Today every town seems to have ukulele club. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain have become one of the world's biggest attractions. Not mention The Nukes, The Pukes, and the fantastic Gus & Finn. Then there are also ukulele festivals all over the UK. So what happened?
Around 2008, I was a school governor in two schools, Ilfracombe Junior School, and Ilfracombe infant School. I was also teaching guitar in a number of North Devon schools. I noticed about this time, all the schools were receiving around 30 brand new shiny ukuleles, shipped in from China. I asked a few head teachers, classroom teachers and teaching assistants about them. No one seemed to know an awful lot about these mysterious deliveries, but the consensus seemed to be 'they're cheap', and 'they're going to replace the recorder as the school instrument'. My final question was 'who in the school played the ukulele'? The answer was 'no one'. I smelt an opportunity.
Not long after this, I suppose remembering my inquisitive questions about the ukes, Maggie Foster, a fantastic music teacher from Ilfracombe, steered me towards a course run by Devon Music Services called 'Teaching Ukulele for Guitar Players'. Not wishing to miss the opportunity, I signed up.
While on this one day course in Exeter, I learned a lot more about why these ukuleles had appeared in the schools. First of all, the uke is fairly easy to learn. The advantage the uke has over the recorder is that you can not only play single notes, but also chords. So there you have it. The plan from those lesson planners from up in government, was to shake up school music education. Every child will get an opportunity to learn a musical instrument. And it is going to be the ukulele!
I went on the course purely to get me on schools radar, to bring in more school work. Before the course, I'd purchased a £20 uke to get a feel for it. One month later I upgraded my ukulele to a Kala Arch Top jazz uke. I love the uke. I played none stop. My kids played it, my girlfriend played it. We all got hooked. The work came in, I never looked back. My guitar used to always come camping with me, now it's my uke.
I'd been playing the guitar for over 30 years without much recognition. Just over a year of first picking up the ukulele, John Govier invited my to play live on his Saturday morning BBC Radio Devon show. That was an amazing experience!
In September 2011 I started Ilfracombe Ukulele Club. The club meets every Tuesday 7pm at Larkstone Cafe.
Long live the mighty uke.
Ukulele workshops. Available in every UK town, village and city.
Ilfracombe Ukulele Club
Me with my Kala Arch Top