(AFP) – The ukulele has two obvious selling points: it is affordable and easy to carry. But could the unassuming four-string instrument also incarnate the spirit of punk rock?
Since forming three decades ago, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has helped build a new audience for what it calls the “bonsai guitar,” playing musically faithful but thoroughly tongue-in-cheek renditions of popular tunes.
Starting its latest US tour, the orchestra — clad in evening finest, including tuxedo jackets and bow ties — quickly pulled in dozens of smartphone-snapping onlookers as the eight ukuleleists strummed their way through AC/DC s “Highway to Hell.”
Playing with the Australian headbangers poetry, soloist Ben Rouse sang, “Hey Satan / Paying my dues / Playing in a ukulele band,” as the players raised their instruments to the heavens in mock defiance.
Asked why he took up the ukulele, fellow player Jonty Bankes said, “Basically, it s cheap and rather easy to play, so for people like us it was a godsend.”
But the self-styled orchestra has noticed a power in the tiny instrument over the years — with gigs including two nights at Carnegie Hall, a set at the Glastonbury Festival in England and a private party at Windsor Castle for Queen Elizabeth II s 90th birthday.
“The thing is, when you bring a ukulele out and start playing it, it does actually make people smile,” Bankes said. “It s an unthreatening, friendly instrument which causes a bit of happiness worldwide, really,” he said.