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Ukulele is taking off in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 07:00 21 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:53 02 July 2010

Clara Gauntlett and family, daughters Evie Wiseman 11, Betsy Gauntlett 3 and stepdad Malcolm Cockell, who play the ukelele

Clara Gauntlett and family, daughters Evie Wiseman 11, Betsy Gauntlett 3 and stepdad Malcolm Cockell, who play the ukelele

Sarah Brealey

It was made famous by George Formby and George Harrison, but the ukulele is having something of a boom in Norwich.

More people are taking up the instrument, and a Norwich Ukulele Society has been set up to allow its fans to get together.

It was made famous by George Formby and George Harrison, but the ukulele is having something of a boom in Norwich.

More people are taking up the instrument, and a Norwich Ukulele Society has been set up to allow its fans to get together.

Community Music East (CME), on Music House Lane, is running courses for beginners and improvers starting this week, after receiving many calls from people keen to learn the instrument.

Singer and entertainer George Formby made the ukulele famous in the 1930s and 1940s, though his instrument was actually a banjo ukulele, or banjulele.

Clara Gauntlett, marketing co-ordinator at CME, has been learning the instrument for six months, and her children Evie, 11, and Betsy, who is just three, are trying it out too. The instrument seems to run in the family, as her stepfather Malcolm Cockell is a keen player.

She said: “I played bass guitar, so it was nice to stick to four strings. I have always wanted to play guitar, but it seemed a bit difficult.

“I like that the ukulele is easy to play. You can pick it up really fast, it is like instant gratification. I like playing punk songs on it, and it is fun translating songs which you wouldn't expect on the ukulele.”

She added: “Because it is a small instrument it is good for children to play. Betsy is the most keen. She has learned C and A minor already and when people come round I show them what she can do.”

Gemma Cullingford, 30, a music teacher from the Golden Triangle, set up the Norwich Ukulele Society in February, and it has around 40 members. The meetings are held fortnightly at the Ten Bells on St Benedict's, and the society will be holding its first concert there on Friday May 7 as part of the Norwich Fringe Festival.

She said: “Definitely in the last year it has just gone crazy. Virtually everyone you meet has a ukulele now.”

Mark Howe, service delivery manager at CME, has been playing ukulele for the past 20 years. He said the increase in popularity was partly fulled by the internet, with video sharing sites such as Youtube allowing people to post videos and tips. “Technology has made all sorts of things more popular because people can share them. The ukulele is a beneficiary of that. You get videos which go into quite a lot of detail about different techniques.”

Tristan Burfield, from the Music Room shop on St Benedict's, said: “The uke has become progressively more popular, possibly because of the success of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, which has played some high profile dates, including Norwich.

“There is more choice of instruments available and the quality has improved since the boom in popularity.”

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain also played at last year's King's Lynn Festival, and is returning to King's Lynn Corn Exchange as part of this year's festival on July 28.

t CME's Ukulele for Beginners course starts on April 27. For more information, or to book a place on a ukulele course contact CME on 01603 628367 or visit www.cme.org.uk.

t Do you have an unusual hobby? Contact Evening News reporter Sarah Brealey on 01603 772485 or email sarah.brealey@archant.co.uk.

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