Feature - On The Case With Andy Eastwood
About your career
When did you first start playing and why?
My grandad used to play the uke to me when I was a kid – as far back as I can remember. He sang
comic numbers, vaudeville songs. As a tiny tot I knew the catchy tunes, jaunty rhythms and daft words,
long before I ever thought of playing. My grandad died when I was six, but just before he did, he
bought me a little ‘Lark’ Chinese ukulele - £4.50 I think it was! The equivalent of one of those
Mahalo cheapies today. That’s where the interest came from, and it has never gone away.
Did you think you would keep going this long?
From the time I started playing, I knew I was mad about it, and
performing seemed the most exciting thing to do. Growing up in the 80s and 90s as a uke player was
tough though. Nowadays kids can join a uke group and it’s cool. In those days, you had to go
solo, and accept that it was going to be very uncool! Today’s generation of ukers should be very
thankful to the USGB and the GFS for keeping a uke community going and tirelessly promoting the
instrument through the decades when fashion frowned on it! So yes, I always thought I would play,
but I feared that there would be no work of the kind I wanted to do. I thought I’d been born
too late for the type of music I was into. They said variety entertainment was dead when
rock ‘n’ roll came along, but guess what – I’m still doing a variety act, about 200 gigs a year,
mostly in big venues, getting audiences and getting paid! So it isn’t dead, it has just changed
and been repackaged.
What is the highlight so far?
There have been many highlights. Working alongside legendary performers is always an exciting
experience – not for ‘celebrity’ value – I hate that word anyway – but because you can study how they work,
and learn from them. Then there are the special venues that stand out, like the West End theatres –
which I get to play once in a blue moon. But perhaps the most memorable gigs for me have been shows
that I've produced myself. Even if they are small scale affairs, you get a great sense of achievement
when you put the whole thing together from scratch. And making my first DVD was a great feeling.
Although it’s only 45 minutes or so of performances, it felt like producing ‘Gone With The Wind’
trying to co-ordinate the cameras, actors, locations, costumes and so on, because it was a new
experience. I was proud of the result.
Have you made many friends on the way?
Yes – fascinating
people. Musicians, actors, artists of all kinds. Most showbusiness people are a little bit barmy,
but they’re great to have as friends. In this industry we’re used to travelling around, meeting up
like ships that pass in the night… Often you work with someone and get to know them, then you don’t
see them for five years or so… suddenly one day you work together again and you pick up exactly
where you left off.
What is your proudest moment?
It would have to be getting the humble ukulele
recognised by the Music Faculty at Oxford University. When I did my music degree, nobody had ever
played a uke for the performance exam. In fact no-one had even played anything ‘non-classical’.
So having spent three years showing what I could do, eventually obtaining permission to give a
ukulele recital for my finals was a proud achievement. It was in the national press and covered on
radio and TV, so I felt that I had really done something to promote the instrument – giving
something back in return for the pleasure that the ukulele has brought me!
If you could do any event again which would it be and why?
Some of the festivals that I have played at abroad have
left me wanting more. I spend so much time travelling around Britain, taking the same production
to many places, that when I get an invitation for a one-off show somewhere further afield, it’s a
breath of fresh air. Sweden, Holland, Germany, Denmark and Italy all have great memories for me
of exciting gigs. Hopefully some more offers will come in before too long!
What aspect of ukulele playing do you like the most?
Well having studied violin and piano formally, I like
the way that there is still uncharted territory for the uke: it’s a young instrument. Taking
violin lessons, for instance, you have a heavy awareness that 300 years of genius demands you to
shape up and conform to what has gone before. Uke players don’t have this weight on their
shoulders – yes we aspire to be like our favourites, but we are still writing the rule book and
finding our routes a little more.
What are your ambitions?
There’s lots of music I’d like to record – and write. Shows I’d like to put on. I always seem to be
so busy with gigs that new projects get put on hold, but like most performers I don’t like to turn
work down, after all you never know when it’s going to stop coming in. That’s how entertainers live.
But at the moment I have some recordings underway which should be released later in the year – I won’t
spoil the surprise!
What advice would you give to a new player?
Firstly I would show them how to hold the
uke properly. It’s the most crucial thing, but hardly anybody teaches it, and most of the problems later
on stem from awkward gripping and positioning of the instrument! I’d love to do a workshop on how to hold
the uke, but I doubt anyone would turn up – they’d think it was too basic. I would also tell them these
three golden rules: Practise slowly, learn to read music, and don’t underestimate Formby!
What luxuries and essentials do you like to take with you?
Essentials – well instruments, and spare instruments – I rarely go anywhere without half a dozen in
tow. Often I’m working with uke, banjo-uke, violin and guitar, so I usually have two of each in case a string
breaks mid-song! Then of course there’s the phone, and the laptop, because all my work is done on the move.
As for luxuries, well… I have simple tastes. I always have a kettle with me and a bag with tea/coffee/milk
etc so I can have a decent brew.
What is your top comedy moment?
Comedy seems to follow me around – only the other day, I was waving to someone on the other side of the
street, and I accidentally walked into a tree. That got some laughs. But one very funny incident that sticks
in my mind was a variety show I did with a well-known comedian. Accompanying the acts was a band he hadn’t seen
for twenty years, but he thought they were good the last time they backed him, so he gave them the booking. As
a gag, he asked them to pretend throughout the rehearsal, that they couldn’t read a note and couldn’t play
anything right. It would be a great wind-up for the artists in the show, or so he thought.
Well the musical director nodded and smiled at his request, and sure enough the whole rehearsal was a
shambles. Nothing went right, and the singers and acts were highly perturbed and dreading the performance,
until our top-of-the-bill comedian walked on stage shouting, “Don’t worry, it’s only a gag – these guys are
great players and everything will be fine tonight!” The band looked rather blank at this however, and when
show-time came, it became clear that actually they were not participating in the wind-up at all - they
really couldn’t play any of the music. Seemingly over the years since they were last seen, they had lost their
touch somewhat! They played out of time, out of tune, and I remember when I finished one number they were still
playing something for a good few seconds afterwards until I waved at them to stop the ‘accompaniment’… The show
was probably the most embarrassing thing I’ve experienced, and I’ve never seen a joke backfire so spectacularly as
that one! I laughed about it for weeks. I shan’t name the comedian in question - I’ll just say he rides an ostrich.
What is your favourite book?
Probably ‘Dubliners’ by James Joyce, but mainly I read biographies.
What colour is your air guitar?
What is your favourite song?
It changes daily. Today it’s ‘Yesterday’, next week it’ll be ‘Last Christmas’.
Tell me a funny fact about yourself
My middle name is Clifford.
If you won £1million what would you do first?
How do you want to be remembered?
With a smile.
What are you off to do next after you finish answering these questions?
I’m going to have a nice cup of tea while I put some tour dates on my website. TTFN. We'll Meet Again returns!
The show is a bright and breezy wartime revue featuring tributes to some of the greatest entertainers of
the '40s, such as Vera Lynn and George Formby. Here is a show for everyone who wants to be cheered up
in these sombre days, and that means most of us! The cast includes comedy entertainer Steve Barclay,
Andy Eastwood, Maggie O'Hara, Mervyn Francis, Pete Lindup and the Martyn St James Band. Produced by
Duggie Chapman MBE.
You can get more information at www.andyeastwood.com