Laura Cartledge meets a group in Chichester who are giving the ukulele a new tune.
If ukuleles conjure up images of George Formby singing about cleaning windows then you may want to think again.
With folk inspired music topping the charts with the likes of Mumford and Sons and The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain taking over Royal Albert Hall the instrument is back in demand.
“It has really become fashionable,” agrees David Soothill who set up Chichester Ukulele earlier this year. “We have so many different ages at the ukulele group, youngsters playing 60s tunes and older people playing modern ones.
“Teaching pensioners to play ukulele has been one of the coolest things I have ever done,” he smiles. “When it all clicks everyone has that same thing in common, it is magic.”
Having been an independent guitar teacher for the last 14 years David admits “the next inquisitive step was the ukulele.”
“I quite like the challenge of being able to play it,” he says. “At the moment I am playing in eight bands. I am hungry to do as much as I possibly can, trying to cover all bases and play as many different styles as possible.”
Liking to surround himself with people who inspire him to “play and get better and better” it seems like starting the group classes was an obvious move. So have their been any surprises?
“I’ve surprised people keep coming back,” he jests. “Teaching is what keeps me going. It has so many different levels – reading music, keeping up with the others. Some couldn’t play anything when we started and now we have a repertoire of 15 songs.
“What I am hoping to do is a charity busk in the centre of Chichester for St Wilfrid’s Hospice,” he adds. Like an alternative to carol singing? “With a few crazy 60s pop songs in there as well,” laughs David. “Adele, Bruno Mars, everything can be translated into the language of the ukulele.”
So why does he think the unusual instrument is proving so popular again?
“It’s quite cool and quite affordable, you can buy a toy one for a small child for around £10 and a proper one for £40. Compare that to a saxophone or a drum kit when you need hundreds of pounds,” he replies. “Plus, unlike carrying around a guitar, and all the equipment you need, a ukulele is small and more convenient.”
David is no stranger to the hassles that can come with band practice and this has helped inspire another venture.
“With my first band we used to practice in my friends house, a bungalow in the Witterings,” he recalls. “His mum was really cool and she would let us use the living room. We had that for about ten years learning the ropes.
“But life moves on and she sold the house to move nearer family. We did the usual thing of hiring out village halls. Getting
all the equipment, driving to some freezing place in the middle of nowhere – the last thing you want to do when you get there is play,” explains David.
“I was working at Chichester College teaching music and meeting lots of bands who needed rehearsal space,” he adds. “Demand has become so great and we only had a little room about the size of a bathroom. Then, in Oving, a friend bought an old school and turned it into business units which you can hire out to use.”
And this is how Jam Studios came to have a purpose built facility offering people studio space for recording, rehearsing or teaching which can be booked in time slots.
“We can rock up and just play as well as provide a service for others,” David smiles.
Photos by Ginny Salmon
Sussex’s ukulele groups:
Wukulele Jam, Worthing,
This group celebrated four years last month and meet monthly at the Rowing Club at
the seafront to play, chat and sing. Find out more at www.wukulele.com
Brighton Ukulele Sundays
Meet first Sunday of the month at the Brunswick Pub in Hove.
Visit Facebook Brighton Ukulele Sundays for more details or find videos on YouTube
To find out more about the ukulele group, lessons and David’s other classes visit www.chichesterukulele.co.uk
The Ukulele Group meet at Pagham Village Hall, Mondays, 6-7pm and 7-8pm. It costs £6 per person and places must be booked in advance.
More information about Jam Studios can be found at www.jam-studio.co.uk
October 19, 2013 Culture and Events