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Byron Shire
October 4, 2022

Spruke the Uke

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It seems the little uke can do no wrong. It’s the instrument that reaches out and connects a room. Silly, fun and seriously good. The Uke crew celebrate their second birthday at the Mullumbimby Ex-Services Club on Thursday 25 July. We caught up with Stukulele…

It’s coming up to your second birthday. Why do you think Uke has been so successful?

As it has been referred to the ‘third wave’ of ukulele, its popularity is owed to three main factors: 1 – Joe Brown’s performance of I’ll See You In My Dreams at the end of Concert for George… people were exposed to the fact that the Beatles loved the uke… so it must be okay.

2 – The internet: because of the size of the instrument it is easy to make videos of yourself and stick ’em all over YouTube.

3 – Technology had been taking over and the time was right for people to start coming together for an enriching community experience.

In our case, I had been teaching uke to kids and adults for a year and at the end of each course the students would ask  ‘so where do we go now?’ At the very first Mullum uke night at the Courthouse there were around 150 people in the room. Many folk who where there for dinner got caught up in the fun and brought ukes on the night. They are now on their third or fourth uke and still come each month.

How do you come up with the concepts each month?

Sometimes it’s easy – like Australia Day is a no-brainer. Other times out of a desire to do play stuff that you wouldn’t associate with the uke… such as an 80s night; and my favourite ABDE (Abba, Beatles, Dylan, Elvis). You quickly learn a good song is a good song and if it can’t be played on the uke… maybe it’s not such a good song.

What are the songs or themes that are most often requested?

50s, 60s and 70s seem to be the most favoured… anything before drum machines arrived on the scene. Though it may have something to do with the average age of the hardcore ukers. No-one has asked about metal, punk or emo night as yet.

How is the uke movement growing?

The 2010 documentary The Mighty Uke pretty much sums it up and I believe has inspired many folk into Uke-ville. That is certainly true in my case… it helped my confidence in starting the Uke Night in 2011. Since then, in Australia there are at least eight new uke festivals that I can think of, including Brisbane’s first ever uke festival – Spruke – in September this year.

Is it a movement?

You bet! The real movement is about the human connection. The uke is a nice portable prop that serves as a catalyst for togetherness and the claiming of joy. It also makes it okay to be odd and eccentric and it’s okay if you’re not that great a player. You still belong. You can still get among it.

What challenges do you face promoting uke nights in a regional area?

Around here there are so many venues that put on free music that people are spoiled for choice and don’t feel they should have to pay for entertainment. So without the support of our wonderful punters and the Courthouse bar and restaurant, making it financially viable is virtually impossible. We run on the smell of an oily rag so we don’t do many full-page ads. Word of mouth is best, so maintaining the quality of the nights is paramount; it takes a lot of attention to detail to make it fun for everyone and seem effortless.

What is your vision for the uke nights coming up.

I will be asking all the local schools (primary and secondary) if they would like their talented kids to perform at the August uke night. There is a registration form at ukemullum.com/schools to enter their acts. It can be a solo performer or a group. They will have a chance to be backed by the awesome uke night band and lead the room full of ukers. I’d also like to do an ‘originals night’ open to everyone who has written a tune. TV themes may happen this year and we have a Motown evening coming as well.

What should we expect for the second birthday celebration?

It’s an Eclectic Extravaganza with Elvis (yes ELVIS), Mana Aloha Hula Dancers (led by Star Woman Lilith Rochas), Eric the Dog, The Northern Rivers Uke Orchestra… some Supremes… Britney Spears and maybe… Miss Amber in a new frock.

Thursday 25 July at the Mullum Ex-Services.

From 6.30pm. Entry $10, kids free.


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