A REVIEW FROM ANDY EASTWOOD

At last! A detailed study of George’s uke solos – a long overdue addition to the canon of Formby literature. Dave Partington’s new book features 16 faithfully transcribed solos, and a pretty thorough breakdown of the techniques employed.

For decades, successive generations of Formby fans have kept George’s style alive by immersing themselves in his recorded legacy, transferring their observations to the instrument, and sharing their skills with fellow players at the GFS meetings. Why has the style never been codified fully?

Probably because a Formby solo is, fundamentally, improvised. To notate the mélange of rhythmic patterns for precise replication eliminates its essential spontaneity. Anyone sufficiently accomplished to transcribe George’s playing is already able to improvise in the same vein.

This book bridges the gap between understanding the rudiments of Formby style, and knowing exactly what is being played throughout every beat of the solo. Clearly and thoughtfully written, it’s a complex book for the serious player who wants to progress.

Dave describes split stroke rhythms, triples, finger lifts (and to some degree, the fan) and introduces his own terminology and notation system. Practise routines are included, enabling you to develop your technical repertoire as you read, until you reach the part of the book that really earns Dave a ‘hats off’: the solo transcriptions!

Few people have ever written down George’s solos from the records. I transcribed some in my university days, and believe me, it’s hard work. Dave’s transcriptions are thorough and accurate. A few minor left hand details are omitted, but the split stroke rhythms are excellently observed and presented, and I found them fascinating to read.

This is an impressive piece of work, and so refreshing amidst the recent proliferation of half-baked ukulele tuition books, videos and websites that have abounded in the wake of the so-called uke ‘boom’. Dave’s book is ambitious, detailed, and intelligently written.

Personally, I would have preferred that the notation was more in line with standard musical practice. For instance, Dave doubles the bar lengths to 4/2 rather than maintaining the original 2/2 time in which the songs were written. He describes keys such as A-sharp and G-sharp, instead of the correct B-flat and A-flat.

However, such idiosyncrasies do not detract from the validity of the information. If you don’t read music, you won’t notice them and if you do, you’ll interpret them. On the whole, the text is logical and clear, whether or not you have musical know-how.

It may not go down in history as the definitive explanation of Formby style, but it is ground-breaking. It’s the best analysis published to date, and it will help people to improve their playing.

Should you buy it? Yes, definitely!
Andy Eastwood
October 2013

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