Something possibly even more delightful than an evening spent learning to play the Ukulele with a bunch of strangers, was finding out that ‘Ukulele’ actually means ‘Jumping flea’ in Hawaiian – so named due to the quick movement of the fingers (not mine).
After paying £20 for my racing red uke at a Denmark Street music shop, I happily carted this along. Funny then, that I didn’t actually end up playing it.
I rocked up to the ‘Ukelele Hootenany‘ (Monday nights, free, although the drink prices make up for it) at the Queen of Hoxton near Liverpool Street on a Monday evening, uke in hand. The kind host, an old and nutty man, came around and tuned it for me. I went to get a drink from the bar, was joined by my friend and was about to start playing when the little man whipped round again and said ‘let me tune that for you’. I hesitated, wanting to reassure him I’d not touched it since its last tuning, but he scooped it up and was off in more speed than his age should have tolerated. He returned minutes later saying ‘I’ve tuned it, but it won’t be worth it – use this one instead.’ And handed me a racing red version of a more premium uke that I happily fumbled with on the night.
You can cover the basics online – the strings, the numbers relating to finger tips etc and come along expecting to nail a C and a G which are the most commonly used chords (for the songs we covered). Just don’t expect to fluidly flip between them without missing a few strums. If you really want to impress yourself, apparently you can learn the Ukulele in 8 minutes over here – but keep in mind flipping between chords is easier said than done.
What makes this Londonised hobby so unique is in its social nature combined with the fact that it’s not seen as a ‘serious’ or ‘proper’ instrument, and so it attracts those more likely to be picking it up for fun. Monday night’s crew were a haphazard collection of around 30 people ranging from 20 to 60, with various shaped and sized ukes and various levels of ability (or in some cases in-ability, but this mattered not).
Sat around a table, with two song books in front of us, the ‘leader’ called out a page number as we flip through to a well-known Johnny Cash or Queen tune and do our best to keep up. Later on we get to haggle – a Lady Gaga here, an Eric Clapton there.
But the part I enjoyed the most that I wasn’t expecting was the sing-a-long. Everyone sings, and as no one cares about your singing abilities, people have a lot of fun with harmonising, and putting on a heavy Southern accent even (especially) if not a country song.* What resulted was a hobby with a unique mix and hence one of my favourites; cheap, social, learning a skill, and above all bloody fun. Bear in mind, it won’t sound anything much like this.
Best thing is with places like the Queen of Hoxton, you don’t even need to buy a uke ahead as they’re happy to lend them out, so nothing to lose and only Mondays to improve. That said, please don’t go – I kind of like the event and need to ensure there’s a spare uke to join in!
*This may have just been me.