Ukulele Ceilidh

Ukulele baby

She’s performed in clubs, in taxis, for crowds of hundreds, and in front of her cat. Kirstin Innes meets the woman behind Eilidh's Daily Ukulele Ceilidh.

Daily [adj.]: Happening or done every day. ukulele [n.]: A small four-stringed guitar popularised in Hawaii. ceilidh [n.]: An Irish or Scottish social gathering with music, dancing and storytelling. Eilidh: Eilidh McAskill, Glasgow-based performer who has taken it upon herself to perform a daily ukulele ceilidh every day during 2007.

‘It’s all come about accidentally, really,’ she says. ‘I bought the ukulele some time ago - they’re only about £12 - but I didn’t really start learning to play it until the strings broke on my guitar and I couldn’t be bothered to go out and buy any more.’ The compulsively catchy title seems to have started out as a bit of a joke too, and she’s not entirely sure why she decided to try and sustain a performance of some sort for 365 days, but, commitment made, she’s honouring it. McAskill, who also runs Glasgow theatre company Fish & Game, says ‘All those years of scraping around for funding . . . if only I’d realised that all you need is a comedy title and a miniature guitar. I’ve got so much work!’

Since starting the project she’s been booked to play at bars, invaded open mic evenings, and asked to appear at live art, music and dedicated international ukulele festivals. Her birthday coincided with day 150, and to celebrate she installed herself in a quiet corner of 78 (formerly Stereo), determined to play her way through 150 songs, from Sugababes covers to self-penned rhymes. Another local ukulele player arrived, and their impromptu jam session eventually grew into a concert, with people turning up and requesting their favourite songs. In Gaelic, ‘ceilidh’ originates from the word meaning ‘to visit’, and although many of McAskill’s performances include at least an element of Scottish country dancing (her current favourite is teaching people to Military Two-Step to ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’), but the overall spirit of the Ukulele Ceilidh stays close to that social, spontaneous original.

The next scheduled ceilidh is at Tchai Ovna in Glasgow. ‘I’m a bit worried that there won’t be enough room for people to dance. I think we’ll find some way of making them dance in their chairs. I want to have a raffle, and some interactive games - oh, and I’d like to try improvising a song from audience suggestions.’

She intends to try busking during the Edinburgh Festival, is off to the Nova Scotia Ukulele Ceilidh (‘Well, I had to, really’) in October, and will be performing a one-woman theatre show about the Ukulele Ceilidh (which, of course, counts as a daily ceilidh too) at the Traverse in November.

Occasionally her audiences are just her cat and her video camera - a number of daily ceilidhs can be seen on MySpace TV. ‘Yes, there are days when it gets to almost midnight, I realise I haven’t done one, and have to pick up the uke and round up the cat quickly. But I don’t get tired of it. It’s a good way of marking out your life. And every time I pick it up, you know, I’m pleased with playing it.’

Eilidh’s Daily Ukulele Ceilidh, Tchai Ovna, Glasgow, Tue 24 Jul.

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