Ukulele revival strikes the right note

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The jumping flea is the rather evocative translation of the Hawaiian word for ukulele.

A small guitar-like instrument originating from Hawaii, the instrument is currently undergoing something of a revival.

Members of the Igloo ukulele and guitar choir in Hayling Island practising at their weekly group

Members of the Igloo ukulele and guitar choir in Hayling Island practising at their weekly group

Small and easy to handle, it can be played by all. Its four strings are easier to pluck than a normal guitar and its size makes it ideal for carrying around.

And it’s cheap, retailing at around £20.

The instrument makes an ideal present and comes in a range of cool and quirky colours.

Probably most commonly known to the British public as George Formby’s instrument of choice, the ukulele has been thrust into today’s modern music through hits such as Hey Soul Sister by Train and Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

Heart-throb and pop sensation Bruno Mars often takes to the stage with his ukulele and critically-acclaimed band The XX recently rounded off their Portsmouth Guildhall gig with a ukulele version of Goodbye Girl.

Television adverts are awash with the sound of a plucky ukulele playing in the background.

Take all of this into account and there’s no surprise that Wickham-based music company Igloo Music has received a mass of requests from people wanting to play in a group and wanting to learn the ukulele.

That’s why company director Dielle Hannah, from Wickham, decided to pick up a ukulele and find out what all the fuss was about.

Dielle, 32, says: ‘I only started playing the ukulele a year ago. I am a singer and I have been since I was about eight years old.

‘Because of that reason, I know how to play a guitar and have done since my early teens.

‘Once you have mastered the guitar, the skills are easily transferred over to the ukulele.

‘I only really started playing because we had so many enquiries and requests.

‘More and more people were calling and asking about ukulele groups, so I thought “let’s see if we can get a group going” and then it’s just snowballed from there. It’s great.’

Dielle set up a group at the community centre in Hayling Island which meets every Monday night.

The group has been going for nearly five months and has grown in numbers and now has around 25 regular members.

This group’s success has inspired Dielle to set up another group in Portchester so that people from all over Portsmouth can get involved with the ukulele.

She says: ‘It’s been so popular with so many different age groups.

‘The youngest boy we’ve had playing is only 10 years old and the oldest we’ve had is nearly 100.

‘The young like the ukulele as unlike a normal guitar they can hold it comfortably and the old find it easier to play, especially if they have stiff finger joints or arthritis.

‘For every group, from all different walks of life, you can’t help but laugh and enjoy yourself once you are playing the ukulele.

‘It spreads laughter and creates happiness. It is so much fun to do, especially in a group.’

The Portchester group will mainly focus on beginners and there will be ukuleles available so that people can try out the instrument before they commit to any lessons or go out and buy their own.

Dielle says: ‘It’s such an old fashioned instrument, there is so much you can learn from it.

‘It’s so much kinder than playing the guitar. It’s a really great way to get involved with music.

‘You can learn a song in just a few hours, whereas with a guitar it takes a long time.

‘That’s why it’s such a wonderful thing to do in a group as by the end of the session everybody can play along all together and you get a really nice type of sound.’

The first Portchester session is being held on Saturday, January 12 from 1pm to 2.30pm at the Castle Centre and is free to attend.

If the ukulele is something you want to continue with, Dielle will be offering a six week group membership for £30.

She says; ‘Even if you have never touched a musical instrument in your life, come down to the group and try it out. I guarantee you’ll have fun and leave with a smile on your face.’

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More than just music

THE ukulele has given one pensioner more than just a new musical skill – it’s given him a whole new set of friends.

Peter Chinn, 74, a retired engineer from St Margaret’s Road in Hayling Island, took up the instrument after seeing it advertised last year.

He says: ‘I had started to teach myself classical guitar and was struggling so I put my guitar to one side.

‘I saw an advert for the ukulele group and as the ukulele only has four strings, I thought that I would give it a go.

‘When I went along to the group I found that not only did I start to learn the ukulele, I started to make friends.

‘Now it’s developed from a simple music lesson into a sort of fellowship. They really are a great bunch of people.’

Peter says that learning the ukulele has also helped with his classical guitar skills and that some of the members of the group meet up and practise the guitar after the session.

He also says that the teachers are attentive and have given him the support he needed to boost his confidence.

He says: ‘They never miss a trick, they are always there guide you and give you tips.

‘My fingers are not as nimbe as they used to be but the ukulele is easier to play because it’s so compact.

‘When you are playing in a group and you miss a note, you only have to look up and bang you are back in the rhythm. It’s so much fun. It’s infectious.’

Ukulele facts

Ukuleles come in four different sizes - soprano, concert, tenor and baritone.

A ukulele is very small, usually under 60cm.

They are generally made from mahogany wood, however, plastic versions are also available and are usually cheaper.

The four strings on a ukulele are tuned to the notes G, C, E and A.

The ukulele was introduced to Hawaii by the Portugese.

The Portuguese version was called a braginha, which the Hawaiians adapted.

The ukulele’s name translates into Hawaiian as ‘jumping flea’ and is thought to be because of the speed of the player’s fingers.

The fourth annual Ukulele Festival of Great Britain will be held in June in Cheltenham.

Krusty the Klown in the Simpson’s called the ukulele ‘the thinking man’s violin’.

George Formby played the banjo-uke and made over 200 records during his career.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are currently on a worldwide tour and will be playing in Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, USA and the UK.

Portsmouth group the Pompey Pluckers have around 60 members and practise weekly at the Old House at Home pub, Locksway Road, Milton. For more info go to