My ukulele is called Wilson. Wilson was my uncle’s middle name and he loved it. He and I had plans to go ukulele shopping together as, at the time, I only had a basic model. Although he was more of a guitar man (he had at least six guitars) he knew what he was looking for and to be honest, it would have been such a fun trip. He was outrageous and zany and sometimes a real pain, but he was one of my favourite people. Before we could go uke shopping, he died suddenly of a heart attack. It seemed only fitting that when I did get my new ukulele a few weeks later, it should be named Wilson.
Wilson is a Mainland ukulele made of mango wood which I bought at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival in 2015. It is a beautiful instrument with a high gloss and the wood is a gorgeous orangey colour, another nod to my uncle whose favourite colour was orange. At the festival, as well as a whole host of amazing performances, workshops and masterclasses, there were stalls selling ukuleles and associated merchandise. The stall I bought mine from was a shop called Eagle Music which is based in Huddersfield. At the time they were the only supplier of Mainland ukuleles in the UK. My friends Chris and Sue who were with me also got Mainland ukes. They sound so amazing together and we have spent many happy hours since, strumming, singing and performing together.
The ukulele is such a lovely instrument to play and has enjoyed a rise in popularity for many years now. Apart from it making such a joyful, happy sound, there are several reasons for its popularity. Because there are only four strings to get your fingers around, it is much more accessible than an instrument like the guitar to learn the basics and quickly get a few chords.
Ukuleles are so small and are very easy to transport. I’ve even travelled to Spain taking only hand luggage which included my ukulele inside my cabin bag! Back in the days when I worked for a music service, I used to have to transport whole class sets of instruments in my tiny car at the beginning and end of terms. Recorders were the easiest, saxophones were pretty trying with only about 14 able to get rammed in, but I could manage over 60 ukuleles!
Getting a new one isn’t going to break the bank either. You can get a reasonable beginner’s instrument that holds it’s tuning well for about £40. Actually I think you can get a very cheap one for as low as £10 (but please don’t, it really won’t be a pleasant playing or listening experience!) And if you find you take to it well and want to upgrade, they start to sound much nicer at around the £100 figure.
In January 2020 we started a beginner ukulele group in Oughtibridge which took place after the Friday afternoon choir sessions. It was great fun, and eight weeks on the players were really making great progress on their new instruments. It felt very sad when we had to stop meeting because of the lockdown but I have kept in touch with quite a few of the players who have been having lessons via Zoom. There’s at least 70 years age difference between my youngest and my oldest ukulele pupil, and I have some pupils that I’ve only met on Zoom, but all that just adds to the wonderful variety and I love working with them all!
So if you’re looking for a new hobby do consider taking up the ukulele. I promise you won’t be disappointed. I’m often at my happiest when I’m sitting with Wilson, strumming and singing along.