The popularity of the ukulele can be filed under: curious oddity of our age. In recent years it has shed its George Formby image* and become ubiquitous in parks, cafes and lounges across the country.
Ukulele nights have been springing up all around town including the raucous Ukulele Wednesdays every week in the basement of The Royal George pub off Charing Cross Road and London Ukeing at the Lion on Stoke Newington Church Street. And of course, let's not forget Dulwich Ukelele Club who produced the best World Cup Anthem Ever.
One of the forerunners of the resurgence is Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder who had a bet back in the year 2000 with Soundgarden / Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell about whether it was possible to write a sad song on the instrument. Vedder rose to the occasion writing the bittersweet 'Soon Forget' for the band's 'Binaural' album. The ukulele has since became a staple of the their live shows.
So it only seems fitting that as ukulele sales reach an all time high Vedder has released an album comprised solely of songs performed on his. The 16 tracks on 'Ukulele Songs' sway from the heartbreak of 'Sleeping By Myself', love songs a-plenty such as the gorgeous 'Satellite' and 'More Than You Know', to Who-esque rocker 'You're True', and the album tail-end duet with Cat Power, 'Tonight You Belong To Me'.
On these shores the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain have led the way. Once considered a novelty act when they formed back in 1985 the group have become so universally acclaimed they performed at the Proms in 2009. You can next see them in action at Richmond Theatre on Saturday 6 August and at Blackheath Halls on 23 and 24 September.
You need almost no musical skill or knowledge to play a ukelele. Four strings make it easier than the guitar and its size means it's easily portable. They're also very cheap, ranging from around £20 upwards. Pretty much every music store in town now stocks them but without doubt the best place to head to is the now legendary Duke Of Uke on Hanbury Street. And if you've been procrastinating over getting one, now is the time: the Duke of Uke is under threat of eviction and needs your support.
To find a club near you, check out the listings on Mighty Ukulele.
By Max Moritz
* Footnote: Technically Formby played a banjo ukulele, the banjo being another long thought lost instrument to be enjoying a resurgence.