Music Notes: Big noise, little instrument
PUBLISHED: 16:23 07 October 2011
For such a little instrument, the humble ukulele seems to be making an awful lot of noise these days. And this weekend its the atr of the Norwich Ukulele Festival.
Once seen as a bit of a joke and relegated to the strumming instrument of choice for comedy singers — most famously, of course, George Formby — the uke seems to be taken increasingly seriously by a surprising number of top musicians.
Our cover star this week, local lad made good Ed Sheeran, isn’t adverse to plucking out his folk-hip hop tunes on the four-stringed sibling of the guitar. Meanwhile, over-earnest Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder has just released an album called Ukulele Songs, which is, as advertised on the tin, an album of ukulele songs.
The uke has always had its famous followers. George Harrison became a big aficionado while in the Beatles. His obsession must have rubbed off on bandmate Paul McCartney, who later played pseudonymously credited ukulele on the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s I’m the Urban Spaceman.
What seems to have changed in recent years is that the appeal has spread from serious musos looking for something a bit different to strum to kids for whom it’s a cheaper — starting price for a basic uke is just £15 — and easier alternative to the guitar. Primary schools across the country have reportedly been swapping recorders for ukuleles in music classes.
This weekend we get a chance to celebrate this tiny friendly instrument as some of the country’s top players decent on Norwich Ukulele Festival, an annual celebration of all things ukulele.
The festival was first held last autumn at the Ten Bells but it proved so successful this year it has moved over the road to Norwich Arts Centre and will tomorrow take over the whole venue.
Among those performing will be charming, offbeat musical cabaret songstress Tricity Vogue, the driving force behind London’s Ukelele Cabaret, who will be playing music she likes to call “cheeky jazz”, Norwich-based poet Tim Clare (pictured) who act frequently involves the uke, and Norwich all-girl singing troupe Hello Sailor. And putting the rock‘n’roll into proceedings will be Uke Attack!! Uke Attack!!
Other acts include the Norwich Ukulele Society, a rare solo ukulele set from Hawaiian-born local legend Noel Dashwood of Dumbfoundus, and a first ukulele set from Richard Swift of Audio Mustard.
The day will start with a ukulele themed fayre from 10am, including workshops and lessons (should you fancy seeing what all the fuss is about yourself) from Gemma Cullingford.
There will also be play-a-longs, games, open mic, comedy, DJs and much more.
Organiser Amy Wragg, from cabaret promoters Soapbox, said: “There is free entry during the day, suitable for all ages, then we get all naughty for the evening, over-18s, with the very best national and local ukulele stars.”
And should all this uke action really inspire you, the 16-strong Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain will be at Nor-wich Theatre Royal on December 5.
It really has come a long way since George Formby.
■ Norwich Ukulele Festival takes place at Norwich Arts centre on October 8, 10am-1am. Entry 10am-6pm is free, evening performance £8 adv/£10 on the door, 01603 660352, www.norwichartscentre.co.uk. Workshops are £5 each, to book your place visit: www.ukulele-lessons.co.uk.