Have I told you ukulele that I love you?

Fri, Aug 19, 2011, 01:00

The ukulele makes a comeback this weekend as Dún Laoghaire hosts the ‘Ukulele Hooley’ with a ukulele mariachi band, a Ukeristic Congress and more

EARLIER THIS summer, the British Musical Instrument Retail Conference reported a staggering increase in sales of a particular instrument.

Of the 180 shops surveyed, nearly half stated that the biggest hike in sales was in ukuleles. Not bad for an instrument that in bygone days was dismissed as a comedy prop.

George Formby raised the profile (although technically he played the Banjolele, a banjo/ ukulele hybrid), but these days bands such as Wilco, and especially Zac Condon’s Beirut have given it a hipster sheen.

This diminutive member of the guitar family has come into its own, and this weekend sees an entire festival in its honour taking place in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin. The Ukulele Hooleytaps in to the resurgent interest in the instrument and aims to attract all ages, including non-musicians.

One of the festival organisers, Tony Boland, is a late-blooming ukulele player, but has been hooked since taking it up six years ago.

“I had never played an instrument in my life but I always loved the sound of a ukulele. So at 62, I bought one online and that was that.”

When Tony started out, they were difficult to come by, and players were a rarity.

“Now there’s a whole ukulele community,” he says. “We all get together once a month for a jam in the building where I work (Boland is a psychotherapist).

Over the course of this weekend, Uke royalty will be on hand to dazzle with their four strings. Several nationalities will be represented, including Belgium’s Winin’ Boys and Dutch virtuoso Ukulelezaza. Another performer, Angie McLaughlin of Minnie and the Illywhackers took up ukulele only nine years ago.

“I had always played guitar, and my husband gave me a Christmas present of a ukulele and I adored it. I worked in a psychiatric hospital and would bring it in and play it for patients. They loved it.”

The last ukulele event Tony Boland organised was in 2009 and attracted 1,500 people. Given the rising profile of the instrument, the organisers are expecting even more this weekend.

“We had a lot of families last time, and we approached a struggling music shop for sponsorship. A few months later, the owner of the same shop told me that ukulele sales the following Christmas had literally saved his business.”

This weekend there will be ukulele classes, and all beginner-level workshops are free. Saturday kicks off with a big busk at the bandstand on Dún Laoghaire’s pier, followed by an evening event involving Ha’Penny Mariachi (yes a ukulele Mariachi band), a “Ukeristic Congress” and Peter Delaney.

“There was a time you couldn’t find a ukulele teacher, and now there’s a dedicated school based in Longford,” says Boland. “The internet, and particularly YouTube, has had a massive influence in its popularity but you also cannot overstate the real-world social element of this, of meeting people, getting together to play music.

“Because I work as a psycho- therapist, I joke about UAS – Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome – because when people get into ukuleles, they keep buying them. It’s really that addictive.”


Minnie and the Illywhackers play The People’s Park on Sunday at 5.40pm. See ukulelehooley.com