Monday, November 19, 2007

Have Ukelele, Will Travel

Walking around London with a ukelele case all of a sudden transforms your day into a whimsical adventure, whether or not that was your original intention. Try it yourself, and you'll see what I mean.

A few days ago I headed out of the house with a long list of back-to-back social engagements, and the last one on the list was the ukelele jam session that happens every week in the Royal George pub off Charing Cross Road, so that meant I had to take my ukelele with me to all the other appointments too.

First off I dropped in on Johnboy, the manager of the Lincoln Lounge, who made me a frothy free latte while we discussed plans for the Ukelele Cabaret on Tuesday. While we were at it, we also discussed a range of other random matters, such as the ethics of ripped software, how many books we owned and the ethics of making drunken punters move off a reserved table. Then I realised I had to be in Soho for another meeting in half an hour, and foolishly decided to walk it because it would be good exercise and more interesting.

Half an hour later, instead of being safely ensconced in one of Soho House's sofas where I should have been, I was standing on a Bloomsbury street corner staring blankly at the pages of my A to Z. A girl stopped and asked me if I was lost, then revealed that I was in fact in Holborn not Soho and pointed me in the right direction. Before she walked off she asked me if that was a ukelele I was carrying? I said it was and she said it was nice to meet a fellow ukelele player. So i whipped out a flyer for Tuesday's gig and pressed it eagerly into her hand before I skittered off.

I think it was the ukelele case that made her stop and help me in the first place. A ukelele sisterhood, if you like.

Rushing through Soho in a slightly sweaty panic, I discovered another use for a ukelele case - brandishing it in front of me like a sword, I was able to clear myself a path through the teeming crowds of Tottenham Court Road far more effectively.

I apologised profusely for being late when I finally rattled into Soho House and my host said graciously that it was worth it to see a girl walk in with a ukelele.

When that meeting was finished I trotted down to Picadilly Circus to the Pigalle Club to pick up our pay from the previous week's gig. I think there's something really cool about walking into clubs through the back door, especially really posh West End supper clubs. Even if the back corridors are invariably grubby and grim. In fact the posher the venue, the grimmer the back corridor - it's a sort of Murphy's Law of gigging. I did feel a bit weird trotting into the club when it wasn't even our night to play there, but the fact that I was carrying my ukelele case made me feel legitimate, and also meant that nobody questioned my right to be in the back corridors; they could look at me, see the instrument case and think, ah, right, she's a musician, that explains what she's doing here. Handy. I was especially grateful for my prop when I had to squeeze past Lenny Beige and his cohorts while they were soundchecking for their gig that night. Lenny Beige exists only as a legend for me: one day I hope to actually get to see one of his shows, but at least I've seen him obsessively mumbling gibberish into a radio mic, which is something.

Then I trotted off to yet another meeting at the University Women's Club, where an eclectic array of very individual-looking women of every age, shape, size and colour barely gave my ukelele case a second glance, then I shimmied my way past all the designer shops of Mayfair, swinging my case happily, back into Soho and finally to my destination, the ukelele jam itself.

Walking down into a basement full of ukeleles of every hue, as well as a smattering of banjoleles for good measure, I could almost feel my little pink Mahalo vibrating with pleasure from inside its case, like a purring kitten.

One of the ukelele jammers said to me after we'd finished playing for the night that the thing with the ukelele is that you either get it or you don't. The world, for him, is divided into Friends of the Ukelele and everyone else.

I appear to have stumbled into some sort of evangelical musical movement - Ukevangelism?

Little did I know when I first picked up one of these diminutive little instruments that I was also becoming part of a Movement and taking on a spiritual creed. I'm not sure exactly what the creed of the ukelele is, but I'll ponder on it and maybe try and write it out in due course. I think it might have something to do with being whimsical and taking the scenic route in life.

Even if taking the scenic route makes you fifteen minutes late for a meeting, it would seem that if you're carrying a ukelele with you, nobody will mind.


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