Here’s the Article reproduced in full from the S40 Local magazine which serves the Chesterfield area hence some local references. Hope you like it and goes some way to inspire you to pick up the little instrument or at least follow my band on Facebook by hitting the link (I’m a bit cheeky…Yes I’ll give you that). https://www.facebook.com/BarrelhouseUke
When I was but a lad (readers beware stories starting with those words) I don’t remember seeing many ukuleles about. Only occasionally I’d catch a glimpse of George Formby (on the telly, I’m not that old) bedecked in his shimmering Jockey’s outfit, shimmering as much as something could shimmer in black and white, and a strange looking instrument cradled in his hands. But despite the lack of colour there was no mistaking George’s cheeky little smile as he played his ukulele for the adoring film extras, who themselves were wearing tight little smiles as they listened again to take 34 of ‘Mister Wu’. It was years later that I was told by those in the know that George mostly played a banjolele. I expect this to be in the days before he dedicated his time to fat free grilling machines (darn my research, the wrong George).
This revelation about Mr Formby caused me to review my childhood somewhat and I now conclude that my earliest sighting of the ukulele in all its glory must have been from Elvis Presley in the film Blue Hawaii, as well as a first glimpse of a swathe of swaying hula girls wrapped neatly around the King. Yes…where was I?
Despite the lack of Hula girl hangers on I persevered with the ukulele and still today find myself gathering smiles from folk as I walk through the town carrying the little instrument. On such occasions as these I may be met with a shout out from some joker full of bubbles, ‘Hey hey, turned out nice again’. Sorry George but from now on you will be referred to as the unmentionable ‘F’ word. Hey, hey!
One of the appeals for me with this little instrument was the element of surprise that this combination of wood and nylon could deliver, especially since I had been conditioned to expect maybe a risqué tune or two, a Hawaiian shirt and at the very least a cheeky little Formbyesque smile.
The versatility of the ukulele gives it a surprising and most welcome edge. If you don’t believe me then do one of those search thingies on one of those internet thingies and discover a wealth of ukulele covers from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to Nellie the Elephant. Better still have a wander around town, visit your local musical gear shop and marvel at the plethora of sizes, colours and shapes available, and on your own doorstep to boot.
Continue your journey through town and into Queens Park and see the teenagers cradling the latest affordable ukuleles. Take notice now. Something is happening here when the younger folks are embracing the ukulele. I think I know what it is. It is a breakthrough of ideas, one in particular, the idea that you can play what you want and not what is expected. Ask the kids toting ukuleles nowadays and they’ll tell you that leaning on a lamppost on the corner of the street has never been so much fun.
Notice too an increase in social events and clubs willing to meet and play together just for the fun of it. Hey and if you’re having trouble finding these fun loving ukers then take your new ukulele and stand in the middle of town and start thrashing. I can guarantee that like minded fun loving closet ukers will find you and then? Good times.
Paul Frith Lives in Chesterfield and performs regularly with his ukulele band, Barrelhouse. You can visit and like the Barrelhouse page here: https://www.facebook.com/BarrelhouseUke