Five Things That Will Change Your Mind About The Ukulele

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Five Things That Will Change Your Mind About The Ukulele

Bowie - Uke.jpg

With all due respect to Tiny Tim and George Formby, American vaudeville and radio legend Roy Smeck, “wizard of the strings”, is the guy that really ought to spring to mind whenever anyone mentions the U-word. Here he is tapping like Eddie Van Halen’s granddaddy in the 1932 movie, Club House Party.

Japanese-American maestro Jake Shimabukuro is the reigning global ambassador for what he likes to call “the instrument of peace.” His 2006 video of George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ has clocked around 15 million hits, but his ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is next level.

Closer to home, Azo Bell is one of our favourite uke masters. “It’s like a child,” he told me one time. “If an adult walks into a room where there’s some important meeting going on, you won’t be all that welcome. But if you’re just a little kid… Everyone will smile at you. The ukulele is sort of like that. It’s allowed to break the rules.”

One of the really addictive things about playing the uke is the fine art of stripping a complicated piece of music down to its underpants without letting it curl up and die of embarrassment. Like, how would you make ‘Golden Years’ fly with three ukuleles? Like this, we hope:

‘Lust For Life’ is the only song we know for sure Bowie wrote on a ukulele – Iggy Pop watched him do it in a Berlin apartment in 1977. We played it with Kim Salmon at the Standard Hotel last winter and a guy told me after it was the punkest thing he’d ever seen. Still think Iggy has the edge. But I thanked him anyway.


Melbourne Ukelele Festival runs as a part of the 20th Anniversary of Melbourne’s Darebin Music Feast, kicking off from October 27th. All information and full event programming available at