to finger-style and even campanella (check out the late John King for more on this approach). Ken has a smooth delicate touch, and while he makes no qualms about how his guitar work has influenced his ukulele playing, no one would argue, Ken has a genuine love for the Appalachian, Celtic, Scotch-Irish and English dance music of old. He takes on reels like Soldiers Joy, Airs, Waltzes and even Bluegrass barnstormers like Blackberry Blossom. One could learn a lot from the free tabs he offers on his website: www.kenmiddleton.co.uk/.

4 comments:

  1. Rev: This is a terrific article and interview. I have been playing my ukulele with low tuning and I definitely need to try out some of Ken's arrangements in Campanella voicing. I have tried out some flatpicking of fiddle tunes and think this music has a growing audience. Great stuff. Met Ken at the Northern California Ukulele Festival a couple of years ago. He's quite a gentleman and ukulele embassador. Jeff / Humble Uker

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  2. It was an honour and a privilege doing this interview with you, Rev. You're a gentleman and a great performer. See you soon.

    KEN

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  3. Uke playing has been inspirational. Good to see Ken Middleton on his uke in the UK and thanks for the information on his site.

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  4. Thank you both for expanding my music horizon. I am no longer a music snob, thanks to my ukulele, and people like you.

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