I never liked the uke.
It sounded bleedin’ awful.
A really low-quality astringent taste in the ears. Not like the softer tones and fuller sound that my nylon string acoustic gave. So I put the uke back and had another look around the music shop in Lewisham High Street. I looked at harmonicas, banjos, bass guitars and the plethora of musical diversions offered in Eric Lindsey Music.
I was looking for something new. An instrument to encourage a little more playing, primarily by being a little more portable. Then I could take it to work and practice on the nursery class I taught. In the end, financial concerns brought me back the uke. It had a little tuner cleverly sunk into the side of the body. Yet, it still sounded dull.
Determinedly sat at home with my new instrument, I played for a bit but struggled with the new shapes on the fretboards and the thin sound of four, short strings. When pitching this toy instrument against the familiar mix of nylon and wound strings that sat just a few feet away from me, my willpower crumbled. I ended playing far more of my guitar in the post-purchase weeks, just to avoid the tiny twang-box. In a sense I had achieved one of my aims: I was playing more, just not on the strings I had intended to.
I have very little willpower. I always have to create obligations to overcome my default position of laziness. To save up, I have to get people to hide money from me. To get to work on time, I have to arrange early meetings. To get walking-fit, I have to leave my Oyster at home (I now have to leave all other cards, thanks to this contactless business). So to play ukulele, I reasoned, I had to join a group. There would be an expectation that I would play for however long the group meets for and that peer pressure could take the position that my willpower can’t be bothered to occupy. It would make me play.
I looked around for different groups in London and I settled on PLUC. Not for its reputation you must understand. I could get there on one direct bus. Easy. Lazy.
In the first few sessions I don’t recall struggling with the new shapes and the awful, astringent twang-box, I thought I wielded, seemed to brighten up in the ukulele chorus. Actually, it sounded great! I thought that playing with a number of ukes was incredibly forgiving. Bum notes got lost in the instrumental choir, the strumming ensemble kept me in time and my voice could tentatively try notes that I could never, for some strange reason, tolerate as a soloist in my own bedroom.
After a few weeks I had forgotten that I was trying to force myself to learn the uke. I really enjoyed the evenings. They were the right mixture of tunes, words and mild booziness that kept me coming back. I was getter better at my ukemanship, the atmosphere was inclusive and my fellow PLUCkers seemed to be interested in music and fun without making either of those two things a priority over the other.
I still don’t think I like the uke as much as the guitar, as an instrument (though I now own a lovely concert uke that sounds much better than the strung tinderbox I had at first). However, I would sooner sell my guitar than my uke. It’s not the sound, it’s the quirkiness, the comedic size, the odd strums that your thumb can throw in between fingers and the fact that it begs to be played with others.
I never liked the uke, to start with. Definitely changed my mind.
Other PLUC Tales: More Benny Hill Than James Hill – Dave P; Long-Distance Strummer – Gail; New Uker! – Sheila; A Tale Of Two Ukuleles – Tina; The First Rule Of Uke Club… – Anthony; Ron’s Progress; Probably The Most Fun Instrument In The World… – Jos; It’s Been A Year – Part 2 – Jeanette; From Classical To PLUC – Andrew; A History Of The Ukulele – And Its Part In My Downfall – James; Santa Rides Again – Alan F; Steph’s Story; Ron’s Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome; Uncle Ron’s Legacy… – Wee Kheng; Dan’s Story; Five Years & Loving It – Simon; My Ukulele Origins… – Rufus; Why Ed Started Playing The Ukulele; Ron’s Song; It’s Been A Year… – Jeanette