The fastest-growing instrumental trend in the last two years has been the Ukulele. Every so often a particular instrument catches the public’s imagination, and sales just go on rising. In the eighties, James Galway was in the charts, and flute sales just soared. It was the sax solo at the end of “Baker Street” that set saxophone sales on an exponential curve in the nineties. When the BBC started the first series of “Fame” lots of people, especially girls, took up the cello.
We haven’t really had a particular instrument catch on in quite the same way since “Fame” and much time has been spent speculating at trade fairs and conferences – often in bars, believe it or not – about what instrument would be the Next Big Thing.
I think it’s fair to say that the ukulele didn’t figure highly in these discussions. I don’t think it figured at all. All the instrument dealers were hoping it would be something fairly expensive. Enter the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, with their super-cool, humorous and very classy musicianship. Their gigs sold out months in advance, and there was a triumphant evening at the Albert Hall with an audience –participation version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for hundreds of ukuleles.
It turns out that the Ukulele was a particular passion of George Harrison, and many another demigod guitarist appears to do “a bit of Uke on the quiet”. It’s a small, convenient, very social instrument, suited to small gatherings. It’s also fairly inexpensive, ranging from twenty quid to over a hundred. With only four strings, the chords aren’t too complex, and most people can manage to perform something after a little practice.
Needless to say, the Music Publishing industry has not been slow to reflect the taste of the public. As our own sales of ukuleles soared in the shop, every month has brought new releases of Ukulele Tutor books and methods. There’s even one for a classroom method for Ukulele, as it’s being used in Wider Opportunities projects in Schools. However, I think some kind of summit has been reached this month, when a major publisher proudly announced “AC/DC for Ukulele”.
It’s the irony that’s so cool.