Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Mushaboom Ukulele Festival, Moho Live, Sunday February 22

It might be small and only have four strings, but the humble ukulele seems to inspire grand ambitions in people - after all, there’s even a Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. It’s easily transportable, convenient and versatile, which could explain why ukuleles have become more and more popular recently. A couple of years back, a nationwide shortage was reported as schools switched to teaching the ukulele rather then the recorder, presumably because it’s a lot harder to make the ukulele sound horrible than the recorder and once you’ve learned a few chords that’s all you need to start making music.

The five acts at Mushaboom’s Mighty Ukulele Festival all display different sides to the instrument, folk singer Kathryn Edwards and Edinburgh act Meursault using the ukulele as an accessory to their music. Although it’s sometimes seen as a novelty instrument, Edwards manages to make the ukulele sound maudlin by dressing it up with a cello. Meursault proves the ukulele might be small but it doesn’t always have to be diminutive, bellowing anti-love songs over a combination of ukulele and acoustic guitar.

Jam on Bread and Jeremy Waumsley, however, base their whole sound around the ukulele. Jam on Bread offers himself as an example of ‘how not to play the ukulele’, but it provides an ideal backdrop for his witty songs, which range from a celebration of manatees to a tribute to Labrador Records. He claims anyone could get to his level of ukulele playing in ‘about an hour’, and perhaps that’s the beauty of the instrument - anyone can have a go.

Jeremy Waumsley provides some variety by strumming on a Venezuelan quatro, and proves the ukuele can rise to any occasion by singing about the Nazi invasion of the Channel Islands. The ukulele’s often rudimentary sound is offset with Waumsely’s vocal acrobatics.

Sparky Deathcap, though, uses the ukulele to the greatest effect, in a specially written ukulele opera he composed in the space of a day, accompanied by cartoons on an overhead projector. The comedic love story takes place on February 14 and has an organ driver as its unlikely hero.

Mushaboom even raffle off a ukulele at the end of the night, so it’s unlikely we’ll see an end to the ukulele craze just yet.

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