reproduced the article but incorrectly dated it to April 1971
As soon as I stepped through the door someone reached out and grabbed me by the arm."Want to see my uke?" he said loudly over the high-pitched roar that hardly ceased the whole weekend. "I made it myself, it's a replica of George's." George... George... the name is on every lip. George's Ludwig, George's Gibson and, above all, George's right-hand - the split stroke, the roll, following-through.In a large room in the Imperial Hotel Blackpool, fans clutch ukuleles high on their chests. Their ages range from nine to 70. Some are in groups, others stand in impenetrable solitude, all are playing solo breaks from one or other of George's many songs. Men with cigars pore over chord charts, pieces are worked out on a barely audible piano.To the outsider, a George Formby Society convention seems to have the quality of a dream. But very rapidly, you cease to be an outsider. I find myself helping to arrange chairs for an informal concert. The MC, Bernard Young, stands out front and exhorts the members to come up and do some of the Formby songs they have been working on."This lad's been playing three months," says Bernard, as he introduces Paul Liss, a pale, graceful ten-year-old in a vivid tartan suit. With lightening staccato, Paul zips through the chords of Ain't She Sweet. It's all over in twenty seconds.
"Is that all, lad?" someone says in the audience. Bernard bends down and holds a whispered conversation with Paul. "It's all he knows so far," he announces, "So he's going to play it again, and we'll all sing the words."He plays, and a hundred other ukulele players sing with protective tenderness for this embryonic talent.Next up is a young man. I overhear someone whisper, "That's Dickie Speake... his right hand is the nearest we've got to George. Sheer poetry ... his right hand's perfect." I'm beginning to understand this right hand.While the performer is singing, the ukulele is held back, evenly strummed. When the break is about to occur--and everybody knows that point, concentration in the room increases, heads incline forwards, the player's hand flashes, the uke takes off into dazzling and elaborate syncopation's, and careful exploitation of the flickering space between each stroke. Bill Logan, the President said: "Formby was the maestro. No one will ever be able to copy that right hand, that crazy right hand. He could lift those chords clear to heaven. Possibly it was the tension of those high-speed solos that led eventually to his heart attack."As for Alan Randal, Roy Hudd and Joe Brown, those three are all performers sincere enough to want to do tribute to George rather than do impressions of him."I was lucky enough to meet all three. I spoke to Roy Hudd in London. His interest in Formby is part of a life-long love of music hall. "Formby started out in life doing imitations of his father who was a real music-hall artist," he said. A few minutes later, he put his ukulele in my hands and started giving me free tuition."That's C, that's F ... they're wonderful songs Formby sang."Whenever I'm feeling low I lock myself in my office and bash out a Formby number. No audience can resist songs like these ... you're going to the Blackpool Society Convention? It's an amazing event, you' ll never forget it." Joe Brown lives in a modest stately home near Epping Forest. "The Blackpool Convention?" he said over a cup of tea, " It' ll blow your mind. The great thing about Formby's songs was the way he used innuendo. The audience always knew just what was coming."So did the BBC in 1963 when they banned Joe Brown's version of My Little Ukulele. Joe got out his own little ukulele and sang Bunkum s Traveling Show. I asked him if he still used Formby songs in his show. " ot any more. Alan Randal does them so well now."Fortunately, Alan Randal was in Blackpool for the society convention. Before it got properly under way, we sat in his car (UKE 1) outside the hotel. He not only sings like Formby, he even talks like him. "My parents say I was Formby crazy before I could talk, and I was playing the uke by the time I was four."The point about Formby's songs is that they're all fun. When I was touring with a jazz band in the States I used to play Formby numbers in the coach. The lads loved it." Alan Randal took a song from his briefcase that he'd just written with Jim Cammell. It's a tribute to George Formby called Mr Banjo Man. He sang it in the car, a sad song about the tragedy behind Formby's famous grin. When he finished it was time to go in and join that unforgettable meeting
THE WORDS FROM THE RADIO TIMES ARTICLE
The Vellum article from Winter 1997
STRANGELY ENOUGH, THERE WAS NO MENTION OF THE
RADIO TIMES ARTICLE IN THE VELLUM MAGAZINE IN 1975.