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Feature - On The Case With Phil Doleman

About your career:

When did you first start playing and why?
I’ve played guitar and bass since 1986. I bought a uke in 2003 when my eldest daughter was born because it would fit under the pushchair and I could take it to her baby music group! I got hooked very quickly.

What are your musical influences?
In my teens I discovered folk and blues music. The first gig I went to was a guitarist called Isaac Guillory (who is sadly no longer with us) and I gradually dug deeper into that world. I adore the music of Charley Patton, Son House, jug band music (The Memphis Jug Band and Gus Cannon are favourites), Arthur ‘Blind’ Blake, and I also love the playing of Django Reinhardt. I could listen to it all day. As for uke players, Cliff ‘Ukulele Ike’ Edwards, Roy Smeck, and Del Rey, who I’m so pleased to have been able to play festivals with. I suppose I like players who play with energy, gusto, who sing and play like their life depends on it, who have so much fun with the music that you can’t help but be drawn in.

What is the highlight so far?
There have been so many! All of the festivals I’ve played have been great experiences, but playing to a small audience who don’t know you, and winning them over can be just as satisfying. Getting to play with so many wonderful musicians who only a couple of years before only existed in YouTube videos! Being on the front cover of UKE Magazine was pretty cool, too!

Have you made many friends on the way?
So many. Practically everyone who I consider a close friend, I met through music. A lot of them through the ukulele. Not only that, but I find I can go pretty much anywhere with a uke in my hand, and pretty soon I’ll have made some more friends!

What is your proudest moment?
Probably when I see someone that I’ve taught to play get up and perform.

If you could do any event again which would it be and why?
I always want to do them again. I get a bad case of post festival blues after every one. I suppose if I could just do one again, it would be the Worthing ukulele festival from a few years back, mainly because I didn’t play very well and I could have another go at getting it right!

What aspect of ukulele playing do you like the most?
I love the fact that I can pick up a uke, get up in front of a crowd and entertain them. It doesn’t take lorry loads of gear, light shows and smoke machines. It’s as honest as it gets.

What are your ambitions?
To be able to keep doing what I do for as long as I can.

What advice would you give to a new player?
Don’t think about playing uke, think about playing music. Timing and groove is everything, get that sorted out before you worry about doing anything too flashy with your left hand. The right hand is what makes one uke player sound different to the next. Sing.

About you

What luxuries and essentials do you like to take with you?
I like to travel as light as I can (no sense in playing a tiny, portable instrument and then dragging cases full of other things around with you!) The luxury is in not having loads to carry! Essentials are spare strings, set lists, my phone, penknife (the number of times I need a screwdriver to adjust a friction peg or need to replace a fuse!), fingerpicks and my hat!

What is your top comedy moment?
I’ve had loads of them on the road with Ian, it’s really hard to pick! The moment when we were supporting The Lancashire Hotpots, and their singer Bernard came on mid-song to rev the crowd up a bit, grabbed a mic but forgot that all of the mic stands across the stage were linked by bunting, and completely destroyed the stage was a good one!

What is your favourite song?
Oh, it changes all the time. Right now I’m really enjoying “Trouble In Mind” by Big Bill Broonzy (so version of it by Lightnin’ Hopkins. Oh, and Death Letter Blues by Son House. Cypress Grove Blues by Skip James. I really enjoy discovering my next favourite song.

If you won £1million what would you do first?
To paraphrase the old musicians joke, I’d keep touring until it ran out!

About me
I’ve been playing music at people or teaching them how to play it for 30 years, on a variety of instruments but primarily the ukulele for the last 13. It’s been my livelihood for the last 10 years. I’ve played all sorts of music, but acoustic blues, jazz and American folk has been there since I first got into music in my teens. I’ve played at all of the major UK uke festivals, most of them several times over, and I’ll be at many of them again this year. I’ve released 2 solo CDs, and recently teamed up with my old band mate Ian Emmerson again for our new release “Can’t Get Enough Of That Stuff”, which is available from